Winter 2018-2019: Ziema

Winter 2018-2019: Ziema

March 2019

It is true that I have not written in awhile. Winters in Latvia are really like a hibernation. Everyone kind of buckles down and settles into a routine to stay warm and alive during the darkest months of the year.

It begins some time in late October or early November. You start to notice that it getting darker and darker earlier and earlier. There are signs of the coming lightless time including Independence Day and the festival of lights, Staro Rīga. Then the Christmas market opens, and you know that it is really time for winter.

It snows. However, now in my third Latvian winter, I still have yet to see a “real” snowstorm as they have had in Nebraska again and again this winter. Here, it snows a few centimeters, and then it stops. Then it snows again, and then it stops. We have not had a real blizzard here, and it never gets terribly cold. Most of all, winter is dark and wet.

Looking out my window today on March 3, I see grey. Grey sky. Grey streets. Grey river. But already, it is lighter. During the Latvian winter, the sun barely scrapes across the horizon, peaking out at about 9 a.m. and then saying goodbye by about 3. And most days it is cloudy, so I only speculate that the sun was every actually in the sky at all. On those rare days the sun appeared, everyone was smiling and happy to be alive.

Here is a taste of photos that capture the gray, cold, snowy days and nights.

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To survive, one must take vitamin D. This year, I got my bottle of vitamin D oil early, and took it often. I felt much better this winter than the last one overall, but I did get really sick during the Christmas holiday. Something with my lungs, made me tired, and made it hard to breathe. I am much better now.

Getting sick in the winter is also a part of life here. My students miss weeks of school at a time with these illnesses. One of them told me he was well enough to attend classes, but he didn’t want to get anyone else sick. How thoughtful! Both teachers and administrators are quite lenient with schedules. Everyone understands.

But winter does not stop us from traveling. I take the tram and walk everywhere. I cannot imagine walking in Omaha in winter as much as I do here. I think Chris pointed out, the last winter I spent in Omaha, that he was literally outside for about 2 minutes every day. To the car and back. That was it. I was pretty much the same unless I was out shoveling snow or something. Rita has a saying (that she borrowed from other people), “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” Or something like that.

Dealing with Snow

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I keep butting heads with my American upbringing of “the show must go on!” and “deadlines are important!!!”. Here it seems that things are more like, “If the show goes on, that is good. We will all be okay either way,” and “Deadlines? Just do what you can when you can. We understand.” I have a feeling that the Latvian way is ultimately healthier for the soul, but it is hard to reconcile these two sides of myself.

Karlis gets his pilot’s license!

Jeton Vakars 2019

As the winter began to fade, my 2. ģimnāzija students were preparing again for Jeton Vakars, Badge Night. This is the night when the 12th graders get their school badges or rings, and they all perform skits for teachers, friends, and family members. I attended last year, and I was invited again this year.

Irvins addresses his Class

I was blown away again at the camaradarie of these Latvian students. Even though they are really busy finishing their final year of school, they all find time to work together to create this incredible show with singing, dancing, and lines to memorize! My 12sb students wrote an entire play with an International Baccalureate theme and everything, It was truly impressive!

 

So March has arrived, and this is the month of many birthdays including my own. My friends in the Midwest tell me it will be below zero there today, while in balmly Riga, it is about 30 degrees F. It has been about that temperature all winter with some warmer days and some colder days.

Last Sunday, we thought spring had truly arrived. It was sunny and 7 degrees C. We went to the beach for a long walk to a lighthouse in Mangaļsalas. The river was still covered with ice, but the Gulf of Riga was completely ice free. Many people were out with their dogs and children enjoying the day. It was lovely.

Mangaļsalas

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I leave you with a few lines of a Latvian poem by Bruno Saulītis: Ziemeļu Elēģija/Northern Elegy

Cik ilgi tavās acīs lai lūkojas?
Tā jau ir mana ziemeļu dzimtene:
Zem pelēcīgas debess velves
Stindzina Baltijas ledus lauki.

How long to gaze in our eyes, I wonder?
Such indeed is my northern homeland:
Beneath the vault of leaden skies
The chill expanse of Baltic icefields.

Un tur par jaunām vasarām nerunā,
Tur plecus ciešāk lakatā ievīsta
Tā slēpjas asni bargā salā,
Dzīvību sargājot, dziļi sniegos.

And no one there speaks of coming summers;
There, the shawls are pulled tight round shoulders.
Young shoots must hide from bitter frost
To stay alive, the snow their shelter.

And let us not even mention the cost of heating, and how bills in winter are cruel reminders of the fingers of winter that reaches in our pockets for our slim wallets, greedy and long.

We buy flowers and light candles to chase away the darkness and to remind us of color.

More Winter Photos

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Side note:

I finally had the opportunity to go to the Beer Fox/Callous Alus. They were having a lecture on the Decline of America and the Rise of Craft Beer. The lecturer was named Jeffrey, and he is American. But more interesting, the owner of the bar is Mike from Pottawattamie County, Iowa. He used to be a manager at Beertopia in Omaha. I am pretty sure we crossed paths a few times when I was ordering beer for my Ligo parties looking for authentic Latvian ales. And now, here he is, living in Latvia selling craft beer! Small world! This would be a great place to play cribbage!

 

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