Monday, 15 March 2010

Still loads of snow

Forgot to mention last week that we had an emergency phone call on the Sunday afternoon. A neighbour of ours at the other flat had had a catastrophe with their woodburning stove, the boiler had burst spilling water everywhere and the temperatures were still below zero, they also had a sick child, not a good combination. They had to phone a friend of ours because they don't speak any English and of course we still don't speak enough Latvian but they wanted to know if we still had the other stove that we removed last year. Well we do, it is or was, sat out in the woodshed awaiting the polytunnel to be finished so we can have some heating in it (no that is still not finished either). Obviously their need was greater than ours and our old stove is now sat upstairs in their home. While they were waiting for the stove to be fitted we lent them our oil-fired radiators, they were really very grateful which is lovely as we were glad we could help. Even better for us it gave us a chance to get to know the neighbours a little better and they have been as helpful as they could be in the past so it was nice to be able to return the favour.

Later on in the week I went up to the other flat to light our fire since no one has been it and we don't want things to freeze. While I was there I watched a guy shovelling snow into his greenhouse and it really puzzled me at first wondering what on earth he was doing until I realised he was watering the soil in the greenhouse in preparation for the coming Spring - neat idea. In many of the blogs I read there is talk of the signs of Spring and many people are in full swing getting the ground prepared outside for vegetables, we on the other hand still have a lot of snow outside but the sun is beginning to melt it, so now it is worth shovelling it into the greenhouse to moisten the soil. In our case, however, it would be worth getting the plastic on the greenhouse so it can start to warm up, all we need to do is track down the guy and get some dates out of him, easier said than done. Well this is Latvia isn't it! Although many folks are longing for Spring as it has been a very cold winter we wouldn't want it to warm up too quickly or places would get flooded, so a long slow thaw with the snow topping up underground wells will be perfect. It hasn't been the coldest winter as far as absolute temperatures goes, but it has been the coldest in duration and as one mum said it has meant the children haven't really had the chance to get out and make snowmen as it has just been much too cold to play out in until now. There have been conflicting reports that it has been the coldest winter for 50 or 70 years depending on who you talk to. We are blessed though by long days in the summer to compensate for our rather short season but hopefully we can extend the season somewhat with the polytunnel this year err if it gets finished.

I went with Ian into Riga to the hospital again this week so that he had a navigator, fortunately the route looks really easy so next time he goes in he can take himself. He had a contract sent to him but wasn't really sure what the hospital department were expecting of him or what the contract was for but turns out it was a contract that would be signed for every visit. So we can now say that Ian has agreed to act as a consultant one day a month helping with the leukaemia diagnosis on a machine called a flow cytometer. His responsibilities are to ensure the machine is working properly, doing what it should be doing and to help train the staff in anyway he can. After that confusion was sorted out he got down to some work while I sat and read, well kind of as well as observing the chaos of a doctor running a clinic and a lab at the same time, she was chasing her tail poor woman. Ian had a good time and was able to sort out one problem they were having which restricted the testing they could do to two colours and now they can use four, if you want to know what that means you can ask Ian but it does help with diagnosing leukaemias to see as many colours as possible (some research labs even use 8, 9 and more). Just as a side note we often wonder why it is that research gets all the funding while hospital labs languish, why is it that the research department has an up to date machine and yet the hospital which aims to save lives has a very old machine - this is not just Latvia, this is many countries.

The IMF have been requesting that the Latvian authorities start taxing property at a higher rate to raise revenue and this might seem fair normally, but not here. If you come from England or the US, on the whole if you have a lot of property it is because you are rich or because you have inherited it or both.  Sounds good doesn't it? Fair even, the more you own the more you pay, but it is not fair. If you managed to regain lands when the country achieved independence then you may indeed have a place out in the country where you can spend a cheap holiday over the summer, but it probably does not or cannot provide any income and you can only afford to get out there once or perhaps twice a year but its yours. So sell it then, maybe your reply! Who to? Other Latvians who are in the same boat? The rich ogliarchs who have made their money through dubious means? Or the rich foreigners next year when the rules change? Now that does not seem fair to me, that will just drive the Latvians off their homelands and into the hands of foreigners, neo-colonialism. Some Latvians have quite extensive land but do not have the capital to do anything with it at the moment and many may indeed have to sacrifice their land if the tax comes into being, which would be a shame after all they have gone through to get the land in the first place. Making land pay is an issue that has being increasingly talked about for a while now and how to ensure farmers get a fair wage from the work they do on the land etc. but until those issues are addressed then people cannot afford to live out there and it doesn't seem right they have to give up fresh air and sunshine in the summer months in the meantime while the powers that be decide what is right and act on it and help people to make a living in the rural areas.

Well after that depressing thought I thought I would end with something a little more lighthearted. Here in Latvia as soon as the lakes freeze over there are men out fishing on them and it looks really strange to see guys walking around with large borers carried over their shoulders, at least we now know that they are heading to or from the lake. This strange sight carries on until there is barely enough ice to stand on which always seem ridiculous to me and I gather is really dangerous anyway, so it comes as no surprise to find that the Latvians have actually come third in the world ice fishing championships, or maybe it is strange that they only came third, does that mean there are places even more addicted to spending hours sat in freezing conditions waiting for fish to bite? Not my idea of fun.

Photos this week
Photo 1 The land beautiful under such a blue sky
Photo 2 Snowtank on "Tank Hill" - many years ago during Soviet times a real tank sat on top of that concrete mound. I am not sure if it was in celebration of winning a battle or the reminder that they were under domination.
Photo 3 The plasticless polytunnel, all cleared and still waiting to be finished
Photo 4 The rustic workshop still waiting to be finished (do you see a theme here?)
Photo 5 You may have to enlarge this picture but there is really green grass there, only a blade or two but after months of snow that is a sign that all is not dead underneath.
Photo 6 Beautiful snow patterns
Photo 7 Some idea of the depth of snow on the land, it measures at 60cm
Photo 8 The path Ian had to make to get some big pieces of wood for a project - again some idea of how much snow we still have
Photo 9 that is a picnic table - still a while before we will be able to have picnics
Photo 10. I know we have had a long cold winter but I still love the beauty, the stillness and the peace that comes with the snow and this photo shows the otherworldliness of a forest in the winter.

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