Plaques, memorial gatherings, tourist itineraries and pilgrimages – many practices in everyday culture are about pinning lives to a specific place. When someone famous lived or died near or in a place that is now a commercial establishment, the history of that famous person will be immediately taken up to attract more people. But in London, writer Francesca Wade found a square that accommodated not one but at least five famous lives, and it doesn’t appear like it’s been exploited for tourism. The catch is, these famous people were all women.
Wade’s phenomenal research, which apparently took three years, fleshes out the lives of five writers as much as it is possible, with many letters and diaries deliberately destroyed as these women tried to curate the way they will be remembered. The book (see The Guardian’s review here) was included in the list of compulsory literature for my non-fiction writing diploma course at Cambridge in order to show us an example of using research. Last week we were also offered an opportunity to meet Wade herself and ask questions.
I have never been so ‘grounded’ for 12 years or so – although travel options briefly reopened in summer, going to see my family and friends in Lithuania became overly complicated, and going on a holiday abroad felt irresponsible. So since March the furthest I’ve been from this rock is a smaller nearby rock that is Gozo. This left me jealously watching my friends’ Instagram feeds, full of mushrooms, trees, camping, greenery, trees, hiking, and did I mention trees? I am exploring a fuller palette of feelings, by extension. Longing is not something I normally feel, but the intense longing to see trees enjoying themselves in a natural environment, with birds, bees and maybe even small mammals, resulted in a personal essay published in this lovely book. For the first time, I’m a published writer.
Yet it is other people’s writing rather than my own that kept me company throughout these dull and challenging months. And I am still trying to make a point to read literature from countries I couldn’t visit. Unexpectedly, I found myself looking for Lithuanian literature to replace a missing visit to familiar cities.
When I thought of what I wanted to do this year and things were still normal, I decided that it’s time to visit Iceland. One of the options was to go with a photography group straight from Malta. One or another way, the pull of this magical island seemed irresistible. But as we know, travel has been disrupted around the world, and I prefer not to contribute to increasing avoidable risks just for pleasure. What about my old dream to visit Iceland? Well, Project Gutenberg came to the rescue.
Before the COVID19 pandemic hit, I had a nice plan to finally visit Jordan. It was on my bucket list for ages, and cheap flights from Malta would have enabled me to go there even on a short break. But life took a different turn – already in early March it started becoming clear that the trip will not happen. Instead, I took a literary trip to Jordan, having picked up Snow in Amman – a collection of short stories translated and edited by Ibtihal Mahmood and Alexander Haddad.
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
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.