Saturday, March 28, 2009


Drama. 2007.
Written and Directed by: Janis Kalejs (segment "childhood"), Janis Putnins (segment "Adulthood"), Gatis Smits (segment "Youth"), Anna Viduleja (segment "Old").
Starring: Igors Suhoverhovs, Karlis Spravniks, Ints Teterovskis, Liubomiras Lauciavicius, Emilija Leiskalne, Irena Tjunina, Tatjana Jansone-Nazarova, Armands Reinfelds, Girts Krumins.

As a rule I am not a big fan of omnibus or anthology films (a single film where different segments are directed by different directors). Usually they are based on a single premise and you either buy the premise or you don't. They tend to be gimmicky. Often they're basically exercises in style not really concerned that much with narrative or storytelling as they are with style and technique. The director's primary goal is to set the overall tenor, mood and pacing of a film. No matter how in sync the directors you always end up with uneven segments. Some fit and some don't. Some are better and some are worse. And that's by design. Otherwise why make an omnibus film. They might be fun to make for those making them, but often not quite as much fun to watch. You either want to skip some segments or wish other segments were longer and you could see more.
The premise of Vogelfrei is fairly simple and promising, four directors tell the story of a single man as he goes through life's stages. As the man goes through life each director, in theory, would bring a slightly different view of his life. As the man changes, so will the film.
The first segment, Childhood directed by Janis Kalejs, introduces us to Teodors. Teodors is a child who seems to, as most children that age, still be finding his way around the world. He seems to be a natural leader who attracts others, but is never quite comfortable with the attention and the demands of social interaction. He doesn't shy away from contact, but it has to be on his own terms. He seems most comfortable and free when he is on his own.
The second segment, Youth directed by Gatis Smits, shows us Teodor as a young man who seems to posses all of the qualities of a young man at his prime. He is good looking and seems to attract others. He is an exceptional hockey player who seems to be flawless on the ice. But despite all of that he seems lost and alienated from everything around him. He seems unsure of himself in any social settings. Not sure of what to say or do. He longs for companionship but isn't sure of how to go about it. The only place where he seems to find himself and solace is on the ice while skating circles around his competition. As confident and skilled as he seems on the slippery ice, its the seemingly solid footing of the world outside of the skating rink that gives him the most problems.
The third segment, Adulthood directed by Janis Putnins, shows us Teodors as a successful business man. He has a fabulous apartment, a housekeeper, a successfull and beautiful girlfriend. He seems to enjoy all of the trappings of a man who has made it and lacks for nothing material, but again seems lost and unsure of his path in life. The existential void in his life is a gaping hole which no matter what he does he can't fill. No matter how many hours he spends at the gym, or at the piano, or in bars trying to pick up attractive women he hungers for something which he just can't seem to sate no matter what he tries to do. This is a man who on the surface has everything he could possible desire, but who is haunted by some unexplained demons just below the surface which drive and torment him. He is a man who should be at peace with his surroundings, but is anything but.
The last segment, Old directed by Anna Viduleja, shows us Teodor as a man finally at peace with himself. Teodors has left the trappings of the big city for the country side where he is now an organist in a small rural church and also acts as a bird guide and hunter for some well heeled big city folk. Teodors is a man of few words who doesn't seem to care what other people think of him or whether or not they need him. He seems to have finally found both himself and the path which he wants to pursue.
Overall, Vogelfrei almost works as a film. Unfortunately, the weakest segment, and the one which needed to be the strongest, is Adulthood. While the transition from Child to Youth seems seamless, the transition from Youth to Adult seems forced and not exactly clear. While you can see the Child in the Youth you can't really see the Youth in the Man. We aren't really sure of how the Youth became the Man he is. The choices seem arbitrary and forced. Yes, this is still the same alienated child/man we saw in the previous segments, but why? We know its in the script and the character has the same name, but he seems to have nothing in common with what came before. The film's saving grace, however, is the last segment. In Old we can again see the Child and Youth in the eyes of the aging Teodors. It makes sense that they would become the man we now see on the screen. Its this last segment which redeems the film and makes it worthwhile watching.


Tobago -- March 14-22, 2009

Tobago advertises itself as the Capital of Paradise and as such isn't far off in its claim. The island is a beautiful place with mountains, lush flora and varied fauna, secluded beaches and a laid back vibe. I chose Tobago for two reasons. The first being is that I needed a place to go diving and it is quickly developing a reputation as a major dive destination. The other is that as a birthday present for my Mom I decided to take her to one of Latvia's only two former colonies. For the record, Latvia's colonial past is colonial only in that Latvia was nothing more than a colony itself at the time. :) Either way, it seemed as good of an excuse as any to travel to Tobago.

The Island

Tobago reminds me the most of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Same laid back vibe and focus on sun and sand. The smaller half of Trinidad Tobago leaves the hustle and bustle of industry and business to the larger Trinidad. Other than tourism there really isn't much of industry on Tobago. There's good and bad in that.

The good is that you end up with a lot of unspoilt beauty and plenty of time for relaxation. The island still retains its primitive charm that isn't always found in places like Cancun for example. One never gets the feeling of the cattle travel experience where one simply moves in packs from one tourist enclave and hot spot to another never really getting the sense of the land.

