Author Archives: amanda

About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible

The Year in Quotes

Best “I won’t take it personally” quote — said to me by a Lithuanian friend:

“When I was in the United States, I would say something and I knew I said it correctly in English, but still people wouldn’t understand me.  Sometimes when you say something in Lithuanian, I have no idea what you said and now I understand how those Americans felt when I talked.”

Best “totally validates my opinion that Lithuanians don’t plan” quote — said to me by a Lithuanian who lived in the States for nearly 20 years as we were discussing how he could help me with my research:

“I’m going to write this down.  I learned how to plan in America.”

Most useful phrase I learned in Lithuanian this summer (unfortunately I had several opportunities to use it given the frequent thunderstorms):

“Eidama per parką, aš sušlapau [While walking through the park, I became completely wet].”

Best philosophical quote — from the summer course lecture on Lithuanian literature:

“Should we rely on the illusion that the era of changes ever comes to an end?”


Waiting for You

My last days in Vilnius have been filled with final packing and saying goodbye to friends and colleagues — actually this pretty much describes my whole week.  As I say my farewells, all my Lithuanian friends tell me “we are waiting for your return.”  I’m already planning a trip to Lithuania next May for the 40th anniversary commemorations of Kalanta’s self-immolation and the events that followed his funeral.  It is good to know that I have friends who will be waiting for me when I come back.

These tables outside a cafe in Vilnius are waiting for someone to sit down and enjoy the sunshine and a cup of coffee

Basketball Fever

Lithuanians LOVE basketball — and right now the entire country has basketball fever because Lithuania is hosting Eurobasket 2011.  The European basketball championship games start August 31 and the final rounds will held in a brand new arena in Kaunas on September 18.  The arena was officially opened last Thursday with a “friendly game” between Lithuania and Spain, the reigning European champions.  Lithuania won (whoo-hoo!) but I’ve been told that they don’t have a particularly strong team this year and probably won’t get a medal.  But that doesn’t mean that the streets aren’t awash with red/yellow/green basketball paraphernalia.  There is even an official song featuring three Lithuanian pop starts.  Go Lithuania!!

Farewell to Kaunas

Today I say goodbye to Kaunas.  This afternoon I am moving everything from Kaunas to Vilnius, where I’ll spend the last few days before I leave.  I’m packing this morning, then friends from the university are bringing lunch for a final farewell gathering before I leave town.  These are a couple of my favorite photos from Kaunas on this, my last day.

The shadows of onlookers on street paintings done by kindergarteners at the Kaunas Jazz Festival


A section from the mural on the Kaunas Picture Gallery

Rustic Weekend

I spent Saturday and Sunday in an old farmhouse in a tiny village nestled in a bend of the Nemunas river.  I use the term “village” loosely — really, it’s a collection of farmsteads.  The farmhouse has no indoor plumbing — just an outhouse and a bucket under a small shed roof for washing dishes and brushing teeth.  It is heated by tiled wood stoves.  And, of course, no mobile phone reception.  It does have electricity and a gas stove, so we weren’t completely roughing it.  It was great to get away for a couple of days from the stress of all the things I need to do before I leave Lithuania and all the things I’ll have to do when I get back to Seattle.  There was nothing to do but relax and forget the outside world.

There was a steady rain when we arrived on Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop us from hiking through the woods to see the river.  We put on rain slickers and rubber boots and off we went.  In the evening, we visited an artist in a neighboring village.  It turned out she had participating in the 1972 demonstrations so I ended up doing a spontaneous research interview (it seems that I can’t completely escape work).  On Sunday morning we drank tea by a bonfire, then headed back into the woods to collect mushrooms.

I was very excited to finally go mushrooming, which is a very Lithuanian activity.  We were looking for voveruška mushrooms (a type of chantrelle).  They are difficult to find.  You have to catch a glimpse of yellow gold under moss or leaves.  This was made more challenging by the small golden leaves on the ground — and by the fact that there is a mushroom of a similar color that is poisonous.  I was quite pleased that I was able to find quite a few and I came home with a basket of mushrooms.  We then cooked up the mushrooms and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  It’s an easy dish — melt butter in a pan, pile the mushrooms in the pan, let them stew in their own juices until tender and pour over boiled potatoes.  Yummy!

