Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Indignity of Winter, Mary Todd Lincoln, & Two Chocolate Cakes

This month is one of ridiculously freezing temperatures, too much snow and ice, too much stress at work, but fortunately it is also a month of celebrations.

A sheet of ice: great if you are ice skating or bobsledding, but if you are driving a car, then it is less than ideal. On a recent Saturday night I had taken Metro into downtown DC to see the play "The Widow Lincoln" at Ford's Theater. The theater is best known as the location of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865, which was 150 years ago. To mark the occasion, Ford's Theater and museum are organizing a variety of special events, one of which was commissioning the play about Pres. Lincoln's widow in the aftermath of his murder.

While my friend and I were relishing this new work and the superb acting by the all-female cast, a short but intense snow squall moved through the area - followed by arctic temperatures. When I returned to my car parked at the Metro station and proceeded to drive home, I was unpleasantly surprised to find roads in terrible condition - some were pure ice. Many smaller cars or those with older tires were having trouble - tires spinning, rear ends fishtailing (I particularly had to chuckle at the expensive sporty BMW convertible which might be fun on a sunny summer's day, but was clearly outmatched by the conditions), and I, too, had a few scary moments.

That experience led me to avoid driving on Sunday morning, when I should have traveled to my favorite bakery to pick up a chocolate cake. Having spent a few too many moments deciding which cake to order, then finally choosing the luscious sounding 'Chocolate Decadence' torte (five layers of flourless chocolate cake and four layers of chocolate mousse with a chocolate ganache glaze!), I was quite upset that my investment might go to waste. However, I did not think it was a wise idea to risk life and limb just to retrieve a small cake! Instead I stopped at a grocery store for a replacement dessert -- also chocolate cake, of course -- and then met seven girlfriends for a lovely birthday brunch at a wonderful restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi. After brunch we enjoyed cake and coffee at a friend's apartment. Luckily I'd been able to contact yet another friend who lives close to said bakery, and she was kind enough to run over to pick up my cake before the store closed. I then drove to her home, where she, her husband, and I enjoyed some of the torte, which indeed was decadent.

Thus ends the tale of two cakes, although the indignity of winter just continues... However, many areas (hello, Boston!) are even harder hit than the DC area, but thoughts of moving to San Diego definitely surface in my consciousness with some regularity.

Another weekend consisted of more celebrating (again interrupted by weather, so plans had to be altered somewhat) at a cabin in Virginia wine country thanks to another friend whose birthday is this month. The weekend consisted of much food, wine, mimosas, laughter, games, music, and watching the Academy Awards.

Apologies for the text-heavy post--clearly photographing hasn't been high on my list of priorities!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Latvians Love Art (or Does Art Love Latvians?)

Latvians love culture of almost any shape and form. Theater performances in Rīga can sell out weeks in advance, music is everywhere, even the smallest town in Latvia has an art or music school, and literature is held in high regard.

The house my parents bought when I was thirteen came with a billiards table in the basement. My parents owned so many paintings that some of the pieces were hung close together on the basement walls, leading me to call that space our "pool hall/art gallery." Their love of art was passed down to me, and I am happy to now own numerous artworks by Latvian artists.

Most of the pieces have been purchased in Garezers during exhibits there. Almost twenty years ago an extensive exhibit of paintings by arguably the best known (in the U.S.) Latvian-American artist, Jānis Kalmīte, was held in the Garezers art gallery, and most of those pieces were for sale. This was soon after he had passed away at age 89, leaving behind a lifetime's worth of artwork, mostly oil paintings. At the time, I was a college student with few extra funds. Yet I fell in love with one of the less expensive works, and arranged with the gallery director to pay in two installments. Unframed, it cost $150. A few years later, my parents had it beautifully framed as a birthday gift.

Kalmīte is known for his many variations of the Latvian farm building "rija." Almost every Latvian community center in the U.S. has one hanging on its walls, and many Latvian homes do, as well. My parents knew Kalmīte, as they worked together at Garezers, where the artist taught Latvian art history. The summers after my sister and I were each born, Kalmīte invited my mother to stop by for a visit sometime. When she did, he instructed her to pick out a painting - his gift to the newborns. What a nice friend to have! 

Christmas cards that Kalmīte sent to friends often contained small watercolors or sketches. My parents received several of those. My mom had a couple of the tiny watercolors framed, and I was the lucky recipient of one. The third work I have by Kalmīte is a simple sketch, with the words "From the Garezers sketch book" inked on the front, and a short letter penned on the back. In the letter, written in the spring of 1985, he writes about working at Garezers that summer and of a recent trip to and exhibit in Germany. He finishes: “Tātad - uz redzēšanos, un sveicieni kundzei un princesēm." Translation: Alright then - see you soon, and greetings to your wife and the princesses. Yes, my younger sister and I are the royalty to whom he refers.

