26 de enero de 2014

My time in Latvia | second part

This is the second part of this recount (check the first part out). A text about thoughts, ideas and observations after almost two years in Latvia about to finish.

Latvians have a particular and admirable close relationship with nature and what they call pagan costumes and traditions. They daily life is still well connected to nature cycles and there is wisdom on it I conspired something to keep learning from. The use of some herbs, different types of honey or the amazing skills for mushrooming are only some few examples.

There are two interesting healthy habits in the Latvian society I always stress.

Firstly, the nutritional diversity in Latvia is still connected to the weather cycles: lots of berries in autumn, rich in calories and carbohydrates during winter, fresh vegetables during spring and summer. 

Secondly, you will rarely see overweight people. In spite of the heavy consumption of potatoes and bread (and beer), people in the Baltic region is very active, they walk a lot (even during the heavy winter) and spend many hours gardening or practising outdoor sports year round (and yes, in winter as well).

Albeit the size of the country barely over 2 million inhabitants, you will always see Latvian teams in the summer or winter Olympics performing well.

On the other hand, two unavoidable topics I will sum up in one line each: weather and food.

It can always get colder, winter last 6 months, it rains more than in the UK but summer and autumn are lovely.

Apart of a very few exceptions, Latvian food is something I won't miss, at all.

Soviet legacy is as alive as denied. I am not intending to enter the muddy ground of politics, every society lives on contradictions though I believe Latvia must come to terms with its recent history and get over the confrontational narrative, however it was very tough to deal with enclosed minds, people unwilling to challenge inequalities boost by the new elite blinding the public opinion with market-based smokescreens.

The protection of Latvian language is in many of the cases a discursive weak argument. Such argument, is fuelling an ethnic-based and segregating approach State that sooner or later with show deeper cracks.

Around 1.3 million people speak the language yet there is no incentives to learn it, no concrete benefits for non-Russian foreigners. Conversely, it is easier and cheaper to learn Russian that Latvian in Riga, where most of Western foreigners are concentrated.

I genuinely think further debate must come from society on this issue under the umbrella of the real need of attracting migration in the next decades. I remain puzzled of whether Latvia's government truly wants foreigners to learn the language and boost a multicultural society or is rather everything about foreign investment and money.

Thus, I finish these two posts recalling my childhood. I see myself more than two decades ago holding an universal atlas book and "discovering the new States" emerging from the USSR. I was attracted by that rare red in the flag and the intense sight of the blonde couple appeared on the picture. I never thought I would spend unforgettable moments there.

I will always keep in my heart the intense colours on the Latvian landscape, I will always admire Latvians taste and their close connection to the nature, while I will advocate from the distance for further social cohesion and better days for their people, somehow my people too.

19 de enero de 2014

el texto plano, demasiado plano, del Frente Amplio

El Frente Amplio es el más reciente ejercicio opositor en Bolivia con miras a las elecciones generales de octubre próximo.

Hoy se publicó en la prensa escrita un panfleto con la visión y principios de este nuevo ejercicio político -ya presentado en diciembre pasado- que ha motivado este post.

El texto es evasivo y cansino, y no termina de construir una narrativa que agregue o seduzca. El manifiesto va en busca de un discurso liberal decorado de jaspeos discursivos plurinacionales.

El texto no le habla a nadie y no permite diálogo. Es la expresión de un planteamiento político unidireccional y no del todo claro, ergo, no del todo convincente.

Además, el panfleto publicado carece de gráficos o imágenes. La política de la visualización está completamente ausente. La visualización en política es hoy crucial para construir un relato político que atraiga la atención, posicione temas concretos, le de "forma" a las ideas y así se quede en el imaginario político.

La comunicación política es, una vez más, ignorada.

una captura de la visión y principios del Frente Amplio

8 de enero de 2014

Los libros que quedan atrás

Es inevitable.

Nuevamente nos toca dejar los libros acumulados en estos casi dos años en Letonia, una pequeña aunque no menos peculiar biblioteca de libros en inglés, ruso, letón y castellano.

Dejamos además muebles y una cantidad de otros objetos que les atribuyo un valor diametralmente opuesto al de los libros.

Esto ya me pasó al dejar Inglaterra el 2010, aunque la solución parcial fue entregarle el muerto a mi hermana que por entonces vivía cerca de Hamburgo (Alemania), una caja de más de 30 kilos con libros que aún siguen en sus estantes (ahora en Bochum). Aunque algunos quedaron en la casa donde yo vivía de Kingston y otros en el ático de un amigo en Sunbury... 

Eso sí, hay algunos imperdonables que van en el equipaje como sea y otros tantos que esperan al otro lado. La pregunta, por cierto un tanto fetiche, es ¿qué se hace con una biblioteca partida? 

Quiero pensar que es como una huella del paso de uno por ese lugar, quizá para que alguien de paso -ojalá mi propio hijo en el futuro- se encuentre con el marcador de libro o alguna nota perdida.

tomé esta foto en mi departamento en Riga, en marzo de 2013

6 de enero de 2014

My time in Latvia | first part

Two years in Latvia and it's time to leave.

I must confess, the Baltic region was never among my first choices yet I spent, on and off, around 18 months in this corner of Northern Europe.

There is a lot to say, however I share some thoughts, a few peculiar things I spotted, those lessons learnt, and ideas I think is worth commenting after being truly an alien in Latvia

Most of that time I was based in Riga, a wonderful place I walked and enjoyed a lot. Although a large city for the Baltic region, Riga is a medium size European capital with an amazing heritage, very clean and safe, well organized and tidy transport system, vivid yet not chaotic, and full of cultural events year round. It remains a lot to discover, a great invitation to come back in the future.

While in Riga, I experienced a rather different cosmopolitan environment than in any other European capital: Georgian wines, Caucasian and Central-Asia cuisine, strong Russian influence and the best of Latvian deco skills. 

Latvians have an amazing touch for decoration, gardening, flowering and all sorts of set ups. Most of small cafés, shops, squares, parks, gardens, malls or shopping centres are carefully decorated and well kept. It has also been transferred to web and graphic design. 

Good taste is also expressed on women clothing. Although there are not many boutiques and certainly Latvia cannot be compare to the income in the rest of Europe, Latvian ladies are often very well dressed (unlike men), something that for sure contributes to the fact that there is more-than-usual pretty women in Latvia.

The people in the Baltic Region are frequently not talkative, quite bitter to Southern mentality, and living in a sort of protecting circle away from other mortals. I heard a lot of "reasons" such as lack of sun, long-last individual culture, Soviet brainwash, great respect for others' space, collective shyness, and even a growing distrust of foreigners. 

I genuinely believe now is a mix of most of the above.

Yet all that social distance has its interesting effect, a lot of time to think and enjoy your own space, and this is even applicable to the public transport, parks, beaches, bars, cafés, restaurants, etc.

There is, however, a social feature has troubled me all along this time, the different understanding of community and togetherness, the collective distance from others' needs, this frequent ice block filter. I do understand, history has played harshly and it seems that Latvians have developed a strong sense of self-protection, particularly against foreigners, yet it appeared often to me as disrespectful and careless.

Nature, the Soviet past, my disaffections and some things I will keep in my heart from this land on the second part of this story.