Martin Day was on November 10th but I’ve recently learned that all of November is Martin Month. Who is Martin? He is one of the sons of Dievs the Latvian nature deity who has become associated with the Christian god who goes by the same name. Dieva (possessive case) other sons are Jānis, whose day is the Summer Solstice, and Ūsiņš, the god of spring and blossoming.
It is a tradition to sacrifice a rooster to Mārtinš to thank him for a good harvest and in hopes of a good harvest the following year.
Mārtiņi is the Latvian word for Martin Day. It’s the day when the Veļi, the spirits of the dead, return to their home beyond the sun. It marks the end of shepherding and the completion of harvesting. It is the beginning of ladus laiks, the time of ice. And it’s a cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
One of the customs to celebrate Martin’s Day is a masked procession. The masked participants are known as budeļi. Mumming, another name for masking goes on all winter to Meteņi, when spring is welcomed.
One of my friends is currently in Latvia where he took part in Martin Day festivities at the Ethnographic Open Air Museum in Rīga. Adults, as well as children, wear masks. In the old days in Latvia, budeļi went from farmstead to farmstead, singing and dancing. The householders welcomed them with refreshments.
My friend kindly gave me permission to use his photos and didn’t even ask for photo credits.
Mārtiņi is one of many fire festivals in Latvian, and world pagan traditions. Fire represents the threshold to another dimension, The center of the bonfire is a direct link to Dievs. The fire rituals are complex and deserve their own post.
Mārtinš is also a popular name for men. My maternal grandfather was named Mārtinš.
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In Latvian mythology, Veļu Māte is one of many mother goddesses. She is not a nice little old lady. She is the goddess of the underworld, the keeper of keys to the underworld. She is also known as kapumāte, graveyard mother, and goes around wearing a white woolen cloak and iron shoes or shoes made of sand.
Veļu Māte ranks in importance along with Zemes Māte, Earth Mother who is also a goddess of death. Sometimes the two goddesses are considered to be synonymous. However, Earth Mother is said to be a good-hearted deity. On the other hand, Veļu Māte takes pleasure in the death of her victims and dances on their graves. She doesn’t always wait for people to die but goes to collect their souls. Or she lures souls with a pot of honey. In some folk songs, she bakes wheat bread to welcome her guests.
In addition to Earth Mother, Veļu Māte is associated with the goddesses Laima (fate) Jūras Māte (sea mother) and Saule (the sun). When she sets the sun can take the soul of a person who is sleeping with the sun shining on them and take it with her. Perhaps this is the origin of the ancient belief that the deceased go to the realm beyond the sun (aizsaulē, also known as viņsaulē) The living stay on this side of the sun (šaisaulē)
A more charming depiction of Veļu Māte, she sits waiting on a hill overgrown with white clover, holding white flowers in her lap.
When there is a rainbow, it supposedly means that Veļu Māte is dancing on someone’s grave or between graves.
The weary souls who go to live Viņsaulē don’t get any rest. Life continues there as it did on this side of the sun; the souls keep on working as always. One poor person in a folk song begs Veļu Māte to come take him because he is weary from working his whole life and wants to rest. He must not have heard that in the realm beyond the sun Veļi keep on working. What a disappointment it would be to get to the far side of the sun and discover that you still have to work. In some sources, I found there was mention of otherworldly weddings but nothing about otherwordly sex. All work and no play. Which is a bit odd. Latvians are champion partiers. Work hard, play harder.
From my younger days, I remember representatives from our local Latvian association looking for venues that would be available until two in the morning for holding balls. That was no longer an issue when Latvians built their own social centers. For some folks, two in the morning was not enough. After the official ball was over some people invited guests to their homes for after-parties where dancing and singing continued until four or five in the morning. Celebrations on Midsummer Ever are supposed to go on all night. Been to a few. If you go to a Song Festival and stay in the main festival hotel, don’t expect to get much sleep. People hold after-parties in their rooms. If security doesn’t come to shush them it’s not a real party. Party while you’re on this side of the sun. On the other side, you’ll be working.
Note: There is some confusion among speakers of Latvian about the word Veļu (possessive) me included. The word is similar to veļa, laundry. In the objective case, “veļu” they are identical, “Mazgā veļu!” “Wash the laundry!” I don’t know if this similarity is coincidental or because it looks like Veļu Māte is wearing a sheet.
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This is the time of year for curses. With Vella, it’s a mixed bag.
For those of you who may not know, Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s self-publishing serialization platform. It’s not a subscription service. The first few chapters are free to read. After the first three gratis e “episodes” (as Amazon calls chapters) readers “unlock” subsequent chapters with tokens. Amazon gives readers 200 (!) free tokens. The number of tokens it takes to read a chapter depends on how long it is. After that, if readers want to keep reading they buy tokens. This is the first of Vella’s curses. At least for writers.
In my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, readers can read nine chapters without paying anything. Of course, that means that neither Amazon nor I get our percentage. It’s a good thing for Amazon and me that my novel is long. I didn’t write Exile with Vella in mind. It didn’t even exist when I finished my manuscript. On the plus side, Amazon pays bonuses when people read and order more chapters that they pay for. The bonus amount varies from month to month. Amazon should give away fewer tokens. If readers haven’t been hooked by the first three chapters, are they likely to read the next six or more even if they’re free?
It’s good to have options.
It’s not necessary to have an e-reader in order to read stories published on Vella. Any electronic device will do, including smartphones, laptops, and even desktops. I learned this by trying it myself. The customer service rep I asked told me that Vella books can only be read with mobile devices. Either he didn’t know what he was talking about or Vella’s options have been updated since then.
Looks painless. It’s not.
One of the biggest curses of Vella, and every other self-publishing platform is DIY marketing.
Years ago when I was in San Francisco, walking in Union Square, I encountered a poet standing on a street corner peddling his poetry chapbook. I can’t remember how much I offered to pay for his anthology. Whatever the amount was, it wasn’t enough. He said, “Most people give me [X number of] dollars.” Talk about nerve. I’d have expected him to be grateful for any amount. It’s not the kind of gumption I have. I can’t remember if I gave him his asking price. Probably not. I’m not “most” people.
Thanks to the internet, writers don’t have to stand on street corners hawking their books. Nevertheless, I still hate marketing, as many writers do. I want to write, not to have to market. When I post links to A Home for an Exile’s Heart on social media, I feel like I’m not much different from that street corner huckster. I do it anyway but it’s pretty much the only thing I do in order to sell my book. That and write about Exile on my blog.
Something I strive for.
It’s a toss-up as to which is the biggest curse. Marketing? Or the fact that Vella allows writers to edit their published material any time they want as many times as they want. I must be a compulsive editor. I can’t seem to leave my novel alone and go on to something new. I love spending time with my characters so I sometimes reread a chapter or two. In doing so, I discovered that my story’s not nearly as complete as I thought. Reading an article in The Washington Post about what writers should look out for only made matters worse. I discovered a bunch of words that I’ve been unconsciously abusing that I had to get rid of or change. Once I finish editing the whole darn thing, I promise myself to stop and go on to something new. Even The Washington Post and other prestigious publications have typos and other glitches and people still read them.
Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I will let it sit for a while before reading it again to see if it needs more editing. Then I’ll do some more editing on Exile.
Veļu laiks is one of the most important festivals in the Latvian solar calendar.
Autumn, the harvest is over. Nature prepares itself for winter sleep. Leaves change color and eventually fall. Frost sparkles on grass and the edges of leaves reminding us that winter is on its way. Longer nights encourage peacefulness and rest. It is a time of healing and reflection.
Veļu laiks is the Time of Spirits, a festival honoring the dead. It is believed that at this time of year the veil that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest allowing dead souls to visit their living descendants. The dead souls are hungry. They need to be fed. Sound familiar? Many such festivals are observed all over the world. Allhallowtide, which has been shortened to Halloween is one such festival. The traditions have changed along with the name. Are the dead expected to bob for apples? The Celt’s celebration, Samhain is another such fest. There is Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico and South America. Zhongyuan Festival in China is known as Hungry Ghost Month. These are just a few such observations.
In 1570 the church fathers and other authorities in Kurzeme (Courland) were informed that they must no longer tolerate this pagan behavior on the part of the peasants. No more offering of food and drink to the dead. This was such an effective dictum that the feasting of the dead continued into the mid-19th Century. Even in the 21st century many people still follow these ancient traditions. So much for the authority of the dukedom of Kurzeme.
Researching this post showed me just how much variation there is in Latvian terminology and customs. Veļu laiks is known by at least a dozen different names depending on the region or town. Veļu laiks is the most widespread name but it is also called, Time of Ancestors. Time of Wraiths, Time of Ghosts, Time of Little Spirits (affectionate diminutive) Time of the Deities, Time of Grandfathers. Iļģi, Time of Longing, and similar designations. Those who insist on one particular name or spelling for any tradition, custom, or recipe must be unaware of the many variations. All you have to do is look at the number of iterations of folk dress to see that variety is the spice of life in Latvia.
Sources don’t even agree about the dates of Veļu laiks. Some say it begins on the autumn equinox and goes through Martinmas, November 10. Others say it doesn’t begin until September 29th and ends on October 28. Still others say it continues until Christmas. Whichever, Veļu laiks is now.
No commerce or smithing was allowed. No major work was to be done, especially no threshing since grain threshed during this period is believed won’t grow. Household chores and handiwork are allowed. No noise making, including singing. That must have been particularly rough on Latvians who love to sing in t Quiet activities such as telling riddles and stories and sharing memories are okay.
The father is supposed to summon his family’s deceased ancestors and friends to feast. He carries a candle to light their way and loudly calls to them. Food and drink for the visiting spirits were to be left on the well-swept floor or in the outbuildings on the farm, including the granary and pirtiņa (yes, there’s even an affectionate diminutive for sauna). Water and clean towels were provided for the ghosts so they could wash up before eating. Dead or alive, Latvians have a thing about cleanliness. After the spirits have eaten, they’re sent back to where they came from. Whatever food is left is consumed by the living. No doubt mice, rats, and other critters loved Veļu laiks, no need to forage in cold weather.
In some areas, the head of household drove a wagon to the cemetery, opened the gate for the dead to get out. The spirits climbed into the wagon and were driven to the feast at their old home. After they’d had their meal they were driven back to the cemetery. Dishes from which veļi have eaten must not be washed with well water for it will make the water bitter.
People went to bed at nightfall and were not supposed to get up even if they heard noises coming from outside. Walking around after dark was not allowed because it was believed that veļi would lead people astray. Thieves often took advantage of this rule to do their dirty deeds.
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“A Home for an Exile’s Heart” is now available on Kindle Vella. I’m not sad that my novel has not been published by a traditional publishing company, although that would be great. I didn’t want to spend a year or more approaching agents only to have them reject me. That’s what happened to a talented writer friend who already has four traditionally published books under his belt. I have none.
Of course, just because no agent wanted to represent my friend’s book doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in mine. He and I write in different genres. His is a mystery set in a WW2 POW camp. Easily categorized. Mine? Not so much. Yes, it’s a historical romance but much more. Is it also women’s fiction. I guess, but that limits the audience. Is it up-market fiction? I’ve read the definition more than once but I’m still not sure what the term means. Maybe it’s mainstream fiction. Figuring out the genre is probably not what agents want to do. They want to be able to pigeonhole a book quickly so store owners know where to shelve them.
My novel may always stay on Vella unless some traditional publisher stumbles across it, serendipitously, and wants to buy the rights to publish it.
The reason I’m sad is that I miss my characters.
Anyone who has read a book and felt sad because they miss characters they’ve grown fond of will understand. I’ve been there and felt that. But when you write a novel the characters live in your head in a way that they don’t when you only read about them. My characters are vivid in my mind; I know them intimately in more detail than is written in my book. I know them better than I ever knew my friends or family members. Latvians are a close-lipped bunch, especially those of my parents’ generation. It’s too painful for exiles to talk about their stolen homeland. Nevertheless, I’ve pieced together enough information from their experiences and those of friends and other relatives, as well as my own memories, to create as accurate a picture as possible of what they went through.
Līvija Galiņa is based in part on my mother’s cousin. Both women were widowed Latvian refugees who came to the United States with their mother and one child. Both found love here; unlike my relative, Līvija falls in love with an American. Both families lived communally in a big house on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Many Latvian families, including mine, did so as well.
Cameron Quinn is Līvija’s love interest. They meet on the snowy day after Thanksgiving, 1952, when a car skids on ice, jumps the curb and nearly hits Līvija as she’s walking home from work. Cameron pushes her out of the way, saving her life. He’s a daredevil, a dashing former fighter pilot, a passionate suitor, and a kind, tender would-be father to Līvija’s little girl. There was never anyone like Cameron in my life. I could have used someone like him in my life. Still could. Cameron’s a composite of male characteristics I know from experience. I read up on what it takes to be a fighter pilot and watched endless videos of flying and aerobatics. They can be addictive.
