Tuesday, May 26, 2015

European Month of Culture

May is the European Month of Culture in DC, when the European country embassies organize a variety of cultural events. May 9 was European Union Open House Day, during which all of the EU embassies are open to the public for six hours. I spent most of the day at the Embassy of Latvia, first singing with my folk music ensemble, then helping answer visitors' questions about the historic building and about Latvia itself. Wearing my folk costume means that I also had my photo taken many, many times.

The Embassy of Latvia also hosted two well-known writers one evening. Poet Liāna Langa and novelist Nora Ikstena read some of their work in Latvian, and translator Margita Gailītis read the same pieces in English. Between that evening, and the after-party following the open house (in which they also participated), I had the pleasure of getting to know all three women a bit. It was interesting to hear that the London Book Fair will be featuring the three Baltic countries in 2018, which means there is currently a special effort underway to translate more Latvian literature into other languages, particularly English because that is a gateway to other languages.
Liana Langa on the left, Nora Ikstena on the right
My signed copy of Ikstena's "Life Stories"
To attend this year's Eurovision-viewing party, a friend and I made our way to an embassy-lined cul de sac and the Embassy of Austria. While the party itself was not quite as comfortable (sitting on a hardwood floor!) or well-organized as last year's, we had a lot of fun enjoying the contest itself and cheering for Latvia's entry, the singer Aminata with her song "Love Injected." While Sweden won the contest, Latvia finished in a very respectable sixth place out of a total of 27 countries who made it through to the final. 
Cheering on Latvia with our mini Latvian flags
Although we were not gifted with handy Eurovision post-it notes this time around, we did each receive a nifty Vienna pen. If this type of Eurovision-viewing party continues, then next year's party would be slated to take place at the Embassy of Sweden, which is housed in a beautiful modern building on the Potomac River in Georgetown - I hope I will be able to attend!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Baltic Countries Advance to Eurovision Final

May has been a busy month (at least one post coming up about that). In the meantime, I am very excited that the entries from all three Baltic countries advanced from their respective semi-finals to the Eurovision Song Contest final, which will take place on Saturday, May 23. Even if you are not in Europe, you can watch the concert online, which will be broadcast from Vienna, Austria beginning at 9pm Central European Time. From what I hear, it is only the third time the three Baltics have been in the final together, and the first time since 2002.

You can see more about how each contestant is doing here:
Aminata singing her heart out! (Source: Facebook)
I actually like all three songs, but (unsurprisingly, probably!) I will be rooting for Aminata. The bookies are saying Sweden will win, but it seems that Latvia has a real chance. A friend and I will be attending a Eurovision-viewing party, which we greatly enjoyed last year; if nothing else, I predict it will be a fun and entertaining afternoon!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Takoma Park Historic Homes Tour

Takoma Park is known both as a suburb of Washington and an area of the city itself, as greater Takoma Park actually straddles the Washington/Maryland border. Occasionally referred to as "The People's Republic of Takoma Park" due to its citizens' activism and liberalism, the center of Takoma Park has many old homes built in the 1880s and 1890s. I recently attended the 42nd Annual Takoma Park House and Garden Tour, and had the opportunity to visit nine such homes. While from outside the houses all look similarly historic, the interior varied to historic-looking to modern.

The first stop on the tour was the Cady Lee Mansion, which is a National Register Historic Property, and the largest of the area's remaining Victorian homes. With 27 rooms, fifty windows, seven gables, and several fireplaces, it was easy to see how grand the house must have been in its time although the building now contains offices for a non-profit organization.

The feature I loved most on many of the homes were the large front porches. Several houses also had wonderful screened-in back porches that any Washingtonian would be jealous of in the hot summer. 
Who wouldn't like to sip iced tea here?
This second story porch had a treehouse vibe to it.
While it was a tad difficult to take photos given that many other people were enjoying the tour, I did manage to snap a few to share with you.
Maybe one day I'll own a purple house!
Many beautiful fireplaces to be seen.
Great decorating ideas, as well.
This carriage house is now an apartment, & currently for rent!
The carriage house was behind this beauty.

