Kaziuko Muge: St. Casimir fair

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This weekend, most of the streets in Old Town Vilnius shut down and became one massive art and craft fair. Kaziuko Muge, or St. Casimir’s Fair, is the annual celebration of the patron saint of Lithuania. And how do you celebrate your patron saint? With kibinai (the best little pastry and meat pockets ever) and meat on skewers, of course!

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There was also an array of folk art, like these dried flower arrangements, which I have been told are taken to church on Easter to be blessed by priests, and local ceramics.

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A highlight of the fair is a procession down Gedimino Avenue, one of the main streets, headed by an effigy of St. Casimir himself, and complete with stilt-walkers, folks in traditional dress, a band accompaniment, and people in wagons tossing candy into the crowds.

St Casimir The press of people was a little hard to bear sometimes, especially on Saturday, when mainly families came out with their children and strollers and dogs. If you don’t appreciate being whacked in the legs by children wielding wooden swords and battle axes, perhaps Friday or Sunday is best, when the whacking is at a minimum. I went all three days, so I got a feel for it all.

Of course, I couldn’t go away empty handed, though I did manage also to buy next year’s Christmas gifts, so it wasn’t entirely selfish. The weather was pleasant the entire weekend, though Friday evening was rather cold. I started to lose feeling in my fingers trying to eat my gulash, but it wasn’t anything that a few cups of karstas vynas (mulled hot wine) couldn’t cure!

Reconfiguring

It has been a terribly long time since I’ve written, and it has not been out of avoidance of posting about Christmas or New Years.

December was pretty busy: I presented a paper at a conference in Poland. I had a great time writing and researching–I mean, how can you not with a topic like masculinity and trauma in The Hunger Games?!? The conference was not well attended, but my paper was well received, and I was able to see a friend in Krakow that I haven’t seen in about 3 years. I am glad that I went; however, it seems that I picked up a crazy computer bug, because as soon as I got back, my computer started misbehaving, telling me it needed to ‘configure’. But once the update was finished, I would get an error message and it would have to revert to its original format. Then I would get a message that the computer needed to ‘configure’ and then I would get an error message and it would revert to its original. And then…*sigh*

I have not solved the issue, but my computer is at least back to functional.

But I have been thinking about the idea of configuring–of being set into a new arrangement or order. Part of it is the annual ‘to resolve or not to resolve’ come New Years–I don’t. I rarely follow through with resolutions, and I don’t want to start the year with a list of failures. Part of it is that my birthday is in January, and I grow a year older. Not sayin’ how old.

So, the germ of configuring, and failing to configure, has been in my mind for a while. It strikes me that any real, lasting change in my life has been initiated, and indeed fueled, but something outside myself. That is not to say that I am not a disciplined person. Though the occasional chocolate bar tempt me, I still would say that if I set a goal, I tend to complete it. After all, I have run a marathon; I spent the last 6 years earning my Ph.D.; I have written 3 full-length novels (still working on getting them published). But when I say lasting change, I don’t mean accomplishments. I am not the sum of my accomplishments–in fact, my accomplishments do not define me or my value. They are neat things to say that I have done, and I am proud of them, but when I say lasting change, I don’t mean one more check off of a list of things I want to do or see or get.

I mean: I once thought my worth was based on what I did; I once thought that if I tried hard enough, I could fix myself; I once was dead, but now I am alive. I couldn’t do that on my own. When I tried, I kept getting a ‘failure to configure’ message. The grace of God in Jesus Christ had to configure me.

It has been over 20 years since He ran His configuring ‘update’ and opened my eyes, yet I feel sometimes as if it were only yesterday and my eyes are opened fresh and clear again. Leaving the computer metaphor for a moment (thankfully), I sometimes wonder if this is what Jesus meant when He said there would be springs of living water flowing from deep within the one who believes in Him. It is life-giving, this water. It configures you (sorry, had to return). Imagine having thought that dial-up was all there was, and suddenly you discover high speed wi-fi. Yah, it’s like that.

Remembrance

Terry Pratchett wrote, “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” (from Going Postal). The past several days here in Lithuania have been filled with remembering, with moments where, perhaps, the dead are not dead because they are not forgotten.

