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Giedra Radvilavičiūtė

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė was born in 1960 in Panevėžys. She graduated from Vilnius University with a degree in Lithuanian language and literature and for some time was teaching literature in a school and briefly doing research work in the USA. Her writing career began in the late 1990s, when she started publishing essays in the cultural press. She debuted with five of her essays in a collective essay selection Siužetą siūlau nušauti (2002)
She is the author of three books of essays: Suplanuotos akimirkos (2004), Šianakt aš miegosiu prie sienos (Tonight I Shall Sleep by the Wall, 2010, European Union Prize for Literature in 2012) and Tekstų persekiojimas (2018).
Her essays deal with everyday experiences, which are transformed as if by magic into wonderful spectacles. She often discusses the situation of women, and questions various cultural and social stereotypes of the woman. She is a distinctive an excellent stylist and is quite frank and personal in her literary work.
Giedra Radvilavičiūtė is a recipient of Lithuanian National Prize of Culture and Arts. She lives in Vilnius.

reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

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Algimantas Maldutis, Woman by the Sea II, 1985. From the MO Museum collection.

 

An essay from the book “The Persecution of the Texts”

 

 

Baden-Baden Time

Most people usually want to go to New York, Paris or Rome, I’ve always wanted to go to Baden- Baden. For me that valley town has associations with peace and quiet, comfort and a slow way of life. There’s a shortage of that in one’s everyday life. The saying ‘all life’ becomes relative in a spa. A month can turn into a year or vice versa, and a week of sweating non-stop before the holidays disappears from memory. Most probably the South German spa has merged in the subconscious with Davos, described in The Magic Mountain. When I first read that novel in my youth, I dreamed about falling ill with the illness that could only be cured at the sanatorium built at the beginning of the 20th century, one and half kilometres high up, where the mountain landscape outside the window is supplemented by melancholic memories of the valley by the person looking. Breakfast at the sanatorium begins with apple cake, while the patients on the balconies, lying in shaggy fur bags, cannot be told apart from the holidaymakers. They dissect each other’s souls in their love pains like an x-ray, then only recently invented, that can see through their bodies. On a Sunday, with a wind instrument orchestra playing, a rich old lady with holes in her lungs is treating her table companions to chocolates from a wooden box, and the body of someone who had died in the last twenty-four hours is being brought down by bobsleigh to the foot of the mountain – customer service culture and death pass each other by, never meeting. Not only that, they are a parody of one another.

In the old spas there is time to think about time. The past, the present and the future merge since time ‘is a river carrying its shores’. Only rarely can someone in the street put a name to it or locate it – clear and odourless, as it is. A mote of dust dancing in a ray of the sun. The Schwartzwald torte which hasn’t changed over the centuries. A bottle of wine in a window display of delicacies: the date of its production sometimes marks the date of my mother’s birth, sometimes my daughter’s, sometimes of some event (but absolutely not of an exceptional grape harvest). A pre-war wooden horse without a head in a flea market – the children that sat on it are now swinging on the swings of eternity. A bookshop. Hot mineral water coming out of a tap in the kurhaus, the water bubbling out of a geyser two kilometres deep. When I come back home seven days later I’ll answer the question ‘Where did you spend your holidays?’ in exactly the same way Russian holidaymakers did in the 19th century - на водах...[1]

A jet plane passing overhead makes a crack in the eternal canvas, usually painted in oils, of the old European spa, but the tear is restored within minutes by the resilient cobalt blue. It’s good that I put a book in my suitcase, even one as thin as a bar of chocolate. I’ll sit in the park next to the flaking cement angels already familiar to me by going on the internet. I’ll change my sun glasses to reading ones but I’ll be raising my eyes from the page a lot…

…A pale gambler, clutching his last thaler and walking at a fast pace along Chestnut Avenue, will disappear into the jaws of the casino. Wealthy widows will be gliding along the gravel paths, matrons will be trailing their dresses behind them, they will look like lizards standing on their tails and wearing lorgnettes. Linking arms, their daughters will run past the bench almost touching the pages of the book I’m reading, leaving behind them an aroma of musk, rhubarb cake and Polina… The gambler really loved Polina. He was always imagining stabbing her in the chest with a knife while at the same moment he would have jumped headfirst from a bridge, if she had asked him to. That’s what real love is like – hating a woman for swallowing up your soul, it is as if she, without using any force, without any effort on her part, is nailing you to a bed like Christ to the cross with thoughts about her, sucking all the energy out of you and there’s nothing you can do about it. And sometimes on top of all that you also have a fever and the burden of debts… You begin to feel pathetic, vulnerable, and fragile.

