Party season really started in earnest this week; pre Jani party on Tuesday and dancing in the street with excellent live bands at a packed Kalnciema Kvartāls on Thursday and a school graduation celebration on Friday. Three midweek socials; life was never this hectic in London. Latvians really know how to have a good time.
Let me start with the pre Jani party. What I write now, is what I thought I learnt on Tuesday, so I apologise in advance to my Latvian readers if I get this wrong. Jani takes place over 2 days commencing on 23rd June and finishing on the 24th, which just happens to be Janis’s name day (John in the UK). The origin’s of Jani is lost in the mists of time, but it is thought that at one time it was celebrated over a wide part of eastern if not western Europe. Jani was originally celebrated on the 21st June to commemorate midsummer solstice, however with the coming of Christianity it was moved to John’s name day, so St John the Baptist could be celebrated.
It would appear that all Latvians join in the celebrations and I’m led to believe that Latvians do things during Jani they wouldn’t normally do. I’m intrigued to find out what they do. During the Soviet occupation Janis was considered a bourgeois event, but even Russians were known to drink around the bonfires. Now there are a number of elements to Jani, so for my non Latvian readers I’ll highlight them in no particular order of importance:-
- Eating is considered very important and for a traditional Jani three things must be eaten: Firstly a special Jani cheese with caraway seeds. Now I don’t particular like Latvian cheeses, I find them too processed, but the Jani cheese we bought from Kaugari market was quite tasty. Secondly Shashlik and lots of it. Shashlik isn’t a traditional Latvian dish, more Turkish or Armenian, but the Latvians seem to have adopted it as their own and they eat it with gusto. Finally Piradzini. These are probably best described as mini croissants made with a yeast dough and filled with bacon and onions. Freshly made, very yummy.
- Drinking is also very important; any type will do but home made is best. I wonder why?
- Bonfires are made which resemble a piece of architecture and can take a whole day to construct. The Latvian authorities consider Jani a danger to public health and the practice of jumping over bonfires whilst consuming large quantities of alcohol makes it obvious why.
- Herbs and Leaves During Jani men wear crowns of oak leaves and women wear crowns of birch leaves and small flowers. Some crowns will have Rowan/Mountain Ash in the crowns which is meant to keep the witches away. Now we all know there is no such thing as witches, don’t we????
- Singing and dancing. Now this is an odd one. You are meant to sing bad things about your neighbours. Now when half the Latvian population in the countryside don’t have neighbours how is this possible. Lots of dancing occurs but it is largely generic, I’m informed.
- Countryside. Jani celebrations must take place in the countryside, that is why Riga is a very sad place on the 23rd June.
- Janis’s Name Day Now 24th June is the name day celebration for all men who are called Jani and he is the master of the house and his wife the mistress of the house. Everybody else is the 3rd person ie Janis’s children
- Magic. Herbs gathered during Jani are meant to have special properties. Exactly what these properties are I don’t know, so any help would be appreciated.
- Fern Flower This is a bit like believing in Santa Claus. We all know he doesn’t physically exist but if we don’t believe in him, Christmas isn’t as much fun. As the story goes the fern only flowers during Jani and finding one is meant to increase fertility in couples hence the chances of pregnancy. It sounds to me like an excuse to have lots of sex.
Really looking forward to my first Jani. Any suggestions where I should go for an authentic, traditional Jani, would be appreciated.
The party also included a performance by Varis Vētra, actor, singer, songwriter and quite a charmer.
The pre-Jani Party was also eventful for one seriously embarrassing incident which almost caused me to get divorced before I got married. The incident occurred because of my lack of understanding of Latvian body and facial language. Before giving details I think it’s important you know something about me. All my working life up to the age of 30 was spent in restaurants and hotels. This experience formed my personality. I’m considered friendly, easy to get on with and can quite easily start a conversation with complete strangers. When in public and particularly in restaurants I like looking around to see what’s going on. That’s me, so now to the incident. At one point during the evening we were invited in to the kitchens of the restaurant, we were in, to practice making piradzini and sklandrausis. So I put my apron on, so as not to get my clothes covered in flour and started to practice rolling the piradzini. After a couple of attempts I was starting to feel quite pleased with myself. I looked up and noticed a tall, attractive, blonde lady who was younger than my daughter. She had been watching my attempts. She smiled at me, so being the gentleman I am, I smiled back. Thinking nothing of this incident, Inta and I went back upstairs for dessert and waited for the chefs to bake the piradzini. So I’m eating my “Eton Mess” (strawberries, meringue and cream) minding my own business when I look up and this same young lady is in my line of sight and smiles at me again. So I smile back. At this point, I started to feel uncomfortable because every time I looked up a smiley face was there. Of course Inta noticed all this, and I could tell she wasn’t too happy, so I had to move my chair to avoid any further contact. I decided we had better leave quickly and without waiting for the piradzini. Inta subsequently explained to me that in Latvia smiling at women you don’t know is not advisable unless you intend to take things further. A lucky escape I think.
The amount of talent in such a small country, never ceases to amaze me. On Thursday evening we went down to Kalnciema Kvartāls It was a lovely summer evening, lots of people eating, drinking and enjoying two excellent folk/rock banks. An all girl band called Sus Dingo and an instrumental band known as NFO. How does such a small country produce such talent? I suspect there are other bands around Latvia equally as talented. Amazing quality of music from both bands.
On Friday we attended the school graduation ceremony of the daughter of one Inta’s close friends. Needless to say that I had to sit through the proceeding without understanding a word of what was going on. However we were treated to a number of musical performances by students ,of such a high quality, that would put many a UK school to shame. Latvia’s future is very rosy judging by the talents of the young people I have met so far. However I would like someone to explain to me the significance of all the giving of flowers. Everybody who went, took flowers to give to a student, but why?
Next week promises to be eventful. Should finally be signing contracts for the purchase of a house in Limbazi and we get our new car. I’ll let you know how things progress.