The bad is that there really isn't much infrastructure on the island itself. Getting around is limited to either taxis or rental cars. While I heard rumors of the existence of public transportation and certainly saw bus stops with locals standing around and waiting the actual sightings of the buses themselves were few and far in between. There really isn't any centralized shopping or entertainment areas. This is not meant as criticism. Its exactly what I was looking for. Just a warning for the traveler who was expecting Cancun or Grand Cayman or Jamaica. As one local expressed it, if you want Cancun, go to Cancun. The main problem this presents is that if you are a spur of the moment budget traveler like me who likes to explore on your own your options are limited. Taxis can get expensive after a while. We did rent a car on Saturday and explored the island a little bit and I would probably recommend that as the best option. Just make sure to pre-plan and research where you want to go and what you want to see because the lack of road signs and centralized locations makes it hit or miss. More of a miss for me, but that was no ones fault but my own.

The lodging

We stayed at the Blue Haven Hotel ( While the hotel is certainly perfectly adequate and I enjoyed my stay I don't know if it quite qualifies as the five star hotel it bills itself to be. Again, this is not meant as a criticism. The service was excellent and the rooms clean. Its just that five stars sets up a different set of expectations. The hotel seems to be rebranding itself as a boutique hotel and that's a far more accurate description of what it is. The only real drawback to staying at the Blue Haven is that it was kind of out of the way. There really is not much to see in the immediate vicinity nor are there many dining options other than the hotel.

The other problem was that Mom at 78 no longer gets around as well as she could so she was kind of limited to the hotel grounds and the pool. The beach is about 200 yards down hill from the hotel. Still for those slightly more mobile and satisfied with lounging on a beach chair and basking in the sun its a perfect location. The grounds of the hotel are immaculate and the beach delivers all that you could ever want in a Caribbean beach. And for the record Mom had no complaints.

A note about the food. I've been to a few of the Caribbean Islands and the food for the most part is almost always of the same quality. As long as you stick with chicken and seafood you'll get good results. The moment you venture towards beef or lamb you are just asking for trouble. The reason for this is simple. The Islands don't exactly lend themselves to grazing lands for cattle. Also, since quite a few of the staples need to be imported meals can be quite expensive. If you are expecting gourmet meals around every corner you are sure to be disappointed.

The Diving

I can see why Tobago is starting to develop a reputation as a diving destination. It certainly doesn't lack for dive sites. We dove the Maverick wreck, Runway reef, Coral Gardens, Cove among others. Saw the usual suspects you find underwater, but a few things stand out. Saw perhaps the biggest stingray I've ever seen resting on the bottom. Easily 6 feet across. Can't think of a single dive where we didn't have a giant sea turtle or two and morays seemed to be hiding in almost every nook and cranny. Found a sleeping nurse shark hiding in a small cave. The only drawback was poor visibility. It reminded me very much of the diving off the coast of Costa Rica. Then again, the poor visibility could also have been due to the fact that it seemed to rain each night. Either way, outside of the Red Sea visibility is almost always a function of luck.

I dove with the Scarborough based World of Watersports ( The diving industry in Tobago is going through some rough times. The global recession has not spared Tobago and the number of tourists and divers is heavily down. Out of five days of diving, three of them were just the divemaster and myself. WOW has been hit harder than most because the shop is located on the grounds of the former Hilton Resort which at the moment lies shuttered after a dispute between Hilton and the TnT government over who should pay for renovation costs. Have nothing but good things to say about WOW. John Borrett, one of the owners, picked me up each morning and was good enough to answer all of my questions about local life during the drive to either the shop or the beach. Andre and Marvin are both excellent divemasters and I'll dive with them again anytime. Having a private chauffeur, boat captain and divemaster for most of my trip worked out great for me, but its probably not the ideal business model. For all of their sakes I hope business picks up soon. They deserve a break.

The only drawback to diving out of Scarborough is that the best dive sites are around Speyside which is on the north end of the island. Roughly an hour's ride by car. WOW does offer transfers to Speyside, but at an additional fee. If the opportunity presents itself I would definitely dive Tobago again, but this time I would base myself in Speyside. If I ever find myself in Scarborough, however, then WOW would be my first stop.

Latvian Tobago


As a small nation few in numbers most Latvians get a kick out of finding any traces of their culture or references to their nation in far off lands. Places which do provide ties can often lead to pilgrimages of sorts. In Chicago the Tribune Tower has one of the stones from Riga's Pulver Tornis ( and in Lincoln, Nebraska you have the bust of Karlis Ulmanis on the grounds of the University of Nebraska (

There really isn't much of the Latvian left on Tobago, but then again we weren't expecting much. We took the drive to Grand Courland Bay and then a little side trip to Fort Bennett. In Plymouth there is memorial for the first Latvian settlers in Tobago. Depending on your expectations it may or may not be worth the side trip. A visit to Grand Courland Bay stands on its own merits. Its a beautiful beach. The Latvian aspects of it just an added bonus for those so inclined. We didn't get a chance to get to Fort James, but we did visit Fort Bennett. While there isn't much of a Fort left other than a couple of cannons and some stones and a small sign offering some background and history describing the place it does offer a fantastic view of the Carribean Sea.

Overall, would I ever visit Tobago again. Probably, but this time I would go there strictly for the diving and the beaches.