You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

Now that I am living in Lithuania, there are certain Lithuanian words that I use and see on daily basis.  These words have become ingrained in my brain.  I don’t have to translate them into English; I just know them and use them in Lithuanian.

Please/Thank you/You are welcome

Open/Close (on stores and offices)

Push/Pull (on doors)

How much does it cost?

Check, please.

Excuse me, I’m getting off at the next stop (for crowded trolleybuses)

Working in the KGB archives on daily basis, another set of Lithuanian words has become ingrained in my brain.  However, I am happy to say that I am not using this vocabulary on a regular basis outside of the archives.

Committee for State Security (aka KGB) Investigative Section

Criminal Code of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic

Criminal file

Disturbing the public order

Administrative punishment

Witness statement




When I come to Lithuania, I always look forward to eating varškė (pronounced varsh-keh) — because I can’t get it anywhere else.  Varškė is a mild, white cheese that is similar in consistency to feta cheese, just a bit moister.  Like feta, it comes in blocks or crumbled in curds.  Varškė is very versatile.  I like to eat it sliced on bread with cucumbers or tomatoes.  It is also used as a filling for blyni, a type of pancake or heavy crepe.  Varškė comes in small plastic containers with fruit on the bottom, like yogurt but creamier.  Best of all, varškė can be sweetened and used in desserts such as cheesecake and pastries.  My favorite treat is varške covered in chocolate.  Small chocolate-covered varškė treats comes in a variety of flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  They are the perfect treat after a meal.  The challenge is limiting myself to just one a day!

My favorite varške treats -- covered in chocolate or with fruit -- yummy!

My favorite varškė treats -- covered in chocolate or with fruit -- yummy!

Vilnius has an extensive public transportation system.  Trolleybuses run from downtown to the city neighborhoods.  Buses run from downtown to the suburbs.  A bus ticket costs about 75 cents and monthly bus passes are also available.  You can purchase bus tickets and monthly passes at the newspaper kiosks that are everywhere on the main streets.

The buses and trolleys operate on the honor system for payment.  Fares aren’t collected as you board (or depart) the bus.  If you are using a bus ticket, there are small machines mounted on the walls of the bus where you insert your ticket to get punched (each trolley has an individual pattern).  Teams of ticket checkers periodically board trolleys and buses to check the punched tickets and passes.

To get from my apartment to downtown, I take a trolleybus.  Four trolley lines stop at the bus stop located about 50 feet from my building.  Depending on where I am going, it’s a 10-20 minute ride into town.   In the three weeks that I’ve been here, my bus pass has only been once on the trolleybus.   I was told that it used to be quite entertaining to see people trying to jump off the bus when the ticket checkers boarded.  Apparently the fine was so low that riders were more willing to risk getting caught.  But a recent significant increase in the fine amount has encouraged people to actually pay for tickets and bus passes.  For convenience and to be a good — albeit temporary — citizen, I buy a monthly bus pass.

Soviet-era trolleybuses are still running

Soviet-era trolleybuses are still running

A new trolleybus with advertising on the side

A new trolleybus with advertising on the side

Today was my birthday so I took a day off from working in the archives.  I decided that, if I had to celebrate my birthday in a foreign country far from my friends and family, I was going to have fun.  My neighbor Giedre and I had great plans to go to a museum or a concert, but all the museums are closed on Mondays and there wasn’t a cultural event to be had in this town on this evening.  So instead we went to Akropolis –a huge mall on the outskirts of town — to go bowling.  The bowling alley was full of teenagers on a Monday afternoon, but I figure that shows I’m young at heart!  We bowled three games in our one hour slot.  I actually scored 91 points on the last game — nearly broke 100 — but Giedre easily beat me in all three games.  After lunch, we walked around the mall and had gelato.  I treated myself to a new Lithuanian-English dictionary with approximately 100,000 words (twice as big as my current dictionary).  It’s appropriately titled The Grand Lithuanian-English Dictionary.

