Vasaras Svētki (Summer Celebration)

Vasaras Svētki (Summer Celebration)

Vasaras Svētki

Riga in the Summer

This weekend was Vasaras Svētki, or so I am told. I believe the holiday coincides with Pentecost, or, as my calendar told me, Whitsunday. In Riga, this means that Saturday night is Baznīcu Nakts (Church Night) when many churches open their doors in the evening to visitors holding celebrations with music and other festivities. Unfortunately, I did not attend. We had plans, but grades are due, and things must be done. I have learned in my (almost) two years in Riga that there are cool things happening all the time, and the warmer the weather gets, the more things there are to do!

On Sunday, however, Rita and I went and rented a Vespa scooter to practice for other upcoming events. On the way to Vespa Garazh, Rita wanted to see the birch branches that Latvians use to mark Pentecost. We rode our bikes through Old Town and came to the Mary Magdalene Catholic church. Unfortunately, it was not decorated with birch trees, but it was peaceful and beautiful. I said a prayer for my mother, father, family and others. It felt like the right thing to do.

Our Tour Guide

When we came out, we noticed that across the street there was an open door and a sign for some museum. We walked inside to find a wonderful woman who decided she would show us around, and a priest sitting in the corner eating his lunch. We were in a bit of a rush, but she insisted on taking us down these incredibly narrow and old stairs to the cellar. She explained to Rita that this was actually on the street level of Medieval Riga. In the basement, there is a portion of the original cobblestone street still preserved. The fact that cities are built up on layers never ceases to amaze me.

See the caution tape at the top? I didn’t.

The basement held several Catholic artifacts like a replica of the Shroud of Turin and some statues of babies. I really liked the archeological ornaments in a class case. I asked about them, but I didn’t get much information. There was also this big-head statue of some priest who was apparently murdered in Moscow. Again, I don’t know much about the situation, but that was as much as I learned.

The highlight was learning the hard (very hard) way that people in Medieval Riga were much shorter than we are today. I was following Rita into a little room when I slammed my bald head right into the brick archway. My goodness that was some serious pain. Luckily, there wasn’t much blood, and we were able to continue the tour with stars in my eyes and love in my heart.

Gallery of Relics

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Vespa Ride

Vespa Garazh

We left and hurried our way to the Vespa Garazhl. The owner said he would meet us at 2 p.m., but he wasn’t there, and it was closed. I called, and he said he would be there soon. Cool. It was a nice day to wait. The weather here in the summer has been warm, but not so hot and humid as it is in Omaha. People here complain when it is 80 degrees about it being too hot, and I am just loving being able to sleep at night without sweating through the sheets. I do have air conditioning at work because I don’t think you can learn to speak a language when you are hot and uncomfortable. This is a running theory I have about teaching English in Latvia. I have much more to say about it.

When the owner of the Vespas met us, he asked me about my experience with riding them. He kind of insinuated that I had ridden one before, so I went along with it. I have driven a motorcycle before on my brother’s farmland, so I figured that would count for something. After all, these Vespas are all automatics, so what is there to do but accelerate, balance and turn. How hard could it be?

He showed me how to start it and some of the little tricks like the kill switch and, “Don’t touch this button.” “What does it do?” “Just don’t touch it.”

The things I love about Latvian businesses is that most of them are so cool. They remind me of dealing with Elmer Sievers back in the Yutan days when I needed some small engine repair. Costs, contracts, NAH! everything is kind of understood. Yes, I signed a contract and gave this guy all of my information, but it still felt pretty cool. He said he might not be there when we got back, so we could just park the Vespa outside, hide the key somewhere and leave the money in the trunk under the seat. Isn’t that cool?

So, after a practice ride around the block where I almost biffed right into a parked Volvo (turning radius is much higher than expected), I did a couple more circles and we were ready to go. He seemed quite satisfied with my ability to not kill myself and/or Rita. We donned our helmets and entered the bold world of Scootering Around Riga!

One thing you have to know about driving in Riga is that every other street is a one-way, and there really is no way to get anywhere from anywhere else but one specific way. We drove around the silent center three times trying to find this coffee shop that was literally half a block away from the Vespa place. Once we found it, that was nice. We parked on the sidewalk (one big advantage to scooters), and I had an iced coffee that was simply a pleasure and joy.

Then we were back on the scooter, scootering up and down the quiet streets of Riga on a Sunday afternoon. I finally got brave enough to go on Krasta iela, which is a busier streets where traffic is doing 50 km/h. It was actually quite fun. The air whipping through my… well around my head… the scooter bustling down the avenue… cars zooming by us because I didn’t want to drive too fast, and pedestrians leaping out of the way. Good times!

For Legal Reasons, she did not drive.

We went to the dock at Andrejsala, and then made it to Old Town for a little shopping at Galerija Centrs.

After filling up the tank, we made it back to Vespa, but the owner wasn’t there to meet us, so we gathered our things and left our 150cc friend there. But he wasn’t alone. There was another Vespa parked nearby.


Cat House

Summer has begun, and I am still working at Lingua Franca. We are going on a trip to Italy for a couple weeks, so hopefully I can put the Vespa practice to good use in the hills of Prosecco country. We shall see.

I have resigned from Rīgas Valsts 2. ģimnāzija after I finally learned (almost) how to spell it without looking. Now if I can just do that for my own address (Curse you ģeneraļa Radziņš!). I loved my work there, but I decided that teaching adults and university students is a bit more of what I came to Riga to do. I think teaching 20 years of high school English is enough, right? Let us see what the future holds.

Rīta Stienis

I found my new favorite band, Rīta Stienis (which is a Latvian phrase meaning “morning stick”… you figure it out). They are a punk band that just released their first album called (sadly) Boobie Shooter. I heard one of their songs as bumper music at an improv event near our house, and I just thought… this sounds like a lot of fun. It turns out that they are a punk band made up of bar professionals who just got together to have some fun. They also brew their own beer... how cool is that? One of my summer projects is to learn a little Latvian by translating their lyrics. Very, very challenging.

There is so much more to write about, but my word count has been reached and overreached. I am looking forward to a visit from four of my American family members… to be revealed in the next installment! Now that summer has come, I hope to be writing weekly.

If you have questions about Latvia, life, or teaching, please let me know! I would be happy to address them in upcoming posts.

Side note:

I just finished editing a work about the Latvian symbol Auseklis. It was beautiful to read about the Awakening when the Baltic states fought for their independence in a united and nonviolent way. Reading this while watching the HBO series Chernobyl really makes me feel so much. Thirty years after independence, it is hard to imagine what Latvia would have been like back then. Rita says that she knows people who were sent to Chernobyl to help clean up the mess. One acquaintance purposefully got into an accident to break his leg so he wouldn’t be able to go. They knew what was happening. There is so much painful history here that is not easy to bury. I suppose it is kind of like Chernobyl in that way.


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