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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Survival of the not-too-fittest


The winter solstice is still three days away, but winter has been making itself at home here since late October. Thanks to indoor heating, winter tires and a small fortune spent on coats, gloves, shoes, long underwear and Yaktrax, this California native has been coping pretty well, if he doesn't mind saying so himself (especially now that he's managed to avoid any further cartoon-like pratfalls on the ice). He...I have to admit the winter landscape is beautiful, and when the sun makes a rare appearance like it did last Thursday, a walk following lunch in the area near my workplace can be surprisingly therapeutic, taking in snow-covered Catholic shrines...


...scenic viewpoints...:




...and the occasional Russian Orthodox church (Sts. Constantine and Michael):


The sun didn't come out on Saturday, but my family and I stopped by the aforementioned scenic viewpoint to let Amber slide down the hillside there, both on her stomach penguin-style and on the cheap plastic disk we'd purchased a few years ago while in Virginia:




Dad preferred to stand guard at the bottom of the slope in order to prevent my daughter from flying over a ledge and into a grove of trees. I was also thinking of a colleague who recently tore his Achilles heel playing basketball, a reminder that men over the age of forty and recreational sports don't always make the best combination. Shu-E, on the other hand, had no qualms about letting gravity do its thing:



The icy surface  and steepness of the gradient made the going especially quick, but as you can see, Amber didn't seem daunted. Oh, to be a kid again:



The sun remained hidden on Sunday as well, but I took Amber out in the early afternoon, partly to give my wife the opportunity to finish some Christmas shopping:


The two of us had tacos for lunch at No Forks (there were, in fact, forks available). The Wostok apricot & almond fruit soda has its origins in the Soviet Union:


Playing around with some photo effects while walking past the Town Hall...:


...and down Pilies gatvė:


Amber and I stepped in from the cold, ice and snow to the National Museum of Lithuania (Lietuvos Nacionalinis Muziejus). Housed in the 19th-century New Arsenal building, the museum displays artefacts from Lithuanian life that have been collected by the Museum of Antiquities since 1855. A statue of King Mindaugas has been standing guard out front for the past thirteen years:


Among the displays are this executioner's sword from the 16th-17th centuries...:


...this impressive 18th-century sleigh...:


...a fan supposedly given by the Japanese emperor to the officers of the Russian frigate Askold in 1857...:


...an iron handprint of Peter the Great...:


...some drinking vessels...:


...religious items...:


...and some articles of war:


Speaking of military matters, the museum has a small but haunting display of artefacts retrieved from a mass grave of soldiers of Napoleon's Grande Armée, which paused in Vilnius on the disastrous retreat from the failed invasion of Russia in 1812:


Lithuanian traditional costumes:


A life-size recreation of a Lithuanian peasant family home:



If there's one thing Lithuanian folk artists know how to do, it's crosses. They do it so well, in fact, that cross-crafting is listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage:


The special exhibition going on during our visit today was a photographic collection of ruined churches and manor homes in Lithuania, some destroyed by war, others by the Soviet and some for mysterious reasons from a century or two ago. Urban explorers would enjoy this country:



I've managed so far to keep up my spirits despite the cold, darkness and snow, and as yet not broken out the happy light or felt an overwhelming urge to drive immediately to the airport and hop on the first plane that will eventually deposit me on a beach in southern Thailand. But there's still a long way to go before I can break out the shorts and sandals and enjoy an 11pm sunset. Check back with me after our first -25°C (-13°F) day to see how I'm coping then (and send some Scotch to warm my bones)...:


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