Sunday, August 30, 2009
Sara and I actually hatched the plot for this vacation in an early Sunday morning google chat conversation several months ago. We desperately wanted to see one another and she felt that she could use a restful respite outside of her peace corps posting. Charlie had expressed interest in the Baltics to follow his ancestry and shortly after I woke him up that Sunday morning with my jotted notes of prices, times and possibilities, it was a done deal.
So, the first week was spent in an incredible journey through art history and cultural history in Latvia and Estonia and then we flew from Riga to Stockholm. As we exited through customs, there was an adorable little American girl with a backpack, a sweet smile and a sign that said MOM. There is no picture because I was flying into her arms.
On the internet, we had found a little inn on the banks of Lake Siljan about 3 hours north and west of Stockholm called the Klockargarden. In our rented Volvo (oh yes, a Volvo--how can you not love Sweden?) we made our way out to the Swedish countryside. Charlie drove while Sara told us all about Macedonia and her experiences. We arrived at our destination just in time for dinner at the Inn. Reindeer! Yes, we ate reindeer! It was delicious and didn't taste anything like chicken. I could eat reindeer every day. Oh I love Sweden.
The Inn was just what we had hoped for. Everything was beautiful, restful and comfortable. Just the place for three people to spend time saying a year's worth of words to each other.
We spent 3 delicious, happy days in the Swedish countryside before heading back to the airport in Stockholm for one last night--and it was a doozy! Sara had found our accommodations for us. It was called the Jumbo Hostel and was located at the airport and was inexpensive and was inside a jumbo jet--yes, you heard right--a jumbo jet. I expect to post more about that some day when I am short on material.
After stowing our belongings in our overhead compartment, Charlie settled down to listen to a baseball game on the internet and Sara and I took a bus into Stockholm for one last mother-daughter evening until the next one.
The next morning, we flew off in our different directions--tears were easy for me as we headed back across the Atlantic but my ears are still full of her stories and laughter to get me through.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Over the weekend we took our rental car and a good map of the Baltics and went off to see two churches that had paintings by Johann Maddaus over their altars.
The first church was in north central Latvia in a town called Tirza. Charlie had e-mailed with the pastor and he had invited us to their Saturday evening bible study. We attended and were treated like celebrities.
Charlie was asked to talk about himself and his great-grandfather which he did as we sat in a group with the pastor translating. I noticed an inchworm making its way across Charlie's lap as he spoke and gently removed it to my hand. During the bible study of I Corinthians which was entirely in Latvian, I tried to keep my inchworm within the confines of the cover of the Book of Common Prayer--it gave me something to do.
After the bible study, we went into the sanctuary and knelt before the altar for communion. Then, we did what must be universal--coffee and treats put out by the ladies of the church. We heard more stories through translation of the horrors of the Soviet Times. This church was spared the fate of being turned into a factory because the Soviet administrator in their district was kind but the church was used to store fertilizer. What I understood was that the Soviets did not actually close the churches, they taxed them at an extremely high rate and when the taxes could not be paid the churches became the property of the State. Bible study could only legally be conducted in churches and they were closely monitored by KGB. This pastor said that after he first attended church he was no longer allowed to travel.
After the lovely Saturday evening service, we drove up into Estonia for a Sunday service at a church in Paistu where there was another altar painting and another group of believers who have lived through times that I cannot even imagine.
This marked the end of our art tour and our reservation that night was in Otipaa, Estonia, which is the location of a World Cup race in Nordic skiing. We stayed in a guest house that used to be the old Soviet athlete dormitories--can you say ugly? But, it was definitely another experience to add to the mix.
Now, we are back in Riga, Latvia and heading to the airport soon for our flight to Stockholm where my beautiful daughter will meet our plane. She flew in last night and stayed in a hostel at the airport--we will all hop into a rental car and drive to Lake Siljan for a few days of relaxation, conversation and hugging. I can't wait.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
This trip has not just been all about visting churches and un-earthing old art--there have been WHITE STORKS everywhere!
