Monday, November 30, 2009

Of Poland

OK, even your correspondents are beginning to get a little tired of being in Riga so little. But such are the burdens of being an international journalist and part-time diplomat. We only have so much time in Europe, and there's a lot of Europe to see.

So, we went to Poland. Good friends there, and good pierogis, and old castles. Find here pictures with serious technical problems that we like a lot anyway, from Warsaw (top), Krakow (bottom), and somewhere in between (in between).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Special Saturday Edition on The Famous Tivoli Gardens

If you buy a guidebook to Copenhagen, the number-one sight typically listed is the Tivoli Gardens, a park with rides and shops and shows and such. They're closed in November. But here are a couple pictures of what you can see from the outside.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Of Christiania (Copenhagen)

This is outside the show from yesterday's post. (It's the front door that I didn't find, because it faces on a dirt road rather than the proper street.) Having come in via the wrong way, I didn't see the big signs indicating that they would prefer visitors didn't snap any tourist photos in Christiania. Being a self-proclaimed independent "free town," there is some fairly lax enforcement of drug laws. And maybe other laws. Luckily, nobody beat me up or smashed my camera or anything. Of course, I was giving the hash dealers a pretty wide berth. On the more typically licit side of things, they had a pretty good post-show kebab stand.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Yo La Tengo

This is a post about the rock band Yo La Tengo. They are very popular in a certain scene. But some of this publications older readers probably haven't heard of them. In any case, I want to start by thanking a band called the Handsome Furs, who are, to my knowledge, the only indie-rock band to come through Riga in my 18 months here. We've had a couple of the really big R.E.M.- or Metallica-size tours, but not many club shows. I guess Riga is just too small and too far away from other big cities to making touring here economical for the little guys.

But somehow, Copenhagen is firmly on the European tour itinerary for the indie rock bands of America. I was combing the listings before my trip there, and the number of great bands coming through was really amazing. But there was nothing advertised for the time I was there. Then, wonder of wonders, in a free "what's-on" paper I found on the train in from the airport, a listing for indie-rock institution Yo La Tengo - 8:00 Saturday night!

The show was in Christiania, a squatter's community on a former military installation. The listing said 8:00, and not knowing how prompt showtimes are in Denmark or if it was sold out already, I endeavored to get there right at 8:00. Using a free handout map, I found the venue, but there was nobody standing around out front. So, I opened the door and wandered in... and found myself backstage. But there was nobody wandering around back there. So I wandered my way out to the appropriate audience area, and was faced with a dilemma. Yo La Tengo is (really) fairly popular and certainly capable of selling out a modest venue. I had accidentally snuck in to the show. I really didn't mean to. But now I was afraid that if I went out and came back in, they wouldn't sell me a ticket. So I stayed. I didn't feel bad for the venue, embracing the whole squatter ethos of Christiana, I didn't feel like I owed them anything. I did buy a couple beers from them.

I felt sort of bad for whatever ticket money I was stealing from the band. So I bought a concert t-shirt for the first time in probably ten years. My understanding of music-world economics is that the band makes a better margin on t-shirts than tickets anyway. Looking around once the show started, I don't think it was sold out in the end. Sorry, Yo La Tengo.

Anyway, thanks to arriving early and being alone, I managed to get a spot in the very front, and took my first stab at concert photography. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Julebryg

There were several serendipitous surprises in Copenhagen. Long-time readers, real-life friends, and those who listen to gossip know that your correspondent is a fan of beer. Not that this puts me in very exclusive company, but I'm not drinking the beer to assert my individuality - I'm doing it to get wasted. Oh, I mean I like the taste.

Anyway, mid-November brings the annual rollout of Danish Christmas beers, apparently a quasi-holiday in its own right. One expat I was talking to there claims that they used to always introduce Tuborg Julebryg (that's Danish for Christmas Beer, if you're not good at picking up clues from context) on a November Wednesday, with marked increase in workplace absenteeism the Thursday after. The story then claims that the school system complained to Tuborg because so many teachers were showing up hungover/drunk/not at all/etc on that day, and being good corporate citizens, Tuborg moved Christmas Beer Day to Friday.