Of my three main characters, I am most like Līvija’s seven-year-old daughter, Dzintra. I, too, was born stateless in Germany. As with her one of my uncles and his family found refuge in Australia. We both went to Latvian school, in addition to a regular American school. Neither of us saw any reason to learn the Latvian language. Who needs to speak Latvian in America? But my father insisted, so I learned. Cameron gently encourages Dzintra to keep learning by telling her about his own boyish reluctance to learn French, his mother’s native language. As an adult, he was glad he’d learned to speak French and Dzintra would be glad to have learned to speak her native tongue. I’m glad I did.
Woven into the story of these three characters are the stories of Līvija’s housemates–obstacles on her road to happiness. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law are two such considerations. Edgars Siliņš, a single father, who needs a mother for his six-year-old son, would like to win Līvija’s affection for himself. The housemates include an older, stiff-necked, childless, busybody Latvian couple who were inspired by people I once knew. Līvija’s entire Latvian community believes it would be a cultural betrayal if she marries anyone but a fellow Latvian.
In one way or another, everyone has been traumatized by the war, by the loss of family members killed in the war, or by Soviet murders and deportation. Every exile wants to preserve their Latvian culture and keep their small community from dying out. Will Līvija choose her heart or her community and culture?
About Vella: Books are serialized on the platform. It’s not a subscription service. Readers buy “tokens” in order to read chapters. The first two hundred tokens are free. You don’t need a Kindle in order to read my novel. Any mobile device your laptop or even your desktop will do. I just tried it myself with someone else’s book and it works just fine. Nothing to figure out. The link to Vella is at the top of Amazon’s home page on the right. Just click on the link and claim your free tokens. Hopefully, you’ll love the story and want to read all of it.
The many affectionate diminutives of the name Auseklis reflect the popularity of this mythological deity: ausekliņš, auseklītis, ausekliņis.
Auseklis is one of the celestial deities in the pantheon of Latvian mythology, a male deity. He is the third most important deity after Saule (the sun) and Mēness (the moon) Both Mēness and Auseklis are the sons of Dievs, the main deity in the Latvian mythological trinity. There’s considerable sibling rivalry between them. Sometimes Auseklis is associated with Venus, the third brightest body in the sky after the sun and the moon. In other myths, Auseklis is associated with Sirius or Mercury.
The name Auseklis derives from the verb aust which means “to dawn” the blossoming of the first light of morning. Appropriately, Auseklis is depicted as a young and playful deity.
Ausma is a popular name for Latvian girls. Auseklis used as a boy’s name is not as common.
Before Latvia was unified into one country, it was a series of tribes, each with its own myths contained in many different texts, which accounts for the inconsistencies in our myths. Auseklis is one of the most frequently mentioned figures in the Latvian folksongs known as dainas, of which there are thousands.
In some variations of his myths, Auseklis courts Saules meitas, the daughters, of the sun. Sometimes he is depicted as courting the sun herself. In other variations, he serves as an attendant in the celestial wedding of Saule and Mēness.
As mentioned in my previous post about Mēness, he counts the stars, finds that Auseklis is missing, and takes advantage of the situation to fool around with Auseklis’ bride. When she learns of her husband’s betrayal, Saule takes revenge on her adulterous spouse.
Auseklis become the symbol of Latvia’s National Awakening during the 1930s. Stars show the way, offer hope, and allow for change. It was then that the eight-point star became a popular design in jewelry, fabrics, and graphic arts.
The star motif does not appear in archaeological materials until the 16th and 17th centuries. It is widespread in Finno-Ugrian cultures, which include Finland and Estonia, and might well have been borrowed from them.
In London, I found a pair of wool gloves with Auskelis on the back. It was March so I had a pair of gloves with me on the trip and more gloves at home but I bought them anyway because of the Latvian design. For all I know, the gloves might have been knit in Scotland. The wool was itchy but I wore the gloves anyway. Eventually, either the wool got soft or I just got used to the scratchiness. I wore the gloves until they got holey.
A friend who is currently traveling in Iceland forgot her gloves at home. Via social media, I assured her that she would find lovely gloves or mittens in some local shop. She did. Beautiful black and white mittens with–you guessed it, Auseklis on the back. Naturally, she bought them the moment she saw them and they’re keeping her hands nice and warm.
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Get a theme, they say. Pretty pictures are not enough, they say. Well, some of us like pretty pictures. I do have a theme–Latvian stuff. But I’m not a one-trick pony so I like to write about other things, too.
Here in western Washington, we’re getting a reprise of summer. Nights have not been cold enough to make many trees turn color just yet. This morning was foggy and more than a bit chilly. In the afternoon we’re supposed to get short-sleeve weather. We’ll see. Forecasts around here are often wrong. I have to photos from other autumns to get touches of seasonal colors.
Sonnet 73, Shakespeare
“To Autumn” John Keats
I like the way the vines seem to embrace this rock and the moss that seems to be trying to soften the rock’s cold, hard nature. I like letting my imagination take over and go a little wild. Something I need to rein in when doing my posts about Latvia, even the ones about myths and legends.
What if a hostile foreign power was invading your country and you had to flee? What would you bring along, what would you leave behind? That’s a dilemma that the people of the Baltic States faced in October of 1944. It’s the dilemma faced by Ukrainians today. People have had to deal with that quandrum for hundreds of years. It has also happened to people in their own country, such as the Japanes who were interned in the United States during the Second World War. Those are questions my parents faced less than two months after they married as the Soviet Red Army advanced into Latvia.
In 2021 an art gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, with contributions from nine refugees, created an exhibit called, “The Suitcase Project” at a local art gallery. This exhibit, which I was able to view online only, was especially meaningful for me because of the participation of people from the Baltic States.
Here’s a list of people’s comments that accompanied the exhibit. I have not edited their comments but added my own remarks in parentheses.
Linens: sheets, towels (my mother brought linen sheets, pillow cases towels she’d embroidered for her hope chest)
woven coverlet (My mother brought along a woven coverlet that I still have. When I visited my grandparents’ home in Latvia there was an identical one on my aunt and uncle’s bed)
documents, photo albums, clothing, a few silver items such as dinnerware, candlesticks, and sugar bowl (which I now have) and some money and family heirloom jewelry sewn into the hems of their coats. Some of these items were packed into a sturdy German ammunition’s case that my grandfather used to use to carry items to barter with during the war. This wooden case would later became my toy chest; I painted it blue with white and yellow daisies. Most everything else of theirs was simply left behind, or taken from them by the Russians.
(My parents had a huge wooden chest that was painted light green. It was big enough for me to hide in even when I was as old as ten. Our apartment here in the US caught fire in the middle of the night when I was five. My screams woke my parents. My father kicked out a window pane and threw our stuff out the window. I don’t know how the chest with our other stuff escaped. Firefighters put my mother and me on a parked bus. We watched the fire from there)
Some had nothing but the clothes on their back.
One grandmother’s advice, Don’t take your winter coat. You’ll be back by winter. (Some didn’t return for decades. Most of those who did return were there only to visit. A few moved home to Latvian permanently. It’s “home” even if they were born elsewehre. Neither of my parents ever returned, not even for a short visit)
Silverware that was brought from Latvia – as silver could be traded for food in the most dire of situations….
Wedding china, porcelain cups, jewelry, a white velvet wedding dress. Matchboxes from a factory where a man worked. A wood jewelry box decorated with amber inlay. Diaries, autograph books.
Silver 5 Lat coins (some coins were turned into brooches or ornamental spoons. I have one such one Lat spoon)
A wooden coffee grinder, a frying pan and a roasting pan. A folding baking pan that’s sill in use.
A two-year-old brought her teddy bear.
In addition to the woven coverlet, my mother brought along a Latvian, Zemgales folk costume. I don’t know if it ever fit her. Maybe before she got pregnant with me it fit but it seems made more for a teenage girl than a young woman. My mother brought it along from Germany then to the United States from the east coast to the West Coast from house to house. I never thought to ask her about the folk dress. I assumed it was hers, even though she never wore it. It’s too late now. I can’t help but wonder if some refugee bartered it for food or some other necessity. I’ll never know.
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Coming soon. This is a preview of what the paperback cover will look like.
Līvija Galiņa is a widowed Latvian refugee who, with her family, fled her country in 1944 as the Soviet Red Army invaded. Her husband was lost in the war. She was pregnant at the time of her flight.
After years of floating through war-torn Europe, like flotsam on the tides of history, Līvija finds a new home for herself, her mother, and her seven-year-old daughter, Dzintra, in Seattle, Washington. where they live communally with six other Latvians. But where is there a home for her heart?
On the snowy day after Thanksgiving 1952, Līvija is walking home from her job as a house cleaner. In a fog of exhaustion, she doesn’t notice that a car has skidded on ice and jumped the curb until someone pushes her to the ground and lands on top of her.
The “someone” is her neighbor, dashing fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn. Their mutual attraction is immediate.
Līvija’s mother and their entire Latvian community are against Līvija making a match with anyone but another Latvian. Līvija ‘s housemate, Edgars Siliņš, a single father, feels that he has a proprietary right to Līvija’s affection. Her family and friends agree.
Līvija has always been an obedient, dutiful daughter. Can she find a home for her heart?
Pronunciation: Līvija = Lee-vee-ya. N with a diacritical mark is pronounced like the Spanis N with a tilde ~ Š = sh. Dz is a diphthong pronounced like “ts” in “tsar,” only harder.
This is the old cover photo for my novel. Like WordPress, Amazon is being a pain in the ass today. I can’t change the cover image without help from a living, breathing human being. Who knows when that will be. In the meantime…
Here’s how Vella works. Any mobile device can be used to read books on Amazon’s Kindle Vella. The story is serialized. It’s not a subscription. Readers buy tokens, which don’t cost much, for the chapters (Amazon calls them episodes) they want to read. The first few chapters are free to read. Comments made on the Vella page are very helpful to the author. They don’t have to be fancy, “I like it” or “It’s okay” will do. Of course, more details,, such as why you like it or what you like are appreciated.”
Those who stayed behind. I didn’t do any adjusting on this photo.
When my parents, two uncles, and other Francis relatives fled Latvia ahead of the Soviet invasion in 1944 my mom’s mother refused to go. I can only guess the reasons for her decision. She didn’t want to live her country, her culture, and the life she knew. She probably thought she was too old to start a new life in a foreign country. Many people thought that the Allies would drive out the Soviets and that their family members would come home soon. Maybe Oma didn’t want to leave the place where her husband was buried. Andrejs was only eleven or twelve at the time so it’s only natural that he stayed with his mother.
My parents had been married only about two months when the Red Army invaded. They were living in Mālpils where they met and where they both worked. My father was the postmaster. Mālpils is about 50 miles (80 km) from Limbaži. His family lived in Alūksne, which is twice as far away, close to the border with Russia. My father was also a telegrapher. I don’t know if he tried to contact either family by phone or telegraph. The Soviet army was between Alūksne and Mālpils so making contact was no doubt impossible. My folks felt they had no choice but to flee. During the first invasion of Latvia in 1940, my father barely escaped being deported to Siberia. His name was on a list of those to be deported but a friend saw the list and warned him. My father hid out in the forest for two weeks until it was safe to return. My parents, too, probably thought they’d be able to return when the war was over and that Latvia would be liberated from the Russians. They never dreamed that they’d never see their country or families again.
The Soviets desecrated many graves. When I was in Latvia during the waning days of the Soviet era, I visited Brāļu kapus Bretherns’ Cemetary where Latvian war veterans were laid to rest. The names and dates on the Latvian patriots’ gravestones had been chiseled away.
My maternal grandparents’ house has a big backyard. Their property was even bigger before the new government decided that it was too big for just one family and took part of their land away. No doubt the backyard chickens helped the family survive the many food shortages during the years of occupation.
We sent packages with clothes, food, hygiene products, cigarettes, gum, and other items they could use themselves, barter, or sell on the black market. We also sent a teddy bear and a big ball.
Andrejs was quite the entrepreneur. Private businesses were not allowed in the Soviet Union. Andrejs didn’t let that bother him. He had a family to support, a wife and daughter as well as his mother and son. Andrejs raised tulips to sell to anyone who’d buy them. Latvians love flowers and give them on many occasions so he did very well. Other Latvians who lived in more rural areas did the same. On the way to Forest Park Cemetery, I saw little old ladies selling flowers in the street. That was not good enough for my uncle. Andrejs traveled all over the western and southern USSR peddling his flowers. His biggest day was March 8, International Women’s Day when every woman could expect to receive bouquets.
