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I’ve been attended the International Church of Vilnius, an English-language congregation hosted by the Evangelical Church Lutheran, since I arrived.  We are a small congregation, but truly an international one.  In the last four months, I have met members and visitors from the United States, Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Lithuania.  The church originally had a full-time pastor whose salary was paid by a Lutheran church in Chicago.  That arrangement ended last summer and now we have visiting pastors who volunteer their time for housing and the opportunity to visit Lithuania.  Most visiting pastors stay for one month.

The first Lutheran community formed in 1555 and built a church that is still used by the Lutheran community today.  It is a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles and set back in a courtyard in Old Town.  The Baroque altar was built in 1741.  It’s pretty amazing to worship in a church that is over 450 years old!

This Sunday, on Pentecost, the International Church is celebrating its 10th anniversary.  I’m in Klaipeda so I won’t be there for the festivities but I send the congregation congratulations, best wishes and thanks for welcoming me and giving me a church home here in Vilnius.

The Baroque altar built in 1741

The Baroque altar built in 1741

Here a few things that I didn’t see in the winter, but are everywhere now that the weather is nice.

Babies in strollers

Moms walking their babies in strollers

Outdoor seating for almost every cafe and restaurant downtown

Outdoor seating for almost every cafe and restaurant downtown

Tour groups (especially from Poland)

Tour groups (especially from Poland)

and tour buses

and tour buses

As I’ve written before, it’s very easy to get around Vilnius with public transportation, taxis and walking.  As a result, it’s taken five months for me to start to miss my car.  Why now?  Good weather!  Now that the weather is nice, I’m starting to think about traveling around Lithuania.  For example, this weekend my neighbor and I are going to Klaipeda and Nida on the Baltic Sea coast.  We spent several days debating whether we should take the train (have to work with the train schedule but don’t have to deal with parking and traffic) or rent a car (more flexibility but have to deal with traffic and parking).

In this case, we’ll probably be glad that we chose to take the train since there is a festival this weekend at the seaside.  However, there are several places that I want to go to that aren’t conveniently accessible by train or bus.  For example, I want to go to Grutas Park — an outdoor museum of Soviet-era statues — and to Kernave — an archeaological dig and medieval castle remains.  Of course, I can rent a car for these kinds of trips and probably will do so.  But I am realizing just how much freedom a car gives me and I do miss that.

This past month I have had a surprising number of encounters with journalists.  First I was stopped for a “man on the street” interview about the presidential elections.  Of course, once I said I was an American, the journalist waved me on my way.  Then I was contacted by an American freelance journalist who had heard from a mutual friend that I was doing work in the KGB archives.  He interviewed me for an article about Kalanta and Lithuanian hippies, but unfortunately his article wasn’t picked up by any news outlets.

However, I did appear in two news reports about the commemorations of Kalanta’s self-immolation in Kaunas.  Lietuvos Rytas is the major daily newspaper in Lithuania.  It also has video news reports on its web site.  In the video report of the commemoration, I can be seen in the background busily writing in my notebook about the event.  At that same event, one of the men whom I interviewed was also interviewed by Lithuania National Radio.  He introduced me to the reporter, who decided to interview me as well.  I had to think quickly on my feet and come up with sound bites about the importance of studying the events in Kaunas in 1972.  That’s tough for an academic who is planning to write a 400 page dissertation on the subject!  My neighbor listed to the radio news report and assured me that I gave good comments.

And that’s not all…  At the Lithuanian Youth Leaders dinner, I was seated next to a journalist from the newspaper Lietuvos Rytas.  She expressed an interest in interviewing me after I have actually written my dissertation (I did let her know that would be a year from now at the earliest).  In the meantime, she invited me to come visit the newsroom.  Today she gave me a tour of the editorial offices and newsroom.  It was much quieter than I expected.  In the movies, reporters always seem to be shouting and waving documents and rushing off to get the inside scoop!  Over lunch, she asked a lot of questions about how I became interested in Lithuanian history and about life as a foreigner in Vilnius.  Apparently I was so interesting that she decided to turn it into a real interview and even had a photographer take a photo of me.  She said she would write a short “not very deep” article about me.  I’m sure that depends on her editor’s approval — so we’ll see how interesting he finds me.  Best of all, she took me to the newspaper archives and the archivist copied every Lietuvos Rytas article about Kalanta from 1997 to this year for me.

