Our first two days in Latvia were spent in Riga, my mother's birthplace. Upon arrival, like in Bergen, there was no official check-in with customs. We just collected our baggage (which miraculously appeared despite all the chaos of the process in the Paris airport), changed some Euros and dollars into Lats, and caught a cab to our hotel. The cab driver was friendly, although nervous-making in that he seemed to need to face me and maintain eye-contact during conversation while driving, even though I was in the back seat. This first conversation in Latvian in Latvia was a definite test of my ability to shift from one language to another.
For these first two nights, I had booked a fabulous five-star hotel, Hotel Bergs. Perhaps a bit of a splurge, although it really cost no more than a regular hotel would in North America, and it was less than half the price of our hotel in Bergen. What a delight this hotel was! This place has won awards for design, as it is a brilliant renovation of an old-style building, blended with some very contemporary aspects. Our room was huge, and air-conditioned! Very comfortable, and very beautiful.
After settling in, we walked over to Vecriga - "Old Riga" - and found an outdoor bistro for dinner. After eating only seafood in Norway, and in France, mainly fish or eggs, there was nothing of the sort on this menu. I settled for a venison burger, which turned out to be quite delicious.
On our walk back to the hotel we passed by the Brivibas Pieminieklu, the most important landmark in Riga, the Freedom Monument. For a country that has suffered foreign occupation for so much of it's history, this monument holds a lot of emotional energy. My own memory of the Freedom Monument was of a peaceful demonstration there which I took part in, in January of 1990. I don't really remember exactly, but I believe that demonstration was somehow in solidarity with Lithuania, just prior to gaining it's freedom. A very emotional event; I remember a huge crowd of people with red and white carnations which were all placed at the foot of the monument. Lots of singing, and lots of tears.
On the evening of our first full day in Riga was my performance of a short set of pieces in a concert showcasing faculty from the Sigulda music camp which would begin the following day. The concert took place in a beautiful hall in the Riga Latvian Society building. The piano was again a Steinway D, and was gorgeous, a joy to play. Obviously, the tuner/technician that works on this instrument is ace. I got a chance to practise for a half hour in the morning, which was especially handy as I hadn't practiced all week in Paris. In 8 days I had only had my hands on the keys for about half an hour when rehearsing some Schubert with a baritone I would be performing with in Latvia. Good thing I had chosen to perform some of my "party pieces".
After I performed, I was handed three bouquets of flowers during the applause. One massive one from my second cousin, another from her mother, and a third from a friend from Ottawa who was staying in Latvia for a while. I was overwhelmed at seeing these dear people after such a long time, and struggled to carry so many flowers.
I was happy that I performed first on the program, because that meant I could sit back and watch the rest of the show. What an honour to be performing with this group of musicians of such a high level. It's no secret that Latvians are a musical people as whenever a few are gathered together, they're bound to erupt into singing, but the per capital percentage of the population (including Latvians abroad) who are highly talented, highly skilled professional musicians must be well above the norm.
After the concert we had a chance to visit with my second cousin and her mother at an outdoor restaurant in old Riga. A lovely time.
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