Death by Yawning

Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.

Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…

Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. [1]

Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.

The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. [2]

Fishing nets, Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla. [3] The spot is incredibly atmospheric.

It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)

What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.

Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited. [4] Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.

A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.

My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.

NOTES: [1] https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit. [2] Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck [3] Latvia Ethnographic Museum  [4] For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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2 thoughts on “Death by Yawning”

  1. Very informative post. What a quaint courting ritual! As you say, the living conditions seem harsh but I feel they had more fulfilling lives.

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