Saturday, March 26, 2005

In The beginning. . .

Now that I've got most of the first-time fiddling out of the way, welcome to this blog. I want to thank Ann Althouse for suggesting that I do this. I sent her an email once about (serious subject here, folks) the American Idol studio band which I felt didn't get enough recognition for the fine job they do and whaddya know...the rest is history.

So, what will it consist of? Likely a little bit of reflection on life in a smallish town (18,000) in Latvia as well as a few rants about whatever gets my blood circulating. Today I'm sitting here in my flat looking out the window at the flakes (still!) floating down, paying (little) attention to CNN in the background, and perusing the websites that interest me. Even though this is Easter weekend, you might guess that here's a guy with a little too much time on his hands. Mmmm.... could be, but I gotta tell ya, I feel like the kid who doesn't have to go to school. That's been pretty much the situation since we got here from the United Arab Emirates last July. After six years in the heat and hate of the Middle East, it was definitely time to go. (More on that some other time)

But why Latvia? Well, my wife is from here and I lived here for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early '90s. Life here is a little like my old hometown circa 1964. Still, it's a mix of the modern and traditional, from flat-screen monitors in the computer shop windows to the horse-drawn wagons of the farmers coming to Saturday market. Add in a bit of Soviet legacy architecture on the outskirts, an old-town of winding cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century buildings, a church and Hanseatic castle partially destroyed by Ivan the Terrible, and you kinda get the idea.

I love being able to walk everywhere. When we lived in Abu Dhabi, the car was king. The prevailing view of pedestrians was: "What's the matter with those people, why don't they get a car, they must be poor. Speed up and see if we can scare 'em"! No respect. I won't even mention bicyclists. So, it's nice to live in a place where stopping at crosswalks is strictly enforced, and the old-town streets are filled with walkers using them as sidewalks.

Another fun thing is to watch peoples' faces when they hear their language come out of my mouth. I'm sure it amuses them because I almost always get a smile. Which brings me to the task of acquiring a foreign language in middle age. It 'aint easy! And I'm a language teacher. I'm supposed to know how it's done. But it's just heavy lifting to me. Still, the Latvians are a very forgiving folk if even if you mangle their admittedly complicated grammar. They lived for 50 years under a Soviet regime that not only didn't respect their language, but made a pretty concerted effort to eradicate it. I've talked to guys who served in the Soviet Army and submarine service who said when they found a fellow Latvian to talk to, the Russian guys would call it "suns valoda" - dog language - and threaten to beat them up.

OK, rant warning coming up: All I've seen in my time here leads to one mostly true generalization: wherever you find a high percentage of Russians, you'll find more crime, violence, compulsion, and broken stuff. When I was teaching at a small college in the eastern part of the country ten years ago, I would take a dark walk home after work and I could hear from about three blocks away the unmistakable sounds of drunk, young Russian guys looking for trouble. This town was about two-thirds Russian and life was rougher than where we live now. Here, I almost never hear Russian on the street, people are generally courteous, everything is much cleaner, and the buildings and houses show pride of ownership. I can really understand the division that is going on in the Ukraine between the western and eastern halves. It's accurately reflected right here in Latvia, too. The Russians just have so much physical and human destruction to be held accountable for, from the Gulags, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Chernobyl, to 70 years of utterly bankrupt economic and political ideology. We'll be cleaning up after them for the next 50 years. Who says ideas don't matter?


At 6:08 PM, Anonymous reilly said...

Wow, I never thought I'd be reading about Latvia. Nice blog, I hope you keep it up! BTW, I was redirected here from Ann Althouse.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger vienalga said...

Yeah, most people can't find it on the map, or they confuse it with the Balkins. I think Ann is just the best, person and blogger, for her generosity of spirit in taking a moment to point the way to someonw she doesn't even know. Thanks for the words. I'll try to keep it interesting.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger Steve_Jobs said...

Very interesting first blog post!

Good luck in the future.

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