I have almost talked Jem into making regular photo posts on this blog.  It requires a bit of a rehaul of the site structure but otherwise not so difficult.  I've got as far as having him graciously provide me with this little photo essay of our local - Agenskalns market.  It is definitely one of the highlights of living in this part of Riga.  A big ornate red-brick building, it is no longer at its zenith.  I am expecting one day to wake up and read in the news that the building has been bought by an upstart developer to transform into a cinema complex/department store.  But until then, I love going there to do our regular food shop. 

Especially in summer and autumn, when local produce is sold there in the area outside. We buy beautiful home-grown tomatoes, chantarelle mushrooms and bilberries picked in the forest, freshly squeezed apple juice in big 3 litre glass jars.  Indoors we get fresh milk which is ladled from metal milk cans, and meat which is half the price and double the quality of supermarket meat, jars of honey straight from the apiarist.  In the little wooden shacks around the perimeter of the market, we can find little antique stores with rusty sewing machines out the front, second hand clothes stores with faded sheets and small balls of wool scraps, tiny holes in the wall offering every kind of screw or nail available to man.  If we were differently inclined, we could also get cheap shots of vodka at the cafe, rich and creamy slices of cake from the baker.  If we were more organized, we could get most of these products sans packaging - and filled into our own reusable containers - our own cartons for eggs, jars for cream, bottles for milk. 

What I love about the market is also that it is not a yuppy farmer's market - it is simply a continuation from a earlier time, when produce was local and container recycling was a given. Some of the meat sellers still have white Soviet vendor's hats and heavy blue eyeshadow, and beehive hairdos.  Not so inspiring in winter, when the market is smelly and freezing, and fruit and veg is mostly imported, except for big buckets of salted cucumers and jars of pumpkin in marinade. 

So this year Tiss started going to a children's Latvian folklore ensemble.  It's funny, but in some ways I think it was easier to educate your child in Latvian traditions when living in Australia - because participation in a folk dance group, a choir, Latvian language school was a must, the thing everybody did on the weekends - and a great emphasis was put on this cultural education in the Latvian diaspora.

However, when you LIVE in Latvia, the country and culture are all around you, and not many people make the effort to especially join folk dance groups or choirs or the like.  You have to go out of your way and find these opportunities, this folklore community, and infiltrate.  I had got to the stage of having a 9 year old and and a 6 year old that had never danced a polka or worn a folk costume!  Shock horror!  So that's why Tiss started singing in a folklore ensemble this autumn.  So far so good, he is a bit of a butterfingers when learning the "kokle", a Latvian zither-like instrument, but happy to sing, hassling me to sing in the car and when we have a moment at home.

It didn't all click initially though, on the very first day he was feeling a bit out of his element when he realised that most of the kids already knew each other and were mates, and I was already recoiling from the "mum, I don't like it and don't want to go" conversation I could sense was coming, when in walked V.  We had met V before at a music festival this summer.  She is around 10 years old, and her mother is Latvian and her dad is Australian.  A dinkum Aussie from Adelaide, he works in international banking.  They've lived in Latvia for 10 years or so.  And suddenly, Tiss' eyes were shining, and he was giggling, and BLATHERING ON IN ENGLISH to this little dark-haired Aussie-Latvian princess, and having the time of his life.  Desperate to go to ensemble again next week.  Oh, the irony - I take the kid to a group to get the big Latvian experience, and he only really feels comfortable in the company of a bilingual misfit like himself.  It's not that he can't speak the language - he is fully fluent in both - but culturally, spiritually, attitudinally, whatever, he is still a little bit different. Oh well!  I don't really mind.  As long as he gets his dose of Latvian folklore as well :)

Tonight was their first performance, and I was totally surprised by my own swelling feelings of pride and nostalgia when I saw Tiss in his costume, and felt his excitement at having it on and performing on stage. I could totally be one of those pageant mothers, I've realized.  Good thing I haven't got a girl.

