Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Of Latgale: The Russian House

Your correspondent's trip to Daugavpils included a (thankfully) final stop of the day at the Russian House, a kind of community center for the ethnic Russians who make up the majority of the population of Daugavpils. It's a pretty diverse city, with Latvian, Latgalian, Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Jewish, and Lithuanian populations. (I.e. Pretty diverse in one sense, although in the grand scheme of things most of these populations have more than a little bit in common. Nobody's going to mistake it for Los Angeles.)

Anyway, the Russian House had a variety of historical items and collections of Russian crafts. They had old orthodox icons, a room full of Russian porcelain, a variety of three-dimensional plate/sculpture things that we did not get a picture of and can't possibly describe with words, nesting dolls from all over Russia, and much, much more. They had a little bowl of petrified sap nuggets from the Holy Land, and even gave me a small nugget. I was then informed that it would protect me from harm if kept on my body at all times, as in the case of a previous visitor who had, sap in hand, missed her plane out of Latvia, which plane then (reportedly) crashed.

At the end of the tour, in a display of what I presume was traditional Russian hospitality, my hosts offered me coffee, tea, pastries, chocolates, and three various kinds of vodka, about which vodka they said it would be a horrible insult not to drink a shot of each. Or maybe my crack Russian translator just wanted to see me get trashed. At the same time, the city employee who had been showing me around the town was already on overtime, so there was no chance to linger over the vodka. Above are the special home-made, home-decorated bottles of, respectively, horseradish vodka, pepper vodka, and "siberian nut" vodka. I made the mistake of complimenting the horseradish vodka and was almost poured another glass. It was, in fact, pretty tasty, but I did have to drive a few minutes to the hotel, and diplomatic license plates or no, three vodka shots plus wine punch in 15 minutes, is a bit much for some of us weak-livered Americans to drive on. Perhaps I can thank the petrified sap nugget in my pocket for my safe arrival at the hotel.

In any case, my hosts were extraordinarily kind with both their time and their alcohol. It was one of the most memorable things I've done in Latvia, and I certainly hope they were serious in offering to make me a bottle of horseradish vodka to take home next time I'm in Daugavpils.

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