A dreaded sunny day...


We're in the country...the deep dark country, four hours from Riga by car, in a part of the world where people speak in a barely understandable dialect and when you go into the local store, you get asked what you're doing around here by the lady at the till  - who is having a beer on the job. You know. Serious countryside. Kilometers of dirt road and even horses and carts taking hay from the field. This is a very Catholic part of Latvia (most of the nation is Lutheran), and I have been enjoying the roadside crucifixes and colourful folk art that is characteristic of this area (we took a trip here last year as well, it's described in this post). More exotic than a trip to Argentina, I tell ya. Yesterday I wandered down to the local graveyard , after asking for directions at the local store ("whaddaya want to see down there?" asks the boozing shopkeeper).
Latvians are seriously into their graveyards. They maintain the graves of the ancestors with great dedication and love. I like to think this is a link with their Baltic pagan past, when people took special care of the spirits of the ancestors, making them feasts as food offerings. My grandmother didn't abandon the graveyard-tending cult after moving to Australia: I remember she used to visit granddad's grave EVERY SATURDAY without fail, to put down flowers and spend some time just thinking and remembering, I guess. She even got a speeding fine on the way to the cemetery, once. Now that I have seen and experienced Latvian graveyards, though, I feel sorry for the sad bed of roses on burnt-out lawn where my grandparents are buried. Australian cemeteries, as far as I have seen, are places of regulations about flower containers, well-trimmed bushes with uniform plaques in a row. Neat, functional, respectful - but not great for sitting and having a chat with a loved one you have lost.
Now let me open the gates into  Latvian cemeteries.  The entry is usually through the old bell tower - and the path in usually leads you into a forest  - with old, romantic trees flowing above. The graves are higgeldy piggeldy amongst the trees, and you have to know where to find your family cross. Inside the gates you are surrounded by nature: it is shady, cool, and peaceful. There is probably an old well with a bucket,where you get water for the flowers. Put them in any container you like. Family members take great pride in tending the family plot, and raking patterns in the sand around it, or planting flowerbeds on individual graves. In summer cemeteries hold annual cemetery festivals, which act as family reunions - everyone, including vaguely-known extended relatives  turn up with a picnic and catch up, and mention those who have passed and check out the neighbour's grave and the way it has been decorated. In November, on All Saints day, everyone trudges through ice and snow in the early winter dark  to light candles on the graves. To state the obvious, Latvians love their graveyards.
So yesterday visiting this little country cemetery was a real treat - seeing the regional traditions in crucifixes and headstones, reading the names and permutations and combinations of familiar names. I wandered around, completely alone, expecting at any moment some old lady with a headscarf and a rake to ask me what I was doing. She never appeared, though, and I spent the best part of an hour walking amongst the headstones, enjoying the many renditions of Jesus and Mary, and rusting iron crosses, and messages and tokens of love all around me.
P.S. Anyone get the Morrisey reference? Or am I living in the past?









4 Responses so far.

  1. Fifee says:

    Fab, I too love graveyards and the rituals that come with them. Keep the posts comin'!

  2. Mamma M says:

    Interesting... I don't feel any connection to this whole graveyard thing...but maybe that is because my family isn't Christian??? When we buried my great-aunt last year, although we were in an American cemetery, those of us in attendance- especially her nephews and other young men relatives, did the actual burial. I guess I hadn't been to too many Latvian funerals, but, my dad said to me, "We bury our own." I guess as Dievturi, we celebrated "veli" which is similar to a kapu svetki, without being AT the kapi. :)

  3. What a gorgeous cemetary. Love the flower gardens growing on the gravesites and those lovely wonky iron crosses that kind of look like they are swaying or dancing. Singing Morrisey all afternoon at work once I finally "got" the title of your post. Keats and Yates are on your side, wild Wilde is on mine. melx

  4. Hi there from Australia...we used to go to Kapu Svetkus when we were little...light candles...sing and honour those who had passed on...I fondly remember those times now...Australia doesn't do that...My Family would lovingly tend the graves...Dzintra

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