Sunday, June 28, 2015

Latvian "Street Art" in Garezers

Last summer, while visiting Garezers for the GVV 50th anniversary weekend, I photographed a few other things to share with you in addition to photos of those events. Now that summer has arrived, and slightly over 100 North American teenagers are getting ready to attend GVV, it might be a good time to finally show you those photographs!

My dear friend Linda Treija has been teaching art to the Garezers' program participatns for quite a few years, and she continually comes up with wonderful public art projects for the students to work on. Below are three relatively small pieces, which, while not large in size, are quite powerful. For those familiar with GVV buildings, the first two are on Kronvalda zāle, while the third is on the wall of Vecā vidusskola.
A relatively new building in the GVV territory is Avoti, named after GVV's founding father Eduards Avots. The building contains classrooms, and the hallway has been beautifully decorated with an enormous mural featuring characters from Latvian literature and various famous authors. Piecinieki tiem, kuri visvairāk atpazīst! The mural was not quite complete when I visited, but it looked fantastic nonetheless, and I look forward to seeing the finished product. These kids have got some talent!

If you do visit Garezers (and don't have kids attending GVV) sometime this summer, I highly encourage you to venture past Dzintari, baznīca and kantīne to the GVV area to see this art in person. In addition to these pieces, there is a large older mural inside Kronvalda zale. It was completed in

If you do visit Garezers (and don't have kids attending GVV) sometime this summer, I highly encourage you to venture past Dzintari, baznīca and kantīne to the GVV area to see this art in person. The other wonderful things to visit in the immediate vicinity that are well worth your time are three museums. If you think, how in the world can there be three museums in the middle of the Michigan woods, and you have never taken the time to them, then you have no idea what you're missing! The Klinklavs Art Gallery, located on the second floor of Kronvalda zāle, is home to the largest collection of Latvian art outside of Latvia, and will be hosting an amazing art market during Garezers' 50th anniversary celebration next week. The O. Grīns Folk Art Museum, located next to the art gallery in Kronvalda zāle, has a beautiful and impressive collection of folk costumes, knitted mittens, jewelry, and much more - some it recently crafted, while other pieces were brought to the U.S. from Europe by post-war refugees. The Latvian Boy Scout & Girl Guide Museum is the most recent addition, and exhibits information and artifacts reflecting the history of Latvian scouting. Bonus tip regarding visiting these spaces: they are air conditioned, which can bring welcome relief and respite on a hot summer's day!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Solstice Sunset

We have had more 90+ degree days this year than I care to count. June 21 was yet another one - plus humid and muggy to boot. Still, that morning I met a friend for a stroll in Rock Creek Park. My afternoon was spent taking care of various tasks, but having checked most of them off my "To do" list, and given that it was the longest day of year, I decided to visit one of my favorite spots in the area, Great Falls at the C&O Canal. This small section of the park and canal towpath is typically full of people on Saturdays and Sundays, but by the time I arrived at 8pm, only a few cars remained in the parking lot. 

On my way to the falls overlook, several other visitors and I were surprised to see a beaver appear on the towpath. It seemed a tad confused, probably because it had a small crowd of spectators, but eventually ambled from the river side over to the canal side, and dove into the canal's murky waters. This was my first ever wild beaver sighting, and I must say it's not a particularly attractive animal! I wasn't quick enough to take a good photo, but in this one you can at least see its large tail.
Due to the recent rains we've had, the falls looked great.
A sliver of the moon was also visible.
The sun was very slow to set...
Only after I left the falls overlook did more pink appear in the sky, and on my way back to the parking lot I managed to capture a bit of that.
Pink reflection in the canal.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Travels in the Imagination

While the words "art" and "Washington, D.C." might seem incongruous, that is not the case at all. The DC area is home to many excellent art museums and more than a few galleries. With the Embassy of Latvia having its own art space in the building immediately next to the Embassy, there have been quite a number of Latvian art exhibits to see in the last several years. This summer, however, a larger museum is exhibiting the work of a Latvian artist who not well-known, but whose eclectic and imaginative art will be of interest to many.

