Kuldiga revels in cucumber rolling lunacy

  • 2004-07-01
  • By Elizabeth Celms
RIGA - What most of the year looks like a humble and scarcely inhabited little town will transform itself into a circus of cucumber rolling, egg throwing and inexplicably costumed Kuldiga fanatics during the Dzires Kuldiga festival from July 15 to 18.

Dzires Kuldiga is yet another example of what happens when village folk band together to celebrate their small-town absurdities. City slickers, who could never understand what it's like to live in a town whose doctor is your minister is your suitor and the man you buy your eggs from, can only scratch their noggin to the absolute oddity of these people.
Yet for Kuldiga's residents, cucumber rolling, alligator fishing and parading around the streets garbed in ridiculous costumes provides a much-needed dose of madness to this reserved Latvian village.
In the months leading up to this annual festival, you get the feeling that behind this sleepy town's shut windowpanes and closed doors, Kuldigans are feverishly sewing away at their costumes for the big day.
The four-day party kicks off on July 15 with a lunch banquet of exotic African cuisine, dances and "secret rituals." The residents even go so far as to dump truck loads of sand into the city center and erect palm trees that will no doubt convince any cobblestone trotting Kuldigan that he's nowhere else but Morocco. The day reaches its climax with a concert at dusk by The Hobos, Livi and Louie Fontaine. The three bands' music styles couldn't be more different - what a perfect choice for this haphazard festival.
Perhaps the week's most anticipated event, the Aleksupites Race - where participants stumble, jump and tread through kilometers of Kuldiga's run-off water in the town canal - attracts the entire city to the canal's edge like water rats to a sewer. The avid fans cheer and scream as the runners splash through the mucky water, thinking only of the Cido trophy awaiting them and that strange odor emanating from their drenched sportswear.
After drying off, the townspeople dismiss whatever may be left of their sanity and embrace their most neurotic characteristics in public drama theater. It's amazing what the anonymity of masks can lead people to. Hiding any shame they may have behind lavish masks and ridiculous costumes, people embrace their most desired alter-egos and parade about the city in the Cido Aleksupite Carnival.
But it's the final two days of festivities that reveal the true character of Kuldiga's residents. Beginning with crocodile fishing in one of the city's ponds, the day continues with a cucumber picking frenzy, followed by a cucumber rolling race, egg throwing contest and taffy pulling war. It's been rumored that Kuldigans secretly meet during the night to master the skill of cucumber rolling and to perfect their taffy pulling strategy in preparation for this anticipated event.
Regardless of how talented you may be at egg throwing, it's most likely the only chance you'll get to satisfy that inner burning desire for organic vandalism. And regardless of how reserved a person you are, the Kuldiga festivities should be visited.