Jem and I are both on holidays. This is a pretty weird concept, as for years we were both freelancers who didn’t have officially designated holidays. Lately when we have taken leave, we have done so because were travelling abroad. This year, however, with the global economic crisis and home renovations and all, we are on holidays at home in Latvia. It has been wonderful. We have been at Kūgures and not done much. The last few days Jem has been building a bookshelf from recycled timber, while I have been meditating on preserving cucumbers. As you do.

This summer was stingy in the berry department, so I haven’t made much jam, but the heat must have for perfect conditions in greenhouses, because there is a flood of local cucumbers. I woke up two mornings ago to find a huge shopping bag crammed with cucumbers on our doorstep, left there by our neighbours who just don’t know what to do with their over-abundant crop. So I looked up pickling cucumber recipes and talked to a few preserving-guru friends, who recommended making “Latgales” salad - marinated cucumber slices with onion. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Slicing cucumbers and heating jars. And crossing my fingers, because I am taking a wild stab in the dark regarding pasteurizing the jars after they’ve been filled with the cucumber mixture – I guess they could be fermented, exploding messes in a week or so. We’ll see.

Jem’s project has been a success , and after many many hours measuring and cutting and sanding and drilling and measuring again and drilling some more and, dare I say, “finessing”, a handsome bookcase now adorns the corner of Kūgures living room. What will be his next furniture building project, I wonder?

Another thing we have done while on leave is go to a two day music festival. Of course these happened to be two stinking hot (yes – over 30 degrees, which is crazy hot in LV) days, whereby sitting in the sun listening to concerts and sleeping in an airless tent were a trial at times – but generally a good time was had by all. Music festivals are only just now beginning to take off in Latvia. You don’t get crowds as big as in Australia or other “western” countries, but it is a pleasure to see that younger Latvian music organizers are starting to give it a go. This festival mainly featured local bands and performers, but it had four stages going, the requisite activities for kids, weirdo art installations, dj booth, recycled clothing stalls and overpriced food vans.

I’ve got to admit I’ve always loved the music festival atmosphere and it was a pleasant surprise to see that the kids enjoyed it as much as we did. The night before Tiss and Mikus had put on a big whinge about not wanting to go, because they didn’t want to go to lots of concerts. But on the first night, when we stopped at 1am to have a snack before retiring to bed, I could see that my two overtired sons were hooked on the excitement of so much music and mayhem going on around them all at once. We had already seen fire twirlers, a friend’s bands play, a hard rock band in a big cleared-out hay barn, run into a crowd of crazy dancers at the front of a stage and danced madly along with them, played a bowling game and won prizes, been accosted by the evangelistic vegetarian crowd, posed for photos on a piece of interactive art, and pitched our tents in a huge apple orchard next to 100s of other tents. Of course, there were low points, for example when the DJ booth finally finished blaring over the camping area at 6am and Mikus woke up after only a couple of hours sleep - this was definitely not fun - but generally, we had a great time, and I am sure that the next time we suggest going to a music festival our sons will be hyped and excited at the prospect of what is to come!

Last week our extended family from LV, the USA and AUS got together to celebrate a milestone - my grandmother's 100th birthday. It was quite surreal for us all to be united at our family property, Kugures - here's a family pic from the 1930s, taken in the same place as the photo from last week. What leaves an impression looking at both photos, is the many and varied lifestories that are attached to each of the people in the pictures - behind each one of those faces is a completely original story. These tales intersect at some points, but these events, although they may be shared, are viewed through the prism of each individual, thus making each one an inimitable story of one's own. One common thread for all - Kugures - which has stood in this place for over 200 years.


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