We all got off the tram at the last stop in an empty part of the city after we had purchased breakfast items at a local supermarket. We followed our leader down a path and through a tunnel. The fortress was not immediately evident.
Then we came to another tunnel that turned out to be the entrance to the mighty citadel on the banks of the Daugava River. If our walk was an indication, the wall seemed to be about 100 feet thick. It is surrounded by a moat, and, once inside the walls, there is a feeling of impregnability. The entire fortress is actually city property, so it is open to the public. You can just go any time and walk around all these historical buildings. Our destination was the main Arsenal building where the Rothko art center is located.
The main building is yellow and looks and feels a lot like the castle at Rundale. It is wide with a beautiful courtyard. Our hotel rooms were located in one wing of this enormous building. It felt good to check in and sleep. I was completely exhausted.
The next morning began with a traditional Latvian-style breakfast. Everyone brought their provisions to the small kitchen area and we sat together talking and eating. I wish I spoke and understood more Latvian. This is a constant struggle. At least most of the people spoke some English, but it wasn’t the same.
After breakfast, we had an hour or so until the tram arrived to explore the grounds and see the exhibits at the Mark Rothko Center. Rita and I walked to the ghost horse and were impressed by its size and stature. Then we walked to the top of the wall where there are no guardrails or warning signs. Anyone could just fall down into the moat.
Then we had a quick cup of coffee at the fancy little cafe, and joined everyone else at the museum.
Here we were in Daugavpils, Latvia at a center for art dedicated to a native son. Rothko and his family left Daugavpils before it was even Daugavpils and before Latvia was even Latvia. He was ten years old or so when his family went to New York in 1913 to escape the possible conscription into the Russian army.
I didn’t know much about Rothko other than I liked his paintings of colorful stripes and his earlier works that have more of a form to them. The museum was disappointing at first with some slide shows, histories, and reprints, but no actual Rothko originals. It wasn’t until the end of the hallway when you get to the room where the “real” art is. The room is manned by a guard and is climate controlled. Rita felt like it was too humid for an art gallery. They had a loud machine running in the corner which ruined the ambiance a bit for me. In all, there are five original works in the gallery ranging from an early 1936 painting of a railway station to his later work in 1969 or so of a mostly navy blue canvas that feels a bit oppressive. It wasn’t until after I left the museum that I read about his suicide. He seemed like a troubled person who was able to transmit emotion directly onto canvas, even through seemingly simple designs.
One of my students kind of made fun of his work by asking how someone could pay upwards of $7 million for stripes. I am not defending the price people will pay for famous works, but his paintings do have some kind of emotional impact. Even though they look simple, they are complicated and he worked hard to make them. They aren’t as simple as they appear. In a way, he reminds me of Jackson Pollack. I get that same unexplainable emotion when looking at his works. It is hard to put it into words. I am no art critic; I just know that these canvases make me feel.
We didn’t have much time to really explore the other temporary exhibits, but they had a similar tone. They were very colorful, large, abstract, and expressive. We were particularly impressed with the fabric art with its incredibly intricate details and subtle beauty. However, Rita objected to owning one because all the little ridges and surfaces would collect dust. I concur.
After the Rothko Center, we took a tram back into town. The Latvians all went to see a Russian play, and I gave my ticket to Baiba because I didn’t think I would get much out of the show anyway, and she had forgotten to get one. Instead of attending the play, I sat at a coffee shop editing some writing, and then I had lunch at a cozy restaurant called Art Hub.
We finished our tour of Daugavpils at Sokoladna, a coffee shop with an incredible selection of desserts.
When we got to the train station, it was packed. The ticket line was long, and the train was leaving soon. We made the train, and it was crowded, but it was still a pleasant, effortless drive. I was able to sleep a little.
Some more photos:
I would love to see some historical reenactments at the Daugava Fortress. Apparently, back 1812 or so, Napoleon’s army was pushed back by Russian troops, and it wasn’t even completely finished yet! Imagine seeing French soldiers marching toward the fortress with cannons blazing and Russian troops holding the line? Wouldn’t that be spectacular? On my tram ride this morning, I was thinking about how expensive these reenactments must be and how Americans have so much disposable income to fund all of these hobbies and interests. We may not be a practical people, but we come up with inventive things to do with our time and money!