It is perhaps a bit of poetic license to call this blog entry ‘One Amazing Day’ because the events really took place over a whole week, but this title, taken from the strap line to the much-maligned Millenium Dome experience in 2000 in Greenwich in the UK begins to describe what this event was like.
It was the celebration of the five-yearly song and dance festival here in Latvia and people come from all over Latvia and, in fact, from all over the world to take part. As the photo shows there are literally thousands of people involved – about 13,000 in all, if I have understood correctly. I’m not sure I can begin to describe the atmosphere and the feelings it evoked. I have never experienced anything quite like it. The only connection with anything similar that I have witnessed is with the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod held in Wales.
Throughout the week there were various concerts held around the city with a craft fayre set up in one of the parks. A huge dance festival took place in one of the large stadiums in Riga and there was a final festival, mainly of singing on the last day, the Sunday. As the picture shows, we were able to get tickets to go to the dress rehearsal held on the Saturday. The festival on the Sunday went on until 1.3oam and then afterwards people could join the choirs in a sing-a-long which lasted well into the night. A couple of folk I know went along for this part of the celebration and went to bed at 4.30am! They were both at work by 9am on the Monday morning not visibly showing any ill-effects from the experience.
On the Sunday, starting at 10am there was a procession along the main road in Riga, Brivibas iela – ‘Freedom street’. There were so many participants that groups were still marching to the finish point of the parade, at the end of the road where I live, at 4.30 in the afternoon.
So to my impressions…
I was surprised by the number of young people who were involved in the whole event. In fact, it seemed that the majority of the participants were young. It was quite amazing to see young men in particular wearing national costume, being involved in Latvian country dancing and singing their hearts out in choirs. They were enthusiastic about it all as well, there was no sense that their participation was half-hearted or forced. It was quite stunning to see the face of one young man singing about Latvia moved to tears by the sentiments of the song he was singing.
I was sad. Sad to think what my culture has lost, especially the sense of connectedness with the earth and with the seasons and the sense of celebration of the abundance of this time of year. It all made the feeble attempts of a UK Harvest festival, often now marked by a few tins of vegetables on a half-hearted display at the front of a church, look frankly ridiculous.
Flowers and branches were everywhere, worn as crowns by lots of the women and carried in celebration by the men.
I was envious of the healthy sense of pride in Latvia and in the richness of a culture and language which has, amazingly, withstood and finally overcome so many years of occupation. One has a sense that this is a family. Indeed, I’m sure I heard a lady next to me in the crowd shout out in Latvian to a Latvian choir from Canada, ‘Welcome home!’. It somehow seemed symbolic of the richness and strength of the Latvian sense of identity that I stood watching the parade against the back drop of the dark, empty, now unused ex-KGB headquarters.
I was confused. The Latvians I know tell me that they don’t ‘do’ excitement. Well, the parade certainly put the lie to that myth. Such excitement! Such exuberance! I had begun to think that Latvians are (big generalisation coming now…) quite introverted. After last Sunday I am going to have to re-think that idea. I’m confused too, because the creativity and artistry which does seem to be part of the Latvian psyche and which has been so remarkably displayed this week, does not normally sit well with the kind of efficiency which was displayed this week and which I am increasingly recognising as characterising the country. Just the sheer organisation of such an enterprise takes your breath away. How everyone who took part got to the right places at the right time, and were fed and watered is in itself an amazing feat.
I was deeply moved. To hear the massive choir singing ‘God bless Latvia’ was a spiritual experience and there was something about the atmosphere of the parade which produced in me an overwhelming sense of joy – almost to the point of tears – which I cannot recall having experienced for a long, long time.
It was a great day …..but it wasn’t over! Along with millions of other Britons, I too had my moment of national pride on Sunday…..after 77 years Andy Murray became the first British male tennis player to win Wimbledon….it really was ‘One Amazing Day’!