History in the Forests

Ravinder in a forest near Vilnius

History follows everyone in Lithuania.  Each person I meet has some tragedy in their family.  The wars and continuing conquests of this little land have molded the nation, and it takes a few generations to let go, and move on.  26 years ago, the Soviets attacked the protestors for Lithuanian independence at the Vilnius television tower.  On January 13th, there were ceremonies and concerts in remembrance, but now, in 2017, those times seem as distant as the world wars.

These days, Lithuania leads in fast internet, and the country is a modern nation now officially in Northern (not Eastern) Europe.  Its citizens fly cheaply around Europe with Wizzair, and take longer vacations to Thailand or the USA.  The older people, with the stories, are left behind with their $300/month pensions in their crumbling Soviet built apartment buildings.  Driving in the evening, we saw an entire village in darkness, abandoned, its residents probably in England, or Vilnius.  I ask what would this country be like if the Jews were still here?  It would probably be much more diverse and cosmopolitan.  Yiddish, alongside Polish and Lithuanian would be the languages of Vilnius.  It is hard to imagine but eventually this place will once again become more multiethnic, as are the big cities of Western Europe.

I continue my work here, and also find time to visit beautiful snowy places.  On a hike through the forest near the center of Vilnius, we run into a family with huge German shepherd dogs that look like friendly wolves.  They are near the remains of trenches where some fighting occurred, probably in one of the wars near the turn of the 20th century.  My friend and I drive to Druskininkai, where we soak in the healing waters, and melt in the saunas.  Along the way, we pass the town of Perloja, which had the interesting history of being an independent micro-nation for several years after WWI.  Everywhere, more history.

The Kalvarijų Turgus is my favorite market in Vilnius.  Here you can buy imported fruits and vegetables, plus local herbs and old nostalgia items from the Soviet days.  I bought some nettle tea, and looked at, but did not buy old Russian watches, which are now expensive.  The majority of the women selling their wares are Russian speaking.  I hear a lot of Russian in the buses too.  Lithuanian-speakers drive their cars, and tend to shop at the big supermarkets.

Should I move to Lithuania?  My friends and relatives are always encouraging.  Yes, there is bureaucracy, and the difficulty of being an outsider. But the farm, and the little apartment in the center of Vilnius are charming.  The snowy forests and the lakes of the summer are inviting.  It is tempting.

Northern Darks

2017 Snow in Stockholm

Snow covers the pine and birch trees and blows by the fast train as I sit comfortably watching the 2:39 pm sunset in the Swedish winter.  I have always loved trains, and this one, with comfortable spacious seats, clean bathrooms, free internet, and the Tyst Avdelning (quiet section), makes traveling more fun than going to see a movie.  I am listening to northern music written by Kaija Saariaho while watching the northern people head north.  Soon the light will be gone. I have never seen the northern lights.  This is the northern darks.

Christmas Trees thrown on the corners of Stockholm streets

2017 has begun, and the consumer frenzy of post-holiday shopping has lost its appeal.  The Christmas trees are down, and thrown on the corners of the Stockholm streets.  Although this is not condoned, everyone does it, and somehow the de-sparkled pines eventually vanish, taken care of by the highly organized Swedish society.  The snow and wind has made walking a slippery challenge.  The magpies fly around looking for food, and ate the apple eyeballs of our snowman.

How do you describe someone who is from Stockholm? Who is the typical Stockholmare?  This is a question I posed to my friends while sitting around a table with vegan pasta and glögg.  According to our conclusions, a Stockholmare has a very strong sense of trends.  They are politically correct, and believe they are individualistic, but actually conform to the styles of the day almost instinctively.  My friend said that while he was gone for a few years, each time he came back, he saw that another clothes trend had emerged.  One year it was rolled up jeans, and then another year, tiny backpacks.  Stockholmare are the ones who are likely to be vegetarian, gay friendly, and travel a lot.  They have nice kitchens.  According to these criteria I am a Stockholmare.  Here is a silly website with 22 signs that you are a true Stockholmare.  A lot of it has to do with traveling by subway, and the high price of living here.  This is my home, but I did notice that my life is pretty unusual: my podiatrist is in Stockholm, my dentist is in San Francisco, and my optometrist is in Delhi.

Stockholmare Ravinder at the Opera.

-26° C outside makes it hard to breathe in Sundsvall. My beard hairs frost over.  All the stores are closed for Trettondagen (Epiphany), and it is clear that most people are staying at home.  It is the last holiday weekend and the beginning of the long winter.

Frozen Ravinder at -26 degrees.