The window has become a neighborhood landmark.
Naturally, some of the gardens were also quite nice.
After visiting nine houses, my friend and I were short on energy and skipped the last three homes on the tour, but we did pop into an interesting local store, Trohv. The price points here are rather steep, yet I did find some fantastic greeting cards and also spotted this cool piece of furniture.
By then we were ready for some food and drink, and stopped at the new Busboys & Poets location for some sustenance. Busboys & Poets is a DC institution by now, and it's nice to see them expand. The restaurant also has a small bookstore managed by another DC institutions, Politics & Prose. Combining good food and good book in one place - a genius idea!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spring Walks along the C&O Canal

Among the many wonderful things about living in the DC area, one of the absolute best is springtime. The area has a plethora of blooming trees and bushes, in addition to many flowers, and a good portion of these bloom around the same time. While the city itself is known for the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, there are a total of 13 cherry varieties in the area. We also have many redbuds, magnolia trees, and dogwoods, plus a stunning amount of azalea bushes, which I adore due to the variety and richness of colors.
Redbud on C&O Canal
On two consecutive April weekends I walked along the C&O Canal, which is my favorite place for walks in the DC area. In the Great Falls area my walk was going to be a quick stroll, and began at the Tavern Visitor Center, but the weather and nature were so beautiful that my legs took me a bit past Old Angler's Inn, and back, for a total of five miles. Another stroll was near the town of Poolesville, between mile markers 27 and 29, and a total of four miles. 

The reason I even decided to make my way to the C&O on one particular Sunday morning was that the previous day I had heard (thanks, Twitter!) about bluebells being in peak bloom. It was well worth the drive and the walk, as they were just lovely!
I also discovered a little nook, located between the trail and the Potomac River, which had a tiny burbling stream and some of the world's greenest grass. The stream even made its way through the roots of a tree.
As is typical in this area, I did also spot some wildlife.
The other walk, near Poolesville, was much more peaceful because that part of the trail is far less popular. It was also unique in that quite a few wildflowers were blooming - not just bluebells.
They included a number I had never before seen, and I even took to Twitter to find out the name of these dark purple beauties: they are a type of trillium sometimes called toadshade. Later I found this wonderful guide of wildflowers found along the canal.
Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem
Flowers even bloom in the swampy canal!
We also spotted a few grape hyacinth, which were a gorgeous shade of blue-purple, and many violets.

In retrospect, I should have been taking photos of all mile markers along my many C&O Canal walks so that I could remember where exactly I have been, but hindsight is always 20/20, right?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Potpourri: Garezers & Latvian Independence & Jelgava

Quite a few Latvian-Americans are getting ready for this summer's big 50th anniversary celebration in Garezers. If you are planning on participating, you can still buy tickets online (only $100 gains you entrance to almost every single event over the entire schedule events, and saves you from needing to buy individual tickets on-site), volunteer to help with a project this spring or during the festivities, or sponsor the documentary film that's currently in the works!

If you have not yet seen the film's trailer, I suggest checking it out. Currently it's in Latvian, but I have heard English language subtitles are in the works, and subtitles are planned for the full movie. The music and scenery in the trailer are impressive on their own. Filmmaker Māra Pelēcis spent many hours last summer interviewing people who represent Garezers and its history, and has gathered old photographs from the last fifty years for use in the film. For only $25 you can support the film, see your name in the credits, and receive a copy of the DVD. Other sponsor categories also exist, with appropriate "goodies."

Occasions such as this anniversary call for memorable photos. This is a classic from 1979 that my mom found in our family's albums.The vast majority of those kids (now adults, many with children of their own) still visit Garezers regularly.

May 4 is Restoration of Independence Day in Latvia, and this year was the 25th anniversary of Latvia's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. I posted the following elsewhere, and thought I would share it with you, as well.

So happy that Latvia is celebrating its 25th anniversary since regaining independence, and grateful for the many people in Latvia and abroad who for many years dreamed of and worked toward that goal. Was reminded of some of the things we used to do here in the US in the 80s and early 90s - demonstrations at the federal government buildings in our cities, letter writing campaigns to our Congress representatives (when one actually had to write and mail a letter), letters to the editors of local newspapers, occasionally even traveling several hundred miles to DC for big demonstrations.
One of the more unique things may have been the "hotline" located in my family's basement in the very late 80s/early 90s. This was, of course, back in the day before the instant communication we are all accustomed to now. Every day my dad collected news from various sources (including from people's phone calls with friends and family in Latvia) on current events in Latvia and the other Baltic countries, and recorded the news on the answering machine connected to an extra phone line, which existed specifically for this purpose. People could call at any time, day or night, to hear the newest news. Not sure who came up with the idea, but gotta say it was pretty genius.

