A NYT article about libraries and civil society was one of the warmest and most hopeful texts from the other side of the Atlantic in the recent years. It made several key points: libraries are open, inclusive and fun spaces to interact – or to be by oneself. The growing emphasis on libraries can hopefully replace the recent obsession with cafes in many discussion circles.
On my three most recent visits to Vilnius, I couldn’t help but admire how cool the national library has become. People go there to record their podcasts, schedule meetings, work on their stuff, concentrate on reading or talking, or attend events. The building is bright and inviting. I could only dream of this when I made a few attempts to get work done at the national library in Valletta. The gloomy building was cold and dark, and although I enjoyed the selection of newspapers to read and the set-up, it was clearly built for reading something from the library’s archives. To continue discussions on public space, ignited by last year’s Capital of Culture events, Valletta should revitalise its libraries rather than move community events and discussions to cafes. Libraries should be our focus as we, as communities and democracies, seek to create the ultimate anti-Facebook.
When I was still relatively new to Malta, I wrote about how the Danish word ‘hygge’ captures what I sorely lack in Maltese houses and offices. Now I’m going to use the Swedish word ‘lagom’ to explain, in my understanding, why so many people get frustrated about living in Malta but continue living there.
Being a member in a couple of Facebook forums for immigrants, I frequently see some people estimating, half jokingly, how long it takes until some Maltese member will virtually shout “Go back to your country” after an immigrant complains about this or that. A few hours. A day! Maltese people join immigrant groups for various reasons – to sell stuff, to advertise, – or to offer tips and helpful advice. Once in a while some of them snap in the face of criticism of their country. Those who complained get an additional point – “you see, they’re not welcoming people after all.”
My theory about the patterns of complaining among Malta’s immigrants on social networks has to do with cognitive overload. It is rather difficult to form habits and automatisms, because you have to be on the lookout as you move around, and constantly process the environment. Various negative stimuli add to the overload (noise, pollution, eyesore buildings, stressful road conditions, dust, garbage and pervasive humidity assault all senses). But I’ll elaborate this some time later. This time I’ll try to answer the question why people stay in Malta when they see so many negative aspects of both its development and its cultural habits. Continue reading →
Anti-consumerist travel achievement: fully ditching make-up. This happened way before 2018, but I never blogged about it much. I had never used much of that stuff, but every little item means more space in the luggage and more toxic chemicals down the drain. Using nail polish requires a nail polish remover. Using mascara calls for special fluid suitable for the eye area. Everything is packed in unrecyclable single-use plastics. It’s so much easier without any of these things! When I was younger, I allowed myself to get convinced that especially formal occasions demand following social conventions. I understand that many women also use make-up as a form of creative expression, and that these things help people, especially with less standard looks, feel more confident. Going around without make-up and not using facial cosmetics means exposing one’s skin to a world that is often cruel and merciless for women. Just think of the language in advertising: ‘impurities’, ‘imperfections’… Let’s cut this crap – we don’t owe the world perfection. Leave the cyborg looks to those people who are paid to look like this.
In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
Come to Lithuania in June, they said. Chill and swim in a lake, they said. So I expected to have very chill vacations, looking scruffy and eating garden-grown veggies. But then my friend and comrade Sandra put me in a designer dress for a photoshoot for her magazine, Verslo pietūs. Focusing on success stories, her magazine has become home for my latest travel articles before I embarked on my new Mediterranean adventure.
This team is fantastic, and I always learn a lot just by hanging out with them. At the same time it was a learning experience to see what areas of Vilnius are suitable for taking photos when the sky is cloudy. Our photographer chose the area near the White Bridge, which offers green spaces as well as urban landscapes.
Ah, work-related travel… Anything is better than those single-day trips to Brussels I was made to take at some point, but I′m sure that everyone who travels for work is struggling to strike a balance between being fresh and alert in the morning and seeing as much of an unknown city as possible during the limited leisure hours. I stayed in Rome for four days and three nights, with a very busy schedule, but not only the organizers made sure that we see something, but also I was blessed to have a companion who has lived in Rome, as well as a colleague who grew up there and generously shared tips before I went.
I was prepared that if I do not manage to see the famous landmarks, at least I will enjoy charming urban landscapes.
Yet I managed to see everything I wanted – Rome is really easy to navigate, walkable, and has efficient public transportation, given its size and Mediterranean culture.
“…And if you′re planning a stag party, have a nice stag party,” a flight attendant said on my Amsterdam-Prague flight. To me, putting the words ′nice′ and ′stag night′ in one sentence is a sign of out-of-the-box thinking taken to the extremes, but I smiled to myself. This sounds very Dutch. After all, Amsterdam ran an information campaign for purchasers of substandard drugs to seek medical help immediately. What else could the service industry wish typical tourists in Prague, I wondered, remembering my first trip there in 2011. “May the content of your stomach be easy to clean?”
I went to Prague to attend a conference, and decided to stay the weekend after with friends. I was highly motivated to bust the myths I created for myself last time and to enjoy a completely different experience.
I like my cities walkable, so as much as I like the Mediterranean island of Malta, sidewalks are something I still cannot get used to. Not only because they are often sloping – this is not different from Vilnius old town. In British English they call them pavements, so there is not even a promise of walk as in ‘sidewalk’.
My experience on the island reminded me of my first day in Cairo, when my friend G. instructed me to walk on the side of the road at all times. “You are much safer on the street than on the sidewalk,” he said, contrary to my habits and intuition. Sidewalks there were a colonial imposition – just like traffic lights. They were not used the way I′m used to. I had to accept it – this is simply a different culture, and this is how they do it. I must adjust my mind this way here as well.
Two annoying cliches I keep hearing in my travels are: “Are you saying you’re cold? But you must be used to it!” and “Lithuania? Is it cold over there?” Northern location plus climate change mean that it may or may not be cold in the Baltics. It depends on winds. I never ask Americans if they have tornadoes all the time. But if you happen to be traveling in the Baltics when it’s cold, it’s always good to be prepared. The ever-changing weather in late fall and winter comes with many dangers.