This is the famous image of Trump kissing Putin, “Make Everything Great Again”, by Mindaugas Bonanu. It is plastered on the side of the BBQ restaurant Keulė Rūkė, not far from where I live in Vilnius. The unity of politics and painting exemplifies the cornucopia of artistic expression that is inundating this city. Unlike San Francisco and Stockholm, Vilnius is still affordable to artists, so there are ateliers and galleries along the streets. Especially in the summer, there are concerts and performances nearly every night. The culture night, Kultūros naktis, was last Friday, with hundreds of art exhibits and performances throughout the city, running all night, for free. The warm days are long, and locals and tourists are flooding the outdoor cafes, drinking locally brewed beers, and eating at all the new trendy restaurants. I saw a dance performance from Croatia, a chamber music concert in a dilapidated church, a laser art installation formed in a tube of smoke, a hanging band, and giant white puppets roaming the cathedral square. There were poetry readings and experimental films throughout the old town. I find the artists to be sincere, and lacking cynicism. It seems that they know they are not destined to be famous, but that doesn’t seem to matter. It inspires all of us to be more creative.
This year the Baltic Pride parade was allowed to proceed down the main street, Gedimino Prospektas, for the first time without controversy. It is held in Vilnius every 3rd year, alternating with Tallinn and Riga. There were still some protestors in the cathedral square, but overall, it was a joyous celebration of freedom, albeit still relatively small, with about 1000 participants from the 3 countries. I noticed that there were no drag queens, or Lithuanian politicians, or major floats from leather bars. There was no mention of the Orlando killings, but this is Lithuania, and it was a major statement of freedom for people here. The event seemed spontaneous, with not many observers watching from the sidelines, but everyone just joining in to participate in the parade: again, sincere and heartfelt.
Then there is the nature. Labanoras Regional Park is the largest forest in Lithuania. The lakes link together and one can travel between them with canoes. Unlike the USA, where the native people were exterminated, here the forest stories and songs are still alive, passed on through the Lithuanian generations. The people know the mushrooms and medicinal plants. They swim in the chilly lakes and build metal towers to watch the birds and landscapes. They have their summer gardens, and are proud of their forest honey, collected from forest bees. Time runs a little slower here, for now. A late night 10 pm rainbow wraps it all up.