On a recent Friday evening I visited the American University Katzen Arts Center for the opening of an exhibit of works by Latvian artist Visvaldis Ziediņš. The exhibit is titled "Travels in the Imagination." I knew very little about the art or the artist, but loved what I saw and learned. Ziediņš was born in the port city of Liepāja in 1942, went to an arts high school, but did not pursue art at the university level. He spent his life in Liepāja, making a living designing department store displays, theater sets, and the like. In his free time, however, he created artwork, which he created only for himself and a small group of local artist friends. During Ziediņš' life he only had only four shows in Liepāja. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007. To put his life span into historical context, one needs to remember that World War II was being fought in 1942, when he was born, and Latvia was recaptured by the Soviet Red Army (from the German Army) in 1944. Soviet occupation lasted for approximately fifty years, with Latvia declaring its independence in 1990.
Katzen Arts Center, American University
As explained in the lovely exhibit booklet by one of the curators, Eleanor Heartney:
"But if Ziediņš' outward life was unremarkable, the works he left behind attest to a complex and deeply satisfying inner world. Two years after his death, art historian Ieva Kalniņa and art gallery director Ivonna Veiherte were invited by one of Ziediņš' artist friends to his home where they discovered a trove of over 3,000 paintings, collages, and assemblage sculptures. In addition, they found an extensive archive of diaries, photographs and documents in which he detailed his artistic preoccupations, theories of art, and interactions with other artists. In the years since this discovery, Kalniņa has organized this material, used it to produce a detailed study of  Ziediņš' work, and facilitated a number of exhibitions of his art, including this one. Reflecting on his legacy, she notes: "...we can be glad of this chance to obtain a detailed insight into the breadth of inner freedom of a creative individual under totalitarian conditions."
"Box: Freedom Figure", 1988.
According to art historian and exhibit curator Ieva Kalniņa (as described in the booklet): "Chronologically the works in Visvaldis Ziediņš' collection span the period 1958 to 2006. More than a third were created in the 60s. However, some of his work from the 60s has subsequently been reworked or augmented."
The piece above, titled "Freedom Figure," immediately struck me - with its dramatic use of red, and the female figure stretching her arms - she reminded me of "Milda," the woman at top of the Latvian Freedom Monument in Riga. He created the work in 1988, which was essentially the beginning of the Singing Revolution in the Baltic countries, or the beginning of the end of Soviet rule.

Much of his work was created using found items, such as driftwood and feathers from the beach, or recycled materials, such as crates or leftover paint from his day-time jobs.Wandering around the exhibit, I was impressed by his resourcefulness, ingenuity and sheer creativity. I will share several photos of my favorite pieces, but if you are in the DC area, I highly recommend visiting the exhibit yourself! It is on display through July 26. (Unfortunately my computer was being finicky, and didn't wish to properly upload several photos, thus there are a couple of oil paintings and small sculptures I'm unable to show you, and the 'boxes' are a bit over-represented here.)
"Pine in the Wind." Undated.
"Box: Fairytale." 1986.
"Box: Sandpit." 1988
"Bespectacled." 1992

"Box: Sea." 1987
"Box: Atlantic Sardines." 1989. (My absolute favorite!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Music & Food in Boston

Boston is an iconic American city, and one that I enjoy greatly. With having family there and with the availability of relatively inexpensive and short flights from the DC area, I visit quite frequently. My most recent trip coincided with a Latvian concert I wanted to attend. It ended up being a low-key, relaxing weekend, with a heavy emphasis on good food.

Arriving mid-day on a Thursday, I took the T into the city (great travel tip: taking the Silver Line from the airport to any end-point in the T system is free!), and met a friend of a friend. Carla and I had been Twitter friends for a while; a friend and colleague of mine knew Carla from college and had mentioned Carla's love and study of chocolate.. Being a chocoholic, I was intrigued, so I looked her up and we began following one another on Twitter. Naturally, I brought her a few local DC area chocolates, Undone (my absolute favorite - the sea salt bar is amazingly good) and Salazon, to sample. She had plans to take me to a chocolate cafe, but it was lunchtime, and before we could enjoy chocolate, I needed savory sustenance, for which Carla chosen a wonderful little place called Sofra. The day's special was a chili with coffee and chocolate--clearly that had my name written all over it. The chili was flavorful, and the salad I ordered was incredibly fresh. 

