One of my resolutions is to travel outside Latvia AT LEAST once a year - to have a little sojourn in another country for a bit of 'kulcha', to encourage thinking outside the square, to refresh certain faculties that are underused living in Latvia (ie. being friendly to strangers) and to remind myself of various realities that I don't come across here (ie. museums are for children too!).
We've just come back from four jam-packed days in Berlin, where we visited a heap of museums and children's learning centres, shopped and rode the U-bahn; walked too much and slept too little. Highlights of the trip include: sitting on the polished marble floor of the hallowed halls of the Pergamon museum while Matiss sat on my lap and sketched the famous bust of Nefertiti; the 'call-a-bike' service where public bikes are left all over the inner city - to unlock them you sms a special number and they text you back a password - then you ride the bike where you want to go, park it wherever and lock it up for the next user; a moving, clanking, hissing welded metal monster-bat we found in a grotty courtyard; the impressive holocaust memorial which takes up a whole block right next to the Brandenburg gate and looks like a CAD drawing come to life; remembering why I used to love working in (modern) museums; finding a huge second-hand store and rummaging through bins of fabulous vintage fashion; having complete strangers smile at us and tell us we have gorgeous children (never happens in Riga - I've become used to frowns and chastising from total strangers).
As they say, its nice going away and even better to come home. Being in the big big Berlin did also remind me of one of the things I love about Riga - its scale. I like the fact that Riga is compact. You can walk practically anywhere in a matter of minutes. Most of the great stuff to see is all concentrated in the centre - the town actually HAS a centre. It’s also got that village feel - you'll always meet someone you know on the street. Being in the midst of the monumental architecture and mentality of the Germans reminded me of my own belonging to a tiny, precious, quiet culture. In the middle of the Pergamon museum, in a temporary exhibition hall with Matisse and Picasso on the walls and Victorian statues on pedestals, I came across some interesting silver brooches in a glass case in the very centre of the gallery – they looked kind of familiar - and I realised that they were the big saktas of a Kurzeme folk costume. And sure enough, the label said "Lettland", and Matiss asked me why I was crying…

The ultimate tourist shot

Yep, that's right, it's a bit of THE WALL (I also brought a souvenir piece home with me)

Hangin' out waiting for our photos to develop

Trabant's are all the rage as museum exhibits. Mikus even got a replica as a souvenir.

A 1960s lounge in the DDR museum. Fabulous. You were allowed to watch tv, rummage through the cupboards and read the books off the bookshelf.

Still waiting for the photos to develop

A good idea for Riga courtyards?

Checking out checkpoint Charlie

My two clowns at the Reichstag

Love the U-bahn

I woke up this morning to Matiss' smiling face close up to mine, with his tousled blonde hair and ice-cold feet, crawling in next to me under the duna. His friendly greeting: "Your wishes are all going to come true today, Mummy". Yesterday I had said to him that my one wish was that someone would buy me a new pair of blue jeans because my old ones had just ripped in the knee! So guess what I got for my birthday.
These boys certainly make life worth living. Such intense little animals that are so hilarious, little sponges that soak up everything they see and hear. Lately I have been grateful that I can have this time at home with them: teaching them about the little things, watching them grow, and learning a great deal from them about family, patience, humour and kindness.

Ok, I suppose that might seem like a bit of a negative approach. But contemplating turning 35, it did occur to me that in 15 years time, I'm going to be 50... Which is ok. I think I like getting older. By no means would I like to be in the "head space" of a 20 year old again. I like the wisdom, sense of calm that each new year of life experience brings. I laugh a lot more now than I did years ago. The only problems about getting older (so far) are the fact that you physically start finding it more difficult to do the same old stuff you used to do. And also because lately,there are heaps of things that I want to do, that I have not yet done, and I've finally realised that I will probably never do them. 5 or 10 years ago it still felt like there was plenty of time to achieve all of my ambitions, whereas now, reality has set in. I am now aware that there are quite a few books that I won't manage to read. Chances are slim that I will ever play bass in a rock'n'roll band, work as a volunteer for the W.H.O in some third world country, and getting my PhD is starting to look doubtful! But who knows, maybe one day...

Here's a pictorial of our Easter weekend at Kūgures (the family country house near Saldus). Action included tapping a birch for juice; colouring eggs in Latvian style; another tradition of swinging on a swing especially put up for the occasion; and the very Aussie chocky easter egg hunt.
IIn Latvia on Easter Saturday you usually colour eggs by pressing leaves and flowers to a raw egg and tightly wrapping it in gauze or a piece of stocking, then boil in water which has already been pre-boiled with onion skins in it. With a bit of skill and a touch of luck the pattern of the foliage leaves a lightly coloured 'stencil' on the egg (the photo of the egg is a masterful example given to me by a friend). You can also boil other things in the water for a different colour: my friend Vineta boiled up her dried "Jani" (midsummer nights eve) crown from last year - with lots of grasses and herbs and flowers. People also use moss, oak bark, chamomile, tea leaves...
In the photo above on the right you can see one of our Easter guests, Māra. Māra is Joel's girlfriend and an reader of this blog - hello dear! Māra's eggs also turned out the best.

Next was tapping a birch for juice: a wonderful springtime activity, the juice tastes just like water but kind of sweet and nutty and refreshing. Its taken us a few years to get the knack of it. You can start tapping (drilling a hole into the tree and attaching a funnel of some kind for the juice to drip out) once the ground unthaws and have to stop once the leaves of the birch appear. We only tapped our tree overnight but got enough juice (around 5 litres) for a taste of spring.
I know Jeremy looks like the village idiot in that hat, but it was bloody cold!! Sunny and warm one minute and then snowing the next. Kind of like Melbourne weather.
I'm not exaggerating (see pics below)!

Now that's a lot of eggs! This picture was used as an Easter greeting card by my grandmother and her family in 1931. It pictures some girls from the family (from left, my great-aunt Aina (affectionately known as "Zanuks"), my great-great Aunt Austra (aka "Afulis") and my grandmother Margarita (who everyone calls "Rituks")) in the backyard of 13 Skrundas Street, Saldus with a bunch of Easter goodies, pre-WWII Latvian style. This is where my parents now live, and today the backyard is mostly overgrown grass and derelict wooden garages. Before the war it was my great-great-great grandmother's mini farmers' paradise.
This year, we are heading down to Saldus to celebrate with the family - seasonal celebrations are always so exciting with kids. Matīss has been asking 'when's Easter?' for weeks now. The only bad part will be having to get up at the crack of dawn to hide eggs before the kids wake up! So anyway - happy Easter to everyone, big or small, fluffy tails or no!
PS. I forgot to mention that Austra/Afulis was a professional photographer, who worked out of her own studio in the house at 13 Skrundas. So the photo is definitely a set-up. My grandmother wouldn't be the type to muck out the pig pen, especially not in dainty shoes like that!


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