On our previous visit to Latvia during the National Song and Dance Festival we dared to attend the grand dance performance and the final concert with Lauris and Mikus. Both were extraordinary experiences that I will forever associate with the land of my forefathers, my heritage, my identity. However, the boys were not old enough to remember the historic events, other than a few vague impressions and what they remember from pictures and video. I am not brave enough to repeat the experience this summer with three boys, and so we have been content to explore the various peripheral fêtes occurring around the city, including the Burtiski burvīgs burziņš Vērmanes dārzā, a giant crafts and design fair.
Not your run of the mill craft fair, the burziņš is a showcase of the rich cultural legacy of Latvian artisans. The Latvians book publishers and music companies were represented, however the majority of vendors featured handmade goods: carved wooden spoons, woven clothes, linen tablecloths, amber jewelry, traditional (and more modern) pottery, leather billfolds, glassware and more. Mixed in with the expensive, one-of-a-kind quality items are more affordable souvenirs, such as the Upe music box that plays Rīga dimd, or the linen bags from Alūksne that the boys picked out for themselves. We also chose an amazing wooden calendar to help the children learn the seasons, months and days; the bonus is the prominent display of the Latvian traditional seasons such as Ūsiņi, Jumji and Mārtiņi. Coasters seemingly made of woven tautiskas jostas, ceramic magnets and leather keychains featuring the traditional symbols, paper dolls with the national costumes and even pastalas, the customary footwear – it could all be found in Vērmanes dārzs.
Also to be found within the winding pathways – friends, old and new. One day we met up with our soon-to-be-relatives that we hadn’t seen since Costa Rica, another day we bumped into (almost literally) our friend Maksīts from France who we last saw in Chicago at Christmastime more than two years ago! Some days we had company in the form of vecmamma Aija, other days dad joined us for our excursions.
It wasn’t only shopping, as there were various stations set up throughout the park that provided free entertainment for the kids. The earth science/environmental booth offered a variety of interesting hands-on activities, including the chance to “hold fire” (Lauris chose not to participate, even after mom did) and explore various household chemical reactions.
On several stages were an intriguing mix of performances, from traditional folk songs to new medleys, improve comedy and theatre productions. My favorite was the instrumental rendition of “Popcorn.” Of course the playground and bounce house/slide proved to be appealing attractions, giving some valuable down time for goofing off.
We spent a little time in the activity tent where kids could try their hand at one of the many traditional art forms: ceramics, weaving and rotkalšana (jewelry making) among them. Lauris and Mikus were deemed too young for the pottery wheel but made a couple of pinch pots that hopefully will be fired in the kiln next Saturday. They also helped make a few of the tiny metal baubles that would get affixed to one of the versions of folk costume crowns. I regret not sitting down at the loom, and dream of the day when I’ll have time to take up weaving, a talent my great-grandfather excelled at.
The song and dance festival has ended, but the spirit lives on here in Rīga. As the 37,400 participants return to their summer routines and the thousands of spectators slowly empty from the city, the festival feeling continues to resonate – ŠODIENA ATSKANĒS RĪT!