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Cowfefe in Latvia

A colourful cow.

A colourful cow.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A town that’s been overrun by fibreglass cows

Ventspils, in whose embrace flows the river Venta, is an ice-free port on the Latvian coast. Located in the historical region of Kurzeme (Courland), its prosperity is linked to the revenues it earns from its port, which services the flow of oil and other minerals from Russia out to the world.

Ventspils has another claim to fame: it is home to a large number of cheerfully bizarre fibreglass cows.

Feminine Cow is colourful, Rocking Cow is frilly pink, Sea Cow is two-toned, while Latvian Black perhaps best illustrates both the agrarian economy and the industrial activity in Ventspils.

Cowfefe in Latvia

It isn’t long before one is gripped by mad cow fever. Walking expeditions are designed in such a way that the chance of meeting one of these painted or decorated cows is increased. Soon, excursions begin to have an emotional moment of triumph when one spots a cow. Photographs are taken and displayed with great delight to others, only to find that they have seen a cow one hasn’t. Yet.

Moo for art’s sake

The promenade along the river, where it flows out to the Baltic Sea, yields the richest and easiest pick of cows. Apparently, they were born during the Cow Parades held here in 2002 and 2012, as part of one of the world’s largest open-air art installations. The cows are auctioned for charity, and the owners are free to do with them as they please. Mostly, they are left on the spot where they were installed.

The levitating entrepreneur.

The levitating entrepreneur.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It takes ingenuity to transcend the standard format. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Levitation of an Entrepreneur above a Kurzeme Blue Cow’ by Aigars Bikše is based on a legend about the secret of success of Kurzeme residents. According to it, by sleeping on a Kurzeme blue cow’s back and concentrating on the animal, one can tune into the reception of divine healing energy. If the meditation is successful, one will levitate above the cow for a moment and the next year will be highly productive. In the sculpture, the man levitates uneasily above the cow, facing the sky. Having grabbed the cow by its horns, his hands above his head, there is a sense that he is riding turbulent air and anything may happen to him.

The cowspotter’s craft

After a while, it isn’t enough to leave this serious business of cow-discovery to chance. One becomes crafty. Maps are sought that mark the spot where a particular cow can be found. For example, Turquoise Cow lives on the corner of Inženieru Iela and Dzeņu Iela. The maps show three separate cow trails, but one wants to draw out these pleasurable encounters rather than see them all at once.

Most cows are placed at ground level, and a few on pedestals, but one day I spotted two cows on a roof. Since then I walk around Ventspils rotating my head at all degrees, up, down and sideways, so that I don’t miss a single cow.

Cowfefe in Latvia

They say there are five cows across the river, a bit too far to walk. One of them is the Aryan Cow of Wisdom, which has this description on the map: ‘According to a legend, Latvians originated from India… Accompanying the Latvian people on their long, long way from India to Latvia, via Tibet, the cow deeply absorbed all spiritual values, thus transforming into an omniscient, archetypal, information-accumulating, wise and all-seeing animal.’

Should one abandon the quest, or take a bus there and tick this last cow off the list? It’s a moo-t question.

The Chennai-based writer is also a dancer and the author of four books.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 11:50:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/cowfefe-in-latvia/article27233328.ece

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