Close encounters of the interesting kind

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

Airline travel – we all hate it, but with the world’s most fabulous grandbaby living in a faraway state, Dan and I travel by air quite a bit.

After you’re finally checked in, and your heart rate slows down, airports are fabulous places for people watching. During our most recent trip, while waiting for our flight, I watched an anxious little girl holding tightly to her mother’s hand, her other hand stroking the paws of her favorite stuffed animal.

For almost an hour, I watched an unfortunate lady at our gate worshiping at the altar of the “something went wrong, please fix my ticket” counter. A girl walked by in what seemed to be a cheerleader skirt paired with pink combat boots while a sinister, not a smile to be seen, tall man carrying a book, took a seat at our gate.

Near us was a 20-something girl carrying what looked like a crown, lovingly covered in protective plastic, carefully held. The crown was intriguing and I’m always curious, so when fortune smiled on us and her plane seat was across the aisle, I had Dan ask her about the hat.

The girl, Diaña Stamberga, was Latvian, and was headed back home for the 150th anniversary of the Latvian Song and Dance Festival. The crown was part of her traditional Latvian national dress and reflects either the region of Latvia one is from, or the family of the singer. It stays on one’s head via good posture and is very heavy.

The festival is part of the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list. It has been operating since 1864, going underground during the 1940 Soviet occupation, and reemerging after the 1991 Latvian liberation. It is one of the largest amateur choral and dancing events in the world and I had never heard of it. The outdoor stage will contain 18,000 singers, all vetted, all who have practiced many hours for this event. The audience five years ago was 60,000 and is expected to be larger this year. I was amazed.

When we landed in Atlanta, Dan and I were treated to the contortions of the sinister tall man extracting himself from his seat while still bent double. We had a small conversation with him, while avoiding the undoubtedly annoying question of basketball. He wasn’t sinister, just burdened with excessive height.

On the longest leg of our flight, we met a woman who told us she had her mid-life crisis at 32, cashed in her 401k and moved to Spain. We asked her how long she lived there. She laughed, “Until my money ran out, about six months.” Latvians, problems of the exceedingly tall and an early mid-life crisis event. There was a lot going on.

When traveling there is so much to see and to ponder. Here are multiple life stories, experiences and traditions, crossing paths across the continent, across the world, passing each other, many with the possibility of discovery. When it doesn’t seem intrusive, when it doesn’t seem that cultural expectations would make an inquiry inappropriate, in other words, if you are as nosy as a cat, consider asking about something that seems interesting.

Dan and I have many trips in front of us, time and babies wait for no one. Stay tuned for possible interesting stories.

Travel makes you realize that no matter how much you knowthere’s always more to learn.” — Nyssa P. Chopra, The Cultureur …

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


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