An envious neighbor, seeing my uncle’s nice greenhouse, reported him to the authorities. Andrejs was arrested and spent two years in jail for “speculation.” He didn’t let that deter him. Once he was released from prison he went back to growing tulips, except that he moved his greenhouse into the building at the back of the photo above. Out of sight, out of mind.
My uncle was handy with his hands as you had to be because so many items they needed weren’t available in stores. When I visited he expressed his frustration at being unable to find a trailer hitch so he could attach a trailer to his car so he could haul more tulips to market. He’d have to make one himself, he told me.
My Oma had seven grandchildren but she got to see only two of them grow up. Four of them wound up in Australia. The seventh, me, in the United States. Like my father’s parents, my Oma passed away years before I was able to visit Latvia.
I included this photo because it tugs at my heart. I should have been able to play with this precious little doll and her brother. By the time I visited Latvia, they were all grown up.
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Life in my mother’s hometown, Limbaži: a photo essay
Our refugee parents and grandparents spoke of Latvia as if it were a cross between Camelot and Brigadoon.
Between the first and second World Wars Latvia was a free, prosperous, and independent republic.
I don’t know what holiday the flag display is celebrating. My guess would be that it’s not Latvia’s Independence Day, which falls on November 18th. I would expect there to be snow on the ground in November since Latvia is almost on the 57th latitude. Even Moscow is farther south. Aberdeen, Scotland, and Kalmar, Sweden are on the same latitude. However, the Gulf Stream keeps Lativa warmer than one might expect so perhaps the holiday being commemorated is Independence Day. It’s a pity that there’s no writing on the back of this postcard.
The first nationwide song festival in Latvia was held in Rīga in 1873 during the National Awakening. Latvia was still part of the Russian Empire then. It didn’t succeed in throwing off the Russian yoke until 1918, although an unsuccessful attempt was made during the Russian Revolution of 1905. Many Latvians who had participated in the failed uprising fled the country to save themselves and their families from Russian retribution.
These are Girl Guides, the Latvian version of girl scouts in the church my mom’s family attended. My mother is the flag-bearer. I don’t know what the occasion or even what the date was. Too many photos with nothing written on the back.
There are so many things about this photo that I love. Most of all that it includes my mother as a young woman. She’s the one ducking her head and smiling. In photos, she’s frequently the only one who’s smiling. I also love the meat grinder. My mother had one just like it here in the United States. I also love the bowl, the fat little pitcher, and the scale.
My mother’s oldest brother, Leonīds Francis is in the first row on the far left. The smiley face, fourth from the left in the front row, is my mother. She was the third of four children, the only girl. Maybe she’s around eight or nine in this photo.
All up and down the coast from Canada to Baja California the West is on fire. This happens every year now. I’m fortunate enough to be in an area where there is no danger from flames. Not this year, anyway. No knowing what might happen next year.
Usually, in the summer I love that daylight lingers long into the evening. Yesterday, I couldn’t wait for darkness to set in so I wouldn’t have to look at the ugly sky. As the sun was going down it turned the color of pee.
Despite the smoke air quality yesterday was pretty moderate so I sat among my flowers on my balcony for a while and wrote in my journal. Normally, my balcony is a healing place though not necessarily quiet. There’s constant traffic noise and occasional human or dog noise. I love my outdoor writing spot anyway.
We have wildfires every year but in the past, they weren’t as pervasive.
That day in August five years ago the sun was the color of a blood orange but my camera was unable to capture the true tint. Just looking at this photo makes me feel sick.
Maybe this year’s smoke didn’t get bad as early because we had drenching rain in June, which meant lots of snow in the mountains. My friend’s husband and their daughter were still able to go skiing on Mt. Rainier until mid-June, a month later than normal.
Two weather sites said that we’d get a bit of rain this afternoon. It hasn’t shown up. In June, I wanted the rain to stop now I want it to start and go on for a week or two.
Last evening the smoke was bad enough that it was coming indoors through my sliding door. It was too warm but I had to close everything up so I wouldn’t have to smell smoke indoors. The air quality is worse today but I have the slider open because the wind is mild and not blowing smoke indoors.
Will there ever be another year when the sky is clear and blue all summer? I don’t want to think about how much longer the fires will keep raging this year. I think of the poor folks who’ve had to be evacuated from their homes and my heart breaks for them. Will their homes still be there when the fires are finally brought under control?
Latvian symbols have been known since Neolithic times. Roman historian, Tacitus (CE 56-120) knew of Baltic deities as far back as 98 CE (common era) The Balts, the last pagans of Europe weren’t Christianized until the early 13th Century. Couronians (Kurzemnieki) and Semigallians (Zemgaļnieki) were especially resistant to enforced Christianization. Therefore it’s a mistake to try to associate Dieva dēls (God’s son) Jānis with John the Baptist or the goddess Māra with the Virgin Mary. Latvians had their own nature gods and goddesses. Even today they have not been completely banished from Latvian culture.
Mēness is one of the major deities of the Latvian pantheon. One of Dieva sons.
In many mythologies, the sun is depicted as male and the moon as female. In Latvian mythology, it’s the other way around. The sun, Saule, is female and the moon, Mēness, is male. As in all mythologies, the beliefs and depictions are inconsistent.
Mēness (the moon) is the god of war, clad in silk and silver, wearing a starry cloak, carrying a sword at his side, and mounted on a white horse. The moon is the guardian of men and boys. Soldiers are his special concern. Mēness lends his light and protection to those who have to work or travel by night. When the moon isn’t riding his white horse, his chariot is drawn by the morning and the evening stars.
At first, Saule and Mēness were happily married. They were inseparable rising and going to bed at the same time. Together they had many children, the stars. In other tellings, Mēness was a rake and a rambling boy who courted Saules daughters (Saules meitas)
In different versions of the myth, Mēness is the guardian of the stars. He counts them every night. Having noticed that Auseklis (the morning star) is missing Mēness decides to steal his bride. When Saule discovers her husband’s adultery she grabs her sword and chops him into bits and pieces. Again, depending on the variation of the myth, she just whacks off half his head. That’s how the formerly happy couple winds up in their separate realms, he at night, she during the day. Never p*** off the sun. She may be a warm and loving mother but has the fury of hell when she’s betrayed.
Mēness has a more benevolent side. He is fondly known as Mēnestiņš, “dear little moon.” The moon is the deity of the entire human life cycle, of agriculture, of fertility and growth, of perpetual motion.
Everything that grows above ground should be planted when the moon is waxing. Root vegetables should be planted when the moon is waning as its energy, is also waning at this time. The symbol of the waning moon is used for healing to make the illness grow weaker and wear away.
Perhaps because the moon is so changeable, it also has its feminine side, Mēnesnīca, moonlight. I was unable to find anything more specific about mēnesnīca except that she’s the light of the moon.
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Photographs from the beginning of the new school year in Jelgava, Latvia provided by Andris Bērziņš, Honorary Consul for the Republic of Latvija to the State of Indiana and the newly appointed president of the Jelgava and Carmel, Indiana Sister Cities, Inc. And, not least, a friend. His mother’s family was from Jelgava.
Jelgava is a city of approximately sixty thousand residents located in Zemgale, the central region of Latvia
The first day of school is special and exciting everywhere especially if it’s a child’s very first first day of school. It’s known as “Knowledge Day.”
In Latvia, things are done a bit differently. The first day of school is a big deal for everyone. The president of Latvia, Egils Levits and Prime Minister Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš sent greetings and good wishes to pupils and teachers.
Education and Science Minister Ilga Šuplinska had this message for school children, “Let this exciting energy, the joy of meeting up and being together, inspire you throughout the school year! We all have one goal – we want to be ourselves: strong, smart, and sensitive – today, tomorrow, and into Latvia’s common future. So let’s cheer each other up on a daily basis when we meet in both the real world and the virtual world,” she said.
Bringing flowers to the teacher is not the only difference in how children behave in school in Latvia.
My first day of school was in the United States. When I came home from school my parents asked if children stood up, as a sign of respect when the teacher entered the classroom. When I said, “no,” my father said that I should stand up anyway. Even though I was shy and timid there was no way on earth I was going to stand up when no one else did. I was sure the teacher would either think I was being naughty or that I needed to go to the bathroom already. In either, case, I’d probably get a scolding. Of course, I never told my father and he never asked again.
When I was in high school and told my parents what classes I had to take their astonished response was, “Is that all?” “Study hall? Why do you need study hall? You can study at home.” I expected that reaction and wouldn’t have taken study hall but no other class fit into my schedule. That happened only once.
During my school years, I was pen pals with my cousin, who is one month younger. The diaspora took her family to Australia. At the beginning of the new school year, her letters included a list of classes she was taking. I was embarrassed to tell her how few my required classes were. So, if I had a class in social studies/history, I would make it sound like two different classes, social studies and history.
In Latvia, school requirements are so rigorous that graduating from high school is the equivalent of two years of college in the USA. I wonder if I would ever have made it through high school if I’d attended school in Latvia.
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Nameja is a possessive case. Namejs is a proper noun with a masculine suffix.
I’ve been identified as a Latvian more than once because I was wearing my Nameja ring. Apparently, they were once worn only by men. In modern times both men and women wear them. The rings come in sterling silver or gold.
A day or so after the Toronto Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the Yorkville neighborhood a woman saw me sitting in an outdoor cafe reading a book. She immediately recognized me as a fellow Latvian because I was wearing my Nameja ring. I invited her to my table and we had a pleasant conversation.
Another time I was in a department store in my hometown sorting through blouses on an upper rack when a woman’s voice startled me, asking, “Are you Latvian?” She had seen the ring on my right hand. Yes, I admitted I am a Latvian. She wasn’t a Latvian herself but had Latvian friends.
A friend once told me that if he were ever found dead without his Nameja ring on his hand, it meant that he’d been murdered and the ring stolen.
There are different stories about the meaning of the ring’s design. Someone once told me that the thicker and thinner bands woven together showed how the great and the small can work harmoniously together.
According to Wiki, the three bands woven together represent the three ancient Latvian lands, Kurzeme (Courland) Vidzeme, and Latgale. But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the three bands be of equal width? Not to mention the fact that there were more than three ancient lands that comprise Latvia. Why wouldn’t they be represented?
Also according to Wiki, the ring symbolizes independence, friendship, and trust.
Namejs was a legendary 13th Century leader of the Latgallian tribes who resisted the invasion by German crusaders attempting to Christianize the last pagans of Europe, the Baltic peoples. Namejs was forced to flee without his son. He is said to have given the boy a ring of twisted metal by which he would be able to recognize his son when Namejs returned. The German knights set out to find the boy. In order to protect their leader’s son, all men and boys started wearing similar rings. A novel, titled Nameja Gredzens, by the Latvian writer, Aleksandrs Grīns, served to popularize the ring as a symbol of Latvian unity. The novel inspired the film, The Pagan King. In Latvian, the film has the same title as the book.
Archaeologists have spoiled the legend by finding a ring of similar design in Latgale that dates to the 12th Century, long before Namejs was born. But who is to say that a ring like that nameless one could not, in the next century have been worn by the iconic Latvian hero and thus been named after him? Finding one ring does not mean other rings like it could not have existed.
I recently saw a question in an online article about which finger to wear the ring on. It never occurred to me to wonder. I wore it on the finger on which it fit, my right hand’s ring finger. The right, rather than the left hand so it wouldn’t be mistaken for a wedding band. In a way, it is a wedding band–it marries me to my people and my heritage.
Someone on a social media site asked if non-Latvians could wear the Nameja ring. My answer is, no. If the person is half-Latvian, then yes. Other Latvians may have a different point of view.
Not everyone can wear rings. Some people have acidic skin with which the metal interacts but they want to affirm their Latvian heritage. Friends wonder if there is any other option than wearing a ring. There are many–cufflinks, brooches, pendants, and earrings among them. If silver causes allergic reactions, gold may not.
A note about the oxidation on the silver jewelry that makes it look tarnished. Silversmiths deliberately apply oxidation to bring out the detail. It’s a characteristic of other Latvian silver jewelry. Please don’t clean it off.
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First bad words, now bad reviews. I’m not going to use any bad words about my bad reviews. A writer can learn from a well-thought-out bad review. The two bad reviews I got for the books I published on Amazon weren’t thought-out at all.
Whether a writer is traditionally published or self-published they’re bound to get bad reviews. A writer knows that any review is better than no review. Anything that will bring attention to your books.
Even better is for the book to be banned. Banning a book can be good for sales. There was a recent article in The Washington Post by an author who was highly indignant that his children’s book had not been banned. More than thirty years after it was first published Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, hit the bestseller lists after it was banned in Tennessee. Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko humorously demanded that his book, Boss, about controversial mayor Richard J. Daley, be vilified and banned. These two writers understood the lure of forbidden fruit.