On November 1, Lithuanian families gathered at the grave sites of family members, decorated them with candles and flowers, and solemnly commemorated loved ones gone. In Lithuanian, this day is called Velines, better known on the Catholic calendar as All Saints Day. I was able to go to one of the larger cemeteries  in Vilnius and witness this somber celebration of life and memory. As the sun went down, candles lit the landscape. There was something very beautiful, and peaceful, about this practice.

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On Sunday, my church (which is an international, English-speaking church) hosted a Remembrance Day memorial, attended by dignitaries from all over Europe and North America. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Psalms and poems and tributes were read, hymns were sung, prayers were said, wreathes were laid. When a Lithuanian military honor guard marched up the aisle to lay their wreath, I cried, as it reminded me of my father’s funeral. Though much of the business was diplomatic, I thought it was a fitting service to honor veterans of the past.

I’ve heard it said (and try as I might, I couldn’t find the quote anywhere) that memorials are for the living. In an earthly sense, yes, I would agree with this. We the living remember and commemorate for our own sense of peace, for the sake of honor, for the continuance of healing. But I also believe that those who are no long here, still live. There is profound hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ. I have a feeling that there is much celebration before our Lord, and remembrance of His faithfulness.

Bus adventures

Public transportation, I know. I lived in Chicago for 6 years. Crazy things can happen on the bus; it is just a part of urban living. This last week seemed to want to really drive that home to me.

Thursday, a friend and I were riding the bus back from a place somewhere on the outskirts of Vilnius. It was rush hour and the bus was crowded. My friend and I had managed to find seats near the back and were waiting for our stop. As we approached, I got up and began weaving my way through the people standing in the aisle, making my way to the door. When the door opened, I felt a tugging on my skirt. An elderly woman next to me was speaking to me in Lithuanian and tugging at me. I had no idea what was going on, since the bus was so packed that I could only see the top of the woman’s head. I stepped down the steps of the bus, and that is when I noticed that my maxi skirt was pooled at my ankles. The old woman had been trying to pull my skirt back up for me.

Fortunately I had been wearing black tights under the skirt, but still, my rather prominent bum was bared for all to see. I think some of my students were even on that bus. I can only imagine their horror of seeing their professor’s derriere. I will think twice before I wear an elastic waistband skirt on the bus.

The next day I was on the bus alone, having finished teaching, and was on my way home. It was again a crowded bus. I had to take my messenger bag off my shoulder and hold it down by my feet because passengers were so smashed together. When my stop came, I had to fight to get out; however, somewhere along the way, my bag had become wedged between a man’s legs, so when I jerked it free, I ended up smacking him in a rather sensitive spot. I heard a grunt as I exited, and looked over my shoulder to realize what had happened. I hadn’t known riding the bus was a full contact sport. Sorry, random dude on the bus.

Getting the kinks out

There are always little hiccups at the beginning of each year, especially when you have to get to know a new university, new facilities, new colleagues. This was my first week of classes. My first class meets twice a week, in two different locations. The first location has no technology whatsoever (ironic, I know, for an IT facility). We made due with my laptop and a lot of enthusiasm. The second location has technology; however, for nearly twenty minutes I was not allowed in the classroom. It seems that the electronic schedule did not match the schedule in the key office (teacher’s must check out keys to their classrooms), so the woman in the key office would not let me sign the key out. Hence, no classroom.

It took several calls to various administrators to work things out, and all in Lithuanian, so I was really at the mercy of their good natures. Fortunately, one young woman was particularly helpful and the situation was worked out, and just in time for class. All was well. Or so I thought.

I had a video I wanted to show my students. The projector worked fine, but when I pressed ‘play’ there was no sound. Ten minutes of fiddling and still no sound. We skipped the video and I improvised. Again. Moments after the class ended, I went back to fiddling and what do you know? Speakers worked. At least I know now, and hopefully this will mean this week will be kink-less. But I doubt it.

The joys of the beginning of the year.

Opening Day

The first day of school is one of ceremony and celebration no matter where you are. My day began with a bus ride to the university. On the way, the sidewalks were filled with children and teens in ties and blazers, some accompanied by parents. The children carried small bouquets of flowers–tall stalks of gladiolas and lilies, stumpy bunches of wildflowers. I’ve been told it is customary for students to give flowers to teachers both on the first day, and right before exams–a kind of good-natured bribe for a good grade. A little girl on the bus whacked me in the head with a bunch of Gerber daisies. I took it as a good sign.

