Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I have to admit we were approaching Riga with mixed feelings. Flying over beautiful Scandinavian landscapes, leaving Stockholm and our cozy 'second home' in Skone, we were about to enter a different reality. This feeling is not always associated with a new place. It is about going to MISTERIOUS UNIVERSE of the ex 'behind the iron curtains' countries. And from our previous experience of intrepid Aisha & Victor in Rumania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and even Poland, we know we would need to change a chip in our heads in order to smoothly fit into a post -soviet era. Unfortunately, the years, which separate us from the fall of the communism, were not enough to change the image of a country, and even less- to change the mentality. Generations will have to pass for those countries to adapt to a new Europe. From personal experience we know about all the inconveniences of dealing with this post soviet world, nevertheless we feel attracted and curious about it. We want to learn and understand. And the best of it all is the beauty and innocence of the people!Nevertheless, a surprise waited for us as we landed on this small modern airport in Riga. Our organizers gave us a warm welcome and took us in a big van ( did they expect us to have that much luggage?) for our first encounter with a city- AND THAT WAS THE SECOND ICE MELTING. RIGA is as beautiful as it is modern!

Wonderful old town area, totally touristy is full of colorful building representing different styles and epochs, little squares full of tables and people sipping their beer ( YES, IT IS A BEER COUNTRY- careful, Victor) relaxed and melancholic in the never ending summer sunset... We forgot we are almost at the level of Stockholm therefore approaching the zone of midnight sun. It is 11 pm and we have still daylight!
A stroll with our local guides through the city was very revealing. For example we discover the power of SLAVIC LOVE: every married couple puts a lock in the beautiful park- lake, throwing the keys into the water... I think we will sell this patent in other countries as well!
The invasions of tourists from neighboring Sweden, but also England, Germany, Spain, and Poland etc is a result of cheap flights. Thanks to them the city can flourish and expose its beauty to the whole Europe. At the same time is overcrowded with foreigners, excursion groups moving from one dome to another, English youngsters filling pubs and clubs at night. Fortunately, we have our 'tango universe' to dive into the local culture and customs.Therefore, the very first day we have learnt that the whole LATVIA has only 2, 5 millions of people, its capital has less than a million (compare to our Buenos Aires with 10 millions!), they have never ending coastlines and... Almost no summer! Hard to believe, because we have just landed into those few days of perfect summer weather. Natalia, however, tells us Latvian jokes about the local summer: a while-skinned Latvian was asked whether they have any summers in his country, to what he replied: YES, WE HAVE, BUT I WAS WORKING ON THAT DAY! (Does it remind us about the Swedish summer reality: summer fell on Tuesday this year...?)We are lucky, and from the first day we are suggested to go to have a swim in the sea, the famous resort is only 15 km from Riga. It was 8 or 9 pm and THEY THINK WE CAN GO AND SWIM IN A BALTIC SEA!!! Me and Victor know the experience already from Sweden and Poland- Baltic sea, including in the summer, never gets warm! If you get 20 degrees, you should say your prayers to the Slavic gods! No, thank you Ansis and Natalia, we said again, when we heard the same suggestion after a milonga on Saturday ( one of the hottest days in the summer: it was 32 degrees in the sun!). I love swimming in the night, but not in a cold Baltic sea!
Anyhow, we went to JURMALA a famous kurort, on Monday, after our workshop, only to find out, that the beach was crowded and the water was good enough to wet our feet. Not for Ansis, a strong, sporty tanguero- I think he must train swimming in the sea in the winter. Even on the beach I had goose bumps on my skin! We are incorrigible, I know, but we will wait till we get to our third home in Europe: Ibiza. There, after the season, the island with all its beaches and bays is all for us! We can wait. Meanwhile, there are other fascinating things for us to experience in RIGA....

As mentioned before, the Baltic gods were favorable to us on one side, but gave us the best summer days for our workshops and milongas as an extra temptation. As our organizers warned us, we were not expecting many people, who naturally seize those days to get some tan on their white, sun desirous bodies and be outside, in the nature, on the beach. We were totally surprised, how applied and devoted our students were: each of those tempting, sunny days, they spent enclosed with us, in NO AIR- CONDITIONED ROOM, practicing tango! Brave or crazy?! You have to be both to dance tango! In one word: the workshops were successful and as a reward we were invited for a BARBECUE PARTY in a house of one of our students: Sandra.There was a surprise attached to it: RUSSIAN SAUNA, I am sorry: LATVIAN SAUNA! We immediately said: YES, accepted! It was a big house and a garden on the outskirts of the city- Victor, as an architect could really appreciate the design. I concentrated more on sauna mystery and the juicy grass on which appeared one by one-different local delicacies:

