Day 1 of the Conference
12 Jul 2010
|Vadātājs – (literally Leader) was a type of demon responsible for getting people lost. He can be either visible or invisible. If the vadātājs is in its invisible form, the victim realizes that he or she is walking in circles. In visible form, the vadātājs takes the form of something friendly, such as a child or dog-- and leads victim straight toward death.
-- Wikipedia, "Latvian Mythology"
Today is the first day of the conference-- oh yeah, the reason we're here! Anita arrived yesterday, so she and I have breakfast at the hotel's buffet. Which is WONDERFUL. Like the buffet breakfasts we had in Russia, this one has a fabulous selection of fish, bread, and cheese. I get smoked salmon, a little pickled herring, some rye and pumpernickel, some spreadable cheese in a little package, cucumber, some yummy meatballs with sour cream, and a bowl of Latvian berry yogurt with granola sprinkled in. The spreadable cheese is called Dzintars, which I find out is the word for "amber" in Latvian and is quite popular here. And I see why...when I try it, it looks, spreads and almost tastes EXACTLY like requeijao from Brazil!!! What a great find! I'm so sorry Darin slept in and is missing this. I'll have to make sure he comes and tries this tomorrow.
Anita and I walk to the conference hotel-- or rather, she walks and I walk my bike. Darin and I rented 2 bikes yesterday so we can ride around town. This company called Baltic Bikes has stations around the city where you can call a number, punch in the number of the bike you want to rent, and they text you the combination to the bike lock. When you're done, you call them back, punch in the number of the station you're returning it to, and the company charges your credit card for the number of hours (or days) you had it. Pretty cool! And they're nice bikes. The only catch is you have a big dorky Baltic Bikes sign on your bike that screams "I AM A TOURIST." But we ARE tourists, and trust me, with or without these bikes we are NOT blending in. Everyone always speaks English to us, I'm not sure whether it's our clothes or the way we carry ourselves, but something is definitely giving us away.
We have a little time before the first session begins, so I take Anita up the glass elevator to show her the Skyline Bar-- which, at 9:00am, is closed. But she was quite impressed with the view from the elevator, especially the morning sun shining on the Russian church across the street. We return to the conference, find our seats, and put on our translator headphones. The headphones have three channels: English, Russian, and Latvian. We wear them while the First Lady of Latvia addresses us and thanks us for the work we are doing to make life better for all children. She is very pretty, and sounds sincere. Next we hear opening remarks from the minister of education, who speaks good English, and the president of CEC (our professional organization, Council for Exceptional Children). We also hear a musical number from a visually impaired children's choir-- I was hoping it would be traditional Latvian folk music, but instead it's a song in English called "Welcome to My Country" that someone obviously wrote for conferences such as this one. The male choir director has a lovely tenor voice, and the kids look excited to be there. Next we hear the keynote speaker, and then we break away for our individual sessions. I decide to visit the session of Jacquie, who I met at the tour yesterday-- partly to support her and partly because at lunch she was telling us about a program called Singapore Math and I wanted to learn more abut it.
After the session, I ride back to our hotel to see if Darin's awake. He is, so we take a quick shopping trip to buy another shirt (my suitcase still hasn't arrived and I was wearing Darin's shirt to the conference. I'm not buying any more clothes than I absolutely have to!), and then we return to the conference to have lunch at the buffet. Again, lunch is great, and we see a few people from yesterday's tour. Afterwards, we ride our bikes to the mall and I buy a dress to wear to the reception tonight, then we go back to our hotel and clean up, and I think we managed a quick nap because we were pretty tired.
At 5:30 we met at the conference hotel, and our Latvian guides, who are all wearing orange scarves, herd about 200 of us through Old Town Riga to the Dome Cathedral, where we are in for a real treat! We all sit in the 800-year-old church and listen to a 20-minute recital played on the church's organ. This organ was built by Walcker and Sons in 1882, and was the largest and most technologically advanced organ IN THE WORLD at the time it was built. It was restored in the 1980s and now plays perfectly, even though it's covered with scaffolding in the front. You can see what it looks like without the scaffolding here: http://www.magle.dk/music-forums/801-walcker-organ-riga-cathedral.html
The first song was Tocatta and Fugue, one of our all-time favorites! We tried to record it on our phones, but it sounded awful when we played it back. However, I did find a recording of the same organ playing the same song here: http://www.magle.dk/audio/bach-toccata-and-fugue-in-d-minor-%28frederik-magle%29.mp3 Of course, the recording doesn't do it justice.....you have to hear it live to fully appreciate this amazing instrument, and feel the bass notes rumbling in the pews. It gave me goosebumps. :)
Afterwards, we are taken to the House of Blackheads, an old guild hall which was built in 1330, destroyed by the Germans in 1941, and rebuilt in 1999. It's named the House of Blackheads because its patron saint, Maritius, was a Black Moor from Egypt who was a Christian martyr. He fought for the Romans and was ultimately killed by them for refusing to kill fellow Christians. So the welcome reception is being held in this building. We nibble on finger foods but that just makes us hungry, so Darin and I meet some of our new friends from yesterday's tour group, and while Darin picks up his bike I lead our group to Dada, a restaurant that serves Mongolian food.
It takes a little longer than expected to find the restaurant. At the time, I attributed this to my poor sense of direction, but now I realize that in this fairy-tale country, what MUST have happened was we were led astray by an invisible demon called a vadātājs (see above). Eventually, we do find Dada without getting killed or sold into slavery, and the dinner more than justifies the effort we expended to find it. It's a Mongolian-style grill, which I've never had before, and it's such a great concept: you choose your sauce, go to a buffet and fill up your bowl with whatever looks good, give it to the cook and he grills it and brings it to your table. Awesome. We have a long leisurely dinner, and afterwards Darin and I, along with Melina and Jacquie, decide we're not quite ready for bed yet so off we go to the beer gardens for a nightcap. It's the first time in 2 days that Darin and I have even wanted to look at beer, and we take it easy but have a great time laughing and talking with the girls. We don't stay out too late because I am in DIRE need of sleep, and when we go to bed I tie a shirt around my head to keep out the 4am light. I don't think there's a Latvian spirit in charge of sleeping, but if there were I'd be leaving him gifts.