A three-hour drive from Riga, sluing snow-covered fields, forests, a
few townships and roadside taverns, and you reach the outskirts of
Liepaja city and port with over 100,000 inhabitants.
Known as "the city where wind is born" - after a song made popular by
well-known composer and songwriter Imants Kalnins in the 1980's -
Liepaja lies among lakes, canals and the sea. It prides itself with
magnificent sand dunes and shores - the name Liepaja originates from
the Livonian word for sand - as well as its 19th century and early
20th century educational, recreational and cultural heritage.
Although many houses are in decay and poverty is visible, the old
Germanic-style wooden structures hold a nostalgic beauty. Restoration
and recontruction is evident, there are good cafes and restaurants,
the air is fresh, the seaside parks liberating and prices are way
cheaper than in Riga.
But it's not easy living for most locals.
"If only there were just enough money to buy even just the youngest
child a nice present for Christmas..."I heard one middle aged woman
say to another on the street.
A busy musical life
Liepaja may not have the visible panache of sister city Ventspils
further north, but it does have an energetic cultural pulse,
persuasiveness, and tradition not evident in Ventspils, according to
Liepajas Symphony Orchestra conductor Imants Resnis.
Founded in 1886, the orchestra came into being as the first Baltic
philhar-monic and has continued a flourishing symphonic tradition to
the present day. Under the baton of the charismatic Resnis since
1992, new members, more tours and performances, recordings and TV
appearances have given the orchestra international recognition.
On Dec. 29 in the grand Liepaja Theater a special New Year's concert,
"Bel Canto Millennium" with five of the best tenors in Latvia, was
sold out before tickets were officially advertised and became two
concerts. Both concerts included Christmas songs, a presentation of
the CD "5 Tenors at Christmas" opera arias and popular songs. They
played to full houses and received wild ovations with repeat items
"Conductor Imants Resnis lifts the orchestra and the atmosphere to
wonderful heights," said Nora, an audience member. "He has to be seen
to be believed. It was marvellous."
Orchestra director Vija Feldmane echoed the feeling.
"Having Resnis as conductor is a great privilege, for without a good
conductor, an orchestra doesn't keep growing," she said.
It has also helped put Liepaja on the map as a musical center with
the annual spring International Piano Stars Festival. Japan
contributed $400,000 worth of new instruments, including pianos,
thanks to an orchestral competition won by the Liepaja orchestra.
There is also independent theater
To one's joy and surprise, sitting in a groovy upbeat
fireplace-heated tavern called Naves Ena, it was revealed that the
original log cabin was built in the 17th century and Tsar Peter the
Great stayed there in 1697. It sits opposite Liepaja's only
independant theater, Muris, and is a popular hangout for actors,
artists, Bohemians and is cozy enough for any stranger on a cold and
Dylan's words, "Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the
The call of the bass clarinet signifies Friday and Saturday nights.
The tavern now pays for itself, but operates as a mutual support
system with Muris theater.
Assistant director Selga Sustere passed on the information that the
name Naves Ena, which translated means "in the shadow of death" has
troubled some, but it is quoted from Latvia's great playwright
Rudolfs Blaumanis and reflects the reality of an actor's life in
Muris began as a venture sponsored by Danish youth theater
representatives and, following the success of this project, was taken
over by actor-director Martins Vilsons in 1996. The space prompts
intimate performances, with a movable stage and seating for up to
100. A core troupe of four actors runs the shows, travel schools and
invites actors from Liepajas main theater and theaters in Valmiera
and Riga for specific performances.
Popular performances have included French dramatist Jasmin Reza's
"ART", Denmark's Kim Fupc Aakeson's "Time of Wonder" and next season,
Lauris Gundars' "Trusu Dziesma" and poet A. Caks' "Imaginary
Mirrors" (Iedomu Spoguli), an interesting setting of poetry and
Readdressing folkloric traditions
Another sparkling personality from Liepaja is a singer-songwriter
with folkloric wisdom and humour, Austra Pumpure. Taking changes and
losses in her stride, this remarkable woman, now in her 70s, has held
her head high and carried the voice of Latvia across many countries
and has initiated a new concept of Folkloric Theater. The troupe call
themselves Atskaukas, meaning "reconstruction from deconstruction",
and are a dozen or so singers, actors, musicians, dancers creating
performances that tell stories, anecdotes and relate proverbs that
"hit the nail on the head," as Pumpure says in reference to the
great wisdoms from old times prodding the consiousness of today.
They travel where invited, all around the Baltics and elsewhere,
spreading exhuberance and Latvian quirkiness wherever they go and
were recently seen and heard at the New Year's show in the
Born and bred and still living in Liepaja, astrologer Didzis Skila,
when asked of the significance of new year 2000, said simply and
clearly that Dec. 31 has no special meaning to the planets and stars.
"1999 can be viewed as a dramatic year," said Skila. "And the drama
is likely to continue. Crises will deepen, and then maybe things will
globally improve, but not before April.
"A more significant date astrologically is Mar. 21 when the sun enters Aries."
Skila compared astrology with Herman Hesse's book "The Glass Bead
Game," a self contained system that offers all levels of
interpretation and understanding of beingness from its physical,
material, esoteric, philosophical and spriritual aspects.
Prognosis of the future is just one of its branches and not in the
least the most interesting for him as an astrologer. Prognosis is
over-rated and most often superficial.
Astrologically interesting was Skilas' statement that Latvia's
astrological position is as a nation in hubertus, still forming, not
matured yet, and it's "to be or not to be" will take a few more years
of planetary cycling.