A nurse will be pushing an old woman in a wheelchair along the avenue in the park, an old woman whose death because of an inheritance will be eagerly awaited by at least several of the persons who kiss her hands every morning. But she will not yet be making them happy this spring, with azaleas, rhododendrons and strokes coming into bloom. And how longingly did her relatives imagine her in an old people’s home: the same wheelchair, a glance directed at the glass of the window, and the fingers of the patient stuffing a tennis ball, like an orange, greedily into her mouth. I will pay close attention to a couple: a man with dyed hair and a young woman will appear at the beginning of the path. It’s not clear if she’s his lover, or his greyhound, brought wearing a golden collar from the capital of the empire to take out for a walk. Was she his for the whole time (of the book I was reading), or just for one episode, in a boat, sailing on the Volga, an орёл или жребий´[2] coin having fallen out of the man’s manicured hand. And, finally, the air will smell of ozone - the images will be rained on by the rain of Cyrillic letters on the stormy page being turned.

… Unfortunately, it’s happened more than once that the thing, the place or the person I desired, once I had experienced them, did not give me the awaited and hoped for joy. Instead of taking on clear contours, as when, after putting on one’s glasses, the image on the monitor comes into focus, they went on living not in one form but two. Moreover, the primary fruit of fantasy prevailed, becoming more real than the real one. That will also happen with Baden-Baden I thought in my kitchen when with two of my friends we were packing and repacking a couple of bags. Normally out of three people flying Ryanair only one of us can take the right clothes and shoes and even that’s with the proviso that we don’t take any umbrellas, we’ll walk around our rooms barefoot and sleep naked. If the Germans bathe in the Friedrich baths in the nude, taking no account of age, of their beliefs, of Angela Merkel the pastor’s daughter, then we can spend several nights without taking account of some German. My pyjamas were lying in a heap of clothes on the floor. When I got it, on order from a catalogue, I almost wanted to return it – the cotton material should have been black, with velvet ribbing in an even darker black, but they sent the pyjamas in a dark green colour. Only one detail coincided with the original order – the price. The other pyjamas, black and more striking than this one, lived on in my imagination, its sleeves embracing my two most favourite people – Pope Francis and the former woman finance minister of Lithuania.

In the Old Town area of Baden-Baden the door was opened not by a German but by a Russian:
‘Guten Tag. Как мне лучше говорить – Deutsch, English или по-русски? Игорь Подкидышев. Приятно видеть дам из почти родного Вильнюса, мой папа несколько лет работал в „Сигме“, а я ходил там в детский садик. Удивительно бежит время, да? Как там башня Гедиминаса, проспект Ленина  и наша „Неринга“’?[4]

A check linen jacket, sunglasses on a sports cap with a peak. His feet without socks in mocassins. I wanted to pass on greetings from Lenin from Neringa and a Chicken Kiev[5] from Gediminas but restrained myself. His perhaps sixteen-year-old son brought another set of keys to the apartment, while another teenager with the same face was sleeping in the back seat of an open yellow car in the yard. The first thing men see is the make of a car, women – the colour. When I glanced down from the third floor, I seemed to me that the teenager simply fainted on seeing the words of my cotton chest – 50 is five perfect 10s. The identical Podkidyshev brothers were probably twins (Baden and Baden). While I had gone to the toilet, the landlord calculated the week’s rent, discount and spa tax in a blink of the eye, like a Sigma calculator[6]. The balance of my money had to go in three directions – the cafés, the casino, and the baths.

…The street into which one went on leaving Igor’s flat has been described not by me but by Turgenev: ‘Погода стояла прелесная; все кругом – зеленые деревья, светлые дома уютного города, волнистые горы, – все празднично, полною чашей раскинулось под лучями благосклонного солнца ...’[7] The jewellery shop window next to the outdoor café reflected the three of us – me and a couple who had let their coffee get cold.