Estonia, where we are today, is the northern reach of their breeding area. They are beautiful birds with enormous wingspans. They weigh up to 10 pounds, are about 3-1/2 feet tall and have wing spans that reach almost 8 feet.
Apparently, they bring good luck and seem very sociable, nesting near farm houses.
I got too close to this one and he took flight--I'll spare you the pictures of the struggle to get his 10 pound body off the ground, but once it was off the ground, it was grace all the way.
Soon, I saw him again perched on top of the highest, biggest, sturdiest nest that I have ever seen.
After staying in downtown Riga for a couple of nights, we rented a car and moved out into the suburbs to a hotel that we found on Booking.com called Mezaparks. It was located right on a beautiful lake. An added bonus that was not mentioned in the Booking.com information was that it was on the site of the Latvian Olympic Committee grounds. It looked like much of the construction on the facilities had ceased when the economy tanked--there were half-finished dormitories and buildings and the fields were not in the best shape but I saw enough to have me rooting for Latvian athletes at the next Olympics.
Once we checked into the Mezaparks hotel, we drove south to Rundale Palace near the Lithuania border to see an exhibit of 19th centuries portraits. The curator at the art museum had told us that one of Johann Maddaus' paintings from the museum had been loaned to the exhibit. So we drove down expecting to see one portrait and were surprised to find five! While not an art historian, I am self-employed and can imagine that perhaps portrait painting was dependable, steady income.
We toured the rest of the palace and were impressed with the opulent life style of the Russian and German nobility who used the palace prior to the 20th century. I did not find any information on how it survived the years of occupation.
The next night was Riga fest with music and art in all of the plazas. We had spent the day visiting churches and learning about the struggle for freedom and the cost of occupation but set out in the evening to experience the joy of freedom Baltic style.
At 10 p.m. (way past our Maine bedtime), Charlie joined 4000 runners in a 4.5K race through downtown Riga. What fun this all is!
Friday, August 21, 2009
He pointed out a little church in the woods as we drove past it and told us that in 1987, when he was a teenager, he read an article in Soviet Youth magazine about the pastor of this church who knew karate. He indicated that while the article was meant to ridicule the man and his congregation, he was intrigued and set out to visit the church. At that time in Latvia (what the Latvians refer to as Soviet Times) there were few churches and the ones that existed were full of KGB. Only four years later, freedom flowed through his country and they were all free to worship and to speak without fear. This pastor told us that he and many other of the current Latvian Lutheran pastors came out of that congregation.
Today, this man pastors two churches. One that has been restored from its days serving as a factory for the Soviets and the other which has not yet been restored but where services are held twice a month. It is this un-restored church where we believe one of Charlie's great-grandfather's paintings was over the altar. Whether it is in storage with some of the other artifacts saved from churches before they were turned into factories, we were not entirely clear about. I hope so.
Churches into factories
Cemetaries into roads
The systematic destruction of a culture.
Here today, even with the hardships of the difficult economic climate you can feel the energy of a culture pulling things out of the attic and digging their memories out of storage.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In downtown Riga, there is a monument called the Statue of Liberty. It was erected in 1935 during a brief period of Latvian independence and then used as a symbol of hope during subsequent occupations.
Between the World Wars Latvia was independent, but in 1940 the Soviet Union occupied the country before Nazi Germany moved in a year later. Do you remember from Hogan's Hero's the dreaded Russian Front--I think this was it.
After World War II, the Soviet Union controlled the Baltic region until 1991. Tragically, one totalitarian regime after another after another with mass deportations; nationalization of property and the suppression of national culture. It is heartbreaking to think about and just as emotional to look around this city and see the cultural pride and restoration that has occurred in the last 18 years. My parents traveled here in 1992, just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the description that they gave of the city does not coincide with what I see a decade and a half later.
