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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Can't think of a good title for this post...

St. Casmir's Church

Weekend update: with the temperature on a sunny Saturday afternoon a balmy 4°C (39°F), and with my daughter having a play date at a classmate's apartment, I went for a bike ride along the northern bank of the Nevis River, heading east and then northeast (away from Old Town) before returning from whence I came. It wasn't a long ride, but then I'm hardly in peak physical condition, so I did the best I could for a couple of hours. The bike path is well-marked and easy to follow, and in places passes under a canopy of autumn leaves. The first place of note I passed was Tuskulėnai Serenity Park, which was created to remember the victims of Soviet oppression. From 1944 to 1947 some of those who resisted the re-imposition of Soviet rule at the end of the Second World War were tortured, murdered and then secretly buried on the grounds of the present park. A simple memorial atop a mound pays tribute to the victims:

It's hard to comprehend, but there are people out there who congratulate themselves on their political progressiveness, yet somehow can't see Vladimir Putin's Russia for the autocratic, corrupt regime it is. From the Baltics, however, the Russian saber-rattling combined with the historical revisionism is clearly evident. Lithuanians have first-hand experience going back several centuries as to what it was like to live under first Russian, then Soviet rule, and most people here clearly prefer life within the European Union and under the security umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The elegant former Tuskulėnai Manor House, located next to the Serenity Park

Next up was an abandoned house that I stopped to briefly explore. The place is thoroughly trashed, and a couple of other buildings on the property are only shells after obviously having been burned down. Behind the house is a large structure that could've been a factory or a warehouse; I didn't explore it, however, as two men were having a cookout nearby and I didn't want them to see me. In fact, considering my occupation, I probably shouldn't be trespassing anywhere, so I didn't linger long here:

An idyllic scene of a small houseboat on a branch of the river:

There's an actual beach along the Neris called Žirmūnai. Obviously, no one was going to be swimming there on a cold day in the middle of October. There were, however, ducks lolling about in the water; as I approached to take a photograph of them, they all emerged from the water and started heading toward me. Now I understand why they haven't gone south for the winter yet:

A stately oak tree (unless I'm mistaken) beside the cycling trail:

I eventually reached the 18th-century Trinapolis Church (closed, at least on this Saturday):

From the church I returned to Old Town, pausing outside the hideous Soviet-era behemoth known as the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater to take a photo of the old and the new on the other side of the Neris River:

Weekend update: Sunday was yet another chilly but sunny day. Too bright to stay at home, and not cold enough to find an excuse to remain indoors. So the three of us headed into Old Town to visit St. Casmir's Church (Šv. Kazimiero Bažnyčia):

We mistimed our visit to coincide with the noon mass, which was in full procession when we crashed the party, so we decided instead to get some lunch first and return to the church afterwards. A short walk from St. Casmir's brought us to a nice little French bistro called Balzac:

Amber, Shu-E and I shared some escargot as appetizers, after which I dove into a grilled sea bass as my main course:

Back to the church, and this time it was empty. Some history: St. Casmir's is Vilnius' oldest baroque church, completed by the Jesuits in 1615. It serves as a microcosm of the city's history, having suffered damage from fires and wars over the centuries. In the 18th century a new dome with a crown replaced the previous dome which had collapsed, while the interior was decorated with 13 Late Baroque altars, most of which were later destroyed by Napoleon's army. St. Casmir's became a Russian Orthodox house of worship in 1868, resulting in the towers being lowered and topped with onion-shaped helmets, while the Baroque frescoes and sculptures were demolished (see what I mean about Russian agression?). During the First World War, the German army made use of it as a Lutheran Church, after which it was returned to the Jesuits and restored in the 1920's. The dome was rebuilt with the addition of a crown in 1942 (see photo below). The Soviets turned the church into a Museum of Atheism in 1963 before it was finally re-consecrated by the Jesuits in 1991, following the restoration of Lithuanian independence:

With a backstory like that, you would expect the interior to be impressive, and it is, though surprisingly minimalist in ornamentation compared to other churches and cathedrals we've visited:

We could also go down into the crypt, where there's a relic supposedly of Saint Andrew Bobola:

And that was pretty much our afternoon. Leaving St. Casmir's we took a long, leisurely walk through the streets of Old Town before returning home, stopping long enough for my daughter to have some fun with a pile of leaves:

It's nice living in a small Baltic republic that is no longer part of a Moscow-centered "Russian World" united by a common language. These days it's English the young people of Lithuania are speaking, and speaking well:

There's a beautiful full moon above Old Town on Sunday evening; even with a tripod, my camera doesn't do the scene any justice

Monday, October 10, 2016

Child of the Corn

Fall in Old Town

It's a weekend of problematic holidays, one of which has resulted in a day off and a three-day break from work. I'm referring, of course, to Columbus Day, a Federal holiday celebrating the Italian explorer who didn't "discover" the New World (a lot of people were already living there, and had been doing so for quite a while); who wasn't the first European to reach the Americas; and whose explorations brought disease and violence to the native populations, resulting in their decimation and paving the way for the slave trade. Not exactly a list of stellar accomplishments. Why October 10 is a Federal holiday is something of a mystery, seeing as Columbus never set foot on what is today the United States. Considering everything that has befallen the indigenous population since 1492, I'm all in favor of scrapping Columbus Day in favor of a holiday honoring Native Americans. As long as it's still a holiday; a day off with pay is a day off with pay, after all.