At first, to everybody' s cold bear and my Martini ( ladies are ladies even in a hot summer) we have had our first entrée: whole meal bread with CANNABIS! Yes, indeed! In older days it was the cheapest butter and now, this creamy almost black paste is a nationally spread appetizer. Victor said it was not an ordeal like surstroming ( fermented herring) up in northern Sweden, but as we are always very open to local specialties, we are also ready for strong experiences. Leif, our Swedish student from Malmo, who was unswedish enough to decide from day to day to join our Riga workshops and the whole experience, was there as well, tempted by a good company and the mysterious Latvian Sauna experience...
When we had some of the great cheeses with dried plums and nuts, and different vegetable dips and before a next bear, our beautiful hostess declared that SAUNA WAS READY! She explained the ritual to the ignorants, that is Leif and both of us, the only non-Latvian in this small group of tango addicts. We were supposed to strip and just wrap our body with a small piece of sheet and get to the steaming sauna. The sauna is fed with wood and the aroma you enter reveals you that THIS IS SOMETING ELSE. There were birch branches hanging and lying around and until now everything was more or less usual. After our first 10/15 minutes we all went out to lie on the soft carpet of a grass- literally! According to Sandra s recommendation, this connection with Mother Earth in between the sessions in not only a pleasure ( during a perfect summer afternoon or evening like that day) but also healthy! We followed her advices scrupulously. The best part comes next: the second or third session, when your body is already used to the aroma and a high temperature, they make it even higher by pouring some more water on the stones, and whirling a towel on the air, to make the steam go up and come down on your body. They, you lay naked, first on your stomach and.. Receive a good spanking with those birch branches all over your body! And, for goodness sake- it is not painful at all, rather a quite pleasant massage! The second time I got the treatment with this bunch of birch leaves but dipped in cold water! The food has never tasted so good as that evening after sauna...
All my senses were awakened and the brochettes, here called shashlik, accompanied by baked vegetables as well, were absolutely delicious ( 6 hours of tango before is another reason). Sandra, the cook, received a great applause ( according to Argentinean asado-making tradition) The party continued, the drinks were emptied one by one- and there was a very good choice of them, including my favorite Swedish cognac- pear cogniac! Most of our students expressed the desire to come to Buenos Aires and we had plenty questions to answer. Victor was constantly surrounded by the Latvian tango beauties: the picture against the green grass around fruit cloth was a real MONET!. Thanks to the never ending daylight, we could sit outside till midnight...

I was totally fascinated by latvian ( VERY LATVIAN, NOT RUSSIAN) names of our students. Difficult to remember, they sound like poetry: starting from our wanderful ANSIS, we had: Ilmars, Ieva, Zinta, Uldis, Ivars, Dace, Ginta, Aigars, Zaiga, Viesturs, Dana, Ira, Ilja, Antrea, Liene... to name only some of them.

As a final touch came the CAKE! And they are everything but healthy in Slavic world: creamy, consisting of different layers- in Buenos Aires it is called IMPERIAL RUSO-you have to be a tango dancers to burn all those calories afterwards. Thus, we never refuse a good desert!

Following days brought other culinary novelties and surprises:

- PIELIEMIENI- that is tiny raviolis, meticulously staffed with meat. Victor's favourite dish. Obligatory cream and some salt and pepper on the top to complete with ( Ansis was a guardian of this tradition and imposed its execution)

- ZIMNIJ SUP, that is COLD SOUP- wanderful dish for the hot summer days ( like those Riga offered to us) based on delicious local KEFIR ( FIL in Swedish) mixed with beetruts and dill. Absolute favourite of Aisha ( Ansis made sure there was always Cold Soup in the fridge.

- CARAWAY CHEESE- local soft cheese with spices. Accompanied by herbal tea. Degustation at a tea party in Garik ' s apartment.

-BLACK BREAD- our absoute favourite. A MUST at the breakfast table. Ansis recommends it with a glass of milk.

-RIGA BLACK BALM- something for Aisha' s alcohol collection. Black magic drink. Bitter. Similar to fernet. A wanderful good bye gift from Natalia. WE love this dark clay bottle and we will take it to Buenos Aires- whatever it weighs...

We have to give the justice to the reality: there are still traces of soviet aesthetics and communistic thinking around. They may appear grotesque, anecdotic, but they are part of the reality STILL! The contrasts are everywhere, and it is not difficult to detect that Sandra s house is a world apart. Grey, communist blocs of flats, with apartments making Victor- architect shiver with rage (functionalism and aesthetics) are still there and inhabited! A logic was not a strong part of communist party policies, and the beauty either. Therefore, you can be surprised to enter a bathroom with tubes and pipes like in a SUBMARINE!

Well, sometimes the communist solutions of a problem might result funny, however they are practical and rapid! Both of us concluded it was a compulsive " laugh therapy"...

Or, in a public place, modified with new products, but the idea is still the same: communism means to share even the most intimate space...
We have found out ARGENTINEAN TOUCH in RIGA, a touch or better to say, a taste, witch made us nostalgic for a while: OUR GOOD OLD EVERY DAY WINE IN BUENOS AIRES- GATO NEGRO!

Victor insists that there should be mention about the beauty of Latvian women- just those passing by the street make a spectacle! I can only say, that I m very proud of my TANGO FASHION SHOW MODELS- no words, just a look at the photo:


Searcher said...

It's so nice to read such a pleasant appreciation of our country! Glad that you like visiting Riga and we hope to see you back soon!


Aisha & Victor said...

Dear Vlad- here, an extended version of RIGA STORY.
Keep following us in Holland, too.

with tango hug