This evening we had dinner at my new favorite restaurant in Vilnius — Sue’s Indian Restaurant.  I love Indian food and Sue’s has great food and a view of Cathedral Square in downtown Vilnius.  All in all, I had a fun birthday and I’m looking forward to a great year.

Celebrating in style at Sue's Indian Restaurant, Vilnius

Celebrating in style at Sue's Indian Restaurant, Vilnius

Last Saturday I went to see the new movie Defiance starring Daniel Craig.  The film tells the story of a Jewish band of partisans during World War II in what is today Belarus (it was part of Poland at that time). The movie was filmed in Lithuania — and mostly in forests outside of Vilnius, about 120 miles from where the actual partisans lived and fought.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland and Lithuania (as well as other countries), bands of partisans took to the forests, fighting a guerrilla battle against occupiers and collaborators.  The partisans then fought against the Soviet troops that re-occupied their countries as the Nazis retreated.  The partisans were supported by the local populations, sometimes willingly and sometimes not, with food and other supplies.

Defiance tells the story of a band of Jewish partisans, in itself unusual, that not only fought the Nazis but saved over 1,200 Jews by maintaining a civilian community in the forest.   It’s a fascinating story and the movie is fairly good.  It’s not a great film– it seems torn between being a human drama and an action war film and it plays a bit heavy on the “Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt” theme.   However, the actors who play the brothers who led the partisan band are all good and, as with any film about war and the Holocaust, it raises difficult questions about how human beings respond when confronted with evil.

I don’t know much about this topic so I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of the film, although I will say that most “historical” films are more fiction than history.  The complexity of history is usually sacrificed for a good movie narrative.  In this case, the film opposes the two older brothers in order to present the dilemma of whether the partisans should prioritize fighting the Nazis or saving civilians.   While I can’t say that I highly recommend the film, the acting is good and it is certainly a story that makes one think about difficult moral choices — something I think that we always benefit from doing.

The film is in English and Russian (presumably with English subtitles in the U.S.).  I’m still trying to figure out if Daniel Craig was really speaking Russian or if it was dubbed.  Here the film was subtitled in Lithuanian so when the actors were speaking Russian, I was completely focused on trying to read the Lithuanian, listen to the Russian and keep up with what was going on.  As a result, I wasn’t able to just go with the flow of the film — but I did get a lot of language practice all at once!

With the wonders of the internet, it sometimes feels like I am still in Seattle instead of on the other side of the world.  I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition via KUOW’s web site (albeit in the late afternoon).  I listen to my favorite Seattle radio station, 103.7 The Mountain, on-line.  I watched the inauguration on CNN.  I can call friends and family with Skype and they can call me on a Seattle telephone number.  And, of course, email keeps me in touch.

But, thanks to U.S. copyright laws, there is one important thing that I can’t do on-line — watch the final 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  I am a HUGE fan of the SciFi Channel series.   I gave up cable when I started graduate school, but I was able to keep watching Battlestar Galactica via streaming video on  It turns out, however, that I can’t do that from Lithuania.  As I recently discovered, U.S. copyright laws prohibit U.S. television shows from being streamed on the internet outside of the U.S.  And is clever enough to know that my laptop is plugged into the World Wide Web in Lithuania.

A fellow BSG fan suggested I check out the British network Sky1 since they carry the show in Great Britain.  The new episodes are available on their web site, but I would have to pay about $3 at the current euro exchange rate.  iTunes has the new episodes for $2.99 each.  So now I have to make a decision — is it worth $30 to know NOW what happens to the humans and cyclons or can I wait until I get back to the U.S. and rent the DVDs at Rain City Video?  Such a dilemna!

I’ve only been working in the archives for two weeks and already I feel overwhelmed by the number of documents that I am finding.  Of course, the good news is that there are a lot of documents that are relevant to my research topic, which means I should have enough material to write a dissertation.  On the other hand, keeping track of all these documents is no easy task.

