Category Archives: Unexpected Adventures

Ye Lads and Lassies

As a birthday present to myself, I attended Burns Night on Saturday.  Scots all over the world celebrate the anniversary of poet Robert Burns’ birth (January 25, 1759) with a party.  Since Robbie Burns’ birthday is only one day from mine, it seemed like a fitting way to celebrate my birthday.  Burns Night in Vilnius is a large gala fundraising event hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce.  And it was quite a party.  The evening included the following:

  • Ceremonial presentation of the Haggis (a Scottish “delicacy”) complete with bagpipes, recitation of Burns’ poem “To the Haggis” and the ceremonial stabbing of the Haggis.
  • A toast to the lassies – a speech in which a representative for the men pokes fun at the lassies
  • The lassies’ reply — a speech in which a representative for the women has her say
  • Performances by an amazing Scottish band Saor Patrol
  • Scottish country dancing — made even more riotous by the fact that most of us had never done Scottish dancing in our lives

The Haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes)

You gotta love men in kilts!

And Saor Patrol…



Colbert on Lithuania

Stephen Colbert comments on Lithuania’s new national perfume

…just remember this is a political satire show on cable television.

From The Colbert Report, Comedy Central, January 11, 2011

The Scent of Lithuania

“Lithuania Launches National Perfume”
The Independent
Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Lithuania is pioneering a new type of national symbol to convey the character of the ex-Soviet Baltic state in a fragrant way with a bottle of perfume.

Lithuania’s foreign ministry has already sent bottles of the new fragrance to all ambassadors accredited to Vilnius.

The project with olfactory appeal is “a good example of how to communicate Lithuania to the public in an innovative way,” according to a foreign ministry statement.

“We wanted to create something special, representing Lithuania and the Lithuanian character,” Mindaugas Stongvilas, an expert in emotional communication behind the project told the Lithuanian daily Vilniaus Diena.

The perfume “Lithuania” is a blend of sandalwood, cedar and musk intended to connote the Indo-European origins of the Lithuanian language as well as Lithuanian strength of character, its designer says.

“For Lithuanians to identify themselves with this perfume, we’ve added the smell of wood fires that can be associated with pagan rituals, as well as moss and wildflowers,” Stongvilas said.

The creation of the perfume has been entrusted to France’s Galimard perfume from Grasse on the Riviera which has been in business since 1747. The first thousand bottles were produced for more than a 100,000 litas (28,900 euros, 38,792 dollars).

Lithuanian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan have also received samples. Soon it will be the turn of Lithuanian embassies, hotels and airports.

Scented “Feeling Lithuania” candles are also to go on sale next month while an entire line of products is being designed.

Note: I’ll let you know what I think once I have a chance to smell “Lithuania” for myself.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Tights

In September 1993, I bought six pair of J.Crew wool tights to bring with me to Lithuania.  They were ideal for wearing with skirts and under jeans.  The wool was soft and cozy, not scratchy at all.  I lived in those tights all winter — they kept me warm outside and inside.  The year before, Russia had cut off heating fuel supplies to Lithuania as part of the political games that accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  During much of the winter of 1992-1993, Lithuania was without heat and hot water.  I was lucky to come the next year.  We had heat and hot water all winter, but concerns of another Russian embargo meant fuel conservation and keeping the heat turned low.  I didn’t have a thermostat in my apartment but I am pretty sure it wasn’t heated above 60 degree Fahrenheit all winter.

In the sixteen years since my first winter in Lithuania, I have loaned the wool tights to various friends.  The tights  spent a winter in Croatia and one in Bosnia.  They spent three years in Russia, with trips to Finland and even Siberia.  Only one pair remains in good condition and I brought the tights back with me to Lithuania for what is probably their last winter.  As one gal who borrowed the tights said, “it’s too bad that you didn’t send a diary along with the tights; they have stories to tell!”

My last pair of travelling tights - still keeping me warm.

Releasing the Inner Artist

When I am in Vilnius, I occasionally spend a couple of hours learning how to make glass jewelry from a local glass artist.  An American acquaintance who is one of her students suggested I give it a try. There isn’t a formal class; I just arrange come to her studio and work, getting instructions as necessary to make pendants and earrings from glass.

I was never interested in jewelry-making because it requires fine motor skills and detailed-handwork.  But I’ve found that engaging in a tangible, creative activity is a good balance for the academic, mental work with which I am usually occupied.  And I’m quite proud of my first creations.  I finished the two pendants in October and wear them often.  I just finished the earrings last week.  Wiring earrings is really difficult.  These aren’t the most polished pieces, but I made them and I think they came out pretty well for a first attempt.

