On Tuesday, a fellow graduate student invited me to her parents’ house for dinner. Specifically, for čeburekai. Čeburekai are deep-fried, meat-filled pastries — and something I had not eaten yet here in Lithuania. My friend told me that her mom makes the best čeburekai and that I needed to try them. This isn’t especially a Lithuanian dish, but it is something that Lithuanians eat. There is even a čeburekai cafe near the train station. I can see why they are popular. These homemade čeburekai filled with ground turkey (instead of the typical pork) were quite tasty.
Her parents live on the outskirts of town near the Kaunas Sea. It was a lovely evening and we sat outside on porch and enjoyed the sunset over the fields and flower garden. Yep, another evening eating good food in the countryside! We also had tomatoes, cucumbers and pears from the garden — as well as juice made from homemade jam (very Lithuanian). After dinner, we walked down to the Kaunas Sea and watched the end of the sunset over the lake.
The Lithuanian language makes extensive of diminutives, in all their grammatical forms. Don’t let the term fool you, however; most diminutives are actually longer words than the original because they are formed by adding suffixes.
1. A version of a noun that refers to a small version of something. Examples:
Kepykla = bakery; kepyklelė = small bakery
Upė = river; upelė = small river
2. A version of a noun that indicates familiarity or fondness. Examples:
Mama = Mamytė
3. A short form of a personal name
Dalia = Dalytė
Beyond these grammatical uses of the diminutive, some Lithuanians will turn anything into a diminutive — and sometimes it sounds a bit odd to me.
For example, vyras, which means man, becomes vyrukas. I never know what to think about this — is it affectionate (as in “he’s a great guy), is it actually derogatory (if one translated into English “little man” is sounds a bit derogatory) or is it factual (a short man).
And then there is litukas — or “little litas” (the Lithuanian currency). It seems to be used to indicate a low price, i.e., “it only cost 3 litukai.” Or maybe Lithuanians really feel an affection for their currency since it represents independence.
I’m not sure how to make a diminutive of my name. In English, the diminutive is “Mandy” (which I haven’t been called since I was two years old). Perhaps Amandytė or Amandelė?
Once the snow and ice cleared from the ground (okay, I know that was a long time ago), my experience of walking through town changed significantly. I started looking up instead of just watching the ground in front of me. I was surprised to see things that I’d never noticed during the winter.
For example, the architectural details on the upper stories of this unfinished building on Kestučio street.
or the architectural details on any number of old buildings.
During the winter, I hadn't noticed the unobstrusive modern addition to the top floors of the Kaunas Hotel.
Even in the winter, it was impossible to miss this rather ugly addition to a renovated building on Laisvės Alėja
Unfortunately, the person who invited me to the village broke her hand and my visit was cancelled at the last minute. That meant I had the opportunity to go to an exhibit opening on Friday evening. The exhibit “here we live, here we return” features work by Lithuanian-born, Chicago-resident Rimas Čiurlionis. It was held in the loft above Gedminas Šibonis’ studio. Šibonis is a well-known Lithuanian ceramics artists. Not only did I get to see works by Čiurlionis, I also got to see works by Šibonis — and to chat with various colleagues and acquaintances who were at the opening. All in all, an enjoyable evening out.
The works in the exhibit aren't online but this is an example of Rimas Ciurlionis' work. From the rimasciulionis.com website.
Works by Gediminas Sibonis -- from the bestinlt.lt website
A colleague of mine at the university has a cabin cruiser that he and his son built. On Tuesday, he invited me to join him and several of his friends whom I also know on a boat trip on the Nemunas River. We enjoyed a peaceful cruise on the Nemunas, then turned down a smaller river. We docked at Raudonvaris and hiked up a hill to see the manor house and mini-castle. I even got to drive the boat for a while. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful. I was amazed that we were the only pleasure boat out on the river. Apparently boating isn’t very popular. Lucky for us — we had a peaceful, beautiful river all to ourselves.
