Latvia – Siberian Sunset

Did You Know?

For a country of under two million people, Latvia has still managed to make some significant contributions to the world. Here is a collection of lesser known facts for the nation that has also gone by the names Livonia, Courland, and Lettland:

Birth of a Nation

A Latvian myth states that their national flag was created when a 13th century chief was wounded in battle and wrapped in a white sheet. Blood from his injuries made the two dark red stripes on either side of the sheet, while the middle remained clean. Another interpretation states that the flag depicts Latvians willingness to fight and lose blood for freedom and liberty. The Latvian flag is sometimes mistaken for Austria’s pennant, despite the difference in red hues.

Latvia Location

Freedom Fighters

In its entire history, Latvia has only enjoyed independence for a total of 44 years, over two stints (1920-40 and 1990-present). The country has been ruled and occupied by the Germans, Swedes, Russians, Nazis, and Soviets, to name a few. Their most recent run of autonomy began with the fall of communism. In 2004, Latvia achieved two of its greatest accomplishments as a sovereign nation, being accepted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Party Time

Latvians technically celebrate two independence days. The first, Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia, occurs every November 18th, while the second, on May 4th, is known as Restoration of Independence Day. That means double holidays! I’d be all for the Canadian government letting other nations take over for the day, if it meant a few extra days off each year!

Forever in Blue Jeans

One of Latvia’s greatest contributions to the world is something most of you might be wearing as you read this article: jeans. Latvian immigrant Jacob Youphes (known as Jacob Davis after moving to North America) created the first pair of denim workpants with his soon-t-be patented rivet, holding together Levi Strauss’ denim. The two went into business together and revolutionized the fashion industry. The orange stitching that appears on jeans is also the work of Davis.

Jeans Washed

Ice Capades

Hockey is the most popular sport in Latvia. Helmuts Balderis was the first Latvian to play in the NHL, when he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in 1989. Because this was the first year Soviet players were allowed to be drafted, Balderis earned the distinction of being the oldest player to ever be selected at age 36 and when he scored his first NHL goal, became the oldest player to score his first goal, at the age of 37.

Crocodile Hunter

It blew the Sip Advisor’s mind to learn that the character of Crocodile Dundee was actually inspired by a Latvian. Arvīds Blūmentāls made his way from Latvia to Australia in 1945. Once there, he hunted reptiles, studied Aboriginals and mined opals. Crocodile Dundee went on to become a smash hit film in 1986 and Blūmentāls’ home in Coober Perdy is a tourist attraction. Back in Latvia, a crocodile monument was constructed in Blūmentāls’ hometown of Dundaga.

Crocodile Dundee

Ring Bearer

Many Latvian men wear a Namejs Ring, which helps them identify each other around the world. The four braids of the ring’s design signifies the solidarity of Latvia and its citizens. The legend behind the ring is that it was worn by Namejs, leader of the Semigallian tribe, which was fighting off the German crusaders invasion of Latvia in the 13th century. He gave this ring to his son, hoping he would be recognized upon his return from battle. It is also a sign of friendship and trust.

Strapped In

Another popular piece of Latvian attire is the Lielvārdes Josta, a red and white woven belt, featuring 22 ancient symbols. The belt serves many purposes throughout the wearer’s life, including being used to hang a baby’s cradle, all the way to eventually carrying and lowering a casket at the end of life. The belt is said to have special protection powers and is worn during special festivities and family events. It can also be used to identify which region of Latvia a person may hail from.

Latvia: Siberian Sunset

Dec 25

  • 1.5 oz Stoli Vodka
  • 0.5 oz Triple Sec
  • Top with Grapefruit Soda
  • Garnish with a Maraschino Cherry

Supervillain Dr. Doom is the ruler of the fictional country, Latveria, which one would have to assume is partly based on Latvia, at least by name. Thankfully, the real Latvians don’t have to deal with an evil dictator like Dr. Doom anymore and can thrive in their freedom.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
The Stoli Vodka drinks go two-for-two with this nice entry. I used Grapefruit Soda instead of juice, as I`m prone to do. The Maraschino Cherry serves as the sun streaking across the sky and makes for a nice little bonus at the end of the cocktail!