Charlie's great grandfather was a moderately well-known artist in Latvia in the late 19th century and we are here on a exploration to learn more about him and to document his body of work for the family. Our first stop this morning was the National Art Museum where the curator showed us the one painting that awaits restoration in their archives. Another painting that has been restored has been loaned to an exhibit in a nearby palace where we will visit tomorrow.
Later in the day, we met with a historian who knew where the artist, Johann Maddaus, was buried.
Apparently, in the 1970's the Soviets began removing the grave markers from the cemetaries and putting roads and parks and buildings where families were buried. The man who helped us find Charlie's family plot told us that cemetaries had been his hobby since he was a child and he would look for the secret graves. That sent a shiver right through me--this man was my age and his childhood memories include mass killings and secret graves and the disappearance of people who dared to question.
The chapel in the picture was stripped and without a roof during the Soviet era and after 1991, the people who returned from exile in Siberia formed its congregation and re-built the church. The cross in the picture is built from pieces of the railroad that carried them to exile.
This trip is definitely turning out to be an eye-opener for me.
Tomorrow we are renting a car for a few days and heading out into the countryside to see more pieces of ancestor art in various churches throughout Latvia and Estonia.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
We landed in Stockholm at 7 a.m., Monday morning after a night flying across the Atlantic with two children in the seats behind us alternately kicking our seats and playing with their trays--but it's all good on vacation. For the record, the food on Scandanavian Airlines was yummy. After taking the fast train into the city, we stored our luggage in a locker at the bus station and set out to explore Stockholm.
We first went to Gamla Stan which is the oldest part of the city and dates back to the 13th century. We walked the cobblestone streets and watched the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. Stockholm has many museums and with our weary brains decided to only sample one choosing the Nobel Museum dedicated to the 800 Nobel laureats.
After walking around for six hours and starting to mumble with exhaustion, we decided that it was time to retrieve our bags and make our way to the ferry terminal. After a few missteps, we managed to find our boat 2-1/2 hours before departure giving us time to settle into our cabin and take a long nap before leaving port and heading out to the Baltic Sea. For several hours as we cruised around the islands leading to the open sea, we were in a parade with ships heading to Helsinki or Tallinn, Estonia or Rostock, Germany. After a night of being gently rocked by Baltic waves, we arrived in Riga Latvia this morning.
Two observations so far.
- I think that Europeans have enviable style, hair and body-mass indexes.
- Everyone we run into has enough english to communicate with us but we can barely croak thank you in their language. That embarrasses me.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Today, Molly and I will drive twelve hours to Pennsylvania where we will retrieve her dorm stuff that Ethan moved out for her last May. It will be my first chance to see Archie and Jaeger since they moved. I can't wait for hugs from my boys.
Then Molly and I will head to DC and move her into the dorm. On Sunday after I kiss my girl goodbye for the start of her junior year, I will drive to Newark where the car will go into long-term parking and Charlie will be waiting in the airport. Then we will board a plane, buckle our seat belts and head off for two weeks of happiness and relaxation. Two weeks????? I am so excited.
First we will go to Latvia and Estonia where we will follow Charlie's family history in the Baltics. Then, we will go to Sweden where my favorite little Peace Corps Volunteer is taking vacation with us.
A friend will be covering my office for me while I am away so to keep up with that, I will need daily internet and if possible will post to my blog from the road. We have the camera, we have guide books, we have reservations at the most charming inns that Latvia, Estonia and Sweden have to offer and we have the promise of two weeks to unwind and explore!
See you soon!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
People can disagree politely, that's what we do in court--our positions are different but we follow the established rules, provide evidence subjected to rigorous cross-examination and a judge makes a decision based on all of the information provided. My feeling in court is that if everyone in that room does his or her job well, the right outcome will occur. I believe that about political discourse as well. Outright lies, scare tactics and rudeness has no place from either side of the debate. We all will be the losers. I think the lessons we learned from our mothers and our grandmothers on politeness, manners and kindness are essential.