So anyway, they like the special Christmas beers, and your correspondent happened upon a small festival with a jazz band and a bunch of tents with samples of various micro- and not-so-micro-breweries' Yuletide offerings. There were definitely some younger folks there, but I would say the majority of the crowd were of more advanced years, as pictured above. We heartily endorse any culture whose older people come out for beer tasting fairs on chilly November days. I hope I'm doing likewise if I ever get old.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Might as well

Our exclusive Copenhagen coverage keeps getting interrupted by other more timely matters in Riga. Then again, we have a bunch of pictures of Latvia from months ago that we have yet to do anything with. As for this picture, we don't think it says anything special about Copenhagen but we like it and don't have time to write much else. Everything seems to be working out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Marine Ball 2009

Another November, another Marine Ball. Just like the last two years abroad, November brings the "Prom for Adults" black-tie event of the Embassy year. And for the third year running (minus Latvian training in DC), The Lovely Katherine insisted on having her photo taken with our men in uniform. Can't deny that they're a photogenic lot, with their medals and all. Sorry that Sgt. Shay was left out of the picture on this one - it is certainly not because his service isn't appreciated, more that the photographer didn't really manage to get all of him in the original frame, what with the wine flowing as it does at such events.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Oh yeah, Copenhagen

We were so wrapped up in the Proclamation Day festivities, we forgot we were telling you all about Copenhagen. The official young women's uniform of Copenhagen is tights and a fairly short skirt. All other details left to the wearer. But the tights and the skirt are required. Not that your correspondent was sad about this situation, but it was kind of striking how universal it was.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Staro Riga

A relatively new annual event in the days leading up to Latvian Proclamation Day is the Staro Riga (Shine, Riga!) light festival. For a few days, art installations are placed all around the city center, all of them using light in some way and intended to be seen at night. Some of them are random and interesting and border on something you could see in an art museum. I think the shirts above were in the former category.

These lamps were also neat, although not really site-specific in any apparent way, other than being big enough they needed to be outside. There were some other good ones that were a little tough to photograph.

Several pieces involved projections on the sides of buildings, some interesting and some a little cheesy like this one projecting eyes on the side of the powder tower. But through the barren tree branches, I guess they do look a little sinister. I hate to say that a lot of the art got worse from there, so I'll just stop.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy 91st Birthday, Latvia - updated!

Fresh off the presses, a more recent photo of the Freedom Monument - during tonight's celebration. Apparently there was some sort of "torchlight march" sponsored by one of the political parties. They came for the tiki torches, but stayed for - what else - a choral concert. There is no event that Latvians don't mark with choral singing. Your correspondent wasn't there for long, in part because shortly after he arrived, they sang "Saule, Perkons, Daugava" (Sun, Thunder, Daugava), which is very dramatic - some might (wrongly) say too much so - and is the clear highlight of every Latvian choir performance.

If you have a few minutes to kill, check out "Saule, Perkons, Daugava" from last summer's Song Festival. It doesn't start until a minute into the video, so they can be sure to feature the other staple of Latvian culture, the giving of flowers.

Happy 91st Birthday, Latvia!

November 18th is the 91st anniversary of the proclamation of the independent Republic of Latvia. As a bonus, it was actually sunny for a little while today. Of course, this picture was taken a while ago -- those autumn leaves are long gone. I have to say July is a pretty good time for an independence day, since it's usually nice out then. But you can't choose your history, so: A happy (and slightly less chilly than usual) birthday to Latvia!

I almost forgot to note for those who haven't seen previous pictures of it in this publication or elsewhere, those are the hands of the Freedom Monument, holding aloft three stars representing the three historic regions of the country, and essentially the symbol of Latvia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Of Copenhagen: Neon

If you, like me, used to watch the Simpsons back the olden days, when the shows had plots and such some 15 years ago, you may remember an occasional gag where many of the obscure shops in Springfield had neon signs that blinked on and off in a way that made the neon a sort of animation. Well, to your correspondent's surprise and delight, Copenhagen has a couple of these. There are actually a lot of neat neon signs there - I think more than your average city, but maybe they're just better, so they stand out more. Above was as sign that looks like it's for spark plugs but was actually for a diner or something.

This one is an ad for Ga-Jol pills, whatever those are. Ga-Jol also apparently comes in alcohol form, and was spotted behind the bar next to the aquavit in at least one Danish pub. Anyway, this sign gave the impression that pills were flying out of the giant box of Ga-Jols and into the mouth of the wigged-out dude with the umbrella. I guess he was supposed to be sick or something, but the whole trippy motif made it look more like he was getting high and dangerously close to OD'ing on Ga-Jols.

Last, and almost certainly the champion was this sign for Antonius, whatever that is. In the little cartoon created by the neon, a pig is standing there, an angel flies down and lands before him. The pig runs over to the angel, who feeds him what look like they are maybe radishes. Then the billboard says "ANTONIUS." Repeat, infinitely. So the question to any visitor unfamiliar with the brand is obviously - what in the sam hill is Antonius selling? Radishes? A kennel for pigs? Google is not helpful. Maybe it's just a big piece of installation art.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Of Copenhagen: A Danish Danish

Your correspondent was in Copenhagen. We just got back so we haven't even looked at the staff photographers' collection. We're not generally big on puns, but who can resist a picture of a sweet pastry taken in Denmark?

