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Bob loved to be held.

Bob loved to be held.

Three years ago, just before I started graduate school, I adopted a cat named Bob.  His previous owners didn’t want him any more because he was old, so I took him in.  He was a great cat — well-behaved, personable and affectionate.  Bob was 15 years old when I adopted him so I assumed that he would only live a couple more years and would pass away before I had to come to Lithuania to do my research.  He had other plans and was still active and healthy last fall as I was planning my departure.  My mom moved to Seattle to sublet my apartment primarily because Bob needed a good caretaker.

On Thursday morning, Bob died of heart failure.  I knew that he might not live until I returned to Seattle but, with only seven weeks to go, I felt sure that I would get to see him again.  I’ve missed him very much these last seven months and it hard to believe he won’t be there to greet me when I get home.

Needless to say, I have spent the last two days crying.  It was a bit embarrassing yesterday when I started crying in the reading room so it’s probably a good thing that the National Library is closed on the last day of each month. I was able to stay home today without feeling guilty.  I am trying to be productive in between bouts of tears, but it’s hard to concentrate.  Right now the work doesn’t seem so important — I’d rather remember all the good times I had with Bob the cat and grieve his passing.

Surverying his realm from the porch.

Surverying his realm from the porch.

Initially, I planned my trip to Palanga in order to meet with the older brother of Romas Kalanta, the young man whose self-immolation was the catalyst for the events that I am studying.  Antanas Kalanta has been interviewed in a number of newspaper articles and has written an article about his memories of his brother’s death, so I hadn’t planned to interview him myself.  However, I happened to meet him in Vilnius a couple of weeks ago and he offered to show me materials he has collected about his brother if I could come to Palanga, where he lives.

Although Romas Kalanta’s suicide is at the center of the events I am studying, my research is about how various groups responded to his death rather than about the young man himself.  On Saturday afternoon, however, I  was able to get a glimpse of Romas as a person and of the tragedy of his suicide for his family.  It reminded me that, even as I analyze historical events as a scholar, it is important to remember that history happened to real people — it was their lives.

Romas Kalanta's lesson notebook for a history class and a pin he made with the Lithuanian national colors in 1972

Romas Kalanta's lesson notebook for a history class and a pin he made with the Lithuanian national colors in 1972

A page from Romas Kalanta's notebook with the names of rock bands

A page from Romas Kalanta's notebook with the names of rock bands

Here are a few more photos from my weekend at the beach in Palanga.

The two things you need most at the beach -- sunglasses and beach towels

The two things you need most at the beach -- sunglasses and beach towels

The boardwalk on a summer Saturday evening

The boardwalk on a summer Saturday evening

View from the dunes

View from the dunes

I spent this past weekend in Palanga on the Baltic Sea coast.  In May, I went to Klaipėda —  a port city — and Nida — a rustic beach resort.  Palanga is more like the Daytona Beach of Lithuania, a beach vacation town for the common person.  An American friend and I took the Friday evening train to Klaipėda and spent the night, then took a bus to Palanga on Saturday morning.  I almost canceled the trip because the weather forecast said it would rain all weekend.  Luckily for us, the weather forecast was wrong and, although it was cool and windy, the sun was shining.  On Saturday we walked on the beach in the afternoon and the botanical gardens in the evening, then watched the sunset from the pier.  On Sunday we rented bikes and rode on the beach and on trails through the pine forest along the coast.  Then it was the bus back to Klaipėda and the evening train home.  I liked Palanga — it’s crowded and touristy, but fun.  We stayed at a clean, convenient and unremarkable hotel.  I want to figure out how to make reservations at one of the cute guesthouses in Palanga.  They weren’t in my guidebook but there were quite a few that looked like they would be great places to stay.

On the beach with the bikes

On the beach with the bikes

Waiting on the pier for the sun to set

Waiting on the pier for the sun to set

When I came to Lithuania in January, I brought plenty of winter clothes but just a few summer clothes.  I planned to supplement my summer wardrobe once the weather warmed up.  When I started shopping, however, I was surprised to find that clothes and shoes are expensive here.  Maybe it is just that I expected them to be less expensive than in the U.S. and they aren’t.  But then I discovered Humana — a chain of thrift stores in Vilnius.  I didn’t shop in thrift stores regularly in the Seattle, but I have become a Humana shopaholic.  There are three Humana stores on my regular route through town and I drop by each one every couple of weeks to see what’s there.  I especially like to go at the end of the month when they are clearing out inventory before getting a new shipment.  Like any thrift shop, you have to look through a lot of clothes to find your treasure — but many of the items are good quality and in good shape.  Best of all, everything I’ve bought has been under $20 — and many items were under $10.  I need to exercise a little bit of self-control on my Humana shopping sprees, however.  I don’t want to have to buy a new suitcase just to take all my summer clothes home!

