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Today I leave Lithuania. Eight and a half months seemed like a long time when I first arrived, but it has flown by.  I really enjoyed living in Vilnius and I look forward to returning.  Here are a few things that I will miss when I am back in Seattle.

  • Chocolate-covered varškė — especially now that I’ve found coconut-flavored ones.  I ate one of these little cheesecake-like treats almost every day.
  • Convenient and inexpensive taxis — even if I had a car, it would have been easier just to call a cab.
  • Finding clothing treasures at Humana thrift stores.
  • Summer evening strolls through Old Town.
  • Coatrooms — in a country where people wear coats much of the year, they understand the importance of coat racks everywhere and free coat check in many places.  It’s so much nicer than dragging around a winter coat inside.
  • Excellent, inexpensive live music — especially jazz on Monday nights at Club Woo and classical music concerts at St. Catherine’s.
  • The opportunity to speak Lithuanian every day — I will have to work hard to maintain my language skills in Seattle.
  • And most of all, my many new friends — thanks for making my time in Lithuania so enjoyable and interesting!

After eight months of living in Lithuania, I am starting to do as the Lithuanians do.  Here are some of the ways in which I have adapted to life in Vilnius.

Restaurants:  Most restaurants in Lithuania, even nice ones, have a seat yourself policy.  I’ll have to remember to wait to be seated when I get back to Seattle.  Service is slower in Lithuania in the US, but you also don’t feel rushed to leave or to buy more to justify taking up a table.  I really enjoy being able to sit and talk after a meal without the server hovering over me waiting for me to leave.  A friend and I once spent  three hours talking in a cafe over one cup of tea each.

Mobile phones: As you can tell, I now call it a mobile phone instead of a cell phone!  And I’ve gotten into the habit of answering my phone all the time because I don’t have voice mail.  I also now text-message.  I know, Americans send text messages too, but I had never sent a text message before living here.  I am not very fast at typing, but I have gotten into the habit.

No smiling in public:  In general, Americans smile in public and Lithuanians do not.  When I first arrived, I would smile at people as they were getting off the trolley and I was waiting to get on.  I would smile at the person who sat next to me on the trolley.  I would smile at clerks in stores when I entered.  Basically, I would smile at everyone.  Now I don’t smile unless I am talking to someone directly.  Sometimes I don’t even smile at the cashier at the grocery store.  This isn’t limited to Lithuania.  I have an Estonian friend who spent a year in Seattle.  When I asked him about his experience returning to Estonia, he said everyone told him he smiled too much after living in America!

Who needs a planner? I like to plan.  I usually have events and tasks scheduled in my planner weeks and even months in advance.  Lithuanians are much more relaxed about advance planning.  At first I thought that it was just a contrast to my admittedly compulsive need to plan.  But other foreigners said they too felt that Lithuanians don’t plan in advance.  And I’ve even confirmed this with Lithuanians themselves.  I have learned not to call a friend about getting together unless I am available to do so in the next 48 hours — that seems to be the maximum time frame in which things can be planned.  It’s been good for me to learn to be more flexible with my time.  It also means it is easier to be spontaneous because tickets for concerts or other events don’t usually sell out in advance.  I, like many others, can just show up and buy a ticket at the last minute.

Time and Temp: I can check the time on my watch and look at the bus schedule for the next trolley with only the briefest pause to convert to the 24 clock.  I even have Accuweather set to give me the temperature in Celsius.

When in Rome, as they say…

As you know, back in the spring I set a goal of running the half-marathon in the Vilnius Marathon on my last Sunday in Vilnius.  As the summer went by, it became clear that I was not going to reach my goal of running the half-marathon.  I still looked forward to running the 5k race. After all, that’s a big achievement in itself for someone as nonathletic as I am.  Just before my trip, I went on-line to register for the fun run — which in most marathons is a 5k — only to discover that the Vilnius marathon fun run is 2.3k.  That is approximately one and half miles and a disappointment.  Although the registration fee wasn’t that much, I have to say that I just couldn’t pay money to run such a short distance.  So once again, I am NOT running a race today as promised.  I did, however, accomplish my most important goal of completing my research and am still running regularly and had so many other adventures that I am not going to have any regrets about missing out on this race.