Three other works I own are by my dear friend Linda Treija, an artist who grew up and was educated in Latvia, but has lived in the U.S. for two decades. She and I met years ago at 3x3 (an all generations camp) in Garezers (where else?). One work was a commission - I asked her to illustrate one of my favorite folk songs, Lempim bija pieci dēli. The other two are illustrations - one of a man in folk costume from the town of Talsi, and the other of a girl in a folk dress from the Lielvārde area. These were created for a wonderful book written by folk costume expert Liena Kaugara. My reasons for purchasing these two specific pieces: my current folk costume is from Talsi, while as a girl I wore one from Lielvārde.

Several years ago the Garezers gallery organized a big art sale, and I purchased two small pieces. One, by the Latvian-Canadian artist Visvaldis Ķiķauka (try saying that three times fast!) was already nicely framed and matted, while the other was in a cheap old frame. The pieces have similar themes and colors, so my idea was to display them together once I'd gotten the one painting framed. Several years later I finally did have the piece matted and framed, and I absolutely love the result, although I've decided that they work better in different spots, not grouped together.
This summer, in conjunction with the Garezers 50th anniversary, the art gallery there will be holding yet another art sale. My good friend Līga Ejupe is the curator and director of the gallery, and she provided the following flyer with information. If you are interested in donating or selling a piece on commission, please do contact her. If you are interested in purchasing Latvian art, then visit the gallery in Garezers this summer between July 3 and July 12!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Upcoming Latvian Mega-Events

In the depth of winter, one of my favorite activities is looking forward to summer, and - in particular - upcoming Latvian events. Because - after all - nothing says summer like a Latvian song festival!

The event I will be attending is Garezers' huge 50th anniversary celebration from July 2 - 5.

If you'll be in Latvia at the beginning of July, see if you can get tickets for the Youth Song & Dance Festival, which takes place in Riga from July 6 - 12.

If you'd like to attend a cozy and smaller scale song and dance festival, book a flight to California for Labor Day weekend, and attend the Latvian Song Festival being held in San Jose.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Latvian Links for You!

Photographer Gaston Lacombe used to live in Latvia, but he recently returned to take photos at Lake Pape. Some of his gorgeous photographs are now in the World Wildlife Fund's magazine.

In conjunction with Latvia's European Union presidency, a number of Latvian cultural events are being held in various countries - even the U.S. The Philipps Collection, a lovely private museum in DC, will host the RIX piano quartet and flutist Dita Krenberga performing works by Peteris Vasks on Thursday, February 12.

If you are in the New York City area (or close enough to travel there), the magnificent choir "Latvija" will be visiting and performing two shows this spring. The first is at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, which is an intimate space, so tickets will sell out quickly, particularly at only $20 a pop. The performance is on Saturday, April 11. The other performance will be at Lincoln Center on April 9, although tickets are not yet available. The choir's debut performance at Lincoln Center took place in 2010 during the White Light Festival, and was met with critical acclaim.

For information about events in other countries, check out the Events section on the Presidency website.

Also, I just discovered this website with gorgeous photos of Latvia.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More Highlights from Charleston

Although Charleston is a relatively small city, there's much to do, and we managed to squeeze quite a few activities into our short trip. Highlights included...

Seeing dolphins play in the water while we took the ferry out to Fort Sumter (the Ravenel Bridge is in the background)...

Visiting Fort Sumter, which is the spot where the Civil War began...

Driving to Sullivan's Island for a walk along the ocean and to see what might be one of the least attractive lighthouses...
It was chilly, but these pups didn't mind.
..and catching glimpse of beach houses that might be on my list of "dream vacation home."

Strolling around Mount Pleasant, which included seeing some attractive homes - and this sign:

Ambling around the center of Charleston, including Waterfront Park and its iconic fountain....
...and the many beautiful historic buildings, as well as the city market. 

We were also tempted to stop by Jeni's Ice Cream a second time, as there were too many flavors we'd left untested...

Getting out to John's Island to discover a tea plantation and learn more about tea (turns out neither of us knew all that much!) and sample lots of hot and iced tea...
Tea fields and their all important drainage system
The plantation's mascot had a broken leg, so I signed the cast.
Other tea plantations are rather far away...
And while on John's Island, pay homage to the impressive Angel Oak Tree, which is at least 400 years old, and over 66 feet tall, and essentially impossible to capture in a photograph...
Wherever we went, we stopped to appreciate any blooming camelias...

One tip - if you visit Charleston and rent a car upon arriving at the airport, I suggest renting from one of the larger companies that have their rental counters and vehicles on airport grounds. The walk from the gate to the counters is no more than 4 minutes, and the cars are located right outside the door - definitely made picking up the car and dropping it off quick and simple.

Overall, Charleston is an incredibly charming city, and I am grateful I had the chance to visit!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Thought-Provoking Article

I enjoy reading and learning about many different issues, including personal finance. The article "Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make" is incredibly thought-provoking, and I urge you to read - particularly if you have children. Financial education is practically non-existent in schools, yet it seems most parents don't make a conscious effort to educate their children about finances, including how far their salary goes. Some of the ideas set forth in the article sound like excellent suggestions to help kids understand money and prepare them for their own lives. The writer's forthcoming book also seems like a worthwhile read.