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dance-practice

beer-tentsThis week, July 1-6, is the Millenium Song Festival of Lithuania.  Each year there is a song festival on the first weekend of July, but every five years Lithuania holds a major song festival with Lithuanian song and dance groups from all over the world participating.  This year’s festival is both a fifth year one and in honor of Lithuania’s millenium — needless to say, this is going to be a really big festival.  On Sunday, I came across preparations for the song festival at one of the city parks.  A large group of young people were practicing dances and a crew was setting up beer tents.  Music and beer — the two key ingredients for a successful festival!

P.S.  Can you tell that I am enjoying the video feature on my little digital camera!?

Here are photos from the opening of the exhibit Baltic Americans in Washington State, which I co-curated for the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.  Two years ago, when we started working on the exhibit, my colleague at UW Libraries and I said “wouldn’t it be great if we could send this exhibit to the Baltic countries?”  And now it’s here!

Unpacking the exhibit crates

Unpacking the exhibit crates

Guests and the press at the exhibit opening

Guests and the press at the exhibit opening

Celebrating the exhibit opening with project coordinator from the Latvian National Library

Celebrating the exhibit opening with project coordinator from the Latvian National Library

Last Tuesday, a friend and I went to the Midsummer festivities in Verkiai Park on the outskirts of Vilnius.  We had quite an adventure.  First, I knew that an event was being held in Verkiai Park, but I didn’t know where — and it is a big park.  We took a bus to the part of the park where I had been before.  I figured that if we walked down to the river, we would eventually find the festivities.  Well, eventually was 45 minutes later after a long walk through the forest and an equally long walk along a narrow road with no sidewalk (and lots of cars on their way to the festivities).  It turns out I had taken us to the opposite end of the park from the event location.  Fortunately my friend is very patient!

We finally arrived to find hundreds of people enjoying the beautiful, warm evening.  People were having picnics on the grass and children were playing.  Men and women were wearing wreaths made of oak leaves and flowers.  I wanted to get a wreath woven for me, but the line was very long.  About 9:15, the fire rituals started with the burning  of a twig bundle on the top of a stick.  As you’ll hear me say in the video below, I think that the woman explaining the ritual said it represents the sun.  Next a large bonfire was lit.  A traditional music group played music throughout the evening.  People around us were dancing traditional dances on the grass.  Just after I took the video below of people dancing around the bonfire, we joined in.

Once the bonfire burned down, you are supposed to jump over the fire.  And at midnight, the crowd was going to go to float their wreaths down the river.  Because I had to go to Riga the next morning, we started to leave at 10:30.  However, we ran into someone my friend knew, got to talking and didn’t leave the park until 11:30.  As a result, we missed the last bus.  Just as we reached the main road, the heavens opened up.  Thunder, lightning, a deluge of rain.  We ran to a bus shelter and tried calling for a taxi, but of course everyone else was calling for a taxi.  We waited about 30 minutes in the bus shelter with about 15 other people.  A group of three women tried to flag down every taxi that passed by.  One finally stopped, but the two women already in the taxi said they could only take two more passengers.  Luckily, my friend had spoken to the group of three women earlier so they called to us and we hopped in the taxi.  I gave the driver our addresses and the two original passengers told the driver to take them home and then take us home.  The woman in the front seat looked at us and said in English, “You have no choice.”  We said, “We are just happy to be in a taxi on our way home!”   What a night!

Over the last two years, I co-curated an exhibit about the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian communities in Washington State for the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.  This exhibition tells the story of thirty members of the Baltic-American communities in Washington State through current portraits by Northwest photographer Mary Randlett, photographs from the participants’ personal collections, and quotes from own their life stories.  The Baltic Studies professor at the University of Washington is also featured in the exhibit.  In addition to being displayed in Seattle, the exhibit will tour the three Baltic countries this summer.  The exhibit opens today at the Latvian National Library in Riga.  It will then be shown at the Estonian National Library in Tallinn, and the Mickevičiaus Public Library in Vilnius.  I’ll be transporting the exhibit from country to country and attending the opening events.  Today I am very excited to be at the opening of the international tour of my exhibit!

