That catchphrase 'Latvia - best enjoyed slowly' can certainly be applied to me! My first of several visits to the country was some thirty-five years ago at the beginning of the 1980's. During my latest visit in May this year I was particularly aware of how important my long and slowly unfolding experience of the country over the years has been. It has so greatly enriched both my enjoyment and my ever increasing affection and respect for a fascinating destination that is still strangely one of Europe's best-kept secrets.
We arrived in Riga on a Saturday, tired, sweaty, and jet-lagged. I had officially arrived at my destination for my first trip to Europe. After hearing stories from my grandparents about the history of Eastern Europe, where they were both born and raised, I had finally landed in a place that I knew held so much history, culture, and stories to discover.
When I first came to Latvia three years ago, I travelled from Prague to Rīga in a tiring bus trip – 22 hours in a small seat, surrounded by restless Czech, Russian and Polish students. It was the first time in my life that I was travelling outside of Brazil. For a traveller from a relatively small town called Balneário Camboriú, Prague’s cultural and historical greatness was a shock.
Unlike Christopher Walsh, who wrote movingly in “Latvia in Review” recently about his love for choral music and his resulting decision to move from the United States to Latvia, I grew up in a Latvian family. Both sets of grandparents emigrated from Latvia toward the end of World War II, settling first in Germany, then in America, where my parents met and were married. It is a story that is shared by countless Latvian (and other) families.
America is often referred to as the “land of opportunity.” For me, however, Latvia offers more fascinating experiences and chances for success than I could ever hope to find in my home country.
A nation's potential for survival is determined by its material, social and spiritual welfare. When the first two prevail, our capacity for civility is manifest. As we emphasize the latter two, it is culture we are talking about. (An essay by Imants Ziedonis)
By Jānis Mažeiks, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia to the United Nations in New York.