Kaunas Old Town in the distance
The Nemunas River -- later afternoon in the summer
Don’t panic — it’s not actually flooding in Kaunas now. But it has in the past. The Nemunas and Neris rivers flooded the city repeatedly over the centuries. According to a 2006 EU-funded report on flood prevention,
Historical sources bear evidence that great floods occurred in the Lithuanian rivers in 1128, 1198, 1205, 1206, 1217, 1221, 1358, 1363, 1377, 1420, 1427, 1440, 1468, 1481, 1562, 1578, 1583, 1589, 1590, 1612, 1615, 1618, 1621, 1625, 1647, 1649, 1666, 1688, 1700, 1709, 1715, 1727, 1738, 1744, 1795…We have knowledge that [Kaunas] was devastated by floods in 1715, 1811, 1829, 1855, 1862, 1926, 1931,1934, 1940, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1951 and 1958.
That’s a lot of flooding! The construction of a dam for the hydroelectric power plant on the Nemunas River in 1959 greatly reduced risk of flooding. You can still see evidence of the past flood risk — the Vytautas Church has a flood level measurement marker on its exterior. There is also a line carved into a wall of the central post office building on Laisvės Alėja showing the high point of the March 1946 flood, the highest on record. It’s pretty amazing to stand at that spot in the city center and to realize how far away you are from the river yet the water was so deep there during the flood.
Flood marker on the exterior of the Vytautas Church. The plaque on the left marks the 1946 flood.
To the right of the mail box, you can just see a carved line that marks the high point of the 1946 flood in the center of the city.
On July 15, 1933, pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas — Lithuanian immigrants to the United States — took off from Floyd Bennett Field in New York. Their goal was to fly non-stop across the Atlantic and Europe to Kaunas, Lithuania. Unfortunately, they crashed and were both killed only 650 km short of their destination. They were originally buried in the old Kaunas cemetery in what is now Ramybės park by my house. During the Soviet period, they were re-buried in the Military Cemetery in the outskirts of town. Lithuanians see the image of Darius and Girėnas every day — they are featured on the ten litas note.
Addendum: On Friday evening, I went for a walk in Ąžuolynas Park with a friend — and, quite coincidentally, saw the Darius and Girėnas monument for the first time. The monument was built in 1993 using a initially design prepared in 1937 but never constructed.
Courtesy of Zirzi, Creative Commons.
The American Embassy sponsored free concerts by the US Latin rock band Ozomatli at the Vilnius Town Hall Square on Tuesday and the Kaunas Town Hall Square on Wednesday. The concert poster advertized the concert as a “gift from the American people to the Lithuanian people.” So to all the Lithuanians who enjoyed the concerts (including me and my friends in Vilnius last night), I say “you’re welcome!”
Today is a holiday in Lithuania — Statehood Day (also known as Mindaugas Day). I, however, am working. In fact, I will be working from today until…well, pretty much until I finish this damned dissertation and graduate. Hopefully, that will happen next spring. If that hope is to become reality, I have a lot to do. That means no more fun and games for Amanda. Just work, work, work.
I did have one final European fling last weekend, which I will post over the next few days. And I’m sure that I will have various adventures in my remaining time in Lithuania so don’t abandon the blog just yet. But the eight-week countdown has begun and the pressure is on. In addition to finishing my research and continuing to write, I now have to prepare to teach a lecture course on Europe in World War II for Autumn quarter at my university in Seattle.
Deep breaths, I’m taking deep breaths….
Last week I meet with a professor at Vilnius University to talk about his experiences in the 1970s. The friend who arranged the meeting took a few photos of me at work.
One question that Americans often ask me is whether I see homeless people in Lithuania. Coming from Seattle, which has a large homeless population — many of whom actually live on the street — I have been a bit surprised that I don’t see homeless people in Vilnius or Kaunas. At least, I don’t see people who are obviously homeless in that they are sleeping in doorways with piles of blankets and a tattered bag of their possessions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t homeless people; they may not be in the areas of the city that I am in.
Elderly people have been especially hard-hit because pensions are barely enough to live on. It is not uncommon to see elderly women begging in front of churches, although there seem to be fewer now than in the 1990s. There are a few children begging and a few disabled people and a few guys who are scam artists (some I even recognize from two years ago). I think that there is also still a lot of poverty in rural parts of Lithuania. Beginning in the spring, I have seen more people digging through trash dumpsters both in my neighborhood in Kaunas and in Vilnius – something I noticed in 2009 as well.
Through my limited involvement with the International Women’s Association of Vilnius, I know that there are many charitable organizations providing food, housing, clothing and other services for the poor. I know that there is still a lot of poverty in Lithuania. For reasons I can’t completely explain, it doesn’t seem to be that visible. Perhaps that is the worst kind of poverty because it is the easiest to ignore.