There were heaps of sauerkraut and pickled vegetables of all kinds. There were pastries from Latvia and from Uzbekistan, apparently very popular. Piles of pumpkins and other winter vegetables, and towers of spice packages. But the fish market was spectacular. We dug in our memories from elementary school biology class: this is a sturgeon while that is a catfish. This is a pikeperch and that is a bream. Common bream, vimba bream, silver bream, and common roach. Carp, eel, lamprey, char, and salmon. Some dead, but most alive – unfortunately. As we walked through the zeppelin hangars that now are the food market of Riga, I could not help but wonder why, in the midst of all this loveliness, did I have a bowlful of boiled, salted black peas for dinner the night before? It was a “traditional dish” I was told. Very meager, but filling. How immense is the contrast between 800 years of serfdom in poverty and today’s free Latvia?
I could not help but feel for the 800 years of generations of poor laborers who owned nothing and barely ate anything, compared to what the land can really muster to produce, for everybody’s dinner table joy.
(Riga, Latvia; February 2016)