YoC9: Izgaismotā Liepāja-Illuminated Liepāja

YoC9: Izgaismotā Liepāja-Illuminated Liepāja

A Broken Resolution

The good news is that I am over Covid. The bad news is that I broke my New Year’s resolution to write a new blog each week, and in worse news, my steady job had a major upheaval, and through no fault of my own, I am now officially unemployed in Latvia.

But let’s talk about culture! Although I am not sure if I should keep counting now that I missed a few weeks.

Liepāja: Izgaismotā Liepāja

Yes, I was once again in Liepāja and this time to celebrate the city’s birthday which, coincidentally, was on St. Patrick’s Day this year! The city celebrates by putting up sculptures of light all throughout the city parks in a stunning display of beauty with lights and sounds that are both imaginative and emotionally moving.

Līvi Ghost Tree

I met my friend Anita again, staying in the now familiar flat that she rents out called “Eva”. We were expecting some others to join us, but it turned out to be just the two of us, which was fine. We both have a lot in common and talk about our ailments just like old people. Wait, are we old people?

Disco Lights in Anita’s Flat

Bus to Liepāja

I took the bus from Riga after wrapping up my last official day of work. I was lucky enough to get that one seat that is for people with short legs—you know, the one with the riser on the floor? So that was awful.

There is a thing I have learned about traveling, and that is that once you do a thing three times, then you just kind of understand it. The first time, everything is off and you feel a bit nervous and anxious. Am I going the right way? Is this the way it is supposed to be? On the other hand, there is always a sense of excitement and that thrill of the unknown.

Then, the second time, you feel a bit more in tune with the sequence of expectations. You can breathe a bit easier, but there is still some uncertainty. For example, on this second trip, I knew that we would stop in the town of Saldus where I would have enough time to get a drink and a snack and would need to pay 50 cents to use the toilet. However, I still was not comfortable enough to sleep and just relax on the bus. I had to be on guard to make sure I was going where I needed to go.

When you travel in a place for the third time, you feel like you own the place. You get it. You know how the public transportation works, where the coffee shop is, and how to walk from here to there. It isn’t as thrilling, but there is something comforting in just knowing which way you are going.

Friday Night

Anita met me at the bus stop and we opted for a Bolt back to the flat. I go situated, and then met her and her cats for a coffee and drink before we headed out to see the lights.

Most Latvian festivals are pretty similar depending on the season. As it was still cold outside, there were booths selling a variety of hot alcoholic drinks, and we tried to sample all of them. We started in the main town square where there was a giant projection on a building with thrilling music playing. I was instantly impressed at the quality of both the sounds and the lights.

We stopped at a booth where they were selling shiny things, mostly for kids. Anita had a pair of illuminated red devil horns, so I bought blue ones to match. We became “vilni” (devils) as we walked through the crowd gathering strange looks with our bright blinking head gear.

The first drink was sweet and infused with spiced rum. It was warm and quite nice. Anita had a map with each illuminated object numbered from 1–17, but we ended up going the wrong way anyway because she wanted to show me this very cool alleyway bar.

After walking through a dark, cobblestone entryway, we were in a courtyard where there were 2 or 3 displays. The main one depicted aging, and it was captivating and moving. I wanted to see the inside of this cool bar, but they were showing a movie and we couldn’t just go in for a drink. Luckily, there was an outside bar where we bought more drinks before moving on.

As we started walking, we kept finding ourselves pushing through crowds of people, and I suspected that we were going the wrong direction. After studying the map, I found this was right. Instead of seeing the objects from 1–17 in an orderly counterclockwise fashion, we were going clockwise punk-style, starting at 1 and then going right to 17.

We made our way from light object to light object, fighting the crowd. Anita showed me some cool sculpture of a man with an axe and a table set for a feast.

The coolest display of Friday night was number 11: “Karaliskās debesis” which translates roughly into “Royal heaven” or maybe “Kingdom of Heaven.” It consisted of these flexible tubes that held light as it flashed through. The light changed color and shape, and illuminated the trees all around as well, so it was a whole spectacle. I stood underneath the tubes and watched them waving, and the lights would change depending on how the wind was blowing. It was surreal and magical.

At some point, we both had to use the bathroom, and luckily for us, there was this incredible restaurant, called Parks Paviljons, that just happens to be owned by Anita’s Latvian family. We went in for rums and cokes and, of course,  the beautiful bathroom. I met her extended family who were all very kind and welcoming. The restaurant was renovated so beautifully that I felt like I was on some movie set. The outside was part of the light show, and the facade was lit up in different colors. They served us our rums and cokes with rum and ice in the glass and a bottle of coke that we could mix for ourselves. I had never seen that before.

At some point, I bought a corndog from a booth vendor, and later we had some french fries and chicken nuggets. I had never seen a corndog in Latvia before, and it was sublime. It was two short hotdogs coated in cornmeal with a big chunk of cheese between, and then deep fried. It was crunchy, and the cheese in the middle just made it all the more amazing.

We stumbled our way to an incredible rock riff at display number 9, and then the lights suddenly shut off as we were finishing our french fries. It was 11 p.m., and that was when the show ended. Somehow, we had been walking through this maze of Liepāja for over 3 hours.

The Beach at Night

We had made it from object 17 to number 9, but we would have to wait to see the rest of the displays. Anita said we were close to the beach, so we took a walk on a sandy boardwalk toward the inky blackness of nothingness that was in the distance.

I have been on beaches at night, I am sure, but there was something fantastic about this beach at night in Liepāja. Maybe it was because it was so dark, and cold, and windy. I could just make out lights in the distance, ships passing in the night. There were flood lights further up the beach on some building that gave some illumination. The coolest thing was how the sand was just sifting and blowing up the beach. It looked like liquid flowing from south to north. Anita described it as if you were on another planet, and this is exactly how it felt.

