SQUIZ THE WORLD (1400 × 700px)

Squiz the World goes to… Latvia

Art Nouveau in Riga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaU0OJKinlU
UNESCO’s Oral and Intangible masterpieces: https://ich.unesco.org/doc/src/00264-EN.pdf
Latvian Nationwide Song and Dance Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYIgwyML7WQ

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting the Baltic State of Latvia. Now, Latvia is a country… so why did I describe it as a state? Well, there are three countries that are called the “Baltic States”: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. They’re all in Northern Europe, they’ve all got the Baltic Sea on their west coasts, and they all cooperate as members of something called the Baltic Assembly.

There are other countries with coastlines on the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Germany, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and Russia. But they don’t get to be part of the official Baltic States.

So, now we know where we’re heading… 13,000 kilometres north, to the chilly Baltic Sea, you’d best strap yourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner as we take off and take a squiz at Latvia.

Our plane has landed in Latvia’s biggest city, Riga, where one third of the population lives. The city centre of Riga is a World Heritage Site, because of a special kind of architecture called Art Nouveau.

That’s French for “new art”… and back when these buildings were being constructed, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their style was indeed new and exciting. Of course, when we look at it now, it feels really old!
Riga has at least 800 Art Nouveau buildings—the highest concentration in the world. That’s because right when it was the trendy thing to build, Riga experienced a population explosion, and a financial boom. Lots of people moved to Riga, they had money, and they needed somewhere to live.

I’ll stick a link in your episode notes so that you can get a sense of what Riga’s Art Nouveau buildings look like… but for now, imagine buildings decorated with lots of organic shapes and objects… staircases designed with swirling lines… multicolour ceramic tiles … and asymmetrical designs…

Riga is also the capital, and where Latvia’s Parliament meets and president lives.

Over history, Latvia was ruled over by many other people, including the Germans. After World War One, which Germany lost, the Republic of Latvia became independent… but was then forced to join the Soviet Union, led by Russia… then was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War Two… then back to Soviet Control. It finally got to be independent again in 1991.

Whenever you travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

The official language here is Latvian, which is what’s called a Baltic language. We’ve got Squiz Kid Bruno here to teach us a thing or two. Bruno, how do you say Hello?

You give it a try – Sveiki!
People really appreciate it when you just try to speak a little of their language… they may even thank you for it. Bruno, how do we say thank you?
And Paldeis to you, too!

Latvia also has two recognised languages, Latgalian, spoken in the eastern part of the country, and very similar to Latvian… and Livonian, which currently has ONE native speaker… a kid born in 2020!
Kuldi Medne’s only two years old, but her parents are language revivalists… meaning they want to bring back the Livonian language. So they’ve learned it, and it’s all they’re speaking to Kuldi… imagine being the only native speaker in the world of your language…

Now that we can communicate a little bit, it’s….

School in Latvia is fairly similar to school in Australia… the biggest differences are that they don’t have to wear school uniforms… and they must learn English as a foreign language, followed by a second foreign language—Russian, German, or French—when they get to middle school.

How fantastic, to have every students speaking at least three languages when they finish school.

And there’s one other thing I am SURE kids in Latvian schools spend a lot of time doing… singing. Every school in Latvia has a choir, and every community does, too. Let’s learn more!

Latvia is known the world over for its folk songs. What’s a folk song? There are different definitions, but essentially, it’s music that’s passed down from generation to generation, and that tells an important story of that country or culture. In Australia, Waltzing Matilda is probably our best known folk song.

In Latvia, people have been singing folk songs for over 1,000 years. Experts in these sorts of things say there are at least 30,000 Latvian folk song melodies! And Latvians have used song to protest – particularly against Russian rule – and to celebrate.

Every five years, one of the biggest singing and dancing events in the world happens in Latvia. Around 40,000 Latvian folk dancers, choir singers, folklorists and orchestra members all come together for a week to perform, and to celebrate Latvian identity. The Latvian Nationwide Song and Dance Festival has been happening since 1873, and nowadays, more than half a million spectators come to enjoy it. The next one happens in 2023… sign me up!

The festival emphasises a capella singing, which is what we’re hearing now… no instruments, just voices singing the Latvian National Anthem. Isn’t it beautiful?

The festival is so important, that it’s been included in the UNESCO List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Which is a VERY complicated name! Oral means that it’s something that isn’t written down, or physical… and intangible means that you can’t put a price on how special it is… it’s just a very beautiful, very important cultural thing that makes our existence on Earth special. I’ll put a link in your episode notes to the full list of 90 UNESCO masterpieces, as well as some video of the festival itself.

Phew! All that singing and dancing, I’m starving! I think it might be…

One of the most well-known traditional Latvian foods is pīrāgi (pronounced as pee-rah-gee [gee like the first syllable of geese]). These are crescent-shaped bread rolls, filled with bacon sautéed onion.
Many Latvian families make a ton of these bacon buns for Christmas Eve… and every family has a recipe that is passed down through the generations. A huge thank you to the Latvian Embassy, which has sent through their recipe to us for you to give a try yourselves. It’s in your episode notes… and if you’re not a bacon eater, I hear they’re also delicious stuffed with mushrooms…

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. Why is two year old Kuldi Medne a very special Latvian?
Question 2. What architectural style is Riga best known for? I’ll give you a hint, it’s a French phrase that means “new art”
Question 3. What is a capella singing?