Dictators and wanna-be dictators understand the power of books. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because his writing displeased the Politburo. He was allowed to return home only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn’s experience is almost the ultimate bad review. The ultimate bad review is getting executed for your writing as happened to Russian writer Isaac Babel.
This post wasn’t going to be about these writers, it was supposed to be about my experience with my own reviews. I’m nowhere near their class and the one-star reviews of two of the books I published on Amazon have done nothing to improve my sales. People have to know about a book before they buy it or demand that it be banned. I’ve done very little to publicize my books so poor sales are mostly my own fault.
The person who gave my books bad ratings is someone named Jennifer. She used the exact same words for both books: “I find it hard to understand why the author sympathizes with fascist leaders who spread baseless propaganda.” I copied her exact words from her one-star rating.
One of the books Jennifer rated is “The Dissident’s Wife” which is set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the mid-1980s. My story is about a dissident Russian poet who has been accused of sedition and anti-Soviet slander. Valery Mironov goes from being a respected and beloved people’s artist to a pariah who’s been diagnosed with “creeping schizophrenia” ( a mental illness recognized nowhere in the free world) and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t mention any leaders in my book, let alone defend them.
It’s obvious that Jennifer never read the book. She saw the hammer and sickle and had a knee-jerk reaction. It’s also obvious that she is ignorant of the difference between communism and fascism.
Beats me who Jennifer thinks is the “fascist leader” in this book. Santa? The grandmother whom her family brings from Latvia to the United States? Or perhaps the mother who thinks a piano would be a fine Christmas gift for her family, a gift they could all use. I suspect that the word “Latvia” is what triggered Jennifer’s one-star rating. Darn it, she didn’t even demand that the book be banned. Rats!
Some people might consider me to be an old fogey because of what I’m about to say regarding bad words. I don’t consider myself to be old. I prefer the French term: une femme d’un certain âge.
I’m not going to tell anyone not to use bad words. I’m just going to suggest giving it more thought before you do so. Then maybe you’ll change your mind. Or not.
You’re going to see a lot of asterisks in this post.
These days people throw around bad words as if they were confetti. These words get used so often that they become banal and boring and lose their power.
What if you have a puppy that poops on your carpet and you call him an a**h****? The dog didn’t do it deliberately just to annoy you. If you call this innocent little creature who did something you don’t approve of because he didn’t know any better. If a puppy is an a**h***, what are you going to call someone who is truly evil? Someone like a loathsome politician? Are you equating your puppy to that horrible human being?
A photo of a little owl was posted on a social media page. Someone referred to the bird as a little motherf****er. When I objected to the language the guy said, “You must be fun at parties!” The parties I go to don’t include that kind of language. I didn’t say that to him. Instead, I said, “I’m ignorant. Educate me. Why is a word like this okay? Is it original? Is it clever? Is it witty?” The guy had no reply.
Some psychologist has claimed that people who swear are perceived as “genuine.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives a couple definitions of genuine, “sincere and honestly felt or expressed” and “free from hypocrisy or pretense.” Apparently, the psychologist didn’t realize that sometimes expressing your genuine feelings can get you punched in the nose.
Civilization is all about being artificial. We wear clothes instead of running around naked. We use restrooms instead of squatting on someone’s lawn to do our business. If we see someone eating a drumstick and we want it, we don’t grab it out of their hand and take a bite. We say “please,” and “thank you” and “may I?”
Do you suppose a lack of civility, too much expression of genuine feelings, could be part of the problems we have today?
The Saint Paul Latvian Song and Dance Festival is over but if you missed it, you have more opportunities to see, and maybe even participate (if you’re a member of a choir and it is invited to take part) in Rīga, Latvia in 2023 and in Toronto, Canada in 2024. Start saving your money and renew your passport.
Tickets for these summer events go on sale early in the year and sell out quickly. There are usually several hotels where blocks of rooms will be reserved for attendees. These also go quickly. If you value a good night’s sleep, don’t reserve a room at the main event hotel. The partying will probably go on all night, not just in the public rooms but also in individual hotel rooms. I was at one such festival after-party in a hotel room in Pasadena, California. The room was crowded but I didn’t think we were all that noisy. However, hotel security came to shush us. We weren’t even dancing or anything though we might have been singing a little.
Contrary to what the “Visit St. Paul” website said, it was not the largest Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the world. Only 8000 visitors were expected. The largest festival, of course, was the one held in Rīga from June 30 to July 8 in 2018. That year was the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s original declaration of independence in November 1918.
My cousin and her husband were at the 2018 festival. He said there were so many participants in the procession that he and his wife went to lunch and when they came back the procession was still marching along.
These events are such a huge part of Latvian cultural heritage that I had to write about them again. Every third person in Latvia belongs to a choral group. I wonder what it would be like if 110 million Americans sang in a choir?
Since 2008 the Latvian Song and Dance Festival has been recognized by UNESCO as “one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
I wrote this post primarily as a way to introduce this YouTube video, which I think is pretty cool.
0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.
Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.
How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?
This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.
Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Heart‘s Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.
When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.
This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.
Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.
One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.
The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.
It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.
My family and I were refugees from Soviet Russia’s invasion of my parents’ homeland Latvia. My heart goes out to all refugees, particularly those who have had to flee from Ukraine because of the invasion of their homeland. Very little has changed in the last 78 years. For that matter, too little has changed since the Bolshevik Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917. Different dictator, same brutality.
This poem, by Latvian poet, Velta Toma (1912 – 1999) speaks to the soul of a Latvian refugee. To refugees anywhere.
This diaspora happened in the same year Ms. Toma composed her poem.
Aiz manis tumsā zūd ceļi,
deg mājas, un sagrūst tilts.
un visi dzīvie kļūst veļi.
Kā vēju vajāta smilts
es klīstu pa svešām vietām
bez darba, dusas un cilts.
- Velta Toma, (1944)
The translation is my own.
Behind me, the road fades into darkness,
my home burns, the bridge collapses
And all we living become ghosts.
Like a wind-driven grain of sand
I drift through foreign lands
without work, without rest,without kin.
On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.
But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.
What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.
Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.
I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.
At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.
I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.
(Thank you to my friend for allowing me to use her photos. She prefers to remain anonymous. You know who you are)
On May 4th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR adopted a resolution “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, turning a new white page in the history of Latvia. The White Tablecloth Festival celebrates the anniversary of Latvia’s renewed independence after decades under Soviet rule.
A clean new page is understandable but why a white tablecloth? The cloth was chosen as a symbol of national pride, unity, and self-confidence. On feast days tables are traditionally set with a white linen tablecloth. Latvian friends, neighbors, and families all over the world, those in Latvia and the Latvians of the Diaspora in their adopted homelands are encouraged to gather together as one family to celebrate Latvia’s renewed independence with reverence and joy.
The white tablecloth also symbolizes that Latvia’s break with the Soviet Union was achieved relatively peacefully through diplomacy with the occupying power.
Except for social media I’ve been out of touch with my local Latvian community. I’m not even sure if they’ve adopted the White Tablecloth Festival. I learned about it just the other day when a friend in Ohio shared photos of her Latvian community’s celebration of this anniversary.
It’s about time more attention was paid to this important holiday which usually gets little notice compared to Latvia’s original Independence Day. November 18th has been celebrated by Latvian exiles in their new countries. During the years of Soviet occupation, such a celebration was illegal in Latvia.
Whenever Latvians gather to celebrate there is always lots of food. On this special occasion in Cleveland, there were also speeches (hardly a unique occurrence) recitations of poetry, shared memories, and stories about what it means to be a Latvian. They also saw a video about the dedication of a monument to a Latvian freedom activist who died shortly before renewed independence became a reality.
The day before the party participants were invited to bring heirloom tablecloths that were handmade by their mothers and grandmothers to be displayed on the walls of the Latvian Center.
Of course, human nature being what it is, especially Latvian human nature, not everyone is eager to embrace the White Tablecloth Festival. Some people think it’s silly because white tablecloths are used for every celebration that involves feasting (all of them) Others prefer the name Renewal of Independence Day. I think White Tablecloth Festival is more of an attention grabber.
Whatever it’s called, May 4th is a day to celebrate the restorations of freedom.
As we celebrate we are all hoping that there will soon be a day for Ukraine to celebrate renewed peace and freedom.
To clarify any misunderstanding. I am not collecting money for Ukraine. I prefer to leave that to long-established and respected organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities. The donations are compensation for me for my work on the blog, researching, writing, and illustrating. I apologize for not making this clear.
We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.
We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.
Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.
Happy May Day!
In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.
May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.
Writing doldrums can show up for any number of reasons. Sometimes because I have no idea what to write next. Sometimes because I have too many ideas and it’s hard to decide which one to work on next. Sometimes because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I write, not even the people who follow my blog.
My current issue that’s stymying me is having too many works in progress (WIPs) I have a magpie mind. I like the next shiny new thing. The next story or essay idea that I want to work on at the cost of other projects that are waiting to be completed. Too often I love my stories too much to want to let them go. I get persnickety and no matter how many times I’ve been over a manuscript, I keep finding new errors. I could go on editing forever.
My three weightiest WIPs are my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart; a collection of essays from Come, Follow My Blog, titled, Latvian Lore, and a second collection of blog essays titled, Latvia, Despite the Soviets.
Even though none of these books is finished, a friend, who is also my writing mentor, has been helping me design covers for them. Colleen loves designing covers and has experience creating designs for many of her own traditionally published books. She loves helping people. She hasn’t said so but perhaps she also eagerly helps design covers for my self-published books in hopes of inspiring me to finish the darn things.
I thought A Home for an Exile’s Heart, my novel about Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who, with her family, flees her homeland when the Soviet army invades in 1944 and finds a new home and a new love-interest, former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn in Seattle in 1952 was finished. I re-read the last chapter and decided that I don’t like it. Re-writing it has proven to be more of a hassle than I expected. Too sweet. It needed a touch of tartness. Just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean characters can put aside such strong emotions as jealousy and resentment. Yet, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It’s a sticky wicket.
Latvian Lore is a collection of Latvian myths and traditions. The problem with that one is not having enough essays published in my blog to make a decent-sized book. I need to write and research more. There’s so much information to include that it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. I might even include family recipes. All that is to be decided later.
After A Home for an Exile’s Heart, the project that’s closest to completion is Latvia, Despite the Soviets, a memoir about a trip I took to Latvia for a Song and Dance Festival when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Some of the chapters are essays from Come, Follow My Blog, the rest is new material. I’ve also included chapters
to give my memoir historical context that some people may not be familiar with. I need to read my manuscript from start to finish to decide what needs rewriting, revising, and if I need to add new material. It is emotionally difficult material to write about. I need a break from it before continuing.
So what did I do? I started a new story. Flash fiction that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Caw! Caw! Shiny new object! Let me add it to my collection of WIPs.
It’s been a month since Russia’s savage, brutal invasion of Ukraine. It strikes close to home because of Latvia’s history of invasion by the Soviet Union and nearly fifty years of occupation. And because Latvia also shares a border with Russia. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of both NATO and the European Union. It’s the same with the other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania. If Ukraine falls none of the countries in Eastern Europe can feel safe. Maybe not even the rest of Europe.
All our hearts are broken. We can all too easily imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents went through the same thing. We were robbed of our country and families who were unable to flee or who thought the Red Army would soon be driven out by the World War II Allies. Those who succeeded in escaping expected to be able to go back. They were mistaken. Nobody wanted to prolong the war.
I feel compelled to check on President Zelensky and to see how the Ukrainian people’s fierce resistance is going. I cry for them every day. So do many of my Latvian friends. Music tugs at our heartstrings, as music is meant to do.
This video shows a concert for Ukraine’s freedom that was held in Rīga, Latvia during the early days of the invasion. The song is called, “For the Country of My Birth” composed by a popular Latvian composer, Raimonds Pauls. Lyrics by Jānis Peters.
This song debuted in 1973 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first National Latvian Song and Dance Festival.
The lyrics reference the year 1905 when Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Rīga killing seventy-three and injuring two hundred people.
The translation is my own. To me, the castle of light symbolizes hope.
Then came the fifth year, rain of blood fell
Destroying the tallest trees.
Let's become soldiers, our song will sow a storm.
Forever a castle of light rejoices from the hill.
This is not a lesson on how to do a genealogical search but the following information about Latvian names may be helpful in your search. Today’s post is longer than usual as the subject of Latvian names is pretty complicated. Don’t let that discourage you.
