Today is August 15, the day of the Assumption of Mary. Not being a Catholic (not being much of a Christian anything), the significance of the occasion is somewhat lost on me, but in a country where almost 80% of the population follows Catholicism, today is a public holiday in Lithuania and making for a three-day weekend. Hallelujah and Praise the Lord!
The 15th of August is also the day that Japan surrendered, bringing the Second World War to a close. I know someone, a long-term expat resident of Taiwan, who maintains an insightful and well-written blog on Taiwanese politics. He's a believer in progressive politics, a passionate and eloquent supporter of the Taiwanese right to self-determination and a harsh critic of those who cling to the outdated trope of Taiwan being a "breakaway province of China". And yet, when the subject turns to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima 広島 and Nagasaki 長崎, he transforms into a staunch supporter of the Conventional Wisdom, arguing with the passion of an ardent right-winger how the bombings "saved lives" because the "fanatic" Japanese were prepared to "fight to the bitter end". Never mind that the Japanese military had concluded as early as February 1945 that the war could not be won; or that the government had been trying to persuade the Soviet Union since July of that year to act as an intermediary in brokering a conditional surrender with the Allies; or that 8.5 million civilians had fled Japan's urban areas in the final five months of the war, tying up transportation networks and leading to critical shortages of war materiel; or that Japanese officials were dismayed by Hitler's fight to the finish, and the unnecessary devastation and destruction that was the result (and let's not even start on the shock of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on August 8). No, my friend in Taiwan can toss out names of noted scholars who maintain that Japanese women and children were being trained to resist American invaders using bamboo staves. Of course, the benefit of such name-dropping is that it neatly sidesteps the real issue - the morality of vaporizing, incinerating, disfiguring or poisoning nearly a quarter of a million men, women and children. The atomic bombings are the ultimate uncomfortable truth that most Americans refuse to face squarely. Or, to put it another way, when it comes to Japan, my friend knows quite a lot about Taiwan...
Speaking of friends, there is someone I know from my college days who moved to the foothills of northern California soon after graduation, and has been there ever since. And there's nothing wrong with that, for it's a nice area, and she's been happy as a wife and mother. But in recent months, some of her Facebook posts have veered in a direction somewhat opposite of the path I've taken in the ensuing decades. The posts defending her 2nd Amendment rights are one thing, even if the supposed "attack" she's resisting is a figment of the right-wing's imagination. But what took me aback was her support of the "All Lives Matter" crowd and the inability to grasp what Black Lives Matter is actually about. It's a reminder of how far removed from the lives of many of their fellow citizens the denizens of mostly-white suburbia have become. Or, to put it another way, I would feel sorry for your breast cancer, but hey, all cancers matter, right?*
* No actual cancers, fortunately; just making a point
Speaking of politics, it's been fun watching Donald Trump stumble from one gaffe to the next, along with his inability to understand the definition of "sarcasm". Hopefully, he will continue tripping up, ensuring he goes down to a resounding defeat in November, and initiating a process that might help the Republican Party return to some semblance of sanity in the future (then again, in a post-Brexit world, who knows how some people reach the conclusions they do prior to going into the privacy of the voting booth). I have an American friend in Japan who was a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter, posting message after message on Facebook, lauding Sanders' proposals and hinting at a dark conspiracy to deny him the nomination (turns he wasn't too far off the mark). However, instead of supporting Hillary Clinton in an effort to ensure Trump's defeat this fall (as Sanders has urged his supporters to do), this friend has turned his zeal to supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein - I only wish I had that much free time to spend on Facebook as he seemingly has. Now, I also supported Sanders' candidacy in the primaries, and I'm no admirer of Clinton - her husband's administration embraced the same Republic economic policies (and hired the same Goldman Sachs people) that led to the Great Recession of 2008 and all the economic dislocation that's happened before and since. But I'm willing to make a Churchillian pact with the devil to prevent Trump from even coming close to winning the race for the White House. I like Stein and her ideas, but I'm not going to waste a vote on her - if the Greens want my support, they need to build their party from the grassroots, and concentrate on winning races for mayors and city councils, and for governors and state legislatures first. Or, to put it another way, my friend, who is a committed atheist, seems to be desperately searching for a savior who will lead him to the promised land.
One of these days I'm going to write a long blog post about my views on politics or theories on religion, or how living in Taiwan for too long distorts one's perceptions of reality, but the rest of this post will be concerned with more banal matters, like how my family and I spent this long holiday weekend, like walking by the 17th-century ruins of Trakai's Peninsula Castle:
Admiring the old Karaite wooden houses:
Stepping into the 15th-century Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Mary hoping to see its collection of ecclesiastical art, but instead finding a wedding in progress:
Enjoying the dark atmosphere of the 19th-century Orthodox Church of the Nativity:
Back in Vilnius and buying some tasty kebabs from the truck parked up the road (but discovering that the burritos they also offer are best avoided):
The rest of this weekend has been pretty quiet, unless you consider spending an afternoon at a shopping center (Akropolis) an exciting outing (I don't; my wife begs to differ). The autographed Lithuanian national basketball team jerseys from past European championship competitions were mildly interesting:
That evening, Amber and I ventured into Old Town to get something to eat. Riding a scooter on cobblestoned streets wasn't an experience I had when I was my daughter's age:
Today involved another visit to a mall with my wife, a smaller one anchored by an IKEA. I did pick up a couple of beers from the Vilniaus Alus outlet there:
Later in the afternoon my daughter and I ventured into the hills of Vilnius in search of a hiking trail. The path we set out on soon brought us to an unmanned train station:
The trail ended there, but the two of us continued on the road, marveling at how close the countryside seems to the capital city. The sight of more trails in this area begs future explorations:
Hope your trails this weekend were happy ones!