After being away a few weeks during Christmas vacation I came home to three pieces of mail from Latvia, which is always a happy event: a postcard from a friend and fellow knitting enthusiast visiting Latvia, and two cards from Latvian friends.

The cover of the postcard is a picture of, appropriately, a series of traditional knitted mittens from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, held at the National History Museum of Latvia:

We’re nearing the end of our Christmas travels – we fly back to B—- tomorrow. Riga has a series of Christmas trees all around town. There are saws (handsaws) put together in the shape of a tree and another that had bicycle-powered lights. We went to an organ concert today and the church was full! We had no idea organ music was so popular with Russian tourists. I’ve had lots of fun looking at yarn and knitted items both here and in Tallinn. Christmas markets are still going (tomorrow is Ephiphany, but Orthodox Christmas Eve). Lots of wonderful food!

I remember going to Riga on weekends, a three-hour bus ride from the little town I lived in out in the country. We would get farm-cheese stuffed pancakes, go to American movies, browse the windows of the expensive European and Russian stores, all while walking under the impressive art nouveau buildings towering above us. After shopping the outside craft markets by the Dome Cathedral, I remember going to a nearby art museum (I wish I could remember the name) to look at the artwork of the textile artist Edīte Paula-Vīgnere, the sister of the beloved Latvian composer and musician Raimonds Pauls. In the pieces I remember, she wove wool and linen and other materials to make sculptures, collages, and tapestries. Here is a picture of one I found online: “Saudzēsim dabu”  I remember that it was so hard for me to believe that she made and showed such art during the Soviet period, that is, starting in the 1960’s (and up to today). I saw her artwork as very representative of Latvian culture, with all of that wool and linen, glorifying nature. How did the Soviet authorities not question this work that, to me, looks like an expression of national identity, which they tried to repress in all aspects of life then? I do not know Paula-Vīgnere’s story; maybe I read too much into all of this.

And in one of the other letters, from my dear friend Māra, poetry:

Kad skaistu, baltu ziemas sarmu
no kokiem nopurina vēš,
Lai Jaunais gads nes īstu laimi
Un jaunus sapņus īstinibā vērš!

When the beautiful, white winter hoarfrost
from the trees is shaken off by the wind,
Let the new year bring real happiness
and turn new dreams into reality!

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