Then we proceeded to L.A. Burdick, which is best known for its adorable chocolate mice and penguins, but it also has a small cafe. There we each sipped a decadent hot chocolate or mocha and a piece of cake (they only had one option that was relatively gluten-free, and it was average - the other desserts looked far more decadent). Much of the cafe had a European feel to it, but I found the uncomfortable seats to be a bit disappointing, although it might be their way of discouraging long-term sitting. On our way out, I picked up a few small truffles to take with me. We still had time to check out Harvard Coop, which is one of the more attractive American bookstores I've visited. Naturally, I found a book to purchase, but also nicer than average postcards to send to a Twitter friend and my youngest niece and nephew, who probably receive more postcards in a year than many people do in a lifetime. During our entire visit Carla and I were so busy chatting that I ended up not taking any photos. However - if you've never been to Cambridge and Harvard Square particularly, I can assure you it's a fun and rather photogenic part of Boston, and one I am always happy to re-visit. Carla and I eventally parted ways, but before getting back on the T, I stopped in at the very entertaining Curious George Store.

In the evening, I joined my family members in heading to the Latvian Lutheran church, which is located in a lovely part of Brookline. The Boston Latvian Choir has recently been an ad hoc group, under the leadership of the supremely talented Krissy Skare. A group of singer and musicians had come together late last fall, and held a Christmas concert to rave reviews. I only saw short video clips, but was duly impressed. Earlier this year, I received an email asking what Latvian songs about the sun I know. I shared a fair amount of information, and thus found out that the choir was planning a spring concert, and promptly booked a flight (yay for frequent flyer miles!).
The concert was titled "Lec, Saulīte!" or "Rise, Sun!", and featured a variety of sun and summer solstice-themed pieces, performed by the choir and ensembles/soloists/instrumentalists in varying combinations. The program was  entertaining, moving, and certainly one of the most fun Latvian choir concerts I've ever attended. I will mention just some of the highlights.
"Ģērbies, saule, sudrabota," a folksong arranged for mixed choir by Anita Kupriss, is a much-loved piece often heard at concerts and festivals, including the final concert of the Latvian National Song Festival in 2008. Anita lives in the Boston area, and sings with the choir, thus it was particularly touching to hear this song performed by a choir of which she is a part.

A performance that surprised me with its beauty was a viola solo by Silvija Kristapsone - it was a medley of summer solstice songs, arranged by her father, Māris Kristapsons. When one is accustomed to singing these songs or hearing them sung, an instrumental performance can show the melodies in a different light. Another lovely  solo, this one vocal, was Krissy Skare's interpretation of the well-known folksong "Saulīt' vēlu vakarā."
Krissy preparing to sing - accompanied by pianist Bret Silverman
The Latgallian folk song "Aizalaida sauļeite" as arranged by Iļģi but interpreted by the choir, was perfomed by the women, with instrumentals by several performers, was a huge hit. Anita Kupriss played the trompet, and while that's an instrument one doesn't typically associate with Latvian music, it worked incredibly well. I managed to record about a minute and a half of the song, and you can view that here. You'll notice how much fun the performers are having!

The biggest hit of the night was "Lec, saulīte!" by Raimonds Tiguls and Rasa Bugavičute. I wish I'd been able to record some of it, but I was too busy listening to and appreciating the gorgeous music. The audience loved the song so much that there were very Latvian requests of "Atkārtot!" (Repeat!) coming from the row behind me. Because the song is a bit lengthy, Krissy had the choir repeat only the second part. However, this song is so beautiful, and it was so movingly performed that the American woman who doesn't understand a word of Latvian sitting next to me - who doesn't understand a word of Latvian - was wiping away tears. For a version of the song as performed by a much larger group, you can check out this video of the grand finale of a 2014 summer solstice dance and music performance in Riga. (The composer Tiguls is the same one whom I saw in New York City when he performed with the choir Latvija. In the previous video he can be seen with a plaid scarf around his neck, and flowers in his hands. If you'd like to learn the words to "Lec, saulīte!" see this karaoke-style video.)