These green, blue and yellow dome-shaped containers are recycling bins for paper, plastic and glass.  For some reason, they always look to me like little space ships ready to blast off.  Maybe I watched The Jetsons too much as a child!

recycling-bins

Vilnius is named for the small river Vilnelė, on whose banks it was built.  I often run through the park that goes along the river.  I like to see the rock sculptures in the middle of the river.  And I love the relaxing sound of this fast-moving river as it rushes by.  So I thought I would share some of both with you.

rock-sculpture

This past weekend, the Artisans Guild presented Vilnius residents with an opportunity to travel back in time to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods.  The Bartholomew’s Fair celebrates the granting of privileges to the first artisan guild in Lithuania — the goldsmiths — in 1495.  Town Hall Square was filled with artisans demonstrating various trades, as well as dance and music performances.  You could try your hand at the bellows or bore holes with an awl or sew a book binding.  After checking out the booths on Saturday at lunch time, I returned in the evening to listen to Remdih, a Czech group that plays European music from the Middles Ages.  They were a rollicking band and even featured a tight-rope walker.

Watching a hand-cranked "movie" about the life of St. Christopher

Watching a hand-cranked "movie" about the life of St. Christopher

I loved this kiln!

I loved this kiln!

Last Saturday, we had a welcome return to summer weather so a friend and I took a bike ride through Verkiai Park.  I have been on four bike rides this summer — a significant number since I think the last time I rode a bike was 20 years ago.  But they say you never forget how to ride a bike and, after a bit of a shaky start, I did just fine.

Saturday’s ride went along the Neris river and then into the forest.  The highlight — seeing a red fox running through a field.  Unfortunately I don’t have a photo for you because the fox had disappeared into the trees by the time I got off the bicycle and got out my camera.  We stopped at a beach on the river and watched the kids swim.  We stopped at another point along the river and watched some men fish.

The air temperature was warm, but the water temperature was much too cold for me to swim.

The air temperature was warm, but the water temperature was much too cold for me to swim.

Taking a break on the bank of the River Neris

Taking a break on the bank of the River Neris

This stone, which says "miracle" in Lithuanian, marks the end point of the Baltic Way in Cathedral Square

This stone, which says "miracle" in Lithuanian, marks the end point of the Baltic Way in Cathedral Square

On August 23, 1939, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Non-Aggression Pact that became known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  In addition to signing a public agreement to not attack each other, they signed secret protocols dividing up Poland between the two countries.  The secret protocols also assigned the independent Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the Soviet Union — and were the basis for the subsequent Soviet occupation and annexation of these countries in 1940.

On August 23, 1989, the popular fronts (soon-to-be independence movements) in the Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia called on their citizens to protest the illegal annexation of their countries fifty years earlier by forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius.  Approximately 2 million people stretched out over 600 km (370 miles) in a peaceful protest.  At the time, it seemed like it would take a miracle for these countries to regain their independence.  But just six months later, Lithuania declared its independence.  Today the Baltic countries are commemorating the 20 year anniversary of an event that demonstrated that the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians were willing to peacefully stand up for their human rights and take on a superpower to regain their independence.

Baltic_Way

Suddenly it seems that autumn has arrived in Lithuania.  At the very least, it is creeping in and summer is waning.  The days are distinctly shorter — sunset today will be at 8:40 p.m.  There is a bit of a nip in the air in the morning and evening.  Instead of that warm, muggy feeling after an afternoon rain, the air is cool.  People are once again wearing jackets on the street.  And the racks at the Humana thrift stores are filled with sweaters and coats.

We had a beautiful summer here and I am not ready for it to end.  I want a few more weeks of warm weather!  The change in the weather also reminds me that change is coming for me.  Only three and a half weeks remain before I return to Seattle and have to get into the groove of being on campus and writing my dissertation.  Just like I look forward to the change of seasons, I am looking forward to my return to Seattle.  But it is still difficult to say good-bye to summer and to Vilnius.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911) is Lithuania’s most internationally-known artist and composer.  He was prolific in his short life, composing 250 pieces of music and creating 300 paintings.  He was trained as a musician and composer and his paintings were often named with musical terms.  His paintings have a mystical quality to them, as does his music.  The National Art Gallery in Vilnius is currently showing an exhibit Dialogues of Color and Sound: Works by Čiurlionis and His Contemporaries.  I wouldn’t say that Čiurlionis is one of my favorite artists but it was very interesting to see so many of his works and to see how his style was part of the fin de siecle art scene at the end of the 19th century.  The exhibit also included a listening space where visitors could listen to excerpts of Čiurlionis’ music.

If you would like to hear his music, the web site M.K. Ciurlionis Musical Works has links to audio files and a description of each piece written by Čiurlionis himself.  And you can see more of his paintings at the National Gallery’s virtual exhibition.

ciurl72