Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blog 25 Midsummer New Year of Johns Eve 2012
A Young Oak Tree
The reader of my blogs is be familiar with my insistence that Latvians are not of a peasant extraction, but are a forest people deprived of forests by their own and foreign born robber barons. Quite often the people react with a certain amount of incredulity. Hmm, what about the book “Straumeni” by Edvarts Virza http://lv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvarts_Virza ?
True enough. When I was not yet ten years old, I had managed to read the book and was hugely enthusiastic about it. With similar enthusiasm coming from my school teachers at Ergli elementary school, there was a period, when I wrote my essays (“domu raksti”) in Virzaesque sentences: they were long with words as if falling out of a basket known as cornucopia. I usually received the highest mark, a 5. I was too young to know that Virza was describing the Latvian countryside of the 1880s, because it seemed to be the same in 1942.
Since I was earning my keep at my aunt’s farm as a cow herd, and the brook Naruzhina was but a stone’s throw from the grazing fields, I was in the middle of romantic peasant countryside. Every time I turned a stone in the brook, there was almost always a surprised crayfish under it. Some were the almost the size of a one-pound lobster, well, make it half a pound. If I was not quick about it, the crustacean would make a dash for the root covered shore line and try hide in a hole among roots there.  The brook ran through a “grava”, about twenty meters (yards) deep and a hundred to two hundred meters wide forest covered ancient ravine—sometimes through a pine forest, sometimes through hazel brush, and when I followed it far enough, it ended  at an old fashioned dam with an old fashioned waterwheel made of wood, but no longer turning.
Seventy years ago, one hardly ever saw an automobile in Latvia, except at harvest time when the old steam locomotive http://www.teara.govt.nz/files/p18372atl.jpg  came chugging up the country road, and a couple of horses pulled the cultivator behind it. The automobile came along with WW2, even though my father was well enough off to own a Chrysler that leaked enough gasoline to make me carsick almost every time it took me on a visit to grandfather’s home in Kurzeme (Kurland).
My obsession with Latvian forests came when I started reading books about old Europe and the relationship between nature and culture (re: “Landscame & Memory” by Simon Schama and “Traces on the Rhodian Shore” by Clarence Glacken), and how, for example, it took three months to get from France to Poland or beyond, and that the Baltic shoreline or travel by boat was actually the only way to get around Old Europe. It was then that remembrances of earlier unnoted country scenes returned to mind. The same old ravine that Naruzhina flowed through had spruce trees with trunks the size of an arm chair. Of course, the loss of tree cover was not only a Latvian problem. When some ten years ago, I went to visit Esslingen, Germany, the town and displaced persons camp that I spent nearly three post-war years in, had lost all of the forests that had covered the southern shore of the Neckar River Valley. A Mercedes Benz car factory had replaced the old camp site and the forests (granted, not large) where I ran my first 4 km marathon, and in an effort to get my “historian” badge as a Boy Scout, searched the surround for ruins left from Roman times.
As the airplane neared Stuttgart, and I looked to see the once so familiar landscape of the Neckar, I was amazed how—in spite of the vineyards still on the sunny side of the river—overbuilt it had become.
My interest in forests has a lot to do with seeing how the urban environment and Information Technology (IT) saturated environment of our day is unable to maintain democracy http://assange.rt.com/cypher-punks-episode-eight-pt1/ , and how propaganda-cream filled democracy had become.
To return to Virza http://tikainesakinevienam.lv/?tag=eduards-virza ; of the quotes at the link, the one that strikes me particularly relevant is the following:  “Mūsu mazais skaits mums jāatvieto ar lielām īpašībām.” Translated: We need to make use of our small numbers by becoming exceptionally unique.
So, Question: What is unique about Latvians? Answer: Nothing really, but for the curiosity of Midsummer New Year and Johns Days, which for all the banality of Latvia’s politicians and desperate poverty of Latvia’s citizens, remains a day, when Latvians seem not to mind being called Jāņu bērni (Children of Johns).
The Sanscrit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit word for young, ‘jauns’ in Latvian, is yuvan. Thus, my educated guess is that Children of Johns may translate as born again children, born again on the Eve of Johns.

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