When Latvians emigrated to other countries, either they or immigration officials might have Anglicized their names. Some people, like my father, lopped a syllable or two off the family name long before he had to flee his homeland.
Today a woman from Australia was looking for relatives in Latvia and not having much luck. She had only a few names to go by. One of the people she was looking for was named Helmut. That’s an anglicized spelling. In his homeland, his name would be spelled, Helmuts.
The Latvian alphabet does not include the letter “W.” If you’re looking for someone with “W” in their name, try substituting “V.”
Men’s names, both first and last, have “-s,” “-is,” “-š,” or “-iš” as suffixes.
Women’s names, first and last, end with “-a” or “-e.” If she is using her father or husband’s name the suffix of her last name assumes the feminine ending. Which noun becomes the suffix depends on the spelling of the last name. If a last name ends with “-s” or “-š” the feminine suffix becomes an “-a.” Mr. Kalns’ wife or daughter’s last name is spelled Mrs. Kalna.
If the man’s last name ends in “-is” or “-iš” the feminine version of the name ends with an “e.” On the other hand, if the man’s last name ends with “-is” or “-iš” his wife or daughter’s last name is spelled with an “e” at the end. Mr. Cālītis’s daughter would be Miss. Cālīte. Latvians have no equivalent to Ms.
This is not a hard and fast rule regarding suffixes. Sometimes both the man and woman’s last name ends with a vowel as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Timma.
Letters in the Latvian language have only one pronunciation, unless they are modified by a diacritical mark, which makes them critical (!) Search engines and genealogy sites may not find the correct name if the diacritical mark is missing. This is where Google comes in handy if you don’t have a keyboard with that function. Google has a version for the Latvian language, Google.lv. There’s a tiny icon of a keyboard in the search window, click on that and a larger version pops up which includes diacritical marks, click on the mark you need and the correct letter will show up in the search window. However, if the next letter in the word does not have a mark, be sure to close out the keyboard or you’ll get the wrong letter. The letters on the virtual keyboard are not in the same as on your real keyboard so it will take a bit of searching to find the right one.
The lady mentioned above was also looking for a relative whose name was Jacob. That’s an Anglicized spelling. The correct Latvian spelling is “Jēkabs” because in our language a “c” is never pronounced as if it were a “k.” The name Veronica is spelled, Veronika. A name like Veronica would be simple to change but figuring out the Latvian spelling of a name like Jacob can be a puzzler. If you don’t know the correct spelling of the name you’re looking for check an online Latvian Name Day calendar. You may have to go through all 365 days to find the right one.
Diminutives can also complicate your search. The suffix “-īte,” (pronounced “ee-teh”) is used with feminine nouns (all nouns have gender-specific suffixes) to show affection or small size. As Latvians say, “The smaller, the dearer.” Usually, such endings are not used for women’s first names. Except that sometimes they are.
Mārīte is the diminutive for the name Māra and is generally used as an endearment by family and friends, whether the female in question is a woman the size of a female sumo wrestler or girl, a tiny elfin creature. But some parents give their daughter the name Mārīte as her legal name, a permanent term of endearment. The diminutive for a woman named Sarma is Sarmīte. Both are used as legal first names. If you know of a relative named Sarmīte but can’t find her in any database with that name, try looking for Sarma instead. Bitīte in Latvian means “little bee” but I know of no woman named Bite (bee) That doesn’t mean some woman isn’t out there whose moniker is Bite.
Men’s first names can also be turned into diminutives but I’ve never known of a man with a diminutive as his first name. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
The Latvian alphabet that is currently used is based on Latin orthography. However, if you’re searching for pre-1922 records they could well be written in German orthography which was used at the time.
Not confused enough? The Latgallain (Latgale) dialect will remedy that. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais is from Latgale (Latgola) In standard Latvian, her last name would be spelled Apaļais. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help if you’re looking for someone with roots in Latgale. Try to find someone from the region to help you, perhaps someone in a local library or on a Latgaliešu (Latgalian) social media group.
I hope I’ve succeeded in making your search for Latvian ancestors a little less confusing.
Bizdings is not a plural word. In Latvian plural suffixes are often the letter “i.” Zirgs, is a horse. Zirgi are two or more horses. But some plural words do end with an “s.” Māja is the word for house. Two houses are mājas. “Let’s go home is, “iesim mājās.” A diacritical mark is necessary on each letter “A” to indicate “to home.”
Galva is the Latvian word for head.
Galvā, with the diacritical mark, means in the head. Or on the head.
Bizdings is exactly what it sounds like and is pronounced pretty much the same in English as in Latvian.
Bizdings galvā something buzzing and dinging in the head. In other words, a ding-a-ling. Nutty. A bit cracked.
I thought of the phrase bizdings galvā today because I was being stalked on a social media platform by a woman who had a headful of buzzy-ding-a-lings. She wanted to talk. She wanted to make friends. Even though I might chat with someone on the elevator or in the checkout line at the grocery store, I have little interest in talking to strangers. So we didn’t talk.
Ms. Bizdings and I had been friends for quite a while. I don’t remember for how long. She never posts anything that I’ve seen. She never comments on my posts. She wanted to talk one other time, a year, maybe two years ago. Or longer, for all I know. That’s how much she cared about being friends. Today she must have been off her meds.
Today the Bizdings woman didn’t give up so easily. When I asked what she wanted to talk about, she said she wanted to talk about “life.” I told her I’m not good at talking to strangers, that she should get to know me first by chatting on messenger. That wasn’t good enough for her. She called twice. I declined both calls. I told her she was being pushy. I had to translate the word, “uzbāzīga.” She agreed but kept persisting.
We’ve talked before, she claimed. Don’t you remember? No, because we’ve never talked. Oh, yes we have, she insisted. We talked about your novel. It’s about a pilot. Yes, there is a pilot in A Home for an Exile’s Heart, but my novel is not about him. He’s the love interest of my protagonist, a widowed Latvian refugee. That information is available on Twitter and in several Latvian Facebook groups. What must have seemed like the clincher, to prove we’d talked, she said she’d told me about the Latvian tradition of giving bouquets consisting of an odd number of flowers. Bouquets with even numbers of blossoms are only for funerals. Why she thought that was relevant to anything, I don’t know.
After admitting that she’s pushy, she gave me the thumbs up. I gave her the thumbs down. She thought that was rude. I unfriended her. Thank goodness she lives on the other side of the world.
This is what happens when we put ourselves out there on social media. I want people to read my book so I’m going to keep putting myself out there in hopes of attracting an audience.
I didn’t make a friend, but I got a blog post out of it. That’s something.
The colorful folk costumes most Latvians are familiar with may seem to have been around forever, but they actually date back only as far as the 19th Century.
Photos of archaeological folk costumes were used with permission from the Latvian National Cultural Center.
These are the garments worn by the peoples from the various tribes that came together to form modern Latvia. The folk costumes, decorations, and jewelry were recreated from fragments found in archeological digs. The clothing shown here is very similar to that worn by other Nordic people.
The word Nordic derives from “nord” meaning “north,” which would include the people of Northern Europe who live along the Baltic Sea.
I love the subtle colors of these costumes, especially the different shades of blue.
Map of Latvia’s different regions.
The woman’s wool cloak is decorated with braided bands and fringe around the edges. She’s wearing a narrow belt that’s the precursor of elaborately woven modern belts of the 19th Century. On her belt, she is wearing small chains that hold tools, such as keys, sewing needles, and amulets. Modesty required that married women keep their hair covered. Rings were made of bronze or an alloy of lead and tin.
The information from the Cultural Center doesn’t specify how the blue color was achieved. However, it was most likely woad, Isatis tinctoria, which was used throughout Europe until the 17th Century. Crafters in our century also use dye from the Isatis tinctoria plant.
Decorations on men’s clothing are minimal, except for embroidery at the neckline which is fastened with the same style horseshoe-shaped brooch. He’s wearing a leather belt with a tooled scabbard for his dagger.
Children were adorned with more jewelry and their clothes were more elaborately decorated than clothes for adults.
The mantle is studded with woven-in bronze studs. The linen shirt and wool shawl are fastened with horseshoe-shaped brooches, a design that is still used in Latvian jewelry. Her torc necklace is decorated with metal tassels that are used to this day in Latvian jewelry design. My mother once has a silver bracelet like the headband the model is wearing.
Unmarried women wear headbands or coronets of flowers, metal, or fabric that are embroidered and decorated with beads and crystals. Each region has its own characteristic designs.
The outfit consists of a shirt, trousers, tunic, and cloak. In the days before buttons brooches were used to fasten garments. The warrior’s status in society was indicated by his weapons–helmet, sword, and shield.
The Fourteenth Century brought many changes to clothing. The mantle is more ornately woven of wool and linen in more intricate patterns and decorated with fringes and fiber tassels, instead of metal ones. The bracelets are more delicate. The coronet is decorated with yellow glass beads.
Love at first sight, followed by happily ever after, is a popular trope in romance novels but is it something that can only happen in fiction?
The two main characters, a World War II Latvian refugee and an American fighter pilot, in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart fall in love at the first touch of their hands as they gaze into each other’s eyes and sparks fly. My Latvian beta reader thought that was unrealistic. In fiction, it happens all the time but can it happen in real life? I told my reader my favorite anecdote about a true life love at first sight story. This is how I remember hearing it so my words may not be exact but the facts are.
Internationally famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was being interviewed on a radio show about his marriage to opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya.
Host: “Mr. Rostropovich, I understand that you and your wife married a week after you first met.”
Rostropovich: “Yes. It was a big mistake.”
Host, taken aback, stammers, “A m-mistake?”
Rostropovich: “Yes. We wasted a whole week.”
I love this story. Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya were married for fifty-two years, until his death. Though it may be rare, love at first sight, followed by a happily ever after does happen in real life.
Most of the time, it seems to me, a declaration of love can be premature. Some guy I once dated said that he loved me way too soon. I was not enchanted or bowled over. I said that he hardly knew me so how could he possibly love me? We hadn’t had any deep discussions or revelations of the secrets of our hearts. But he kept on declaring his love. Ove and over and over. Bleh. Maybe if he’d been the right guy I’d have been more receptive, even delighted. My advice, don’t date someone just because you’re lonely, bored, or depressed. Under such circumstances a “happily ever after” ain’t likely. If you meet a gem like Rostropovich or Vishnevskaya, go for it. Don’t settle for a rhinestone.
How do the love birds in my novel know they’ve found someone they can love forever? There’s an immediate sense of familiarity as if they’ve known each other forever. During their first evening together, they spend hours just talking. They open their hearts, tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, things that reveal character.
As Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It certainly can’t in a novel, so it doesn’t in A Home for an Exile’s Heart.
Valentine’s Day is known among Latvians as Sirsniņdiena, which can mean Sweethearts Day, as in lovers, but also anyone you love. My mother called me, Sirsniņa. My aunt called me, Sirds, which means heart, as a term of affection.
For my Valentine’s Day post I’m writing about the words Latvians use to express love. These words are used much more conservatively than the terms of endearment I wrote about before.
Latvians are a reserved people. It used to be, and maybe still is in some circles that Latvians’ idea of a proper public display of affection was to go to church and get married in front of God and the congregation of family and friends. Latvians don’t say the words “love” or “I love you” lightly. People don’t generally use such expressions as, “I love this pair of shoes” or “I love pizza.” They like the shoes. They like pizza. “I love you” is reserved for spouses or fiancées/fiancés. They’re not even used for one’s parents, children, or other family members.
I remember overhearing a parent criticize an in-law for saying “I love you” to his young daughter. It’s not a phrase I remember hearing around my house when I was growing up. It should be enough that love is demonstrated by providing food, clothes, and a roof over one’s head. Some might say such an attitude is outdated, Things have changed, the world has changed. But I got criticized in a Latvian social media group for saying people should say, “I love you” much more often. That happened not only in this century but as recently as last year.
Here are those very exclusive words.
Mīlestība = Love
Es mīlu Tevi = I love you
Mīlulis = loved one
Mīlīgs = lovable
Mīļošs = loving
Mans Mīļiotais = my lover
These next diminutives are okay to use with adults, children, and even pets.
Mīlulītis = my little loved one
Mīļumiņš = my little loved one (smaller and thus more dear)
Sieva = wife (the diphthong “ie” is pronounced like the “ea” in “ear.”
Sieviņa = my dear little wife. It can be used affectionately, but depending on context can also be belittling.
Vīrs = husband (veers)
Vīriņš = dear little husband. Most likely used only in private. The word could also refer to a little old man.
Mans = (pronounced “muhns”) My. Masculine. But it refers to the subject, not to the person who is speaking. e.g. “Mans vīrs” is what a woman would say when introducing her husband.
