Category Archives: Analysis and commentary

Maltese festival, Armenian violinist and habitus questions

Social theorist Pierre Bourdieu famously defined the sum of acquired tastes and various dispositions as habitus – not exactly an over-structure where individuals merely participate, but neither an individual portfolio of competences, crafted upon a free choice among components. Although this theory is about everything and anything, I find it very useful both academically and in my own observations about societies.

On April 20th a friend and I went to see a free concert in Valletta – a part of the Malta International Music Festival. The concert hall, hidden somewhere inside the Mediterranean Conference Centre, looked long and small, and we wondered where we could enjoy the best acoustics. The crowd looked cheerful, and there were several dressed-up children with excited parents, suggesting that the Russia-based duo, Karen Shakhgaldyan (violin) and Natalia Sokolovskaya (piano) are not the only stars of the evening for some.

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False news, world literature maps, and why not anything goes for small countries

Culture reporting is every bit as serious as war reporting.
– My friend Alexandra Belopolsky, a culture reporter

Several of my Facebook friends shared this map, which claims to represent each country’s favorite book. How does one measure that, the creators did not bother to explain too much. A reddit list became the primary venue to crowdsource this information, but clearly the author came up with the list out of the blue and did not quite respond to comments. Some of my friends were pleased to find respectable works of literature representing their ancestral or adoptive homelands. Lithuanians, it seems, were left puzzled. Continue reading

Open day at Kaunas mosque

The community of Kaunas mosque provided an opportunity for anyone interested to go inside the unique Tatar mosque of Kaunas, to see a Muslim prayer, look around and enjoy food from various countries and cultures. The mosque has become an important contact point for old and new Muslim communities, the latter consisting of foreign students, workers, spouses of Lithuanians, expats and local converts. The 3000-strong Tatar community has been around for centuries and is can help their sisters and brothers in faith with accessing Lithuanian institutions, networking and, most importantly, feeling at home in this relatively homogeneous European society. Other functioning mosques are in distant small towns. Vilnius doesn′t have a mosque, and the current mayor, Remigijus Šimašius (liberal) made it clear that he will not do anything in his power to help establish one, even though, when Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettled according to the EU scheme next year, the Muslim community in Vilnius will grow. There is not a single Shia mosque (most Shia Muslims are apparently from Azerbaijan), but Shia believers can attend Sunni services.

The weather is ugly in Lithuania, so I'm using a photo I made in spring

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Cyprus impressions: ancient ruins at your fingertips

As my travel companion Ugnė wrote (in Lithuanian), Cyprus is rich in well-preserved and accessible ruins, particularly in Famagusta, which she calls the capital of antique ruins. As I wrote in my earlier blog post, people interact with objects in a very direct and laid-back way. Sterility of museums seems to be alien to the local culture. There are museums, of course, but even in them visitors can come closer and interact with objects more directly.

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Cyprus reflections: a Middle Eastern collage

I continue blogging about my recent trip to Cyprus: all posts can be found using this tag. This post is inspired by my considerations as to where to put Cyprus on my travel map. It’s beyond geographical Europe, but South Cyprus is in the EU, so I categorized it as Europe. Still, traveling there made me think about the position of Cyprus in relation to its Middle Eastern neighbors.

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Cyprus reflections: relating to objects

The trip to Cyprus was long and adventurous enough to prompt all kinds of thoughts. But before I start describing specific places visited, I am planning to write a few posts on general observations from both sides, the North and the South. One of the observations I made during the trip is about how people relate to where their stuff comes from. I thought this relationship was more direct and genuine than I’ve seen in most of my travels. In Cyprus one is rarely too far from the source of things.

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2014 in review

My high school principal, who is a known blogger in Lithuania, says that to be liked, blogs must be personal. When I check readership stats, I see that my blog enjoyed much more popularity when it was more personal. I also enjoy blogs with a personal touch. So this year I’m planning to continue posting old and new travel diaries and various stories I encounter. For the first post of 2015, I’ll use this questionnaire as a basis (here are  2010 and 2011 in review). Continue reading

Dali & Magritte visit a small town near Kaunas

On Sunday I used the last opportunity to visit an exhibition of various minor works by Dali and Magritte at Raudondvaris manor, not far from Kaunas. Thanks to my friend R., who was willing to drive there in this suddenly freezing weather, we reached the recently redeveloped suburban area, which used to be a famous noble clan’s estate (you can read more about the history of Raudondvaris manor here).

Museums in Lithuania can hardly ever afford bringing really famous works, but this was a rare opportunity to see Salvador Dali’s ‘applied’ art. His career spanned for decades, so he was asked to design and produce various decorative objects, such as medals for Olympic games or the 25th anniversary of Israel (I hadn’t known that before), tapestries and ceramic plates. There were also some quite known watercolors, such as illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. The fallen angel with drawers is one of my favorites. I also searched for the image of his ceramic plate from the Seasons set, the one portraying fall, which is a human figure with a cube instead of its head, and trees growing from it. But I couldn’t find it on google. Continue reading

Bar food and beer tour with Marius Plečkaitis

Walking by creepy looking blue lights from a wallpaper shop in the central station area, we are disappointed to see that a tiny shop with an old-school concrete sign is closed. Having spent many years in Kaunas, did I ever go there to buy meat pastries (čeburekai)? Definitely not. But on a tour with a connoisseur guide and a group consisting of friends and people I’ve just met, I am ready to uncover working-class and simply under-appreciated small shops and bars in my native city.

I am a member of LUNI, the Free University network in Lithuania, which consists of several groups of people who exchange knowledge without any fees or personal benefit. The network has nothing to do with the Western European tradition of free universities, and it is not a university. It is an initiative to exchange knowledge in non-systemic settings after education became more expensive in Lithuania. This month the Kaunas branch of LUNI organized a very special event – a bar food and beer tour with poet and restaurant reviewer Marius Plečkaitis (interview with him in Lithuanian). Food and drink tours are among the recent initiatives in Kaunas, where people explore their city and visit unusual spots that they wouldn’t venture into alone.

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French festival in Budapest last night

Last night I went to Bal Populaire, hosted by the French Institute in Budapest. There was a French band Stabar (swing and humorous performances), Cabaret Medrano (one of the tons of Hungarian bands that play Balkan music), and the famous Dj Palotai.

It was fun to observe how people were dancing. Mostly French people showed up – turns out that there was another festival at the Balaton lake.

I wonder if any street festival can ever take place without a character like this appearing from somewhere and dancing away.

Dancing and drinking