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Kerry Shawn Keys minibio

“I don’t know who I am, but I have many names and live in Vilnius,” says Kerry Shawn Keys, an American living in Lithuania of nineteen years now. He is a human orchestra: translator, poet, prose writer, author of children’s books, dramatist. Kerry has already become part of the Vilnius landscape and culture. The poet Sigitas Geda said about him, “by his presence and participation in the everyday life of Lithuanian poetry, he has made us stronger as well.” Kerry, though, calls himself an “outsider”, and outsiders are generally better at seeing certain things than locals or those ensconced in everyday life, in the “system”. A view from the side is always interesting, and with that in mind, the Vilnius Review has decided to begin publishing Kerry’s short, witty essays about Lithuania and Lithuanians. So, here, each month you will find "A Palmer's Chronicle".

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Dainius Dirgėla, Foggy Tranquility, 2015

By Kerry Shawn Keys

 

Lithuania has an undeserved reputation of being gloomy, rainy, ingrown, a mythic and mysterious land beyond the Sun. A flagrant untruth. The sun is everywhere in Lithuania – ornamental icons in and out of the churches; on the blackboards of the public schools; peeping around the shoulders of pagan Gods in the profane paintings and carvings of wonderful artists and woodcarvers; tattoos on thighs; and sometimes even in the overcast sky hiding behind a hot-air balloon or a Chagall-like chimney. Of course, in the miserably long, alcoholic Winter, the sun takes a vacation by holing up in the underground pubs with the jovial or melancholy boozers. Better her for company than cod-liver oil. Yes, the sun is a she in the Lithuanian language and in the old tales and poetry. Why not, since the moon is male, and neither of them transgender yet. And this female star is blessing Lithuania more and more with her warmth and fertile, luxurious ways, even though she’s not officially in residence any more days than in the past. It’s just that she is hotter and her palace bluer.

It used to be that tourists would swarm like locusts to Italy or Spain or even Croatia to catch a glimpse of her malignant rays and enjoy the cultural life of Europe and the mild, lovely summers. Forget it for now. Those destinations are passé, have become scorching hot, and suffer from devastating floods, bombs, and burqas. Not so the Grand Duchess of Lithuania – with global warming she is becoming more and more of a Japanese photographic heaven and a kebob, virginless Paradise. Why bother with the Kyoto or Paris treaty if it means more blizzards, black ice, and pneumonia. The weather has become temperate, ranging from 22 to 30 degrees Celsius in the summers and thus perfect for bathers and drunken Brit bachelor parties. No hoards of jellyfish to sting your whatchamacallits though you might get hit on the head by a hunk of amber or a Kaliningrad’s babushka’s bottom while riding a wave, but what a whimsical way to croak. And the countryside is resplendent with lakes for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, and there is a boom in bed and breakfasts with real indoor toilets with toilet seats and soap. Who would want to float, beer-belly up, on Lake Geneva or Lake Ohrid or the Dead Sea when you can paddle alongside Northern pike and trout, cook them for dinner under a starry, rainless sky, and then lay your head down on a huge puffball mushroom or a deflated basketball for a pillow. Although this Baltic Eden isn’t so far north to enjoy the real Northern Lights, daylight is long in the Summer, there are plenty of fireworks, and the rainy season for the most part committed to the Spring and Fall when most of us are too busy fighting off rheumatism and gout to travel.

Winter is another matter. Not so cold as one might expect, probably because Palanga’s balmy, polluted breath helps fight off the howling winds from the north. If Lithuania were a few more kilometers to the east she might have to suffer the bitter cold and ice of Russia, but now she has only Putin and the gloom of the long, dark days to contend with. But all of this makes life and death more interesting. The special spirit of the people rejects the UV lamps some Scandinavians use along with vodka to keep from going crazy. Lithuanians love to be crazy and even nurse their depressions, especially in the bars or in a noose, or on the park benches or under bridges with a bottle or three when there are no police in the vicinity.

Snows are seldom heavy anymore like in the good old days which the ancients talk about with imaginations nursed on Soviet nostalgia and grog. There are less and less icicles hanging from the eaves and rooftops to crash down and crack an unsuspecting skull, though this Winter Olympic sport is still kept alive and well by the negligent mayors of the cities. The sidewalks in touristy Old Town are less icy and dog-shit infested than they used to be, but there are lots of broken hips and discarded, Chinese boots in the emergency wards and potholes.

Yes, the weather has really taken a turn for the better thanks to the diminishing ozone, the seeds of NATO, the military draft, and global warming. More and more ladybugs, tanned bosoms, grass snakes, and vipers. NASA is talking about setting up a solar paneled observatory to replace the three crosses on Bleak Hill in honor of the righteous pagan citizens that beheaded the immigrant Podolian friars. Nuclear plants with super radiation are planned for the borderlands. Šiauliai is bidding for the Summer Skateboarding Olympics in the year 3000. Resurrected mammoth DNA was seen in the sewer system two Easters ago, and a masked Mexican armadillo was spotted in Nida on a honeymoon with a Polish hedgehog. By gosh, things look bright for a brighter future, a New World order, or should we say orders. The Iron Wolf is howling Finnish tangos all the way to Brussels. Bees and storks, neocon leeches, poppies and pink dahlias, dogs and lunatics, and TBE ticks are cavorting together, O mistress Sunshine, O marvelous, Macho Moonshine.

 

 

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