The cars reduce speed at the entrance to the town and speed up five minutes later at the exit, but if the drivers glance to left and right as they go, they catch brief, tantalising glimpses of things that almost, but not quite, make them pull over and explore: a spire, a fountain, a dome, a new factory.
On The Road with LG Optics
Company: Light Guide Optics International
Product: Fiber Optic Cable
Location: 56.355304, 26.163153
Address: Līvāni Glass Museum, Domes iela 1, Līvani, LV-5316
Time: 21 June, 10:00
Temperature: +24 C
Weather: Sunny, hot.
What it takes to make you stop is an appointment with a local who can show you around. In this case it is Gunta Ivdre of Light Guide Optics International (LG Optics), a high-tech manufacturer of fiber optic cables and bundles which has been based in Līvāni since 2004.
“This is Europe's capital of fiber optics, without any question” explains Gunta at the firm's manufacturing facility.
“At present we have two 'towers' producing optical fiber from the second floor down to the first floor for our medical department and our industrial department, but we plan to build three more towers – two for production and one for research and development.”
“For industrial needs we produce industrial cables, which are individual fibers with different kinds of connectors and ferules, and industrial bundles which are made up of from two to 26,000 fibers – though 2,000 to 4,000 is more normal.”
LG Optics employs 135 people in Līvāni, sourcing many of its specialist technicians locally thanks to a Līvāni offshoot of the University of Latvia and Riga Technical University.
In fact there are two major manufacturers based in the town, both having their origins in an earlier company which in turn traces its history back to a classified Soviet-era project to produce what at the time were amazingly advanced fibre strands for use in military communications and the space program. Nor does the long, thin history end there: the secret research department was part of the well-known Līvāni glass factory, which in turn resulted from Līvāni's long history as a center for glass-blowing, which taps into Latgale region's ancient reputation as a place with a rich history of craftsmanship of all kinds.
And that explains why the place Gunta has chosen to bring us next is not the LG Optics factory but the Latgale art and craft center, incorporating the Līvāni glass museum. Right on the bank of the Daugava in a beautful location, it immediately rewards the decision to stop that any of those passing cars, trains – or even boats - might make.
“When the American ambassador came to visit, the river was in flood – so we brought her here in a boat. She liked it a lot,” remembers Gunta. “It's strange to think that here we are in Latgale, but cross the river on the ferry and in a few minutes you are in Zemgale, with quite different traditions.”
Waiting inside then as now is guide Silvija Podniece, an irrepresible source of information about everything from woodworking to folk costume. But it is in the halls dedicated to glass and the workshops where master craftsmen and women still go about their business that her enthusiasm rises higher than any flood waters.
“Do you know what this is?” Silvija asks, holding up what looks like an elegant green glass brick. “No? It's from the Latvian Freedom Monument! The glass band up the center is made from Līvāni glass!”
On the way out of the museum, despite being still dazzled by the multicoloured glassware and the white heat of the glass-making furnaces which are kept permanently butning, your eyes cannot fail to see something else manufactured here in Līvāni: a Lielvarde belt, an integral part of Latvian folk costume. This one just happens to be the longest one ever made. Just a few centimeters wide, it was supposed to be 84 meters long but when it was all been assembled from the contributions of the weavers who were part of the project, their enthusiasm meant it turned out to be 94 meters long. Now THAT'S long and thin.
This series is produced in cooperation with The Red Jackets organization which unites the best exporting brands from Latvia with top-notch products, services, knowledge, and values. These are brands rooted in Latvia and the movement aims to spread the word about Latvia through its brands, exceptional people and inspiring places. Supporters of the Red Jackets movement include the European Commission representation in Latvia and ALTUM state-owned development finance institution.