I loved the sound of the wind and the waves as we moved toward the light.

Then we walked up the boardwalk and both of us were a bit drunk and exhausted, so we started heading toward home. We made it through an extensive park with incredible equipment and a giant stone globe that rotates when you push on it.

Pasaule Liepājā, Liepāja pasaulē

Eventually, we made it home, both of us suffering from the aches and pains of our past.

Saturday in Liepāja

As you may remember from my last Liepāja post, there is a cool record shop in the center and I was itching to go. I also wanted to introduce Anita to the concept of the Writing Marathon, since she is a bit of a writer herself.

What is a writing marathon? I am glad you asked! The idea is simple. You get a group of writers together in a place, and then you choose a few stops like coffee shops, libraries, park benches, etc. At each stop, you write for a designated amount of time, and then you share with the other people in your group. When you share, you don’t critique or analyze, but simply say “thank you.” Then you move to another place and continue the process. The idea is that you get energy from the people you are with and the places you are in. Doors unlock, your mind opens, and magic happens. It is a simple process that leads to beautiful results.

Typically, we start our Nebraska writing marathons with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And it just so happened that Anita had this book on her bookshelf, and I was able to find the quotation relatively quickly:

The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.

I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.

We started our little marathon at the record shop called Vinilkoks where the owner, Raitis, made us coffee and showed us photos of his recent encounter with the most famous pop music composer in Latvia, Raimonds Pauls (you may remember him from my last blog post). I then bought a few albums, and we moved on to our second stop which was also our option for lunch, Pastnieka māja. “Pastnieka” means “postman” and so I wrote about my great-grandfather on my father’s mother’s side who was a postman. I wish I knew more about these ancestors.

The final stop was this combination gift shop, tattoo parlor, bar, and coffee shop called Tinte & Kafija (Ink & Coffee). The final writing was about giving gifts and trying to understand how well we really know people. Gift giving is a test, isn’t it?

Saturday Night

I returned to the flat to refresh and recuperate before we headed out into the night to see the lights we had missed on Friday. This time, we went the right direction, starting with object number 2, the giant orange ball. A Latvian woman came up and asked me if I thought it was Jupiter or the Sun? I answered: Mars.

The highlights of this second night were the floating alien creatures that hovered above the dark street. They just kept going and going. Then we came to the forest that was illuminated by LED light bars and synchronized to a beautiful piece of classical music.

I think our collective favorite was number 9: “Ritmā” which means “in rhythm.” We had seen this one briefly the night before when the lights went out at 11. The rock riff hit so hard and heavy, and Anita proclaimed that, “I don’t like this kind of music, but I love this.” We actually sat down on a bench near the fountain and watched and listened 4 times all the way through. There were 3 or 4 movements all together, starting gently and then building and building. The finale was this rock guitar riff that was just incredible.

Anita was pretty emo throughout the performances, and kept blaming the tears she shed on allergies. There were lots of dogs around, so maybe she had a point. It was a beautiful and transcendent experience, and it is hard to believe that a short performance of lights and sounds could be so moving. Rhythms are such an important thing to humans. The beating of a heart. The waves on the beach. The wind blowing through the trees. The cycle of life and death. The sun, the moon. We live within these patterns of rhythm, and taking some time to recognize our rhythms is a beautiful endeavor.

We also saw the rave that was “Pūt, vējiņi!” based on one of Latvias most popular songs. It was underwhelming. We ended up spending a lot of time at the “Karaliskās debesis” display, and I just loved it.

We had some bad french fries. I had another corndog because I couldn’t resist. And then we walked home and called it a night.

Leaving Liepāja

On Sunday, I had planned to get back to Riga relatively early, but all the buses leaving Liepāja were full, so I got a ticket for the 17:30 train, the only one available. This meant that we had time to have coffee and listen to some of the albums we had purchased the day before. We listened to the Bangles, Different Light, commenting on the songs and noting who had written and sang each one. I was surprised to learn that Susanna, who sings “Walk Like and Egyptian” was not the primary singer for most of the songs. Each one had their own voice and talent. Also, the biggest hits were not written by them.

We also listened to my bootleg copy of The Doors greatest hits on Soviet/Russian vinyl. And Anita bought Bolan Boogie by Marc Bolan/T Rex. This album has a mix of classic songs with some less accessible ones from his early career. Anita used a great description of his music… something like “hippy dippy shit.” But I cannot remember exactly. We also agreed that some songs were a bit self-indulgent, and looking at the length of this blog post, I guess that Bolan isn’t the only self-indulgent one in this universe.

I walked around Liepāja one more time that afternoon, but I didn’t make it back to the beach as I had planned because my legs just were not cooperating. I did make it to the mall which was nice. I also bought delicious pastries from Roma, a cool coffee shop, where an old man asked me for some change. I gave him some, and couldn’t help thinking of my father.

On the train ride, I was given the gift of a beautiful sunset. I apologize that these images were taken through a dirty train window, but I think it enhances them a bit.

Remember that Liepāja was selected to be a European Cultural Capital in 2027! So get ready to visit!

More photos


Side note

I have started a Gofundme for collecting money to buy new hearing aids. If you can donate great. If not, maybe share the link. Thank you!

I also forgot to mention Imants Kalniņš. Kalniņš is one of Latvia’s great composers who has this mural in Liepāja that depicts him with these incredibly soulful eyes. Anita was so taken with this painting, and it became a through line connecting the dots of the whole experience. He wrote the music for one of Latvia’s most beloved films, Četri balti krekli (Four white shirts).

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