Mana = My. Feminine, also refers to the subject. A man introducing his wife would say, “Mana sieva.”
A Latvian friend and I had a discussion about whether a declaration of love should include the word, “es” (pronounced like the letter “S.”) meaning “I.” He said that “es” = “I” is understood, so it’s enough to say, “mīlu Tevi.” Technically, in English, the word “I” would also be understood nevertheless people say, “I love you.” To me, just saying “mīlu Tevi” sounds abrupt, like you’re eager to get on to the next thing, maybe “What’s for dinner?” This rule could be a familial difference or a regional one. My choice would include the first person singular pronoun,
Have fun with these loving words. Use them however you please on Valentine’s Day or any other day you want to tell someone you love them. Some rules are meant to be broken.
Hearts can break when they don’t hear these words. And stay broken even though hidden.
February 2 Sveču Diena, affectionately known as Svecīšu Diena
February 2 is a cross-quarter day. It’s the day that marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Depending on which hemisphere you’re in the cross-quarter day could also fall on February first. In the northern hemisphere, it means that winter is on its way out and spring is just around the corner.
In Latvia, February second is called Candle Day. In fact, all of February is known as Candle Month. I’m not sure why maybe because it’s a dark month requiring more candles to brighten things up.
For many centuries Candle Day was a day for making candles out of wax or tallow. I imagine that by the time winter was half over the store of candles had been used up and needed to be replenished. Candles that are made on this day are supposed to burn bright and last long.
Candles are symbols of warmth and light. A flame is magical; it bears the powerful energy of light. It can calm and cleanse, but it can also destroy.
Candle Day traditions and practices vary from region to region.
The most important thing is to be jovial to laugh and sing so you’ll be jovial happy, and full of laughter all year. To help the jollity along one must drink a great deal of beer and eat a lot.
Spending lots of money on this special day means you’ll be prosperous for the rest of the year.
Weather forecasting on this day in Latvia doesn’t involve rodents.
Dripping eaves mean a lovely spring.
A hard freeze means don’t expect a warm spring.
Fog on February second indicates that a rainy summer is in store.
Frost on trees predicts a bountiful summer.
Some of the information I found was consistent across more than one site. Other information was unique to one site. I admit I didn’t check all sites, there were many too many.
A handmade candle is a special gift to make a special friend happy. The person who makes the candle should hold her hands over the wax and concentrate on the positive things she wishes the recipient of the finished candle to have–happiness, well-being, prosperity, love. These positive thoughts should continue while pouring the melted wax into the mold. When the candle is finished the maker should hold it in her hands while continuing to think of positive wishes for the recipient.
The candlemaker should tell the recipient of the positive wishes that the candle brings with it that way when he lights the candle he will think of her and the positive things she wishes for him. Sounds like a bonding ritual.
The candle should be lit naturally, that is with a match, not a lighter.
The flame is not to be blown out because you might blow away all the good wishes. Instead, it should be pinched out with moist fingers or with a snuffer.
Candle-makers were supposed to be in a good mood while at their task. That’s where feasting, beer-drinking, singing, and laughing come in. If the candle-maker is in a bad mood the candles will sputter and burn with a dim light. Another example of sympathetic magic.
There is so much candle lore it’s hard to fit into one blog post and still publish it on February second.
Happy Candle Day. dear readers. Be sure to eat, drink, sing, and laugh.
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”
While I was editing my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, I’m pleased to say that my children’s story went live on Amazon’s Kindle Vella.
Vella offers the first three chapters of books as free samples. Since A Pocketful of Kitten is less than seven hundred words long there is only one episode, making my story a freebie. I hope you’ll check it out and if you like it, give it a “thumbs up” or even write a review.
In January 1991 the Soviet military attempted to force Latvia back into the USSR. Latvia had declared its renewed independence the previous year. The siege lasted two weeks from January 13 to January 27th.
Today we pay tribute to the efforts of people in Latvia to protect their newly-regained freedom in 1991. That month, leaders of the USSR in Moscow decided to mobilize security forces to restore Soviet order in the three Baltic countries. Upon realizing this, people of all ages and backgrounds rushed to Riga – they brought trucks, tractors, and heavy equipment to build barricades around government buildings. They spent days outside in the freezing cold of January. The face-off culminated on January 20th when Soviet special forces initiated a gun battle and temporarily seized the Ministry of the Interior. Several people were killed. But the barricades held! Pro-democracy forces prevailed and went on to restore full independence. In honor of these events, today is marked as the Commemoration Day of Defenders of the Barricades in 1991. We thank and honor everyone who stood up for freedom and joined the barricades!
Writing about Latvian culture, traditions, and eccentricities has been a great deal of fun. My posts have received lots of attention, comments on social media, and even a bit of money. It’s also been a lot of work writing my essays, editing, and illustrating them. It’s not that I’m out of ideas, I have plenty more but blogging isn’t the only writing I do. During my six-day streak (today’s day seven) I’ve neglected my other writing.
My novel in progress that needs editing and rewriting. As Wind to Flame is a historical romance that is set during the mid-19th Century, so it requires a lot of research, which is also fun. My heroine, Thea Lowell starts out as a bumptious girl and ends up as a nurse during the Civil War. Along the way, Thea falls in love with a rancher’s son, Adam Hastings.
The first two-thirds of A Home for an Exile’s Heart is available on Amazon Vella. The next chapter is finished but needs more editing before I can publish it. Exile is also a historical romance but it’s set in Seattle, Washington in 1952. The heroine is a widowed Latvian World War II refugee. Līvija Galiņa’s leading man is dashing former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn. I’ve left my readers waiting too long for the next chapter.
Today I published a story for children called, A Pocketful of Kitten. Currently, it’s under review on Amazon Vella but should go live pretty soon.
Did I mention that I also write short stories? I did. Not in this post, but in earlier ones. Anyone who’s interested can check under the category “fiction.” I’d like to write more short stories but my ideas have a way of growing like the magical beanstalk.
Then there are such minor annoyances as cooking and eating. I have the ingredients for borscht but who knows when I’ll get around to making the soup.
Oh, look! I’ve managed to procrastinate on that pesky chapter of Exile. And I’ve been sitting at my computer so such a long time that it’s gotten painful. I need to break for chocolate.
My posts on Latvian diminutives have stirred up a tempest in a teapot.
Latvians use a lot of diminutives, not just for family members and friends. Not just for humans but also for animals and inanimate objects. A few people have objected to such usage. They feel diminutives should be used only for loved human beings. These objections are nothing new. Years ago I read a verse by a Latvian writer who made fun of the indiscriminate use of diminutives. Other blog readers felt that employing diminutives in such a manner shows warmth, kindness, and compassion.
To some extent, I agree with both points of view. Diminutives applied willy-nilly can come across as saccharine. Even pukey. But the objectors seem to have overlooked the fact that diminutives aren’t used just to express affection but also to indicate size.
“Vista” is the word for a hen. The diminutive is “vistiņa.” One lady said she objects to eating a “vistiņa.” To her, it felt like she’d be eating someone’s pet. Farmers are far more practical. They can be fond of their chickens, even give them names, but eventually, cook them up in a stew. For all the woman knows, the “vistiņa.” could be a bantam hen or other small breed of chicken.
The lady with objections has a dog. I don’t know if she speaks to him in Latvian, as many Latvian pet owners, including me, do. If she speaks Latvian to him does she call him, “sunītis” or “suņuks,” “šunelis,” or other diminutives for the word “suns”?
My late great kitty (!) went by the name of Mincis, a Latvian word meaning, kitty cat, so she had a term of endearment for her proper name. Yes, I know the name has a masculine suffix but the suffix is used for both male and female cats (and people and other critters) Male cats would be called “runcis,” or “runcītis” or “runčuks.” Heaven forbid that someone might call a pet “mīluls,” (loved one) “mīlulītis” or “mīļumiņš.” Those terms of endearment should be reserved for humans. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not one to judge.
Not just domestic animals, but wild animals too get diminutive, e.g. “stirna” a.k.a. “stirniņa.”
Diminutives are used for the names of body parts. Mostly in regards to children, but also adults, who can be fond of their own body parts. It’s okay. “Acs,” eye, becomes, “Actiņa” or “Ačele.” Hair = “mati” (pl) diminutive, “matiņi,” Hand, “Roka” = “rociņa” = “roķele,” and so on. This also goes for people you’re fond of no matter their age. As Rodolfo sang in “La Boheme” to a young woman he’s just met and is falling in love with, “Che gelida manina.” “What a cold little hand.” “Cik auksta rociņa.” Lovers are a whole other story.
Inanimate objects aren’t left out of the affection/size equation. The same lady who objected to “vistiņa” also had issues with things such as spoons, “karote” (s) “Karotīte” and books “Grāmata” (s) = “Grāmatiņa,” Some of us are more fond of our spoons and books than others. Of course, spoons and books come in various sizes. I don’t recall my parents, who learned the
language while living in Latvia, using diminutives when speaking of spoons, books, or other household objects. Their use of the diminutive suffixes for these things was indicative of the item’s size. That’s how I’ve always spoken of most inanimate objects. But as always, there are exceptions to the rule and people’s personal preferences.
For many people being a bilingual reader is no big deal. Nothing to blog about. They do it all the time. These days, with so many distractions, reading in just one language can be an issue. With all those audiobooks and videos online, why bother to read?
Reading doesn’t bring the same joy to everyone as it does to me.
One of my fond memories is sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from a book that I was going to take to a party and give to the birthday girl. I wanted the book but it had to go. Getting it read to me was the next best thing to keeping it.
We were poor refugee immigrants who had to pinch pennies. Until I was ten my uncle lived with us. For a while, we lived communally with my uncle and my godmother, and her family in order to be able to afford rent. Nevertheless, we always had books in the house. I had lots of children’s books in Latvian and later in English. My parents bought Little Golden Books for me and even let me get comic books. They didn’t much care what I read, as long as I read.
During my early years in Tacoma, we lived only a couple of blocks from the library. My father and I would walk there to get books. When we moved to a different neighborhood farther from a library branch, we’d drive there together. In those days the local library system issued library cards in two different colors, yellow ones for adults, blue ones for kids. My little blue card was a proud possession. My dad would let me use his yellow card to get any book I wanted. I don’t recall reading anything shocking.
Unfortunately, I don’t have memories of my father reading to me the way my mother did. Was she the only one to read all those kids’ books to me? Both my parents probably read aloud. When I learned to read well enough my father and I read Latvian books to each other for several years. He’d read one chapter aloud to me and I’d read the next chapter aloud to him taking turns through the whole book. Most likely we got into this habit because I saw no reason to learn Latvian. We lived in America now and more than anything, except for a horse, I wanted to be an American. English was language enough for me. My father would have none of it. He insisted that I learn Latvian. The most fun way to do so was to read to one another.
This practice probably ended when he picked a translation of a Swedish book, Black Horses, I think. A book about horses? YES! I want to read it. We read happily until one of the main characters got his eye put out. That was enough for me. I didn’t want to read any more of that book. By then, the habit of reading had been well established in me. From then on, I chose my own books and read them silently to myself in my room.
Every year, the Latvian newspaper, Laiks, (Times) printed coupons called, “Book Dollars.” Still on his campaign to make sure I learned Latvian (I was a Latvian school dropout) my father let me use all the coupons to order any book I wanted from a Latvian publishing company called, “Grāmatu draugs” (Friend of Books) Tētis paid for the books. They were my gift for successfully completing another school year. When the books arrived from “Grāmatu draugs” it was like Christmas in summer. As a result of my father’s generosity, during those years I read many novels by popular Latvian authors who’d immigrated to the US. The publisher who’d founded “Grāmatu draugs” in Latvia in 1926, escaped the communist invasion in 1944, and resumed publishing, under the same name in Brooklyn, New York in 1951.
I can still read Latvian, just not as well as I used to. There are too many books in English that I want to read, including ones written by Latvians.
Thanks to my father’s diligence in encouraging me in every way he could and demonstrating the importance of books and reading by doing his own reading, I learned to love reading in both languages.
My father wasn’t alone in promoting reading. I remember watching a TV quiz show aimed at teens. I can’t remember who their guest was, some academic, I think. When asked what the best way to get into college is he said, “Read, read, read.” I don’t think that necessity has changed, nor will it any time soon.
I do intend to get back to Latvian diminutive but I had to write something different for a change.
What I heard on Radio Latvia 2. Latvian pop, which tends to be cheerful and bouncy. There’s lots of chatter, too. I’m listening to it as I write. Here it’s evening, but in Latvia it’s morning. Everything’s in Latvian but you can scroll down and find a list of English language broadcasts.
It was kind of mind-blowing to hear one of the announcers whose voice sounded exactly like the voice of a guy I used to date. He also sounded like another Latvian who lives here in my state.
