I board the overnight train to Latvia with no qualms, knowing it may be stuffy at night but that it will have great views and a place to lie down. It does, and the Latvian guard is nicer and there are no false accusations of theft.
I sit at the same table as a Russian grandmother and share my supply of fruit and nuts. I notice she is sad. We communicate non-verbally. Next morning, when I want to sleep in, she insists I join her to share her breakfast of homemade pickled pork, lambs fry, pickled cucumber, tomato and black bread. I relish it. She tells me that her homemade food will make me strong. Terry, our Russian speaker, has found out that this woman’s sister has just died, leaving her much more alone in the world. Later she tells me, non verbally, that grieving will make the heart strong.
The forest east of Moscow is more lush than to the west, more Cedar and more varieties of flowers. The villages are bigger with more prosperous buildings. In Latvia there is more cultivation and the signs become more readable.
We stay at a Latvian waldorf school in Adazi. The children are away for summer holidays, we spread out in the beautiful rooms allocated to us, eat buckets of berries and swim in the clear, clean lake. There’s rehearsal and planning, 3hrs of singing with the local kindergarten and and some sight seeing with our Waldorf school hosts. I miss staying in someone’s home immersed in their language and culture.
The school is identifiably Steinerish – polished pine, octagonal shaped rooms, pitched ceilings, stained glass, hand-died fabrics and wool, gardens indoor and out, play equipment made of undressed logs all set amidst a park of Linden, Ash and Elms. The lake is 5 mins walk away, fringed by forest. There I feast on wild Red Currants and Blueberries.
We perform a well received concert at a school in the Capital, Riga, and Mass at the Riga Dom Cathedral. Very exciting to sing music written for cathedrals inside them. After the Riga Dom mass we are invited up to the gallery to see the famous organ – one of the most beautiful and the biggest organ in the world at te time it as built. The organist played Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor flooded my whole being, I was almost teary remembering it played by my school organist 45 years ago.
Afterwards Renate and I went to the Museum of Occupation – about Latvia during Soviet control 1940’s – 1991. I feel physically sick reading about the way people were treated – massacred, herded to impossible living conditions in Siberia, families split up, culture and language forbidden. There is a wrenching poem about trees growing on massacre sites …‘trees remembering’… Latvia was used as a pawn during the 2nd World war, Hitler took over from Stalin and committed similar atrocities, then Churchill did a deal where Latvia was returned to Soviet rule. The exhibition mentions the ways people maintained their national identity and language. In 1991 the independence movement culminated in millions of people all over the Balkans linking hands and singing for freedom. Latvia and Estonia gained independence and proudly maintain their national identity. A poem speaks of survival ‘when my feet don’t remember the way…
…my heart exhalts and remembers…’