To get to the Freedom Monument in Riga, we first passed through Bastejkalns, “the last bastion of Riga”, a leafy park standing on the mound of a 17th century bastion that was taken down in the 1860’s.
We had time to see a little part of it. Then I got attracted by Apsara tea house – where guests sat comfortably on mattresses or cushions spread on the floor – so my family gave in to my whim.
There were different sorts of tea there. Walls on the second floor were made of glass. It felt nice to sit on the cushions and look outside – at people, boats and cars passing by. Alas the service was so-so and the cushion stank somewhat. It didn’t feel fresh.
It was there that cousin, aunt and I started talking about the population problem in the Philippines. Latvia is not among the richer European countries, and yet it feels rich to live there. It probably helps that there are only two million people to control and support. Unlike the Philippines with its 98 million people.
Anway, it was through the Bastejkalns that I have become more aware of the black berets. I have never much thought about black berets until Latvia (I have seen a lot of fashionable red berets in Paris though).
Actually, black berets can be seen all over the world – it’s a common headgear in the armed forces in many countries including my homelands Sweden and the Philippines.
But the black berets have somewhat a sad tone in Riga. It pertains to the OMON troops – a special police unit in previous Soviet and was used in hostage crisis.
In 1991 (a year when when I still lived in Guadalupe, and worked for the then president of the Philippines Cory Aquino) the OMON troops aka Black berets tried to storm barricaded government buildings. Five people were killed. Local people regularly renew the flowers on the memorial stones which bear these victims’ names.
From Apsara Tea house and the Bastejkalns, we walked towards the Freedom Monument, the symbol of Latvian independence. There, my cousin Wawi forced us to take jump shots. We let Tuwa be the photographer. And we did the jump shots for at least 20 times. People started looking at us as we wildly jumped, in pursuit of the perfect jump. Never reached perfection though. But we did intimidate other tourists, according to aunt. Nobody dared take shots while we stood and jumped there. They all just stood around us, watching.
In the base of this monument are statues, among them that of Lacplesis. I want to remember Lacplesis – the bear-slayer with mixed animal-human parentage. He has bear-like ears. He convinced an important Estonian giant to cooperate with him and fight foreign foes. They were doing well in fighting invaders until a traitor revealed the source of strength of Lacplesis. A black knight (a German giant) cut off Lacplesis’ ears plunging Latvia into 700 years of misery.
The story goes that Laclepsis will rise again. Something like Jesus?