Mushrooms I collected in the forest


A gnarled old apple tree -- this was my view from the table on the porch

Czeslaw Milosz’s Homeland

Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz was born and spend his childhood in Šėtėnai.  His Polish-Lithuanian family had a strong connection to the Lithuanian land, although they were Polish-speaking.  Milosz was educated in Warsaw and was a leading leftist intellectual who actively supported the post-World War II Communist government.  He became disillusioned, however, and emigrated to France and then to the United States, where he taught at Berkeley for many years.  He was a beautiful poet and prose writer.  Many of his works refer to his love for his homeland and especially the family estate where he spent his childhood.  After visiting Šėtėnai and seeing the river and woods, I can understand.  The Milosz Center, run by VMU, is located in the only remaining building of the original estate.  When I learned that scholars can request to spend a week or two at the center, I was inspired to plan a writing/studying retreat there in the future.

I was especially happy to get to visit Milosz’s birthplace this year — the 100th year anniversary of his birth.



the Nevezis River...


and me!

The Traveling Historians (and One Sociologist)

The VMU Emigration Institute was a hub of my social life in Kaunas this year.  I would drop for coffee, a chat, to print documents and just hang out with several of the graduate students and lecturers.  We also had various “off-campus” adventures.  On Friday, a group of us — four historians and one sociologist — headed north of Kaunas to visit Kėdainai and Šėtėnai.  Kėdainai is a small town, but one with historical significance.  First settled in 639, the town was part of the Radvila estate.  The Radvilas were one of Lithuania’s leading noble families and, quite interestingly, converted to Calvinism after the Reformation.  The town was open to other religious sects, including a group of Calvinist Scots.  In 1655, during the war between Poland and Sweden, the Radvila duke fell out of favor with the rulers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when he tried to negotiate a political agreement for Lithuania to leave the Commonwealth and join with Sweden.  Today Kėdainai is a quiet little town with a lovely main street and a lot of interesting public art.

Duke Kristupas Radvila in the main square


These buildings on the main square are called the "Glass Palace"


Each window frame on this building features an humorous art work related to Kedainai's history

Visaginis Scenes

The medallion with CCCP and the shape of a person with outstretched arms on this man hole is the Soviet "mark of quality" from the 1980s


"Why, why, why" written in Russian on the side of an abandoned building in Visaginis


Even this blue cat on the side of an unfinished building is wondering "why?"

Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant

The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is a Chernobyl-style electricity generating plant.  Not surprisingly, one of the conditions of Lithuania’s accession to the European Union was closing the power plant.  It was officially shut down on December 31, 2009; however, the spent fuel and other aspects of the plant are still being decommissioned.  The plant underwent extensive safety renovations in the 1990s and it’s closure was very controversial in Lithuania.  Lithuania already has high electricity costs and is fairly dependent on Russia fuel oil.  There was a great deal of concern that shutting down Ignalina would increase both electricity prices and dependence on Russian oil.  I can’t speak to the economic situation after the plants closure, although I understand that a new power plant is being built in the same area.

In the center of Visaginis, there is a large reader sign that gives the time and current temperature.  It also gives the current radiation level — which was 8 on the weekend I was there.  It was a bit unsettling to feel like I had to keep checking the radiation level each time we passed the sign.

View of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant from across the lake

Soviet-Built City

Visaginis was built from scratch beginning in 1975 to house workers constructing and then employed at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.  If you look at a map of the town, it is clearly an exercise in urban planning — the layout is in the shape of a butterfly.  There are playgrounds and green spaces and collections of shops scattered throughout the high-rise apartment buildings that comprise the town.  The town has an unfinished feel to it due to quite a few unfinished buildings left standing.

The town’s population is primarily Russian-speaking.  As with most industrial projects in the Baltic Soviet republics, Russians workers were brought in to build and run the nuclear power plant.  Young people now learn Lithuanian in schools, but I had to dredge up my buried Russian language skills to communicate with older people.  While not exactly a tourist highlight in Lithuania, Visaginis is certainly an interesting place to visit.

This stone commemorates the founding of the city in 1975.


A typical late Soviet apartment building


An unfinished apartment building