Okay, that last post on the Jews was a bit heavy, but as I just said to someone in an email, it demanded to be written before I could move on to anything else. I believe that these stories must be told, that these brave souls must be remembered, and that we must take a moment to consider and understand what consequences our actions — and/or our inactions — may bring about.
So now I want to return to the positive and interesting things that are still available to be observed, enjoyed, and shared in today’s Vilnius. Today was the day to check out the culture vulture stuff, you know, the Cathedral, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the National Museum, the Gediminas Castle Tower, the Benedictine Gardens, the Presidential Palace, all the stuff that you get on the school tours.
Now before you panic and worry that I’m going to subject you to endless pictures of cherubs and crowns and canons, the answer is no. No because…..cringe….because….I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but ‘ya seen one, ya seen ’em all.’ This isn’t entirely true, BUT since Lithuania shared a good bit of its long history with Poland AND I spent two weeks crawling all over Poland last spring cruising every museum and castle I could find, there was a lot that appeared to be quite similar in form and substance here, and while I was happy to pay my two euros and walk quickly through the castle/museum/garden, I won’t do that to you. I’ll share just the highlights, and then quick, let’s get back to quirk, of which there’s plenty to go around.
Okay, off we go. You’re probably tired of THIS kind of shot already, but I never will be. Here’s just a normal ‘walking around’ view of the Old Town:
There’s just something about the Baroque symmetry, the onion domes, the invitation to take a peek around the little corner up there…it just doesn’t get old for me. As I write this, though, the Hari Krishna are parading up and down a nearby park space. When worlds collide…
As I mentioned, the Poles and the Lithuanians share a long and complicated past. I’m hoping to write a blog about the similarities and divergences between the two countries and cultures, not that I’m any expert. Like parsley and cilantro, however, from a distance the two look fairly similar, but pop one in your mouth and the difference is instantly clear. Having seen the Polish perspective on the shared history is fascinating because some of Poland’s heros are Lithuania’s rebels; some of Lithuanian’s powerful leaders are Poland’s thugs and brigands. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Okay, I promised no crowns and cherubs, but I just have to include a shot of a folk art doll in regional dress with some birds at her feet. I’ve seen these birds in a lot of arts and crafts around town – not sure what the meaning is, but it’s clearly an important symbol. Visiting here in the capital city, I’m sure I’m not getting the “true fruity reality” of the rural country and traditional culture – my guidebook tells me the true Lithuanian soul is “pagan, rural and lighthearted.” Here’s a little of that:
You’ve now seen a lot of close-up shots of the Old Town; here’s a glance at the northern part of the metropolis, the business district, as it were. I’m standing just at the top of the Castle hill; the Old Town is behind me. (No, I didn’t climb all the way up here; there’s a modern and speedy funicular ride available that, while brief, is quite spectacular. I did walk down, though, damp cobblestones and all.)
One thing I always love to do in new cities is check the pulse of ‘normal life’ by going to a market. Sometimes it’s a smart upscale urban chain and sometimes it’s a dreary local dispensary filled only with stuff off the boat from the nearest colonial power, but I believe one gets interesting insights from watching how and what people decide to eat. This market today was similar to ones I have seen in Ukraine and Poland; not full, but full enough of truly mouth-watering stuff to make me wish my minibar were a tad larger. Here’s a shot of eager shoppers at a butcher counter. Smoked meat, particularly pork, is big here, as I mentioned before (still haven’t managed to try the pig’s ears in my breakfast buffet lineup):
A little further on, there was a truly inspiring vegetable display featuring already prepared slaw and kraut in the middle, just waiting for the busy professional woman to take home to her family:
Finally, a shot of the fish counter. I haven’t tried any yet, but there are dozens of varieties available and herring features prominently on every menu I’ve seen:
After looking at all this food, I was actually getting pretty peckish myself. As you may know, getting me to the table is sometimes a challenge, but fortunately, Vilnius is really chock-a-block full of charming restaurants serving a variety of good food for really cheap. The wait staff are usually young and stunningly good speakers of English; at lunch today I chatted with a young man who had spent his summer in Brooklyn, New York as a strong back for Gentle Giant Movers. He plans to do the same thing in Boston next year. This is a shot of Bistro 18, where I dined on a fabulous vegetable soup and a terrific risotto. The woman on the left is Ann, one of the owners and operators. If you watched the NYT video, she’s in it.
Then it was time to walk off the calories and enjoy what was left of the afternoon light. Here’s a jewelry store window with a friendly barnyard holiday motif…
….and descending down the coherence scale a bit we find a festive holiday bouquet of, well, hmm, of, er, I really don’t know…
…but I have to finish with what has to be the oddest artistic installation in a long street of them, the colorful Lituratu Gatve. Starting in 2008, local artists decided to decorate the street with mixed media peices related to literature, primarily Lithuanian, but there are others. From a distance, here’s what you see…
…several facades covered with odds and ends that each reflect a different work or author. But I gotta say, this one takes the cake:
Okey dokey then. It’s a wrap. Not sure what tomorrow will bring, but it’s guaranteed to be reeeeeally interesting. I’m counting on it, and so should you.