This is one of the songs I heard on Radio 2, along with my crude translation.
""Mīlestība karsta putra
Nelej māla podiņā.
Podiņš plīsīs, podiņš juks,
Mīlestība ārā spruks!"
"Love is a porridge hot,
Don't pour it in a clay pot,
The pot will shatter, the pot will break,
And love will escape."
Sad to say, I've poured my love into an unworthy vessel more than once. But at least I didn't marry my mistakes.http://radio.lv/lr2/
Yes, diminutives are used as terms of endearment, but they are also used to indicate size. A multi-tasking word.
I’ve spent quite a few hours at my computer the last few days. Even though I’ve enjoyed writing, editing, and illustrating my essays and have more to say about diminutives, I’m not sure if I’ll write a blog post again today. I have other projects to work on, too. A couple of them also call for sitting at the computer. I may not work on them, either.
As a couple of readers pointed out, the use of endearments is a cultural thing. In college, the brother of one of my American friends lived and worked in South America for a while. His wife was of the opinion that Spanish speakers were childish because they used so many diminutives in everyday speech.
Years later, I still remember one of my Spanish classes where we were required to think up a sentence, using a diminutive, and speak it out loud going in turn around the room. The translation of one student’s sentence was, “My Mamacita is five feet tall.” She didn’t understand that a diminutive doesn’t just refer to something or someone small. Your mother can be six feet tall and weigh three hundred pounds, but you still call her Mamacita because you love her, not because of her size.
In Latvian the word for mother is “māte.” pronounced, maah-te. Common diminutives are, mamma, mammīte, mammiņa, and māmmuļa. I hate the latter; to me, its associations make it seem saccharine. A couple of my relatives called their mother mammsis. I sometimes called my mom mammele. (nothing to do with mammals, as auto-correct would have it.) Mammukiņš is another option. Families have a way of coming up with their own variations.
The word for father is “tēvs,” pronounced, tehvs. Fondly known as tētis, tētuks or tētukiņš. However, tētiņš means “little old man” so not necessarily an endearment. Some Latvians call their father “papa” but that word comes from German. It, too, has its diminutives, “papiņš” among them. My father was a stickler for using the Latvian language instead of borrowed words so he was tētis, not paps (German for “pop.”)
The word for “little old man” is “vecītis.” It’s sometimes used as an endearment, too. Latvians call Santa Claus, Ziemassvētku vecītis.” (Little Old Man Winter Holiday) Yeah, it’s turned backward, but works better that way.
Grandfather is vectēvs but that’s too formal. Affectionately he’s known as vectēiņš, a.k.a., granddaddy. Opa, opaps, opiņš also come from German.
Grandmother must not be left out. More formally, she’s known as vecmāte. She’s also called, “vecmāmmiņa.” That’s a long word for little kids so she’s often called, oma, omi, omīte, omamma.
Going through the whole family tree would make for a very long post. I thought I could handle this topic in two posts. Who am I kidding? At least one more will be required.
No doubt readers will come up with their own family terms of endearment.
And, yes, as in any language, there are exceptions to the rules. English speakers know this weird rule, “I” before “e,” except after “c.”
The other day I was editing a chapter of my novel, As Wind to Flame. One of the characters is named Louisa. Rereading the chapter reminded me of the time I read it to my critique group. They wanted to know who Lu was. Who was Lulu? Since there were only three characters in the scene, one of them a guy and the other Louisa’s sister, Thea. It seemed obvious to me that when Thea said Lu or Lulu she was talking about Louisa. I had one character call Louisa “Baby” because the girl is Thea’s younger sister and often behaves like a baby. I was the only one to whom the nicknames seemed an obvious reference to Louisa.
Too many different nicknames was the group’s consensus opinion. Only three nicknames were too many? I felt sorry for the members of my group. Such a paucity of nicknames. Unlike other European languages, English has a shortage of diminutive. I’m a Latvian. Multiple nicknames are common among us. Over the years I’ve had many nicknames. I counted a total of fifteen terms of endearment that people who are fond of me have called me. The poor Americans had only one, maybe two nicknames.
Some of my nicknames are diminutive variations of my first name, Dace. Dacīte and Dačuks. Both are common variations. The “-īte” suffix is a common way to turn a name into a diminutive for girls and women whose names end with an “e.” One friend came up with his own original version, Dacele. I thought that was kind of sweet. The diminutives for women’s names that end with an “a,” as in Ausma, the suffix becomes, “-iņa,” Ausmiņa. The “N” with the “tail” is pronounced like the Spanish “N” with a tilde.
Men’s names, both first and last end with an “-s” or an “-is.” Diminutives follow the same rule. I have a half-Latvian friend with an Anglo name, Scott. He was pleased when I gave him the Latvian nickname, “Skotiņš.”
(note: Unless they have a diacritical mark, letters in the Latvian alphabet have only one pronunciation. Since in the name Scott, the “c” is pronounced like a “k” that’s how it’s said and how it’s spelled in Latvian. The Latvian “c” is pronounced almost like the “ts” in tsar.)
Back to terms of endearment.
Dūda is a popular nickname for girls and women. It derives from the word, dūdo, the cooing sound made by doves. I guess that to parents Dūda must have seemed like a fitting endearment for cooing baby girls. I’ve been called by every single variation of Dūda–Dūdele, Dūdiņa, Dūcītis (yes, sometimes masculine suffixes show up in girls’ nicknames) and Dūc. My cousin and I were both called Dūda by our mothers. It’s sad that neither of us has a mother to call us Dūda and other endearments anymore.
Oops! I left out a couple of variations of my name. The rule for diminutives is, “the smaller, the dearer.” Dačuks is small. Dačukiņš is even smaller and thus more dear. Dacele could become Dacelīte.
I’ve lost count of the various variations.
Some nicknames are the same as the ones Anglos use. For instance “Kitten,” which becomes Kaķītis, and also Mincītis, Pincītis, and Incītis. My mother called me Kaķītis and Mincītis. I once knew a Latvian woman called, Pelīte, little mouse. The names of birds also come into play. Dūjiņa, little dove. Cālītis, little chicken. Pūcīte, little owl for when a child is being a crosspatch. I guess to Latvians owls look grumpy.
Yep, I’ve been told not to be such a cross little owl.
When I was a baby I must have had pink cheeks because I was known as apple blossom ābeļziediņš and čupčiks. I don’t know where čupčiks came from. Maybe it came from the Kewpie doll-like tuft of hair I had on top of my head. At least that’s what I imagine.
After I posted on Facebook about my many nicknames some of my Latvian and half-Latvian (fractional Latvian) friends wanted me to give them Latvian nicknames. So I did. I hope they enjoy their diminutive Latvian names of endearment.
If you want to give yourself, your spouse, child, or another loved one a Latvian nickname, you now know where to begin.
Lately, I’ve been disappointed in the books I’ve been reading, even with books by favorite authors, people I’d always thought were very good writers. Is it because I’ve gotten more impatient as I’ve gotten older? Or is it because I’ve been writing more and editing my own material? Being a nit-picky writer has turned me into a nit-picky reader.
Now, I pay more attention to such cliches as “She kept her eyes on the floor.” (Be careful not to step on them) Worse yet, “She raked him with her eyes.” (I didn’t know eyes have claws) Eyes do all sorts of unlikely things in books. Substitute “gaze” for eyes to make the prosed less absurd.
“I hate it when people breathe dialogue,” she breathed. Period, after dialogue instead of a comma. But don’t people breathe all the time?
Even the best writers use the annoying, nonsensical description, “He felt, rather than saw.” “He felt, rather than heard.” Why not just, “he felt” without “saw” or “heard”?
I love books that have include a rich tapestry of details. It’s the sort of thing I write myself. I have to rein myself in so as not to overdo it. It’s hard to know when there is too much detail when charming becomes annoying. I recently read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth for the second time. The first time I loved the book. It contained the sort of information that I loved in my class on Medieval and Renaissance art, which I thoroughly loved. Years later, not so much. A cast of thousands in Pillars, along with their detailed storylines, didn’t help
Thinking to find a book by someone who’s a graceful writer, whose other books I’ve enjoyed, I ordered Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders, based on a true story about an English village that quarantined itself during the Black Plague. As expected, the book has some gruesome details. Considering the subject gruesome could be expected. But then she throws in a gratuitous murder, turns a saintly character into a sociopath, and writes a totally off-the-wall ending. This time the fault is in the writer, not an overly-critical reader.
My current aggravation is with a book by Philippa Gregory, another writer whose books I’ve enjoyed. Were her historical novels always this tedious or is it me? She has chosen an odd way to write The Constant Princess about Henry VIII’s first wife. Some scenes are written in first person, present tense from Katherine’s point of view. These scenes are printed in Italics. A couple of pages or even a paragraph later, Gregory switches to third-person, past tense, printed in regular font. Back and forth all through the book. ARGH! It does not make for immersive reading. If this book had been her first, instead of her ninth, I doubt that it would even have gotten published.
Maybe I should switch to reading books that were written when editors actually edited. Books by authors such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald whose I manuscripts were edited by editor par excellence, Maxwell Perkins. I could use an editor like Perkins myself. The publishing world could use more editors like him.
Why would anyone run their bathroom fan all night or for hours at a time during the day? Are they cooking meth or crack? Are they trying to block out radio signals from outer space because their aluminum foil hat no longer works? Or do they think they can blow the coronavirus out of their living space by keeping the fan on? Those are the things I wonder about whenever I hear that fan growling on and on.
What’s the big deal you might think? It’s only a bathroom fan. You must be over-sensitive to noise. It’s true. I am sensitive to noise, but it’s not just me. I live only about a dozen miles from a military base. From time to time a chopper flies by. It doesn’t make as much noise as the fan, which sounds as if the helicopter had landed on the roof of my building. I can hear the fan in the living room, in the kitchen, in my own bathroom. In bed, while wearing earplugs and with the bedroom and bathroom doors closed.
Last night I had to drug myself to sleep with melatonin ( a naturally occurring hormone that helps induce sleep) and Tylenol. I managed to get four hours of sleep. Today I had to take two naps. I don’t feel like eating. I can’t concentrate on anything. While up during the night I got online and emailed management. Silly of me to expect a response. In the seven years, I’ve lived in this apartment, I don’t think I’ve ever had a response to my emails. Going to the leasing office in person when this sort of thing happened before was no help.
One of my friends is a lawyer who specializes in real estate law. I contacted her to ask if it’s true that management could do nothing about the noise, which sometimes includes doing laundry at midnight, which I can also hear. My friend explained that it’s not indifference on the part of management. This is “normal noise,” unlike throwing loud parties, that management can do nothing about. Perhaps the tenants work swing shift and do their laundry when they get home. Absurd! There are twenty-four hours in a day, people have days off. NObody needs to do their laundry at midnight. What’s normal about running a bathroom fan for five or six hours at a time in the middle of the night? I’ve worked second shift and never did laundry when I got home because I have neighbors and don’t want to disturb them. I guess I’m just weird.
I didn’t call courtesy patrol last night because there’s several inches of snow on the grounds, which at three a.m. was no doubt frozen. I didn’t want to call someone out in such conditions. Tonight, if the fan roars on, I’m not going to be as considerate.
I wish I could afford to move to a house.
Can any of my readers think of an explanation for why someone would run a fan at all hours of the day and night, especially when temperatures outside are in the twenties? (-3 to -6c)
Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But not always. Maybe she’d never seen a Rose of Sharon bush, which is not a rose at all. Several plants have been called, “Rose of Sharon.”
Misleading names are common to many things, including food.
Most of us know that french fries are not really from France.
And that there is no ham in hamburgers.
But how many folks know that “Rocky Mountain oysters” are not seafood? They’re actually the testicles of a bull. Yes, people cook and eat them.
Once, in my younger years, I made a dish called “Welsh rabbit.” No bunnies were sacrificed. The variation I made was a cheese sauce seasoned with mustard and served over toast. The name is probably a derogatory implication that the Welsh are too poor to be able to afford to cook a real rabbit. The name seems to imply that they’re also too poor to buy a gun to shoot rabbits and not smart enough to make a snare to catch them. In the term “Welsh rarebit” the latter word is a corruption of rabbit.
Variations of this dish are called Scotch rabbit and English rabbit. They all sound like grilled cheese sandwiches to me.
Another food with a deceptive name that I once made is steamed pudding. It’s not the creamy, custardy dessert that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more like a very moist, delicious cake.
So what’s with all this writing about things that aren’t what they seem? Because a few Latvians are still arguing about the proper meaning of ķūķu or is the word ķūči? Or is it the same word declined?
