Literary matriarch Aspazija hailed on sesquicentennial

Latvia’s foremost leading lady of literature Aspazija (Elga Rozenberga) was hailed on the occasion of her 150th birthday Monday, March 16 not just in Latvia but also elsewhere around the world where she is well known as one of Latvia’s key poets and playwrights, and the life companion of her age-cohort and soulmate, the poet, politician and social philosopher Rainis (Jānis Pliekšāns).

Philatelists were the first to throw a party for Aspazija this morning at the national Post Office branch Sakta, where a specially dedicated envelope was opened, stamped and inaugurated as the latest commemorative series released by Latvian postal service. The ‘Aspazijai 150’ envelopes were designed by Ģirts Grīva and depict her signature. Only 1000 copies of the limited-edition jubilee envelope have been printed.

Meanwhile at the Aspazija summer home museum in Jūrmala some of the contemporary literary scene’s most illustrious women authors gathered for a birthday breakfast in her honor for a live-broadcast discussion and readings of her work on the Latvian Radio program Kultūras Rondo.

Almost as central a figure for contemporary Latvian literature, author Māra Zālīte shared some of her feelings about Aspazija with LR listeners.

“We always say – Rainis and Aspazija, but actually it’s Aspazija and Rainis… One shouldn’t juxtapose them. They’re the Siamese twins of our literature, because they gave to each other and the results were fantastic!” Zālīte said.

The phenomenon of Aspazija is rooted in the fact that Latvian literature in the late 19th century was undeveloped and lacked any larger-than-life personalities, so the young, incredibly intellectual Elza Rozenberga was able to pull people in with her charismatic way of presenting ideas, unafraid of directness and convinced of her ideals. These are the traits that make Aspazija so interesting to us nowadays, said playwright Inga Ābele, whose work ‘Aspazija. Personīgi’ at the New Riga Theatre is a biographical sketch of the lady writer and politician, directed by Ābele’s collaborator Māra Ķimele and opening Wednesday, March 18.

On her part, Aspazija museum curator Ārija Vanaga expressed the hope that “her day will be celebrated everywhere.”

In honor of Aspazija’s 150th birthday the #mindpower series of short film clips featuring actors portraying Rainis and Aspazija in conversations with representatives of current national cultural scenes among EU member states released its 10th episode with Luxembourgish architect François Valentiny the same day.

Valentiny, world-reknowned for his public buildings in his home country, as well as other structures he has designed in Austria, Germany, Azerbaijan, Brazil and China, reads his interpretation of Aspazija’s poem “The Creative Spirit” in French, while creating a portrait of her.

Last week the #mindpower series released its 9th episode featuring Ioan Holender, former general manager of the Vienna State Opera, who fled to Austria as a child from Jewish persecution in Romania and grew to become the esteemed cultural institution's longest-running director.

In his episode, Ioan Holender interprets an aphorism by Rainis that speaks about the monotony of a person’s life. If a person does not develop his inner world, the achievements of the outer one become meaningless.

 

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