Sigh. We certainly hope that our exclusive Copenhagen report gets more compelling from here. We also know that some readers are interested in what happens in Latvia when we're not taking weekend trips elsewhere. We'll try to get back to that soon-ish.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Exclusive Guest Contributor Edition, Final Edition

We're completely out of things to say about the Venice Biennale, especially since we weren't there, and the Special Assignments Correspondent and Executive Editor Emeritus doesn't really have time to write copy these days. In any case, we liked this picture of a detail of some other installation piece, by an artist who we would really like to give credit to but don't have his or her name handy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exclusive Guest Contributor Edition, Part 4

This is not actually an official piece of art from the Biennale -- it's just some people and a tree shot through one of the windows in one of the galleries. I'm sure it would be hard to tell without some cliff notes. You can, however, see the reflection of the light installation that was, in fact, Official Art.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Exclusive Guest Contributor Edition, Part 3

So the Venice Biennale is comprised of national pavilions, wherein each participating country selects one or several contemporary artists to represent their nation for the year. One of the artists in the American pavilion was Bruce Nauman, who does all sorts of fantastic stuff, including all these sculptures of hands. Yay America! Happy Veterans' Day!

Happy Lacplesa Diena!

It's Veterans' Day in the U.S., but in Latvia it is Lāčplēša Diena. Lāčplēsis is the legendary hero of Latvian folklore. No offense to the good people of Latvia, but he's kind of a goofy hero. He is part-man, part-bear: But looking from the outside the only part that looks like a bear is his big furry ears. If that wasn't odd enough, his exploits involve protecting the Latvian people from all variety of invaders, but mostly bears. So he had the ears of a bear, which made him particularly good at killing bears. I guess it probably sounded better around a campfire in a dark forest a few hundred years ago, before they had Terminator movies where a guy who is part robot is extra-good at protecting humans from robots. Actually, most of the story (which I admit I've only read a synopsis of) is about fighting the evil German missionaries trying to Christianize pagan Latvia.

A bonus fun fact - the street I live on was named after the guy who collected all the folk stories of Lāčplēsis and wrote them into a book during the late 1800's when there was a lot of interest in formalizing the Latvian national identity.

Lāčplēša diena isn't really about Lāčplēsis, though. Lāčplēsis Day commeomrates the November 11, 1919 victory over remaining German armies in the struggle for independence that followed World War I. One of the Latvian military's highest honors is the "Order of Lāčplēsis," named after the hero, and established after the victory in 1919.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Exclusive Guest Contributor Edition, continued...

The reason our Special Assignments Correspondent and Executive Editor Emeritus was in Italy was the Venice Biennale, probably the biggest and most important contemporary art event in the world. Featured were such artists as "the person who did this video installation," who probably has an actual name that the SACEEE wrote down but which we can't be bothered to make her go look up right now. Such is the privilege that comes with emeritus status. She does assure us this was an excellent piece.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Special Guest Star - Venice Edition

While your correspondent was conferencing in The Hague, we dispatched The Lovely Katherine, Special Assignments Correspondent and Executive Editor Emeritus, to Venice. All credit for this week's exclusive Venice edition courtesy of the SACEEE.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Of the Netherlands: Hey, it's a neat car

Last picture of Amsterdam. I love this old Citroen. And the kid riding on the back of the bike.

New topic next week, but maybe (still) not Latvia. We'll see.

(Fixed the picture - if you ever see what looks like half of a really big picture here, you can still click it to see the whole thing. Sorry.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Of the Netherlands: Bike Lanes

I wish we could figure out how to be as biking a people as the Dutch. They bike all over, businessmen in suits or kids in jeans...

Young and old...

Sometimes two at a time (but usually on a normal bike, not a tandem...).

Just remember, texting and biking is even more dangerous than biking drunk.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Of the Netherlands: Bar Time

Latvia has a few good bars and some pretty good beer. But Holland is paradise for bar-lovers. There were tons of cool, old, atmospheric bars everywhere, very few of them of the chic and pretentious persuasion. The Dutch beer was good - actually Heineken on tap was surprisingly good in comparison to the middling stuff you get in bottles. But the real joy was the number of bars featuring beer from next-door Belgium. Every bar had at least a couple abbey beers. The place pictured here had hundreds.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Of the Netherlands: Any Old Hague

What a funny name for a city: The Hague, The Netherlands -- a definite article double-whammy. Your correspondent's work engagement was hosted by our embassy in The Hague. We stayed at the Des Indes hotel, which is a snazzy place that actually hosted various peace conferences back in the early 20th Century when they seemed to regularly sign peace treaties in The Hague. Also in The Hague: delicious Indonesian food, which we had scant familiarity with prior to arriving; endless bars; a museum with several of the world's very few confirmed Vermeers; and this castle thing pictured above.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Of the Netherlands

So after Spain, we went to the Netherlands for work. And then we hung around for kicks for a little while. That is a nice country they have there -- distinctive architecture, vibrant street life, diversity. We had a fantastic time, and we didn't even smoke any pot.