For the final piece, the choir had chosen a folksong called "Noriet saule vakarā," as arranged by Folkvakars. We were asked to sing and even dance along. I'm hoping no one has a photo of me singing and dancing in the aisle, but - boy - that was enjoyable!
Like I said - a fun concert!
The next couple of days were spent relaxing and eating. I had the chance to try out the Roslindale restaurant Redd's in Rozzie, the amazing Jamaica Plains dessert heaven FoMu, as well as Inna's Kitchen in Newton, all of which I would return to in a heartbeat! The paella at Redd's, the purple mu ice cream and mini gluten-free sandwich cookies at FoMu, and the buckwheat blintzes, iced coffee, and freshly squeeze orange juice at Inna's were - essentially - perfect. Also, service in all three spots was friendly and helpful (something which all to frequently cannot be found at DC area dining establishments).

My flight back to the DC area was on Saturday evening, as I wanted to be at the DC Latvian school's graduation on Sunday (the students graduating had been my students a number of years ago). And because clearly I'd not eaten enough during my visit, I made time to enjoy a crabmeat roll (on gluten-free bun!) at the airport's Legal Sea Foods before getting on the plane.

It might be a while before I get back to Boston, and I'm grateful I had this opportunity to visit - to spend time with family, and experience that fantastic concert!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Latvia & Lithuania Vacation Overview

While looking at photos from last year's two-week vacation to Latvia and Lithuania, I remembered the trip had been so full of adventures that it took me a couple of months to write about it all. Due to the popularity of a year-old post that I recently tweeted, I decided to list all the posts about the trip in one spot, and even share some new photos.
First coffee in Latvia - Double Coffee
Latvian see-saw!
The bright shades of green in Slitere National Park were unreal...
On the Curonian Spit in Lithuania

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mile 100 of the C&O Canal!

Memorial Day weekend weather in the DC area was as spectacular as I can ever remember. This year all three days the weather was glorious - a truly wonderful kick-off for summer. (I would be overjoyed if DC's upcoming summer is cooler and less humid than usual, but that probably will not be the case, at least not according to the Capital Weather Gang's Summer Weather Outlook. Also, the rest of May has been rather toasty - it was on track to become the warmest May ever recorded. )

A friend and I took advantage of the circumstances, and made our way to the town of Williamsport, Maryland, which is situated on the C&O Canal, near mile 99 on the towpath. First we checked out the visitors center, which is only open Wednesdays through Sundays, and is located in an old coal warehouse. I purchsed an in-depth guide, which blew my mind, as it turns out that the distance between mile posts is not always exactly a mile! In essence, if you think you've walked five miles - you might not have!

On this walk, we hiked approximately four miles by rambling out to milepost 98, and then back to mile marker 100. The area includes a half-mile re-watered section of the Canal, plus the Potomac River and the Conococheague Creek. 
In the area of the Canal closer to DC, I'm accustomed to seeing many turtles enjoying the sun, but here we saw several much larger turtles, plus one adorable baby who posed quite nicely for me. 
Part of the canal is green with algae, but it made for good contrast to this goose family.
An old lockkeeper's house is also located in this area.
We were so busy peeping at nature, and snapping photographs in this area, that we waltzed right past the mile 99 marker, and had to keep an eye for it on the way back.
Although most of the towpath is rather quiet, it does run under Interstate 81.
I-81 and the Potomac River
Any noise, however, did not bother the mamma groundhog and its baby we spotted napping on a rock. Mom ran off before I could capture the duet, but I did manage a snapshot of Junior.
Another creature we spotted was this shiny bright green beetle, and I managed to snap a portrait before it scampered off.
After our walk we drove the short distance to Williamsport's main street, and stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe. The Tuscan chicken bean soup I ate was flavorful, and the scoops of ice cream we choose for dessert were creamy and very reasonably priced. The Cafe is welcoming to cyclists and hikers - they'll fill up your water bottles and Camelbaks. I also saw a waitress bring a large bowl of water out to a canine customer.

On our way back to the DC area, we stopped at a Washington County park called Devil's Backbone. located on Antietam Creek. The weather was so lovely that all I wanted to do was stretch out in the grass on a blanket. The park was busy with many others out enjoying the day - there was a large kids' party, a number of individuals were fishing, and shortly before we left several beautifully restored Model-Ts showed up from the local Model T club.
Also, this is my 150th post! Yay!!! Thanks for reading!