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.
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.
Coffee is said to be more addictive than weed, but it is one easily accessible and unregulated drug that people can enjoy around the world. I was never a fan of coffee until I started working at a newspaper at the age of 20. My parents were used to drinking pour-over coffee, and even when they got access to machines they never appreciated those. In my family coffee was something people could drink at any time and in any shape (culturally, serving coffee in the evening means that the party is over), so first encounters with Italian culture, where you′re not supposed to drink cappuccino after a certain hour, were quite a cultural shock. Yet this is nothing compared to the shock of one Italian academic, who moved to Oxford 20 years ago and told me that not only she could only find olive oil in pharmacies, but you could actually see a spoon through the surface of your coffee!
Lithuanian coffee culture has changed tremendously over the years. We inherited a kind of careless attitude, where cafes used to go for instant or serve something similar to what we typically get at conferences. However, the nascent middle class was craving to show off its cosmopolitan identity and started to shame everything about food culture that separated this region from the most sophisticated traditions of the west. Now central Vilnius is littered with home-brew cafes, to the point that one foodie called it “the Vatican of coffee”. Coffee culture in Lithuania is more or less like in the Francophone space, with high prevalence of grand cafe serving the convenient middle ground between espresso and americano – just as I like. Continue reading →
One observation that we made in Cyprus was that almost every household has their own way of preparing tea. For coffee, while Turkish (hush hush, OK, Cyprus coffee) is ubiquitous in cafes and restaurants, instant coffee still rules people′s homes, and it′s actually served in cafes as well. Coffee and tea drinking rituals vary not only among cultures, but also among individuals. While many in Lithuania are used to blank machine-made or pour-over coffee, there are outstanding cafes cropping up in Kaunas and Vilnius (such as Green Cafe). Tea in Lithuania has much more developed traditions. Most restaurants and cafes offer a choice between a teabag and loose tea, and there is a variety of herbal teas (only three languages derive their word for ′tea′ from ′herbs′). In Hungary, they actually bring a powdered creamer with espresso. In Azerbaijan, Azercay is famous, but coffee culture is something they did not bother to import from neighboring Turkey. In Malaga, Spain, they have an elaborate distinction between a ′half,′ a ′shade,′ and a ′cloud.′ Searching for good coffee can be hopeless in England and many American cities, but English tea is always a good choice (an Italian, living in Cambridge for over 25 years, said that in the beginning it was a cultural shock to see a spoon so clearly visible through the coffee over there). Italy is famous for its coffee, but I found their espressos too tiny to enjoy. In Luxembourg I was surprised to find coffee just the way I like it. In Istanbul both coffee and tea were good. So, what to expect in Cyprus?
Milan was not on my travel wishlist, but this is one of the main gateways to Italy from Lithuania, since Ryanair and Wizzair fly there. Milan is known as the industrial and business capital of Italy. I have met many Italians who have worked there at some point in their lives – and usually did not quite enjoy it. Milan is known to be stressful and competitive, even merciless. Meanwhile, the Milanese are said to be complaining that they earn Italy’s GDP while everyone else is just chilling. My expat friend living in Italy also mentioned the extreme fashion-consciousness in Milan, where, in her experience, people really judge you if you are not fashionable enough. I couldn’t say I got to know Milan, busted or confirmed all these generalizations during the short time I spent there, but the real gateway to the city was my Couchsurfing host, who also commented on my friends’ memories and impressions from living here. Continue reading →