The journalist and I then walked over to the Town Hall to see an exhibit of Lithuanian press photography.  Unforunately, we weren’t allowed in because President Adamkus was arriving shortly to view the exhibit.  So instead of looking at the work of press photographers, I joined the press photographers outside Town Hall and took my own photo of the President being welcomed to the exhibit.

President Adamkus (right) being welcomed to the Press Photography exhibit at Town Hall

President Adamkus (right) being welcomed to the Press Photography exhibit at Town Hall, Vilnius

After 4 months of working in the KGB archives every day, I decided to take a break in the month of May and work on research tasks that didn’t involve spending my days in a reading room.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been to museums, read articles sitting in a comfy chair at home, interviewed people, attended seminars at the Institute of History, and attended the Kalanta commemorations.  It felt good to have a variety of activities — and to check these things off my to-do list.

This week I realized that the time has come to get back to archival research.  My next big project is to read Lithuanian newspapers — both post- independence and Soviet-era — at the National Library.  Yesterday and today I went through bibliographies of newspaper and journal articles from 1991-2006.  The good news is that I have a long list of articles related to my research topic.  I can now request specific issues of newspapers and journals to photocopy those particular articles.  Unfortunately the Soviet-era bibliographies are not as helpful so I’ll have to simply request the years that I am interested in and skim through all the newspapers.  That’s definitely in the category of dissertation grunt-work!

I worked in the KGB archives first because those materials are the most important for my research.  However, I think I put the National Library and KGB archives in the wrong order in terms of comfort.  I spent the winter in the poorly-heated reading room of the KGB archives and this week I discovered that I’ll be spending spring and summer in the poorly air-conditioned reading room of the National Library!

A recent news report stated that 77% of applications for asylum to Lithuania come from Russian citizens.  According to EuroStats, Russian citizens are the second largest group to request asylum from European Union countries (Iraq is first and Somalia is third).  Asylum is defined as “seeking international protection.”

I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that a high number of Russian citizens are trying to get into EU countries.  One of my first blog posts was titled Preparing to Leave the Country.  In it, I talked about all the things I had to do to get ready to come to Lithuania.  I had an amazing number of comments in Russian on that post.

Now, WordPress automatically puts any comment posted from Russia into spam.  Unfortunately, Russian techies have a bad reputation for generating spam and viruses.  Once I’ve approved a commentator, they can automatically post to my blog — which opens up the opportunity to really spam my site.  I’ve decided it isn’t worth the risk and so follow the potentially discriminatory policy of WordPress and leave all Russian language comments as spam.  However, I do think that some of the comments were genuine.  My favorite comment: “This is very interesting, but not very helpful.”  I guess he was looking for a how-to manual on getting out.

(This same person commented on my photo of snow in Seattle — “my dear, this is not snow!”  I guess coming from Russia, he should know snow!”)

I do not make fun of the way Lithuanians speak English since I butcher their language on a daily basis and they never make fun of me (at least to my face!).  However, it is interesting to notice what aspects of the English language are particularly difficult. For example, the Lithuanian language does not have definite and indefinite articles like “the” and “a” — and these two little words present quite a challenge even for Lithuanians whose English is quite good.

I am sure that we native speakers of English learned rules for using definite and indefinite articles back in elementary school, but I suspect that most of us pick which one feels right.   We just know the difference between “I went to the hospital” and “I went to a hospital.”  And to complicate things even further, the Brits say “I went to hospital.”