Birds of a feather - Tiss and his Aussie friend

 I ache. All over.  I've got muscles in my shoulders I never knew I had, and they are making me FEEL them this morning.  Reason is, because we finally cleared our backyard of junk yesterday.  A miniskip parked on the road, a wheelbarrow, some heavy-duty gloves, my husband and me.  Romantic, huh.
Our backyard has been a huge tip full of building scraps since before we moved in. When we were building this house it turned out they had to demolish a lot more of it than we had originally hoped - and instead of paying thousands to cart away a whole house worth of 100-year old timber, we held on to lots of it.  Mainly it was because we couldn't bear to throw away such beautiful, huge old beams and logs - because old wood has a character and depth that you can never get with new timber, not even if you do the "artificial distress and weather" technique to make it look old (ugh.). Salvaged timber yards don't exist in Latvia.  Except in our back yard.
Well, we've finally been clearing the yard bit by bit - stacking still-useable logs in one part, getting rid of firewood and old windows and pallets and sand and rotten stuff.  Giving away whatever we could to needy neighbours looking for firewood, or friends building houses in the country.  Yesterday, we finished the lion's share - amazing - and now we actually have 3/4 of a yard for our kids to run around in!  This has been the whole issue, ever since we started looking for a house to buy in Riga.  Although we lived for years on the 5th floor of an inner-city apartment, we couldn't shake the Aussie prerequisite of having a back yard for kids to hang out in - it just felt wrong for them not have a tree to climb, a sandpit out the back, a place to chuck a ball and run barefoot.  We bought the house 4 years ago, and have only managed to secure that elusive backyard yesterday.
We couldn't have done all this without the help of our inebriated neighbours, of course.  The ones I described briefly in this post.  Jem's brother was visiting this summer and we had a miniskip then, too, and Jem and Joel worked tirelessly for a day carting big rotten logs to the skip.  The minute the gate to our yard was open, some neighbours took the opportunity of wandering in to the yard.  Parking themselves on a convenient pile of timber, and watching the proceedings.  Main thing was to offer to help, and then not do anything but sit and tell us what we were doing wrong.  Give advice and criticism with slurred breath reeking of vodka.  "Its better than watching TV, watching you kangaroos work!" one of our delighted neighbours chortled.
The whole time we have lived here, I have been hyper-aware of our neighbours - mostly pensioners, many of them alcoholics.  We share a back yard in so much that our yard is a part of their once-huge, once- communal courtyard - we fenced our bit - and anything we do outdoors is under the scrutiny of everyone who lives in the houses around and can watch the proceedings through their windows.  We are total aliens to them - foreigners, who are renovating an old house that they tell me is terrible. Why would we want to live there if we could have a nice new house in the 'burbs?  In their eyes we have too much money and NO sense at ALL.  Sometimes the older folk stop to talk to me, like Betty, who was christened as Alvine Elizabete (but everyone calls her Betty).  She misses her husband, who died last year.  She still doesn't know how to make ends meet with her minimal pension, and fondly remembers the time after the war, when everything in the shops was so affordable: "But what can you do, you have to live, until you die" is her daily wisdom.  Then there's Ludmila, who only speaks Russian, and comes outside on pension days, full of moonshine and bitterness, floral housecoat and slippers on, mascara smudging, and rages at the world, yells at the sky, until someone leans out of their window and tells her to shut it.  Imants is good-hearted, but hopeless, and when he is not too pissed he tells me about service in the Soviet army, and about the sly easy down the road, that sells him 1 litre of illegal moonshine for 80 santims ($1.60 AUS), and about the operation he needs on his arm.
Some days it's hard to not get offended at these people.  Other days it's hard not to feel desperately sorry for them.  There have been sharp words spoken when they have 'crossed the line'.  I have the odd day where I wonder what the hell we were THINKING when we bought this house.  But the general rule of thumb for guaranteeing a happy existence in this yard, is that WE ARE THE NICE NEIGHBOURS.  Whenever I feel like yelling, or complaining that someone has thrown their rubbish over the fence into our yard again, or telling someone to go and slur and stumble somewhere else, I remember that I'm the nice neighbour.  And I smile, and wave, and ignore the criticism and say good morning! And for now, it seems to be the only way to make it work...