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Latvia – Kretchma

Triple Threat

Mikhail Baryshnikov is perhaps the most famous person to call Latvia home. The dancer-turned-choreographer, considered to be one of the greatest performers of his generation, if not all-time, was born in Latvia’s capital city of Riga in 1948. Let’s take a look at the man who has transcended his art and entered other realms of entertainment!

The son of an engineer and a dressmaker, Baryshnikov began his ballet studies at the age of 12. His talent was quickly recognized and in 1964, he was moved to the Vaganova School in what is now St. Petersburg. Early in his career, Baryshnikov was partnered with top Russian ballerina Irina Kolpakova, while they were members of the Kirov Ballet in the former Leningrad.

dance class plie

Baryshnikov defected to Canada in 1974, searching for artistic freedom, instead of being pigeon-holed as a ballet dancer. He quickly joined the American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet, where he also took over the artistic direction of the troupe. Some of Baryshnikov’s best work came while partnered with Twyla Tharp. The two completed projects that include Push Comes to Shove, The Little Ballet, and Sinatra Suite.

The 1977 movie The Turning Point brought Baryshnikov’s talent to the mainstream and introduced a decade-long ballet craze to the United States. Playing Yuri Kopeikine, a Russian dancer and playboy, Baryshnikov was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. The film starred Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine and is about the drama of the dance world… a precursor to the Step Up series, perhaps!?

Baryshnikov’s other film credits include Giselle (also the work in which he made his stage debut in 1967) and White Nights, which is not about cocaine-fuelled parties. White Nights actually teamed Baryshnikov with legendary tap dancer Gregory Hines. The movie featured a number of memorable dance scenes, including one where Baryshnikov pirouettes 14 times while in cowboy boots.

perfect pirouette

On the smaller screen, Baryshnikov appeared in the final season of Sex and the City, as Aleksandr Petrovsky, a successful Russian artist. The character pursues main character Carrie Bradshaw, despite being much older and already having a grown child. Although he convinces Carrie to move to Paris with him, the relationship doesn’t work out and the series ends with Carrie and Mr. Big back together. I never thought I’d write an entire paragraph on a Sex and the City plot.

Baryshnikov’s nickname is Misha, a term which normally might only be used by the man’s close friends and family. After so many people struggled to pronounce his name correctly, he encouraged the use of Misha by friends, family, and fans alike. Baryshnikov used his nickname as the moniker for the perfume he released in 1989. I’ll still never really get why men are able to put out fragrances for women and vice versa, but who am I to question the way the world works.

baryshnikov-quote

Current American Horror Story star, Jessica Lange and Baryshnikov were in a relationship from 1976 to 1982 and have a child, Aleksandra (born 1981) together. The two apparently spoke French when they first met, as Baryshnikov had yet to learn English. A rare heterosexual in the dance world, he also had relationships with ballerinas Gelsey Kirkland and Lisa Rinehart, the latter of which, he has three kids (Peter, Anna, and Sofia) with.

With fellow choreographer Mark Morris, Baryshnikov operated his own modern dance company, The White Oak Dance Project, from 1990-2002. In 2005, he opened the Baryshnikov Arts Centre in New York. He was recently seen in an uncredited role, as Interior Minister Sorokin, in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Baryshnikov has even been honoured with cocktails based on his life and career. The drinks include Dancer, Actor, and World Citizen… now that’s a triple threat!

Latvia: Kretchma

Kretchma Martini

  • 1 oz Stoli Vodka
  • 1 oz Creme de Cacao
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Grenadine
  • Garnish with a Lemon Slice

The only real knock I have against Baryshnikov is that he asked for asylum in the city I hate the most in this beautiful country of Canada. That would be Toronto, the center of the universe according to anyone who lives there. Other than that, the guy’s okay in my books!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
This is a very good cocktail, especially when you use Stoli’s Salted Karamel Vodka. The Grenadine gives it a terrific colour and I’m always surprised at how well Lemon Juice and Creme de Cacao work together.