Guntis Smidchens

Riga is known for its art nouveau architecture.  After seeing so much art nouveau artchitecture when my mom and I were in Riga in April, I started noticing it here in Vilnius.  There are quite a few examples on Gedimino Prospect in the center, most of which have been restored.  There are also several building that have not been restored along the edge of downtown.  Faces and figures are one feature of art nouveau architecture.  Here are a few that I discovered along my regular routes.

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vilnius-nouveau-2vilnius-nouveau-1

Midsummer is a major holiday in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Although it is now celebrated in conjunction with Saint John’s Day (June 24), this holiday goes back to ancient pagan traditions.  In Lithuania, these traditions include bonfires, singing and dancing, weaving oak leaves and flower wreaths, and fortune-telling.  While most of the festivities take place out in the countryside, most notably in forests or on hill sites of ancient settlements, I attended similar festivities in a park in Vilnius last night.  I was out late last night and I am off to Riga this morning so I’ll post more about our adventures on the weekend.

Women wearing traditional wreaths at the Joninės festivities

Women wearing traditional wreaths at the Joninės festivities

View of Neris River from Verkių Park

View of Neris River from Verkių Park

Like most cities, Vilnius has a lot of graffiti.  Much of it is vandalism, but sometimes the graffitti takes a philosophical or artistic turn.  I was a bit hesitant to post graffiti in case there are hidden meanings that I don’t know about, but I think these are safe — just creative.

I'm here, where are you?

I'm here, where are you?

graffitti-2

I see this smiling sun every day on the bus to the archives.

I see this smiling sun every day on the bus to the archives.


Broken-hearted in Klaipėda

Broken-hearted in Klaipėda

Thousands of people stayed up all night in Vilnius on Saturday to celebrate the summer solstice at the Let There Be Night festival.  I didn’t manage to stay up all night, but I was out quite late enjoying the festivities.  There were stages and performance venues throughout the city center.  Museums  and galleries stayed open all night.  Events includes music performances, poetry readings, films, illusionists, and more.  Vilnius doesn’t seem to have laws banning open containers since we saw quite a few people walking around with bottles of beer.  But I was impressed with how well-mannered the crowd was — no raucous drunks or violence or vandalism that I observed.  People were there to enjoy the shortest night of the year — and it was a lot of fun!

Listening to Beethoven's Sonata Nr. 7 in the park at 11 p.m.

Listening to Beethoven's Sonata Nr. 7 in the park at 11 p.m.

The Fire Dancers' van making its way through the crowd to the performance site.

The Fire Dancers' van making its way through the crowd to the performance site.

The Fire Dancers performing across from Cathedral Square at 12:30 a.m.

The American Center at the U.S. Embassy sponsored American Culture Month in May.  It was a long month — concerts, exhibits, films and lectures were held in towns around Lithuania from April through June.  I was able to attend a number of events and learned new things about American culture myself.

April 28 — a Dixieland concert by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band in Kaunas

May 13 — Tin Pan Alley, a concert of classic American music from the early 20th century, by students at the Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy

May 20 — performance by Beatboxer Shodokeh with Lithuanian jazz musicians

May 26 – a lecture by Professor Stephen Farnsworth on President Obama’s First 100 Days in Office

June 17 — exhibit of photographs by Man Ray at the Jewish Museum’s Tolerance Center

I have to admit that I had never heard of beatboxing — a form of vocal percussion that is a part of hip hop culture.  I had heard Man Ray’s name but I didn’t know anything about his work.  These were two American cultural offerings that were new to me, but I enjoyed both of them.

I am now working in the Mažvydas National Library in Vilnius, looking for newspaper articles related to my dissertation topic.  Although I am in a different place and working with a different type of document, I am basically doing the same kind of work that I did in the KGB archives.  First I made a list of newspapers that I need to look for the 1970s and made a list of specific articles since 1990 using a set of very helpful bibliographies.  Now I am spending my days requesting newspapers from the library collection, photographing articles, processing the photos to make sure that the documents are legible and complete, and entering information into my citation software.  This is the reading room where I am working.

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The statue at the far end of the reading room represents Martinas Mažvydas who wrote the first book in the territory of Lithuania, a Latin catechism, in 1547.  The book still exists and is preserved in the Vilnius University but can only be viewed as part of special tours.