‘Ми-и-и-иш, мне бы хотелось тех... С камушками. Розовыми. У меня та-а-аких еще нет. Дa-a-aрoгой, смотри на левую сторону, в кa-a-aробке, между ка-а-алцом с сафирчиком и сережками.’[8]

‘Думаешь, это настоящие? Цены то не выставлены’[9], said the man who was using one hand to keep the strap holding the pouch with his Canon camera on his shoulder in place and using his other hand to slowly but purposefully caress the young woman’s buttocks.

A Yorkshire terrier could have slipped under the arch of the young woman’s shoe between the heel and the sole. A lapdog was so obviously missing from this scene – as was love. Its name could be Oriol (or - Zhebriy). When the young woman bent down a little to see into the window display, the palm of the man’s hand together with edge of her short tricot dress slid down into her crotch, the woman giggled and pulled back. They will be paying one another. Probably this evening.

She with the moaning rhododendron of her youth recently come into bloom and he by moving her dream from the other side of the hard-to-cut-through glass into the real world. O perhaps the glass is easy to cut through… Some of the jewellery and watches would be removed overnight from the window display. When I pass by this place in the evening on my way home from the casino, I’ll check. The open boxes that had had watches in them will be breathing. What thieves might imagine was in them make the blood boil more than the actual classic faces of the watches themselves. Someone told me that the new Russians make love wearing crocs and earphones. To be more exact, with one earphone each, so that the same rhythm would allow them to reach the final drama: ‘Он был старше её, / Она была хороша, / В её тоненком теле / гостила душа...’[10] It may be that this predilection of Russians, easily influenced by ads, was encouraged by the once frequently shown TV commercial: ‘Crocs, feel the love.’

Something connected me to that woman – from her accent one could tell that she was from Moscow, as well as to watch thieves. Something connects me to all women and all thieves. One earring was hanging from the woman’s ear. But there were two piercings in her ear lobe. I think that as soon as she puts in the new earrings, she won’t think them as being as beautiful as they were in the window display and another desire will come over her in a few days. Thieves also feel the same kind of restlessness. I think of thieves as genderless, while women and men, in stealing from another, over the centuries change places: ‘Fedya who was very upset attacked me and confessed in tears that he had lost everything, including the money I had given him to buy back the earrings he had pawned’ (from Dostoyevskaya’s journal, 1867, Baden-Baden).

…When I was buying the chips, which my friend called fiškės, like in Panevėžys, I already knew I wouldn’t be gambling. Whenever I find myself next to any kind of gambling place, it begins to destroy my brain, forcing me to analyse chance. I felt l the same way when I was waiting for a bus in Vilnius during the public transport reform under Zuokas, the then mayor of Vilnius – the bus might come, but it might also not come... ‘Do you know that this is my first time in a casino?’ I asked my friend, as she was walking purposefully along the red carpet past all the sculptures, vases, which had mutely observed the gamblers who had lost and killed themselves, and past the guards, who had survived World War II unharmed. ‘You’re starting in a good place,’ she said without turning around. Only the associations have changed since the 19th century: the roulette table looked like an enlarged version of the cover of one of the editions of Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler. There were four croupiers at the table – a young woman and three men.