Some people insist that the dish is a porridge. One source I found said that ķūčis (singular) is a dish made of grain, without defining it further. Cakes are made of grain. Yet another source claimed that ķūčis is a dish made with pig’s ears. So which is it? Go figure.
Latvians make a dessert called “debessmana,” mana from heaven. It’s made out of farina, which is a form of milled wheat, You whip the heck out of it as it’s cooking until it turns into a fluffy, mousse-like substance that’s served with milk. No one that I know of calls it porridge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t call it porridge.
Gruel is the name for a thin porridge made of oatmeal or other meal. So confusing.
Turns out that ķūķu cliffs are an outcrop of Devonian rocks on the banks of the Gauja River in the Cēsis district of Latvia.
It’s been fun researching this information and learning something while I’m at it.
It seems that I’ve stirred up a bit of a squabble with yesterday’s post in which I called Christmas Eve in Latvia “Cake Evening.” I made the mistake of posting the link to a social media Latvian food group.
“I never heard of that!” exclaimed a couple of people.
If you’ve never heard of the star, Aldebaran, which is 65 million light-years from the sun, does that mean Aldebaran doesn’t exist?
For a small country, Latvian has many regions and many different dialects, and very different names for the same thing. The Latgalian dialect, spoken in Latgale, is quite different from standard Latvian if there is such a thing.
Please bear with me, I’m going to include a little history to show that Latvia and the Latvian language are more diverse than would seem at first glance.
The Baltic people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea for more than four thousand years. Does anyone know what their ancient traditions regarding the Winter Solistic during their entire four thousand-year history? Okay, so they probably didn’t have cake for the first couple of thousand years or so. But we don’t know for sure that they didn’t. Cakes have taken many different forms over the centuries.
Before Latvia united as one country it was made up of tribes of Couronians (Kurzemnieki) Latgalians (Latgalieši) Zemgalieši (Semgallians) Sēļi, and many smaller tribes each with their own language and traditions.
To add to the confusion, over the centuries, Latvia has been occupied by Swedes, Russians, Poles, and Germans. Many words from those languages have entered the Latvian language. One of my mother’s uncles was married to a Russian. My mom scattered many Russian words into her speech. Half the time I didn’t know if a word she used was Latvian or Russian. French and German words also snuck in.
As an example of the differences even in modern Latvian is the word for “kitchen.” Many Latvians know it as virtuve. But my mother grew up calling the room, “ķēķis.” Two very different words for the same thing. Both words are Latvian but from different regions. There are many such examples.
So, when I researched my “cake” post, did I miss seeing the little diacritical mark under the “K” in “ķūķu” for “kūku” i.e. cake? Possibly. But round cakes, symbolizing the sun, are a part of the special, magical foods served on Christmas Eve, which is a celebration of light. Some would call it The Light of the World, a term that means different things to different people.
“Cake Evening” is more catchy than “Nine Foods Evening” and more fitting for a celebration of the sun, a holiday observed in winter for thousands of years by many different cultures.
I have to admit that I did not know that in ancient Latvian tradition, Christmas Eve was also known as “Cake Evening.” Until I started researching my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, serving nine special foods on Christmas Eve was a part of the celebration. Each food has a magical meaning. Considering that feasting is a major part of holiday traditions everywhere, “Cake Evening” and nine special foods conveying sympathetic magic should come as no surprise.
1. Peas and beans, so you don’t cry.
2. Pīrāgi, so you’ll always have a nice surprise. They’re little bacon buns filled with diced bacon, Canadian bacon, onions, salt, and pepper. These days there are vegan variations.
3. Beets and carrots for good health.
4. Pork for good luck.
5. Poultry for success. Would that be because hens cackle to announce their success in laying an egg?
6. Sauerkraut in order to be strong. Rinse and squeeze before cooking in bacon fat, butter, or even olive oil, with or without onions, sliced thin. Some people like to add shredded carrots. Add caraway seeds and brown sugar to taste. You don’t use much liquid. The fat is mostly to give it flavor. There’s enough liquid in the kraut to cook it until it’s a light golden brown.
7. Fish, so you’ll always have money. The scales resemble coins.
8. A round cake. Its shape symbolizes the sun.
9. Piparkūkas, so you’ll always have love. The literal translation is “pepper cakes,” but many other spices go into them, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Usually, they’re just little brown cookies with a slice of almond pressed in the middle but they can also be decorated with icing.
I don’t know why piparkūkas symbolize love. The dough is rolled out thin. Many are cut into heart shapes, but they’re also cut into star, bell, Christmas tree, and ginger people shapes. Or maybe the cookies symbolize love because baking them is a labor-intensive labor of love. Perhaps because spices are expensive, so the cookies are baked for those you love and traditionally only at Christmas time.
It was July when I visited Latvia for the first time. I went to a public event I no longer remember. I do remember the piparkūkas that were offered to guests. I took a cookie shaped like a bunny, decorated with pink, white, and green icing. Instead of eating the cookie, I took it home in a little cough drop tin. I kept it for years, but somehow, during one of my moves, it got lost. Bunny tears.
The sun, Saule, in Latvian mythology is a female. A mother goddess. Her husband is the moon. Their children are the stars. She is reborn on the 22 of December.
Saule has the attributes of a mother, a protector, a comforter, someone who warms you. She ensures the fertility of the earth and the humans who dwell on it.. Not surprisingly, considering the duties of mothers, she is the symbol of perpetual motion. Saule symbolizes honesty, compassion, inner strength, and vitality. She is the guardian of the helpless and unfortunate, especially orphans and young shepherds (in Latvia the duties of shepherds fell to children)
Those of us who live on Earth live under the sun. The souls of the deceased pass beyond the sun.
Sun symbols appear on all sorts of Latvian objects–clothing, jewelry, ceramics, wood engravings, and on the tools used by women. When a young woman marries she is supposed to present her groom with a pair of mittens, which she has knit, that incorporate the sun symbol.
The simplest of the sun symbols is a circle. Because of the sun’s importance, there are many variations of her symbol, each more ornate than the other. Some are so fancy that it can be hard to recognize them for what they are.
Today Latvians are commemorating the anniversary of the deportations.
Deported by the Soviets from Latvia in one night, the night between June 13 and June 14, 1941. There was no due process, not really, not when you consider that the government of Latvia at the time had not been democratically elected, but was forced on it by the Soviets.
Among those loaded onto cattle cars and shipped to Siberia were men, women, and children, some as young as one.
What crime could a one-year-old child have committed? Being born to parents who were considered enemies of the people. Guilt by association. These enemies were government officials, educators, journalists, cultural figures, anyone who had the prominence and respect to influence others to oppose the Soviet regime. It didn’t matter whether they had done so or not. Their positions in society meant that the possibility existed. Preventive arrests for things people might do.
The link I’ve included is to an interactive map provided by the National Library of Latvia, which makes it possible to look up the deportations from any town or civil parish. Click on the green dot by a town’s name and scroll through the list of names to look for relatives and friends.
I searched for names on the list for my mother’s hometown, Limbaži. I didn’t find the names of any relatives on the list of sixty-six deportees, but I found the name of my mother’s high school sweetheart. He was twenty-four when he was sent to Siberia. Eventually, I don’t know how many years later he was able to walk back home. He lived long enough to see Latvia regain its freedom, but died not much later.
I don’t know how my maternal grandfather escaped being arrested. He was the deputy mayor of his hometown and the editor of the local newspaper. Just the sort of person who’d be most likely to be rounded up. It was probably sheer luck. The arrests and deportations were pretty much a hit-or-miss thing. The NKVD had such a long list of people to arrest that if an individual happened not to be at home when agents came knocking in the middle of the night, they went on to the next name on their list and never returned.
My father’s hometown, Alūksne had 167 victims. None of my relatives appeared on that list, either. But my father’s older sister and her husband were arrested and sent to Siberia in the second wave of deportations in 1949. They, too, managed to return, probably after Stalin’s death in 1953.
Some of my mother’s relatives lived in the capital, Rīga. I didn’t look for them. The number of deportees from Rīga was more than four thousand. My mother’s family was practically a tribe. Great-granddad was married three times; my mother had cousins even she couldn’t keep track of. I don’t know what towns they might have lived in in 1941. I don’t know how many if any of them were deported. People don’t talk about such things. The memories are too terrible.
If you’re a Latvian reading this post and want to look up a relative, don’t worry if you can’t read the language. It’s not necessary. You just have to be able to recognize the name of a person or place. Pagasts means civil parish; their names are included on the list.
This is a revised version of an essay I posted in November of 2020. It’s not just sad, but horrible that not only have things not changed in that time, they’ve gotten worse. Putin, a Stalin-wanna-be has brutally invaded Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have fled, thousands have stayed to fight for their country, and too many have died.My heart aches for them. I read the headline, watch video clips and cry. I hope the refugees can all go home soon and none of their children are born stateless.
A Photo Essay
Refugees have been on my mind lately, even though the refugee crisis on the southern USA border has been pushed out of the headlines by the pandemic and the presidential election. I’ve also been reading about refugees and their desperate plight in books by Erich Maria Remarque, Flotsam and The Night in Lisbon.
Flotsam is defined as the debris from the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. It’s also defined as people or things that have been rejected and are regarded as worthless.
Isn’t that perfect? We were human flotsam from the World War II wreckage of Europe. At best refugees were regarded by natives of the countries they fled to as “unwanted guests,” at worst as “the scum of Europe.” How sad that so little has changed.
I’ve also been thinking about refugees because for the past two years I’ve been writing a novel about a Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa, and her family, who after years as flotsam in Europe have finally found a safe haven in Seattle, Washington, USA. There, one snowy evening, Līvija is nearly run down by an out-of-control car, which has skidded on an ice street and jumped the curb. Her life is saved by a dashing former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn. Writing my novel has been an all-consuming, delightful, frustrating, agonizing journey–hours of writing, followed by more hours of re-writing, editing, and more editing, doing my best to make my story captivating and readable. Hoping readers will find my characters as engaging as I do.
Here are a few photos of my family’s time in the Hochfeld Displaced Persons camp in Augsburg, Germany.
This cattle car is not loading Jewish people to send them to concentration camps. This cattle car is loading Latvians to take them to Siberia. Thousands were deported. Most of them never returned. They died of starvation or overwork in forced labor camps. Or because it was so cold that even vodka freezes during a Siberian winter.
Nikolaijs lost his leg in WW II. He and his friends are posing outside a hospital. My uncle was in the Augsburg DP camp with us. He, my other uncle–my father’s brother, Alfons, my parents, and I all lived together. I think we had two rooms. A separate room for my folks and me and another for the unmarried uncles.
I have no idea how this picture got taken or why Mr. Ohaks is in it. He was the “elder,” the supervisor, I guess, of the DP camp building where we lived. He was no relation to us. Perhaps he was my uncle’s friend, or as the elder, maybe he was everyone’s friend. I have no idea where that ball came from. It could have been in a CARE package from America.
My uncle never talked about her. I never knew her name. I only know about her from what my mother told me. The girlfriend had a husband who had stayed in Latvia. I don’t know how they got separated. Was he a soldier who’d been reported killed in action? While in Germany she learned that her husband was still alive. She went back to him, leaving my uncle devastated. In her absence, her husband had married someone else. The girlfriend was not allowed to leave Latvia again. Alfons never married. I based events in my novel on real-life incidents.
The uncles left one by one as they found sponsors in the USA. I’m upset because Nikolaijs was my favorite uncle. I believe the buildings on the right are the ones where we all lived. Many refugees did not have such elegant accommodations. Some had to live in root cellars.
A laissez-passer is “a diplomatic travel document issued by the United Nations” to stateless people. Refugee who’ve lost their homelands.
The Greely was the navy transport ship that brought my family and other refugees to New York.
I remember very little about the trip. I was only three and a half. My mother and I had an upper bunk in a cabin with other women and children. My father was in a different cabin with other men. Everyone but me was seasick.
On the Greely was the first time I remember seeing a Black man. He was a steward and very nice. He gave me an orange. Oranges were such a rare commodity that in the camps they were Christmas gifts.
The nice steward also brought me a dish of red Jell-o. It was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing. I called it kustelīgais (wiggly)
Our first stop in the USA was Pennsylvania where my parents worked on the corn farm that belonged to our sponsors to repay them for bringing us to America. We also lived in Delaware for a while.
After a year of working for their sponsors, refugees were free to go wherever they wished. My folks hated the heat and humidity of East Coast summers. Alfons had completed his tenure working on his sponsors’ farm in South Dakota and moved to Tacoma, Washington where he had friends. He wrote to my father saying how nice it was in western Washington and urged us to come to live here. I may be prejudiced but I think he couldn’t have picked a better place.
(More installments of Latvia Under the Soviets will follow)