It’s the middle of November. November 11th, to be exact. We’re in Old Riga, an elegant part of Latvia’s capital city. The streets are frosty; the night is cold. We’re bundled to the chin in the warmest clothing we have. Knee high boots, thick scarves, ripped gloves that I wish I’d mended. Tall street lamps illuminate winter’s nightfall. Four of us leave the hostel in search of fresh air and for no real reason, meander towards the river. Cold chill, a hand in a pocket.
Hot beverages warm cold fingers. The crowd migrates to the shore, where a series of concrete steps lead to the water’s edge.
The band stops; the crowd falls silent.
From somewhere out of the blackness emerge a dozen men, eight which are brandishing a heavy raft piled high with cuts of timber. Another three carry ten-foot flagpoles; the dark red and white colours of Latvia play around the four corners of the raft. A torch is born by the final man, flames leaping.
Then, a voice. A solitary voice, slowly at first, begins forming words to a song I have never heard – in a language I don’t understand. Before long, the entire crowd has joined in. Enchanting voices all around; the four of us find ourselves totally engulfed in the centre of an impromptu Latvian choir. It is to these words, these sensational voices, that the timbers are ignited and the raft is plunged into the Daugava river. Cast away, flames blazing.
Eyes alight with the glow of fire, maroon and white waving. Ripples from the river reflect the blaze as the people remember and give thanks to the soldiers who lost their lives for Latvia’s freedom.
The song continues. We take a minute to give our own thanks.