The back yard last week after re-stacking wood... almost there... just a couple of leaves to rake and about 50 windows to get rid of...  (feature pic above of the yard in April this year)

The back of the house - view taken standing on the place where all the piles of crap used to be...  planning to grass it in spring

 Wait!  Could that be a climbable apple tree?  Who knew it was there, 
it used to be covered up in piles of timber.

Still quite a bit of Soviet dodgy "charm" though, we are yet to knock down the old wood shed, that's a job for the new year when we get somewhere else to store our garden stuff.

Two of the "nice" neighbours.  The one on the right has his jumper on back-to-front.  But he's still nice.

The back of the yard.  Cherry trees and a perfect corner for a chicken coop.  
Or at least that's what I think. Go Cats!

We sold our old renault to a renault mechanic's the other day - for spare parts.  Years of being parked outside in the snow, and driving on country roads and cobblestones had done their worst, and things got to the stage where fixing the car up to get our roadworthy for this year was too much of an outlay. On account of our kids never wanting to throw ANYTHING away - and I mean ANYTHING - we didn't tell the kids the car was being sold for scrap.  As far as they know, the car is still being driven by that nice renault mechanic who has a yard full of car bits.  But the boys were still distraught anyway.  They howled and sobbed on the way home like someone had died.  So we distracted the boys with stories of "cars we have owned and loved, had to let go - but still remember today".  And soon the kids were laughing at all our stupid stories.

Like the story of Jem's first car, fondly known as "the shark":  it had a racing stripe, and a pool ball on top of the gear stick, and as far as I can remember, ended up blowing up on the Centenary highway.  Then there was Jem's Austin, mega bargain vintage, with red velvet seats and indicators that weren't lights but little sticks that popped out of each respective side.  And what about the evil green Daewoo we had in Brisbane, all I remember about that one is that we would constantly be stuck on Milton road in that godforsaken after-work traffic in it, sweltering in the heat, and fighting about insignificant things.

Then there was MY first car - inherited from my grandmother.  A canary yellow Toyota Corolla, it was absolutely legendary, brown vinyl seats, one previous old lady driver, automatic transmission and a whole lotta spunk.  We moved to Melbourne and took it down there on the train, and I sped around Melbourne in that thing, thankful for the fact that I was totally visible in canary yellow as I drove through the Melbourne dark and mist and rainy days.   Once we took it on an adventure to Adelaide, but got cut short in Ararat when the head in the engine cracked (what the hell does that mean???).  A RACV guy called "Scrot" (short for Scrotum, he said) turned up in a black knitted beanie in the 30 degree heat.  Scared the life out of us talking about prisoners released from the local lunatic asylum and taking us for a drive down the back alleys of Ararat....

I wonder if I specially put that frock on to match the car in the photo...?

Ooops, is that photo too close?  Had to zoom it in for this new development in Mik's life - may look small to you, but huge for him.  He's been waiting for this for EVER, all his friends at kindy and tennis are already losing their milk teeth, Mik has been wondering if he is tooth-challenged.  
So how much is the tooth fairy paying in Oz these days?  The kids were asking tonight.  Our Latvian fairy is paying 1 Ls/tooth (or the one that visits our house, at least), which is approximately equivalent to the Eurozone fairy, who seems to pay 2 Euros/tooth (according to friends in Brussels, that is).  Now the main thing is that the tooth fairy doesn't forget to do the coin/tooth swap tonight like she has a couple of times in the past.  Ditzy winged creature that she is.


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