Question: What’s more entertaining than a bunch of drunk, toothless, cross-eyed Russians playing football with an empty bottle?
Answer: The 16th Annual Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, that’s what!
Or at least that’s what I hoped on Saturday afternoon as I headed for the train. Friends had assured me that this one was worth seeing, that this one wouldn’t be a let-down, that even I wouldn’t be disappointed…
I found a seat on the train and looked up to find myself sitting opposite a man who was almost certainly a serial killer. He was accompanied by his wife (she could have been his mother – in Latvia, there’s usually very little difference anyway). She was sporting a rather eye-catching mole on her cheek that closely resembled a small hairy potato. It’s a wonder the other Latvians haven’t tried to eat her. I came to the conclusion that they were riding trains scouting for potential victims, or looking for potential places to bury said victims along the way.
You can imagine my relief when I stepped off the train and into the waiting arms of Yummy Jānis. Jelgava is his stomping ground after all… convenient, right?
We made a beeline towards Uzvaras (Victory) Park where all the action was taking place. Tickets handed over and hands stamped with a large ‘K’ (no idea why), we walked into the park. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but I guess it was something a little more spectacular and a little less soggy field.
The problem was that the temperature was around +5 – unheard of for this time of year in Latvia – and while I’m quite happy with the mild winter we’re having, it’s not exactly ice sculpture-friendly. The theme of the festival was ‘Wonderland’ but really, it was a bit more like walking in ‘Woundedland’. Faces had melted off, limbs were missing and (what had possibly been) Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” lay in large chunks of ice on the ground.
Shrek and Donkey had fared a little better – although they were both missing an ear, there was an endearing lop-sided symmetry to it.
One of the few pieces that was still intact was a rather lovely sculpture called ‘Moon Angels’, created by two Estonian sculptors. The angels still even had their wings attached which was a bonus.
As we sloshed about through the puddles, mud, slush and sculptors’ tears, something caught Yummy’s eye – the ice slide. He steered me towards it with an enthusiastic ‘Ooh, let’s go on that!’ As we climbed the wooden steps to the top, I noticed (with my keen observational eye) that we were the oldest people there by 25-30 years. But hey, we were in this together, right? Wrong. Yummy went to the top of the queue to ask if adults could slide too. ‘Sure’, said the girl and then he was off down the steps again. ‘Wait, aren’t you doing it too?’, I cried plaintively. ‘No, I’m too big. Have fun!’ Hmm.
I maneuvered myself onto a child-sized plastic tray with a lot of ungainly sliding around and, with a helpful push from the assistant, I was off – at about 4 km an hour. I hadn’t quite gained the momentum to make it past the flat middle section of the slide so there was some furious hacking at the ice with my heels, and futile clawing at the sides to try to get myself moving again. I eventually chugged to the bottom of the slide, feeling like a bit of a muppet, but unable to stop laughing.
With my workout for the day taken care of, it was time for some liquid refreshment in the form of hot cranberry vodka from the rather cool Ice Bar.
We then made our way to the ice sculpting demonstration which I’d been looking forward to – surely the ice would last long enough for the sculptors to hack it into some sort of shape? Thankfully it did, and this part of the day really did not disappoint.
At this stage, my icy feet could probably have been sculpted so we decided to skip the rest of the action and head for home. After a stop-off at Yummy’s place so he could pick up the food he’d bought the day before (really??), and an additional stop-off at Rimi so I could buy a plate he could eat off (I’d broken my spare during the week), it was time to get the train back to Riga. Once at my place, I stationed him in the cooking position and settled in for the real show with a nice glass of wine.
Again, I wasn’t disappointed.
Related articles: You can also check out my journalistic debut (ahem) over at The Baltic Times.