I wrote earlier about the feel of language when it comes to vocabulary.  But I think that the feel of language applies to grammar also.  For me, word order in Lithuanian is something for which native speakers have a feel that I just don’t have.  English word order is very structured — subject, verb, object.  Word order in Lithuanian is much more flexible, but I still speak Lithuanian with an English word order.  I am trying to mix it up a bit, but I really have to make an effort.

In the meantime, I understand them despite those pesky little articles and they understand my awkward, anglicized sentence structure — which just goes to show that communication is as much about catching the meaning (dare I say, the feel of what someone says) as it is about grammar.  Fortunately for me!

kb-suspectMy friend Laima, in addition to her own writing, translates Lithuanian poetry and literature into English.  Her translation of Marcelijus Martinaitis’ book of poetry, K.B. The Suspect, was published this year.  Martinaitis’ poems speak to the emotional and psychological challenges of post-Soviet life through the main character K.B.  On Saturday evening, I attended a bi-lingual reading with Laima and Martinaitis as part of Poetry Spring here in Vilnius.

Through these poems, Martinaitis presents a powerful narrative of a transition from repression to freedom and the fears and anxieties that sudden freedom can bring.  After reading the poems, it was very interesting to hear Martinaitis talk about what he wanted to communicate through these poems. He said that K.B. is a play on KGB, which stands for Committee on State Security.  He dropped the G, which is the first initial of the Russian word for “state,” to show how the repressive nature of the state had been internalized and was no longer dependent on the state’s existence.  At the same time, the main character’s feelings of isolation and attempts to connect with his fellow human beings are universal and something that all readers can relate to.

I particularly wanted to ask Martinaitis about a poem that has a reference to self-immolation.  I was surprised to find one of the main themes of my dissertation encapsulated into four lines of poetry.  During the question and answer time, I was able to ask if the poem was a direct reference to Kalanta’s self-immolation.  He said that it was not, but he also said that my question was very sensitive because there was a symbolic connection between Kalanta’s act and the poem’s meaning.  I was glad to hear that.  And I’ve already decided that the passage from the poem will make the perfect epigraph at the beginning of my dissertation.  Now I just have to write the dissertation!

Back in 1986, a young Lithuanian architect formed a band Antis, whose punk and ska influenced music and politically charged lyrics challenged the limits of Soviet tolerance for decadent Western rock music.  Antis means “duck ” in Lithuanian, but I’ve been told that it was also a play on the word “anti.”  In the late 1980s, Antis was wildly popular and in many ways was representative of Lithuania’s rebellion against the Soviet Union.  The group disbanded in 1990, but periodically returns to the stage.  As you can see from this 80s concert video and this 2003 concert video, they were heavily influenced by the Talking Heads and David Byrne.  And then there are totally 80s music videos here and here.

On Friday night, I went with a Lithuanian-American friend to see Antis in concert at a club here in Vilnius.  My friend was a student at Vilnius University in 1988-1989 so she saw them in concert back at the height of their popularity.  The audience was full of 40-somethings like us reliving their youth and a smattering of 20 and 30-somethings having a retro experience.  Of course, back in the late 1980s, Lithuanian young people were rocking to an Antis song about informing to the KGB and I was rocking to “Love Shack” by the B-52 so our youths were a bit different! But last night, no matter our age or our country of origin, we were all dancing to a great performance of 80s music by the aging but still rocking Antis.

IMG_2441Every time I ride the trolleybus between my apartment and the city center, I pass this path heading up the hill.  For four months, I have been wondering where it leads.  Yesterday I decided to get off the trolleybus at the nearest stop and find out. This path led to a set of stairs, which led to another path, which led to a gate which led to…

a decrepit sports facility where men were playing what Americans would call soccer and the rest of the world would call football.  Since none of them seemed alarmed by what sounded like automatic weapons fire from the building behind the field, I am guessing that it must have a firing range.