Last year H and I visited the country where my parents were born and where they lived until WW2 disrupted them.
It was so wonderful to experience the language of my upbringing as well as the customs in real emmersion. Even though I was born and brought up in Australia the traditions of my heritage were kept close. I went to Latvian Saturday school. I went to Latvian Brownies and Guides and I played for the Latvian basketball team from age 10 to my twenties. Summers were spent at Latvian camps where we were not allowed to speak English and most of my friends were Latvian.
I remember my parents feeling a bit sad that I married an Englishman and saying I would lose my traditions if I did not nurture them. I did not nurture them and for that I am really sad. I do remember my first born daughter not sleeping well and I would sing her the only lullaby I knew which was in Latvian. I used to feel self conscious about that and I just do not know why. It is almost as though I was embarassed to be different.
As my daughters grew up I tried hard to celebrate certain Latvian traditions but I really do not think I tried hard enough. For that I am sorry. They both have Latvian traditional jewellery that they wear but neither really knows too much about Latvia.
Before our trip last year H surprised me by trying to learn the language. It is one of the oldest and more difficult languages to learn and he did a wonderful job learning his vocabulary and use of verbs. When we stayed in hotels and the staff would speak to us in English I would ask that they only speak Latvian to us. I was so pleased to share my love of everything Latvian for the first time with my H.
He fell in love with the country. He adored the capital city with its cobbled streets and art deco buildings and getting out into the countryside was even more spectacular with forests of birch and pine and beautiful villages and coastlines. The country has done so much restoration since escaping soviet rule that it was hard not to love everything.
H fell in love with everything. He loved the beer, he loved the food, he loved the nightlife, he loved the flowers, he loved the ballet, he loved our hotel, he loved the markets, he just loved every single aspect of everything and I just loved that he loved it.
The trip to Latvia was something I had been wanting to do for a long time but it was a trip that previous to D Day he threw on the back burner because his list of countries to visit was a priority over mine. Even at the times when we were visiting his family in the UK and I mentioned I might duck to Germany to see my Aunt or even visit Latvia it was met with constraint by him and seemed just too hard to start arguing. Just before D Day my two girlfriends were talking about the three of us going there as one of them had already been and wanted to go again. Well, that trip never eventuated.
I better get back to the subject of why I wrote this post and that is I had my DNA tested for ancestry and it appears my roots are well and truly Latvian with a tiny 4% Finnish thrown in. Good to know. I was dissing Russians whilst in Latvia. I don”t know, there is something about them that just annoyed me. They appear rude and arrogant and pushy as well as loud and overbearing and they smoke and throw their butts on the ground. Seriously?????…in a beautiful cobbled street? Who does that? Anyway as our sightseeing progressed and we visited museums and galleries I would often get into a conversation with the people working there. They were fascinated with meeting Australian Latvians and hearing how we worked hard to keep traditions alive in a foreign country and they would then start on dissing Russia and Russians. It was all very interesting but soon I could feel I was thinking about Russia just like them. Before I sent off my DNA I was hoping I did not have any Russian in me….so phew….a great sense of relief when I got the results.
H enjoyed teasing me about my ‘possible’Russian heritage as my father was actually born in Russia. It was Russia on his birth certificate but the borders were forever changing and it is now Latvia. Anyway, last laugh on him. He was told by his father that he was of Scandinavian descent. Sadly his DNA shows British Isles 90% and France 10%.
Every Sunday H makes me a Latvian breakfast. We have to travel 2 hrs every month to get the food as it is a special hot smoked salmon he serves warm with a dill sauce. There is what we call Rupju maize which is a dark heavy rye bread ( which I make ) A boiled egg, some special smoked ham and a mild cheese scoffed down with a glass of kefir and followed by a good coffee.
We are heading back to Latvia at the end of the year to see the city in snow and lights and bringing my youngest daughter with us. She is excited to see the sights and being a foodie she is going to have a ball eating everything. We have even planned to spend a greater length of time in Latvia, perhaps a year or two somewhere down the track. I wish my parents had got to see how their country has been restored. They never wanted to visit because they said it would have been too sad to see soviet life everywhere.