Monday, 19 April 2010

What a week it's been

A Latvian tradition at weddings to place a lock on a bridge

I mentioned two weeks ago our car failed its technical inspection (MOT for the Brits), the wheel bearing was bust on our two year old vehicle. Fortunately it was fixed under guarantee with no questions asked at the garage; we did wonder if they would quibble with it. We had a sneaking suspicion the failure was due to an underlying problem exacerbated greatly by the violent shaking that the inspector put our car through to test the suspension. I guess we should be grateful to him, if that was the case, as it saved it breaking whilst we were driving into Riga a two and half hour journey away. What we didn't want, however, was another repeat of the violent shaking on the re-test so we took it to a different vehicle inspection garage and they were much more gentle with the car. I think we will be there next year as well, as the guy who did the test actually spoke pretty good English - always a bonus but I guess also continues to make us lazy with the language.

Ruin at Aizkraukle
I know that learning the language is important and I am still picking up words. Just as in Denmark I often find that I know the Latvian for words that my friends do not know the English for. Nouns I am fine with, linking them together into a conversation is another matter entirely. It did strike me though that you can know a language fluently and still not be able to communicate. I feel we have been able to communicate to our neighbours our love and care for this place by gardening and making sure we take our turn on the cleaning rota (roster) and occasionally going the extra mile, like clearing ice in winter or brushing up the stairs when it is not our turn when we know it is our boots that have carried a lot of mud in. We also make sure we shop locally and these things are noticed. I am not being vain in the least, when you are a foreigner in a small place with few foreigners there is no hiding and you live life in a goldfish bowl. All these actions do communicate though, in many ways much more than words can and I think that is why we feel very accepted by our neighbours - maybe not all of them but enough to feel welcome to stay.

View of the Daugava river from Aizkraukle
On the subject of gardening, one of the decisions we made this year was to buy a rotavator. Ian has served his apprenticeship over the last two years and dug the allotment plot by hand, getting rid of many of the weeds. This year though he hasn't got the time to do that. The tractor drinks far too much diesel to warrant bringing it all the way from the land to plough the allotment and for medium sized areas a rotavator is needed really. This means we can also dig over the allotment at the other flat too, as well as small areas on our land and in the polytunnel. It does feel a bit like cheating but we do have to be practical too. We went to the diy store to have a look at them and they managed to find someone to help us in making a decision who spoke English, well kind of. He actually spoke English with a heavy Irish accent. There were times that I could hardly understand him and I had a dickens of a job trying not to laugh when he used distinctly Irish phrases. It just seemed so bizarre to be stood in Latvia, speaking to a Latvian with this pronounced Irish accent including the mannerisms of the Irish and to top it all he even seemed to have picked up the Irish blarney - the way of speaking none stop to make a sale. At least he managed to convince us that the cheaper rotavator was the way to go as it was less likely to be costly if it hit a stone. The more expensive one though would perhaps have been easier to manoeuvre, plusses on minuses on both sides. Ian couldn't wait to use the rotavator so off he went when he got home to try it out on one of our allotments, and the following morning he did the one outside the apartment where we live, the one that took two years to dig over! Now that is saving time!

Aizkraukle ruin
Well as if we haven't got enough to do we also helping some friends of ours to realise a dream and buy a farm for them. This one is 10.5 ha (26 acres) of arable and 26 ha (64 acres) of forest. The property is also right next to a lake but that means there is a drawback with the forest as it can only be selectively cut and never clear felled - which is fine by us as I don't like the idea of clear-felling anyway - it devastates eco-systems and of course doesn't look pretty for quite a while. The intention was that we were going to own half of it (well 49%) but we can't even own half of agricultural or forest land until next year when the laws, hopefully, change. It doesn't stop us building up a business with our friends though, we hope to grow vegetables and they will be raising animals and we can supply the feed for that too. Between the two forests we can also develop some commercial enterprises from them - not quite sure yet what but we have a few ideas floating around like charcoal, mushrooms and willow structures. So if you have any ideas then do let me know.

Yes, our poly tunnel actually now has plastic on it!!!
The big news this week has obviously been the ash from the Icelandic volcano. Once again the fallout from Iceland brings severe disruption to Northern Europe, only it isn't the banks this time. Interesting how such a sparsely populated out of the way place can bring about so much chaos. Riga airport has been shut too and a team from England who flew over to help out in a local camp were due to fly back today (Monday April 19th) and have now been told they can't get back before the 1st May, fortunately that is a hardship they can take. Another friend was due to fly out to Latvia from England last week and won't be making it out until the summer I guess now. How inconvenient I now have to wait for my special delivery of face flannels to arrive (I just can't get what I consider normal sized face flannels here in Latvia). I am sure I will get over it though. And just in case you don't know me that well, I am joking. For some people though they can get so wrapped up in their own little worlds that something like that can be a major annoyance but for many people this whole episode is more than inconvenience I know.The strange thing is though, that just as scientists predict that things would be hotting up and causing us all sorts of problems God seems to send us something to cool things down a little and show that there is more ways to travel than by air. It has been quite interesting how inventive people have become over their attempts to get home and some have enjoyed the challenge. It has also caused others to wonder what a world would be like without planes. These kinds of things get me excited as it means people are being forced to think outside the box, and that makes life less predictable but more exhilarating and rewarding.

I love this view out of the polytunnel.
Of course there has also been no end of moans about the costs to the airlines, but what about the positives? I guess those going on holiday or wanting to get somewhere aren't happy but the hotels close to airports will be as are the ferry and train operators. Are those gains taken into account? What about the gains from staycations? Or people saving money instead of spending it on holiday tack? Surely there are some winners as well as losers? Maybe some farmers who normally export will suddenly find there is an internal market after all and not need to export their goods by plane. There are those of course who chose to make a fast buck by driving people somewhere at extortionate prices which was not a very positive thing to do, or the raising of prices by hotels near airports but a lot of good will have come out of it. For some the extended holiday (vacation) means extra time spent with their children, it has meant being resourceful, it has meant that people actually begin to wonder what would happen in a world without planes.

By the way I found out this week I am not going completely mad, the captions for the photos are only available on the Blogger draft and not the regular blogger and so I wasn't able to add captions at all before anyway.

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