So, in the interest of good manners I have some things to learn over the next few days--polite phrases in Swedish, Estonian and Latvian:
|My name is ...||Mani sauc ...|
|I'm from ...||Es esmu no ...|
jah - yes
ei - no
palun - please; you're welcome
aitäh - thanks
tänan - thank you
tänan väga - thank you very much
tere - hi, hello
tervist - hello
Goodbye: Adjö/Hej då.
Thank you: Tack.
That's fine: Det är bra.
You are welcome: Varsågod
Excuse me (sorry): Ursäkta mig/Förlåt
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
We have only climbed a two 4000 footers in Vermont, but were struck both times by the softness and ease of the trails. While parts of the trail are as steep as the ones in New Hampshire and Maine, the forest has more hardwood and the trail has more humus making the footing soft and a pleasure to walk on.
For this trail we hiked in along a stream for two miles before turning away from the stream and beginning our climb. Along the way we met a couple coming down with their seven week baby on his first hike.
Eventually our trail merged with the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail and became much steeper as we headed up the summit cone. I'm not sure how the mom and the baby did the rock scrambling part but apparently they did.
When we emerged onto the peak, it was as if we were in a hurricane--the winds were fierce. Charlie walked around taking pictures of the ski area and the mountain bikers while I engaged in my favorite summit activity--a rock nap.
My 4000 footer totals stand at
Vermont 2 out of the 5
Maine 7 out of 14
New Hampshire 46 out of 48
That will be all the New England hiking for August--we're heading to Sweden, Latvia and Estonia this coming weekend but September and October are great hiking months in New England--so there will be more peaks ahead.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Have you ever had the opportunity to be kind to someone and maybe you took the opportunity or maybe you didn't--then later--sometimes not much later something terrible happens to that person and you wonder whether or not you took all the opportunity available to be kind when you could.
Many years ago, one of my children went on a scout campout--the first one the troop had gone on--a few of the parents went but the scouts paired up and slept in tents away from their parents. My child came home on Sunday afternoon disgusted with his tent mate because he had left their tent during the night and gone to sleep with his mother. As we sat on the kitchen floor amidst all of his campfire scented camping gear and talked about it, I pointed out that perhaps it was the first night away from home and nighttime wood sounds could be scary. My child was having none of that, though. He was sure that he would probably be looking for another friend the next day at school.
The next day after school, he came in, dropped his backpack and sat again on the floor, his back against the cupboards and cried and cried and cried. When he could finally talk, he told me that the tentmate friend had left school early and after he left the teacher talked to all of the children in the class and told them that the little boy's father had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer the Friday before. He had only a few months to live. Of course, that was why the little boy had gone to sleep in the tent with his mother. What sad news to get at 9 years old on your first cub scout camping trip.
Over the next few months, my son was a good friend. I was proud of him for being the friend that the little boy needed but I think he has always remembered his mistaken impression from the camping trip and I think that mistake has been one of the things that has made him the fine man that he is. A good lesson to learn--and how sad to have to learn it.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to be kind to a lady. I think that I was but I don't think that I was as patient and kind and good as I wish that I had been. I had a terrible toothache and a dentist appointment scheduled for later and probably rushed our time together. Today, her life has changed forever--splashed across the pages of the paper--nothing that anyone could have expected or anticipated and if I get another chance to be kind to her I will be patient and kind and good but how I desperately wish that I had maximized the last opportunity before her world fell apart.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I have this peculiar affliction that causes me to not pay attention to directional details when I am with a man--when I'm with two men--forget it--I couldn't read a map or find where I parked the car if you paid me. I am not proud of this affliction. When I'm alone, I know where I am and where I'm going and how to get there but throw a couple of good men into the mix and I just follow them up the trail. Somehow I completely missed this sign warning of the difficulties of the Beaver Brook Trail up Mt. Moosilauke--my 46th New Hampshire 4000 footer.
