Riga: Vermanes Park Stroll
A Stroll Today? Chess Anyone?
Republic of Latvia
August 31, 2014
On this sunny weekend afternoon, family and friends and friends and neighbors get out of the house and promenade, play, perform and pose in the public park. What could be more civilized?
Not counting the pointillist masterpiece by the French painter Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884), I first encountered this civil and civilizing world-wide phenomenon in Greece fifteen years ago.
Large and small, every Greek city and town has a park or a square where, of an evening, the folks in the neighborhood congregate to enjoy each other’s company. Children run around tirelessly; ladies cluster and chat; the men, in serious concentration, consider their strategy in dominoes.
In the park area surrounding the Temple of the Sun in Beijing, China, individuals display their skills with kites or the Ribbon, a component of rhythmic gymnastics. Small choruses or athletic teams entertain themselves and passers-by. The old ladies playing cards or mahjong? Don’t even think about disturbing them!
In Seremban, Malaysia, at City Park 2, the women are up at dawn, jumping and stretching to the aerobics music. The men jog around the park and work-out on the strength equipment. Teenagers are into badminton or basketball or just “hanging out.”
In Kunming, China, in Green Lake Park, the ballroom dancing and exercise routines go on and on until sunset.
In the evening in Liuku, China, while the men watch the kids, dozens of women follow their aerobics master in a bright and spacious square that sits above the river called Nu Jiang. (I myself performed sufficient anaerobic activity just walking up and down the hills of this town at more than 2000m (6500 ft) above sea level.)
My most recent encounter with the “outdoors” is in Northern Europe in Riga, the capital city of Latvia, a former Soviet Republic. The emphasis in Vermanes Park is on the weekend family stroll, with children or dogs, or both. The teenagers (the “we think we are so bad” crowd) preen and parade. And smoke! And “make-out!”
Don’t even think about disturbing the huddled spectators and competitors as they contemplate the next move in a furious match of chess! (Шахматы or šahs.)
My stroll in the park? I follow my well-rehearsed routine, both civil and civilized. I exercise my right index finger on the shutter button; I indulge my addiction to ice cream; I chat up the “bad” kids who turn out to be as sweet as sugar. (Not so much!)
Needless to say, I avoid the chess competition. I do know the difference between the proper moves of a Rook, a Bishop and a Pawn, but truth to tell, beyond that, I haven’t a clue.