Left: black glass with silver shavings; Right: purple glass with silver threads

Top: blue glass with dried clover; left: clear glass with dried flowers; right: clear glass with picture of clouds

A Chat with the President

On Friday morning, I had the opportunity to meet with former President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus.  Mr. Adamkus invited me to visit him and discuss my research when I introduced myself to him in October at the Marine Ball.  I had heard him speak in Seattle many years ago, before he was President of Lithuania, and took advantage of the opportunity to say hello.

President Adamkus served two terms in office, from 1998 to 2003 and from 2004 to 2009.  Born in Lithuania, Mr. Adamkus left Lithuania when the Soviet Union occupied it at the end of World War II.  He had a successful career with the US Environmental Protection Agency, serving continuously in appointed positions under six presidents (without ever having to submit a resignation during a transition).  When Lithuania regained independence, Mr. Adamkus chose to return to his homeland and ran for president.

We had a very interesting discussion about his work as president and as former president, his experience as a member and leader of the US negotiating team for US-USSR environmental agreements, his travels to Lithuania during the Soviet period, and his thoughts about the impact of the 1972 events that I am studying.  I have always heard that President Adamkus is a gracious person and I certainly found him to be so.  I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.  And I feel very lucky to have had an opportunity to meet a former President of Lithuania.

With President Adamkus

The Lost Lithuanians of Texas

On Thursday evening, I attended the opening of an exhibit on “The First Lithuanians in Texas” at Vytautas Magnus University’s Galerija 101.  Once upon a time, in the mid-1800s, a group of Lithuanian immigrants settled in Yorktown, Texas.  They were soon absorbed into the larger German immigrant community and their Lithuanian origins forgotten.  Fast forward 100 years or so.  A woman looking for information on her great-grandparents discovers that they are buried in a section of the churchyard among a group of headstones with “funny looking names that weren’t German.”  She and several other women also working on their family genealogies are surprised to discover that they have Lithuanian roots.  They even get the State of Texas to put up a plaque recognizing the early Lithuanian immigrants.

A couple of decades later, a Lithuanian anthropologist working in emigre archives in Chicago (on a Fulbright fellowship, I might add) hears about these lost Lithuanians and heads down to Texas to check them out.  The result — an exhibit, a book and a short documentary about the first Lithuanians to settle in Texas.  The discussion at the exhibit opening about Lithuanian immigrants in Texas turned into a discussion of the Lithuanian immigrant experience in American in general and then into comments about American identity, Texas, and the experience of a “nation of immigrants.”

Next thing I knew, the director of the Emigration Institute was asking me to comment to the group on the American experience of immigrant identity and regional identity.  Because, of course, I am an American and therefore can be called upon at any time to speak on anything related to America.  I’ve know the director for many years, so I don’t hold it against him.  Hopefully I said something reasonably intelligent, given that it was totally off the top of my head.  And it was quite interesting to learn about these “lost” Lithuanians in Texas.

A Little More London

The view from my guestroom - rooftops of South London

Narnia-themed Christmas decorations on Regent Street

Trafalgar Square -- oops, I cut off Lord Nelson's head taking the photo!

Just Popped In for a Visit

Thanks to cheap airfare on Ryanair, an inexpensive youth hostel in Oxford, and the London hospitality of a friend of a friend, I could afford to pop over to the UK this past weekend.  On Friday evening and all day Saturday, I attended a conference on working in archives in the former Soviet Union at Merton College, Oxford.

The conference was held in the Merton College History Faculty

It was quite rainy on Sunday, but I still managed to get in a full schedule of sightseeing: morning church service at All Soul’s Langham Place; a chai latte at Starbuck’s (yes, I admit it); a couple of hours in the National Gallery of Art; a stop at the Cenataph (World War I memorial) as it was Remembrance Sunday; and the Christmas window displays at Harrod’s. I just want to say that I LOVE London.

Poppy wreaths at the base of the Cenataph

Harrod's Christmas Windows Display

The Real Estate Moguls of Vilnius

The kid and I have a marathon game of Monopoly — the Lithuanian version — going on today.  The board has Vilnius city street names.  The most expensive streets are the ones in Old Town, such as Didžiojo, Pilies and Vokiečių.  The cheapest ones are, of course, those named for the suburbs.  The railroad cards are named for cities in Lithuania — Kaunas, Vilnius, Šiauliai and Klaipėda.  Best of all, I am not just playing a game, I am also improving my language skills.  The Chance and Community Chest cards are in Lithuanian.  I’m thinking about buying one to take back to Seattle — except that none of my friends will want to play with me since I’ll be the only one who actually knows what the cards say.

I bet you can guess what the square on the right says, even if you don't speak Lithuanian