So up we went. Soon after we started hiking, we came upon a beautiful cascading waterfall. The trail became very steep at that point and as we continued climbing beside what seemed to be an unending series of cascading waterfalls, the grade did not ease up. Fortunately, the falls were so beautiful that we stopped frequently for pictures and for my heart and lungs to catch up.
Mt. Moosilauke is a large mountain on the western fringe of the White Mountains. There are many trails on the mountain and I am not sure why Charlie chose this one but despite the difficulty it was so beautiful that within a breathless mile I declared it my favorite trail ever. After a mile and a half we had ascended 2000 vertical feet--a grade of about 25%. The trail continued around the shoulder of two other mountains and gained an additional 1100 feet over 2.3 miles--a much more comfortable steepness ratio before emerging onto the bald summit of Mt. Moosilauke.
It was a beautiful day and a new favorite mountain. The views extended 360 degrees into Vermont and east to the Presidentials. Only two more New Hampshire 4000 footers for me to complete and it seems likely that I will get them climbed this year. I have lost hope on completing the New England 4000 footers in 2009 as the rain kept us from our Baxter State Park reservations in July and the two summits that I needed from there. But, the mountains aren't going anywhere--I'll be very happy with completing New Hampshire and perhaps Vermont in 2009 and completing Maine's peaks in 2010.
Earlier this week we went to see Hamlet. My oldest daughter lived, breathed, dreamed and spoke fluent Hamlet throughout her sophomore year of high school and still counts it as her favorite play. Charlie, as a high school english teacher, teaches the play each year. So, over the years, in spite of myself, I have had quite a bit of passive Hamlet exposure.
The performance that we enjoyed on Tuesday night was very good and what struck me is how very familiar the words are--and how familiar the thoughts behind the words.
Here are some of my favorites:
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"
"Brevity is the soul of wit"
"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go"
"More matter, with less art"
"This above all, to thine own self be true"
What is especially interesting, is how often we hear some of the lines in everyday speech, perhaps with the speaker not even realizing where they originated.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I woke up one morning to an email from daughter, Sara.
come on!! i keep waiting for an update but it never comes.... :( :(
In way of explanation, July, 2009, was something we endured in western Maine and while there were tidbits of greatness and personal joy, mostly it was depressing and trying to blog about it in an entertaining and positive manner seemed too daunting. Our precipitation total was at least three times the normal July amount--almost every day and night had the soundtrack of raindrops and the need for sweaters. But, it wasn't a total bust--we have the greenest August grass that I have ever seen AND last weekend when we climbed Mt. Moosilauke we climbed alongside a waterfall that was breathtaking (well maybe it was the climb that took my breath--but the waterfall was full of water and just beautiful!)
We also had a bumper raspberry crop--I froze 12 quarts for future pies, baked several pies from fresh raspberries and we ate--maybe a million berries--maybe more. Enough are still coming in for my morning yogurt, but by the weekend we will start cleaning out the old canes and trimming back the new growth for winter.
The bees seem to be doing well, but as a first year beekeeper, I can't be sure. The rain has surely hindered them in their nectar gathering and I worry that they won't have enough honey to make it through the winter--or to share with us. After a few months of watching me tend the hives, my Dad couldn't resist any longer and has joined me in caring for the bees. I love sharing this with him. Mom took the picture with her telephoto lense--but I have a feeling she'll be asking for her own hat and veil before too long!
Today, our winter wealth and security was dumped into the driveway--six cords of wood. We (and when I saw we, clearly I mean Charlie) will be splitting and stacking probably right up until we need to use it.
I will try and be a better blogger, Sara, sorry to disappoint--future topics might include
- what it felt like when the quiet other daugher asked me to share a lobster risotto.
- what it feels like to still see youngest son out of the corner of my eye--walking up the driveway or around a corner in the hall--but, of course, he isn't there, he has left the nest and the state and the region and is not walking up the driveway or around the corner in the hall but finding his own way 600 miles from home.
- planning a trip to Europe to see the not-so-quiet peace corps daughter.