Opening ceremonies at VU began on the front steps of the university, with the raising of the university flag and the dedication of a statue of a famous Lithuanian writer. A poem of his was recited, but I only discerned this by the change in rhythm of the speaker’s voice. I suppose the sing-song exaggeration of a poetry reading is a universal. There was also a traditional Lithuanian song performed in traditional costume, and cheerleaders with pom-poms, a little less traditional.

After this, and a short speech from the Lithuanian president, we adjourned to our respective faculties. I followed a herd into the Foreign Language Institute where yet more dignitaries gave yet more speeches, all of which were variations on the same theme: learning multiple languages is beneficial in the current globalized world. Good luck with your studies.

The day culminated in a grand procession of students and professors from the parliament building to VU’s main courtyard. I’m not sure how to describe the procession. We don’t have anything like it in the US, unless you think of a mix between a very friendly mass protest with flags and banners, and a float-less parade. The students in the Foreign Language Institute waved flags and shouted slogans, none of which I understood, but one was set to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

I’ve attached a link to the VU’s YouTube video of some of the highlights so you can get a better idea. Besides some sore feet from a loooooong walk, it was a grand time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIjDZsV1A30&feature=youtu.be

Once in the square, there were more speeches (this, I think, is a universal in the academic world. I didn’t understand these either, but then, I rarely understand academic speeches in English). There was also a lively rendition of “At Last” from a woman dressed like a lounge singer, and an orchestral medley of Blues Brother’s hits accompanied by interpretive dancers. At the same time, the crowds were buffeted with balloons that were batted back and forth, even by the dignitaries in the front several rows. For those of you who know me, you know how deeply traumatized I was to have all of those balloons flying overhead. One or two even touched me. I had to fight the urge to run and hide.

Thus ended the day, and thus the academic year was officially opened. When I walked back to the office with my director, she asked how I enjoyed the day. I told her it was like nothing I had ever seen. It was certainly a cultural experience.

 

Jet lag and other sources of humility

I have been in Lithuania for almost a full week and this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write. Not that I have been incredibly busy. I haven’t, really, and certainly not enough to warrant such silence. But since I landed in the city I have had the most stunning case of jet lag, and I mean that literally, as in I felt like I have been shot with a stun gun. Both body and mind have been lethargic and it has been all I can do to stay awake until 8pm, and stay asleep until at least 6am. Usually I get hit with a wall of tired around 6pm and struggle to make it a few more hours, but then I wake up rearing to go at 4am. Ugh. What this really brings home to me is how weak I am, or rather, how dependent I am upon the whims of my body. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Actually, I think it is rather healthy for me to be reminded of my limitations, whether they are physical, emotional, and certainly spiritual. I must depend on God for strength, even if it is to haul myself up off the couch to cook a little dinner. I am humbled by my inability.

 

There are some few hours during the day when I have been fully conscious and able to manage the most basic of necessities and to begin to make myself at home here. I have ventured to the grocery store across the street a whopping total of five times; I have now managed to ride the bus to the university twice by myself (though the first time was with the assistance of a little old lady who sat beside me, who spoke no English. We pantomimed and pointed to pictures in my guidebook. Nonetheless, it was a success. Again, talk about humbling. But the woman was very good-natured, and I am thankful for her help). I have filled out employment paperwork at the university and met my director face to face for the first time, not counting Skype. On Sunday I went to church with some of my friends who have lived here for several years, and was introduced to several others who I hope to count as friends in the near future. They took me to a traditional Lithuanian restaurant for lunch after church and it was lovely. The food bears close resemblance to what I have had in Poland, which is not surprising considering so much of their shared history. I had potato pancakes stuffed with meat, with sour cream on top. So good.

 

Today, after my second visit to the university (for a little more paperwork) I enjoyed the day exploring the Old Town. And by explore I mean get lost. Still, I took some pictures, enjoyed the sunny day, and finally made it back to my bus stop to again test my solo traveling prowess. As I am at home now writing this, it is safe to assume I made it.

 

Below are some pictures of my rambling today. I don’t know what half of them are, but you can get a sense of the city. The first two, at least, are of my university, and the third is St. John’s Church, which is a part of the university campus.

 

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