Autumn almanac in Vilnius

Columbus Day falls on October 10 this year, which happens to be "Double Ten", the National Day of the Republic of China, commemorating the Wuchang Uprising which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the R.O.C. 中華民國. It's a major holiday in Taiwan, with parades, fireworks and speeches by the president. Some people refer to it as "Taiwan's birthday", which is more than a misnomer: at the time the Republic of China was set up in Nanjing 南京 in 1912, the island was part of the Empire of Japan 大日本帝国. Human history on Taiwan goes back possibly as far as 30,000 years ago; the government of the R.O.C. didn't assume control over Formosa until 1945 and has been isolated there since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. There's nothing Taiwanese about the holiday, unless you consider what happened in the immediate aftermath of the extension of Kuomintang 國民黨 administration over Taiwan: 228 and the White Terror that followed. At least there's a holiday commemorating the tragic events of the February 28 Incident. The U.S. has some work to do in this area.

It's been a quiet three-day weekend for us, for several reasons: we're confined to the greater Vilnius area for the next few weeks for work-related reasons, this weekend's weather has been cold and rainy and my daughter still had to go to school on Monday. Still, we did get out and about. On Saturday we visited a corn maze located on the main road between Vilnius and Trakai. It took us about 40 minutes to make it through the maize (get it?), though Amber was a little disappointed that we didn't find every checkpoint within it (only locating six out of the nine):

The main part of the maze is designed to look like a motorcyclist, though it's all just a lot of corn stalks when you're on the ground and trying to figure out which direction to go:

From the corn maze, we drove to the Devil's Pit (Velnio duobė). It took a bit of doing because our car's GPS guided us to a restaurant bearing that name rather than the geological phenomenon we were seeking, but Shu-E's smart phone eventually got us to the right location. A geological monument since 1964, the pit is of unknown origin, with a diameter of 63 meters (207 feet) at the bottom and 210 meters (689 feet) at the top, and a depth of 40 meters (131 feet). There's an observation deck at the edge and a set of stairs leading down to the bottom and up and out the other side. Legend has it that a light, slightly toxic mist forms early in the mornings and evenings inside the pit; if true, it's most likely CO2 caused by decaying organic matter:

Inside the pit:

We ended Saturday by driving seven kilometers (4.3 miles) over an unpaved road (and wishing I had a 4WD) to attend a party at a country residence about an hour's drive from Vilnius. The country scenery was giving my wife ideas about where to retire someday:

You know you're in Lithuania when there's a basketball court in a field. The grass surface makes it the Wimbledon of basketball arenas. Knowing my physical limitations, I was content with being a spectator:

Double Ten might not be an event for some Taiwanese to celebrate, but any excuse to have Chinese food is acceptable as we went for lunch on a rainy Sunday afternoon:

Picking up some Lithuanian microbrews from a department store in Old Town:

Amber breaks in her new rain boots:

Other than lunch and shopping, we didn't do much else on Sunday due to the weather. As for Indigenous Peoples Day, my plan was to have an early lunch with Shu-E at what has been described as a "Soviet-style canteen", then go out in the afternoon for a bike ride. Apparently my significant other didn't get the memo, for she went to the one-and-only Asian grocery store in Vilnius on Monday morning, and managed to spend two hours in total on a trip that only takes ten minutes by car to a store the size of a small studio apartment and which was unexpectedly closed when she got there (don't ask). As a result we had a late lunch (at an Asian restaurant) and didn't get home until after two-thirty. In any event, the weather refused to cooperate. The day was overcast, windy and chilly, with the temperature never climbing above 9°C (48°F), conditions hardly conducive to a fun afternoon of bike riding.

Conducive, perhaps, to an afternoon of surfing the Internet, but with an uninvited guest deciding the world needed to know his take on Crimea and Ukraine, I didn't feel like wasting several hours of my life engaging with someone who thinks the 2014 Ukrainian revolution is "widely considered" (by whom he doesn't say) to be a US-organized coup (because the CIA is behind everything and it's inconceivable that Ukrainians would want to have their country orient itself toward the European Union rather than Russia); the present Ukrainian government is "heavily neo-Nazi" (because the word "Nazi" is needed when you have no more arguments with which to defend your views); and the population of Crimea overwhelmingly voted to join Russia in the referendum (because the deployment of Russian troops to the historically Tartar peninsula was the only way to ensure a free and fair election). I have a blogger friend in Taiwan who often bemoans how people who are usually politically progressive fall in behind the Chinese line when it comes to Taiwan; it appears the same is happening when the subject turns to Russia, a country with centuries of brutality committed against its own subjects as well as those of neighboring states. People who regularly follow my blog might know that I'm extremely suspicious of Sinophiles and the way their moral compasses get skewed by the "5000 years of history" (sic), Ming vases or whatever else it is about Chinese culture that leads them to admire and defend an authoritarian regime that continually bullies its neighbors. I guess the same could be said of Russophiles (Is it because of Dostoyevsky? Tchaikovsky? Fabergé eggs?).

But I decided to ignore all this (obviously) and go for a walk, strolling for an hour-and-a-half through the streets of Vilnius, and taking a few photos along the way. Like this apple sculpture, the significance of which is lost on me (there are names etched on it, but I've no idea who they are):

The Embassy of the Republic of Belarus. I know I shouldn't be photographing this considering my line of work, but it's an attractive building. And if the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus is monitoring this, it's only the architecture that interests me. Правда!:

In Lithuania a Chinese restaurant is almost always identified by a pair of stone lions outside the entrance:

The Missionary Church (Misionierių bažnyčia), down the street from the American school and seemingly always locked up:

The advantage of living in a city as hilly as Vilnius is that there are many vantage points from which to take in a view:

The Užupis Angel, the statue which symbolizes the autonomous republic of Užupis:

St. Anne's Church (often said to be Vilnius' prettiest) and the Bernadine Church & Monastery:

The Hill of Three Crosses in the distance:

There are two reasons why Lithuania is a cool country. One is that it was the last holdout against Christianity, and still retains a noticeable pagan influence. The other is the Frank Zappa statue: