Latvia is about models, markets, mushrooms, and more. It’s the kind of place that is often called a country with a “complex and troubled history.” It’s the kind of history that maybe even most historians don’t want to delve into. It’s the kind of history that most people simply want to ignore, because it’s too much trouble to try to understand.
It’s also a fascinating place and history, and well worth trying to understand.
Back when I told you I was going to take a break from the blog for the summer, I honestly didn’t know where I was going in this stage of my life, besides Latvia. But I’m back in New York with a renewed spirit. I traveled, I met wonderful people, I did things I had never done before, I saw beauty, and I was, indeed, inspired. I did what I set out to do. There will be more, but let me start with models, markets, and mushrooms.
Picture: Visual Optimism
Latvia has the tallest women in the world (and the second tallest men), that statistic shows up in those tables and lists of all sorts of records and “the most…” Perhaps that’s why we have a fair amount of models and accomplished athletes as well?
I can attest to the height of my fellow “sisters.” It was convenient for me to hop up onto the sidewalk while my friends walked in the street in old Riga, the capital of Latvia. It’s then that we were “level” and able to converse without me getting a crick in my neck.
Latvians love berries! We eat them off the bushes, we make all sorts of juices, and jams, and desserts,
and more drinks, made from berries. I was in Latvia at the absolute best time to witness the abundance of cherries, loganberries, currants, elderberries, strawberries, and gooseberries.
Many days I went to the huge farmer’s market in Riga to buy a container of berries, and, while doing my flaneuse thing, pecked at them all day long, like a stork, perhaps.
There are storks in Latvia, we are both proprietary and blasé about our storks.
“Oh look, just another snow-white stork, gracefully winging its way across a magical field.” Once you’ve seen a stork, either up in its nest or flying, you know why they’re the ones to bring the babies. It’s just right.
Latvia’s weather is like this: all four seasons in one week. If you aren’t prepared, it’s irritating, if you are it’s fun because Latvians don’t stop for the weather. They just keep going: dancing through the mosquitos, picking mushrooms in a drizzle, and when necessary, protesting in the cold, wet, sleet.
Besides berries, Latvians love mushrooms, we probably love mushrooms more than berries. Everyone seems to go mushrooming. Sitting on the train, you can see people coming out of the forest with baskets full of chanterelles. No big deal.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, the amount and variety of mushrooms one is exposed to in Latvia. And the mushrooms are probably one reason Latvians don’t mind the damp weather. It’s a welcome trade-off.
People have “mushroom whisperers,” experienced “mushroomers” they can rely on to know the difference between what can and can’t be consumed.
A friend of mine takes pictures of mushrooms she’s not certain about, and sends them to her whisperers via mobile phone.
Other people seem to have mushroom identification and hunting in their DNA, they just know. Still others stick to the two or three kinds of mushrooms they’re sure are safe, knowledge that’s passed down through the generations. In any case, mushrooms will be on the menu in Latvia.
The best store for shopping for Latvian made things, in Riga, is Riija. Think lots of linen, wool, and wood, lots of neutral colors. There are wonderful smelling, bees-wax candles and black pottery that looks great on a rough, linen table-cloth the color of clay.
Dress: Pixie Won’t Play
The best place to shop for fashion in Riga is Bold Concept. It’s a beautiful, well run shop, and one place you can buy one of my favorite Latvian designer’s, Iveta Vecmane, exquisite garments. Go there to see fashion not just from Latvia, but all three of the “Baltics,” and tell Krista and Beate I sent you.
Pleats! black! red! and tailoring to die for!
Inin Nini, Photograph: Aiga Ozolina
And as for appropriation, a topic I’ve covered many times before, Latvian women look really great in dreadlocks. Even though they are most often blond, they seem to really own the look. They look strong and wild and prepared for anything. More importantly, they seem to have this innate appreciation and respect for the style, and it shows.
Finally, Latvians do not cross their fingers for luck, we hold our thumbs. Odd, these little superstitions and the way they are expressed, the differences from country to country. Traveling is all about the variations, beautiful variations.
Go visit Latvia, it’s between Estonia and Lithuania.