In a convenient coincidence, Heather has been exploring Latvia, and in this post she explains the tragic history of and shows the hidden beauty found in Jelgava, which happens to be my dad's hometown.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Met: A Mega Museum

Among the absolute "must sees" in New York City is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By chance  we visited precisely on the museums' 145th anniversary, as it was incorporated on April 13, 1870! Housed in a two-million-square-foot building on the southeastern edge of Central Park, the museum is so expansive that one could easily spend several days here.
New fountains at the front entrance!
With this being at least my third visit to the museum and knowing that a coffee break will likely be necessary, I made sure to quiz my cousin's wife about the best cafe in the museum, then wandered off to explore.

One of the special exhibits was "The Plains Indians: Artist of Earth and Sky," so I made sure to stop by that. The beadwork on various items was particularly impressive and lovely.
Men's moccasins and - in the back - a bear claw necklace!
Gorgeous color and detail on this men's jacket
Then I mostly meandered rather aimlessly - popping in and out of rooms if something struck my fancy or if I became uninterested. The museum truly has something for everyone. Below are just a few random items I photographed to share with you.
Van Gogh, The Flowering Orchard (1888)
Gold necklace with amethyst & glass (6th/7th century)
Silver peacock, Hungary (1787)
They even have baseball cards!
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Gotlieb Leutze
Two areas in which I spent more time were the galleries of 19th century European paintings, as the Met has an amazing collection, and the American Wing. Among other things, the American Wing features a bright and airy courtyard/atrium, in the middle of which are several statues, on one side a small cafe overlooking a corner of Central Park, and on two sides various artwork by Tiffany and other stained glass artists.
Autumn Landscape, Tiffany (1923-1924)
Garden Lanscape, Tiffany, (ca. 1905-1915)
Loggia from Tiffany's Oyster Bay, NY home (ca. 1905)
With that I wrap up mini-tour of the Met for you, my dear readers, and implore you to visit the museum yourself whenever you are in New York City!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Borough of Brooklyn, Part II

Another day began with brunch, as a Sunday in the city should. In looking around online, I had found a restaurant that sounded perfect to me, and - indeed - it was. L'Albero dei Gelati is a cozy spot with wonderful food, superior coffee, a great selection of cakes and cookies that appeal to those of us who prefer desserts which aren't overly sweet, and luscious gelato. I also appreciated that the cafe offered almond milk in its espresso drinks for those who prefer that to cow's milk.
We all savored our meals and coffee, plus the gluten-free almond chocolate cake I needed to have for dessert. Afterward we hit the pavement, checking out cute neighborhood shops while walking to DUMBO (aka "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass"). 
Brooklyn street corner
At one point on our walk we passed a large Brooklyn Heights office building outside of which we noticed a number of reporters and news vans; upon asking, it turned out that Hillary Clinton had recently rented an office in that building, and the media was waiting to see whether she might announce her candidacy for President that day. In the end, she did it via video, thus those reporters were waiting in vain.

Once we reached the East River, we sat down to rest our feet, to soak up the spring sunshine, and to enjoy the view. With the Statue of Liberty on our far left, the Manhattan heliport (incredibly busy!) to the left, Manhattan right in front of us, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges to our right, and many people out soaking up some vitamin D in the spring sunshine, there was plenty to observe.

We continued on our way to a chocolate shop, Jacques Torre. I was still stuffed from brunch, so I ordered only a single chocolate truffle, while the relatives gained sustenance from the very rich and slightly spicy hot chocolate. After stopping in a bookshop named The Powerhouse Arena, we headed  to the closest subway stop, yet were sidetracked when we noticed a vintage Danish furniture store, where we stared and gasped at many of the price tags.
Spotted at The Powerhouse Arena
Spotted on a wall somewhere on the streets of Dumbo
Upon returning home, clearly a tad tired from two days of walking and city touring, I took a nap - one that was meant to be a half-hour long, yet stretched to several hours. I cannot recall the last time I'd napped for such a long time, but must confess it was incredibly relaxing. And good thing, as my trip was not yet over!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy Friday, People!

Earlier this week I attended the Maris Briezkalns Quintet's performance on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage as they presented the world premiere of "Rothko in Jazz." The recording of the hour-long concert can be found here on the Kennedy Center's website.

Tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day, a rather new phenomenon, but a great one! There seems to be no comprehensive website of all events around the country, but if you search for "independent bookstore day" and your area, or just look up your favorite bookstore's website, you might find the store has special events planned. I will be stopping by Washington's best bookstore, Politics & Prose, where the wise and amusing folks there have scheduled a full day of fun. Of particular note is the fact that all of the participating stores will be selling limited edition items such as this incredibly adorable baby onesie.
(Source: Politics-Prose.com)
Enjoy your weekend!!!