The Humana store up the street from my apartment.

The Humana store up the street from my apartment.

I don’t know why

There are angels up high

In Vilnius

By the National Library

By the National Library

By the Novotel Hotel

By the Novotel Hotel

Several times while I have been in Kaunas, I have attempted to find the building where I lived in 1993-1994.  I remember that I turned right at the Cathedral, walked a few blocks and turned right again.  I’ve turned right on every street between the Cathedral and the point at which I know I have gone too far but none of the buildings look familiar.  I think that I have finally figured out why.  When I turn at the street that seems like it should be the right one, I see this…

akropolis

…the Akropolis mall.  You can’t tell from this photo but I’ve been told this is the biggest mall in Lithuania.  The white building on the left goes down a long block and when you walk in this entrance, the mall extends for a couple of blocks in front of you.  I am pretty sure that the building in which I lived was torn down to building the white building on the left.  I even asked my friend at the university and she too thinks that my apartment was on this street.  I can’t begrudge Kaunas its shopping extravaganza but I am feeling a bit sad that my little flat in the old 1920s building is gone.

sculpture1Laisvės Alėja is a pedestrian street through the center of Kaunas, lined with cafes and shops and parks.  I often walk along Laisvės Alėja when I am in Kaunas on my way to a meeting or just to take a stroll and people-watch.  Now that the weather is warm, I like to sit on a bench in the shade and eat an ice cream cone.  I also like to look at the public art placed along the street.  Here are a couple of my favorite pieces in the Laisvės Alėja Sculpture Gallery.

This gentleman is always carrying flowers.

This gentleman is always carrying flowers.

Yesterday I went with a Canadian friend to see the Millennium exhibits at the Applied Art Museum.  The museum currently has several exhibits in honor of the 1,000 year anniversary of the mention of Lithuania in written sources.  One of the exhibits, The Art of the Balts, displays jewelry, metal work, amber and ceramics from as early as 1,000 years ago to today.  The artifacts came from archeological digs in the regions where the Baltic peoples (Lithuanians, Latvians and Prussians) historically lived.  In particular, the exhibit takes one item — pins and clasps that would have been worn on clothing — and traces the development of this item over the centuries.  It is an interesting exhibit with many beautiful pieces on display.

But I really got excited about the other exhibit — Lithuania in Ancient Historical Sources.  I like old stuff but I love old documents.  I think this is why I am a historian and not an archeologist.  Original documents that mention Lithuania dating from 1255 to the 1990 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union are displayed in two large rooms.  Most of the documents are pre-1900 and there were many documents from the 13th-17th century.  I am not a medievalist by any stretch, but I was thrilled to see ancient documents about important historical events that I have studied.

Most of the really old documents are related to peace treaties between Lithuania and its neighbors, particularly the Teutonic Order to the west and the Russian city-states to the east.   Some are grants of land and privileges to various individuals, towns or groups, such as the Karaites, a Turkic people who settle in Lithuania in 1392.  I was particular interested in the seals on the ancient documents. Some documents had quite a few seals attached, presumably from each of the signatories to the document.  A few documents, especially those by Russian tsars, had huge seals — six inches in diameter and encased in metal.  The seals were all attached to the documents with cords.  I was surprised that the weight of the seals didn’t rip the paper, but I guess they figured out ways to deal with that since it was a common practice for centuries.  The writing was still legible and it was fun to try to decipher a little bit of old German, Polish and Slavonic.  I might even go back and see the exhibit again, I liked it so much!

The Lublin Act of 1569, which created the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania.  From the archives of the National Museum of Lithuania.

The Lublin Act of 1569, which created the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania (Archives of the National Museum of Lithuania)

Along the bank of the Neris River, red flowers have been planted to spell out “I love you” on one side and “And I [heart] you” on the other side.  I don’t know why but it’s very sweet!

River I Love You