Friday, July 5, 2013

The twelve days of Latvija: Day 7, the 4th of July

Sandwiched between the PLEIF conference and the main events of the National Song and Dance Festival was the 4th of July. It was with mixed emotions that I awaited this holiday, as it wasn’t going to be the fireworks and hot dogs holiday we would have celebrated in Greenville. We actually haven’t celebrated the American Independence Day in a few years since we were living in France; there, July 4th usually lands right in the middle of the Tour de France, and our days packing and preparing for our move to the US were interrupted by a road trip to Stage 18 of the famous bicycling race instead of parades and red, white and blue.

Milda at night
Being in Latvia, the complicating factor is that July 4th is officially a day of mourning here. In 1941, 300 Jews hiding in a basement in the Rīga Choral Synagogue were burned alive by Nazi forces. Since Latvia regained its independence in 1991, July 4th has been designated as the official Holocaust Memorial Day, and in 1994 a memorial was erected near the destroyed synagogue. President Ulmanis (President from 1993 until 1999) and the Saeima have formally apologized for Latvia’s role in the Holocaust, but the pain still lingers from the many horrors seen during the war and the 50 years of occupation by the Nazis and Soviets. The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia has exhibits pertaining to the Jewish deaths that occurred during World War II.

Our July 4th here did not see us watching the Tour de France, nor did we attend the commemorative event near the site of the synagogue, instead we celebrated with a group of Latvian scouts and guides. The only real connection I can draw between our celebration here in Latvia to American Independence Day is that the majority of guests were from the US, otherwise the party was mostly to celebrate our common association to the Latvian guide and scout organizations. I was excited to hear of the progress on the organization of the next big jamboree; I attended the last one three months after the birth of Lauris and hope that maybe our participation in this next one will be more camping, less newborn baby.

The boys and their newest friend, Suitcase Teacher

We also had a more serious celebration this morning, but one having nothing to do with the US or Latvia, and instead the Ķeņģis family. As I wrote about earlier in the week we joined 200 or so of our distant relatives for a large family reunion, and to continue to the festivities a film crew showed up this morning to record my mother in law speak about her parents and grandparents, and my husband to add in his memories of these family members. It was fascinating listening to the stories they both told, and I was secretly thrilled that the story of how Roberts met me up to our engagement made it on film.


And so instead of sitting next to the open window listening to the sound of fireworks, I’m  hearing a car stereo blaring some bad Russian techno interspersed with these birds (someone said they were gulls but they sound more like geese to me) and a TV airing the Song and Dance Festival events. Happy birthday to the land of the free and the home of the brave – ‘Merica!

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