I am photographing documents rather than photocopying — easier to carry and easier to make back-up copies.  I load the photos from my digital camera to my laptop while I am still at the archive so that I can check to make sure the photographs are readable.  This way I can re-photograph right away if there is a problem.  (This very helpful tip came from a fellow grad student who makes another heroic appearance below).  When I get home in the evening, I re-name the .jpegs with the page number of the document and sort the photos into folders based on the archive’s numbering system.

The next step is to record all the details about each document (title, date, where it is located in the archive) so that, once I start writing my dissertation, I can put that information into footnotes and the bibliography.  Last night I started to enter information into EndNote, a database software for creating academic citations, and was suddenly faced with the realization that I didn’t know how to categorize these documents nor did I know what information I actually need to keep track of.  So I did what any self-respecting grad student would do — I sent panicked emails to two of my fellow grad students who have experience with archival documents and, in one case, EndNote software.  Then I went to bed.

When I got up this morning, I had long responses from both of them with lots of useful tips and information.  This evening I tackled the project again.  It’s a time-consuming process to enter all the data, mostly because I am either transliterating Russian or typing in Lithuanian.  My plan is to get all the current documents entered into EndNote by the end of the weekend.  Starting next week, I will enter the citation details each evening when I process the photos.  It will be much easier if I enter each day’s documents as I go along rather than let two week’s worth “stack up” like this.   That said, I better get back to EndNote and entering the next document…

I’m feeling a bit like the boy who cried “Wolf!”  I made a big deal about moving to Lithuania where it is REALLY COLD.  But it hasn’t actually been as cold as I expected (and as I hyped it up to be).  Instead of below zero temperatures, it’s been in the mid-20s Fahrenheit since I arrived.  Today the high temperature was actually a balmy 34 degrees Fahrenheit.  Much of the northern United States has been much colder over the last week.

I will add that, according to, it usually “feels like” 10 degrees colder,  so when it’s 24 degrees outside it feels like it’s 14 degrees.  That’s plenty cold for me.  I am definitely wearing my long underwear, 2 pair of wool socks, wool sweaters, heavy coat, gloves, wool scarf and wool hat every day.  And there is snow on the ground and at least snow showers most days.  So I am not saying that it isn’t cold; just that I have to confess that it’s not 20 below!

This is the third time I have lived in Europe for an extended period of time.  While living in Europe, I often hear criticisms of the United States, many of which are very valid.  I love my country but I have to admit that I am not always proud of the way America behaves in the world.  As a citizen, I believe that it is important to recognize my country’s weaknesses and failures and to speak up and act for change.  But I also believe that it is important to speak up for what my country does right.

This evening I watched the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States on CNN streaming live video and I want to say that I am proud to be an American.   The whole ceremony was amazing.  You gotta love Aretha Franklin singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  To see Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma perform together was incredible.  I was moved by Rick Warren’s invocation and I do hope that, as Americans, we set an example not only of prosperity but of humility and justice.  And I was inspired by President Obama’s speech.  The United States is facing many challenges at this moment and I hope that we have the capacity to come out a stronger and better country and people.  Today I believe that we can.

In Lithuania, apartments are described by the number of rooms not the number of  bedrooms.  Here in Vilnius, I have a three room apartment — two general rooms and a bedroom plus an entry hall, bathroom and kitchen.  I use the first room by the kitchen as a study and den.  When my landlady saw that I was using the small dining table to work on, she bought a desk and cabinet for the apartment so that I have a proper place to work.  This is the room that I spend the most time in.   There is a brick fireplace but unfortunately it isn’t usable.  The apartment has high ceilings and parquet floors.  This is a lovely apartment and I am really enjoying living here.  Here are few photos of my “living” room.

Working at my desk, where I spend most of my time.

Working at my desk, where I spend most of my time.

This is the chair that I sit in to read and my new cabinet.

This is the chair that I sit in to read and my new cabinet.