Riga December 26: The Music

Riga December 26: The Music

Latvia: December 26-27


The 26th of December was a Holiday. I am hoping you all spent it doing something memorable and wonderful!

My cousin Gita invited me to see the Christmas show at the Kipsala Exposition Hall. We had planned to meet for coffee before the show, but my internal clock is still way off, and I was lucky to wake up at 12:20 p.m. when she called because I was late. We were supposed to meet at the Laima clock at noon.

Instead, I hurried to get ready, and got quick directions from Bruno who, as he does, gave me options for walking, or taking the bus or maybe the tram. Walking seemed to be the simplest option, so I set off without an umbrella in the chilly rain of Riga.

Luckily, it only drizzled for most of the walk, but it really started to pour once I was in sight of the Exhibition Hall. Gita was waiting for me at the entrance. We exchanged a hug, gifts, and found our seats after giving our coats to the coat checker.

I had no expectations for what the show was going to be like, so I could

Gita and Jeff

do nothing but be completely happy with the performance. In a word, it was spectacular. It opened with a song in English, and throughout the show there was a mix of Latvian and English language performances. From what I gathered, they pieced together the songs to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel who were played by two very talented and well-known Latvian actors. Another famous actor read from a book between songs to tell the story.

The highlight of the show for me was the a cappella group Frameset. They did a version of the William Tell Overture, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

The most moving part of the show was either Bach’s Fugue in D Minor, which was a treat to hear live. I play it in my classroom for my students, and to hear it played was kind of like seeing the Mona Lisa in real life. Then there was the final song Eglite (Christmas Tree), and it really brought down the house. Everyone was clapping for an encore, and were given Silent Night. I was crying… I’m not sure exactly, why, but I was moved to tears throughout the whole performance. Dozens of dancers in colorful mittens joined the orchestra and singers on stage, and the finale had everyone in the audience singing and swaying.

After it was over, I offered to take Gita to supper, and she wanted sushi. I didn’t get the chance to try Latvian sushi this summer, so I was interested. We went to Tokyo which is a very popular restaurant in the heart of Old Town. The waiter said we would have to wait an hour for our food, but that was okay. I was happy to buy a bottle of wine and share a long and pleasant conversation with my Latvian cousin. She told me about the night my grandmother, Anna, passed away in 1991. We were talking about how we believe in spirits. I told her that when my brother died, I could tell. She said she heard three knocks when Anna died, and she just knew it was her saying goodbye.

The sushi came. I ordered simple spicy salmon, and Gita got some smothered with all kinds of extras. The fish was very good. Overall, the sushi was not as good as Blue in Omaha, but it was passable and affordable. Gita also told me that the Home Alone movies are very popular in Latvia during Christmas. Apparently, they show them on television every year. It makes me sad that those are the representative Christmas movies from America. Slapstick and violence. I keep telling people to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas. I think it’s a much better movie.

After dinner, we walked around the Christmas Village with some mulled wine (and I had him add a splash of Black Balsam for good measure.) Then I walked her to the tram, and decided that it was still early, so I could get a beer before I walked home.

Not an IPA

I went to Alus Maja or “Beer House”. They boasted almost 50 beers on tap, and most of them were Latvian. How could I go wrong?

Laura, my first server told me that the beer on tap in front of me, Ausma, was an IPA, so I said, “Let’s do it!” Sadly, it was a ginger spiced special winter beer that tasted nothing like an IPA. But I drank it, and later she apologized. Caspars, the bartender, was the one who really knew his stuff.


At first, he wouldn’t even look at me as I sat at the bar reading through the list of taps and writing in my journal. Then two young men sat down around the corner, and as they were ordering I heard them speaking English, so I struck up a conversation. It’s funny because I was about ready to leave and walk home after my one beer, but I remembered Dan Boster’s advice, “Just stay fifteen minutes longer… that’s when the good stuff starts happening.” Sure enough, I asked where they were from, and it turns out they were Hungarians in town for Taize, an international young adult Christian festival. I knew they were good guys when I told them the bartender’s name, and Peters said, “Oh, he is a ghost?!”

After awhile, Caspars brought me some samples of IPAs, and I bought a shot of Black Balsam for my Hungarian guests. We struck up a conversation, and I learned much about their country and culture. Their names were Peters and Benedict. I even got Peters to play Fantasy Brackets. He ended up finding me on Facebook and saying, “Hello!” The “Fifteen minute rule” strikes again! Caspars even gave us complimentary shots of Fernet, an Italian liqueur. Suddenly it was 1 a.m., and I still had a long walk home. I said, “Goodbye!” and I wished them luck on their adventure. What a night!

The next morning,

Bruno woke me up at 10:30. I had a slight headache, and I woke up from awful dreams about students and being unprepared to teach. The kind of dream where you show up at school with no pants and twenty minutes late. I was happy to be awake, and it was nice to see that it was finally snowing outside.

Bruno had met Ansis at the airport earlier that morning, and now we were to go pick up his van to drive back to his house, where Bruno would leave me with the Honda CRV and my time in the country would begin.

I cursed this big van as it got between me and Bruno!

The drive was not without it’s small adventures. Bruno couldn’t remember which lot the van was in at the airport, so we spent some time looking. Then he had to get gas, and for some reason it took thirty minutes for him to fill up the Dodge Caravan. I waited patiently practicing my mindfulness while listening to Latvian radio stations in the Honda.

Finally, we were on our way, and I didn’t really know where I was going, so I tried desperately to stay behind Bruno’s orange minivan. However, there were many Latvians who were conspiring to separate us by forcing their way between my CRV and the minivan. Traffic was terrible, but I didn’t lose Bruno, and eventually, we made it to Daugmales pagasts, Ansis’ home… which, incidentally, will not show up in Google maps for me.

Bruno took some time showing me around, and trying to figure out Ansis’ cryptic message about setting the thermostat. I was ready to just settle in and be at peace, but first there was the garbage, the garage, the water, etc. etc. Even after he left, Bruno came back one more time to explain the Honda registration for me. He is very thorough.

View from my window

So now I am here in the big house alone with a few fish, a bunny, and lots of room. The sun is setting, and we had some snow this morning, so it’s beautiful. There are so many windows, and the natural light just makes you feel like you are out in the open all the time. It’s lovely.

We’ll see what I can learn about myself and Latvia as I settle in and relax.



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