One of them sat on a high chair: ‘Сволочь действительно играет очень грязно. Я даже не прочь от мысли, что тут у стола проиcxодит много самого обыкновенного воровства.’[11]  The Germans wear jackets and ties. The jacket sleeves are too short, the jackets are too tight to button up across their bellies and they don’t hang properly. Those that come here on a whim – all maniacs come into the casino on a whim – can hire a jacket and a tie. The hungry can eat here, the thirsty – drink, the worried – forget their worries. The world was here in the real sense of that word. And only those who had seen the world, like Marlene Dietrich, had the right to judge this casino. She would adjust her stockings in the toilets, pulling the silk from her foot up her slim calf, and steal glances at the women doing their makeup around her. Were they looking at her graceful legs? Hemingway said that the actress didn’t need legs, her voice was enough to seduce the world. I couldn’t imagine her coming into here now. A place with a 130 slot machines, separated, and you can thank the devil for that, from the luxurious roulette and poker halls. ‘В игорных залах толпа была ужасная. Как нахальны они и как все они жадны! Я протеснился к середине и стал возле самого крупьера; затем стал робко пробовать игру, ставя по две и три монеты.’[12] I placed the bet with my friend’s hands. The ball jumped as if spasming. However, not everyone thought that it was jumping about randomly. Two old men in suits at the edge of the hall, but not far from the roulette table, were sitting with their faces in their notebooks, next to them they each had a tulip-shaped beer glass from which a sip had been taken, and sketching out a web of probabilities. They had lost all sense of time and hoped to understand how the world was ordered, regardless of who was responsible – the Jews, the Masons, the theory of relativity or the organized randomness of roulette. The frequencies they discovered would not make them more wealthy (they were that already) but more powerful.  ‘Они сидят с разграфлянными бумажками, замечяют удары, считают, выводят шансы, рассчитывают, наконец ставят – и проигрывают точно так же, как мы, простые смертные, играющие без рассчету.’[13] A woman was running around between two roulette tables, placing bets on one, then the other, after just finishing a poker game in the adjoining hall. In my thoughts I called her a Kazakh. Both in her clothes and her face signs familiar from the times of the Soviet Union’s ‘friendship of nations’ came together. In the casino she lived as calmly as I did – in Vilnius by the marketplace. Apparently, she got her money from her husband, whose name was probably Oil. Her nails were chipped (from handling cards), her glance distracted, every step on the red synthetic carpet had been measured by her. By the way, the poker hall she was in – strange as it may seem – had windows, she was the only woman playing amongst the men, - fat, unattractive and in possession of an unhealthily phenomenal memory.

….My friend lost my money in four goes, her own – in two. ‘Those bastard Germans probably come here just for the heck of it, to get away from the ‘ordnung’ imposed on them by their wives, and leave a hundred euros as a tip… They’d be better off buying these green gloves, a candle and some fur slippers.’ She stabbed with her cigarette at the things lit up in the kurhaus boutique windows. The cigarette smoke would hang in the air for several seconds like the signature on an authoritative but to the Germans anonymous last will and testament.

In the baths, to which Dostoyevsky could walk in his bathrobe and slippers from the place he rented, everything seemed ‘as if’. The woman who looked as if she could be German but was in fact Turkish took our orders at the registration table. She looked as if naked, as if dressed: under her thick white cotton bathrobe the nipples of her loose breasts were ‘voting’ for the pleasures of the world. She enveloped men with a glance as if with a black towel, to the women she’d hand out a leaflet, on which there was information on ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ days, because of people bathing there in the nude. The pool’s walls and bottom looked as if they were lined with white ceramic tiles but were in fact pieces of Marseille soap: the interior melted and became colourless lather like time, forgotten and left behind.  Mark Twain wrote that at the Friedrichsbad after 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes - the world. People were sitting in thrones of towels as if in a mist. They didn’t look at each other’s naked bodies, but at the general form, which is what happens when lust is no longer there, when you pass another person only as an obstacle on the road. A tattooed Russian, looking as if his arms and thighs have been covered by some kind of material, was resting on one of the pool’s sides. And if he had caught a goldfish in his hand, and if it had been able to read what was written on the back of his neck, it, the fulfiller of his wishes, would have used the phrase from an anecdote known to him; ‘Cook me as quickly as possible…’

Primordial sounds echoed in the sauna – the echo of wet bare feet across the stones. Steam, hissing from an invisible cavity… A bell announcing the beginning of a session of massage. I swam in the empty pool following myself, following my heels on which a foot scraper hadn’t been used, heels that had been beaten up and the skin hardened walking in Lithuania and reflected that no water in the world would not be able to repeat my first impression of the power of water. My grandmother, when I was four, while walking together along a long street and thinking about what awaited us at the end of it, promised me – soon you’ll see the sea, soon… And when my head, itching, probably from dandruff, but perhaps from nerves, was eye level with the horizon, dividing two almost similar areas of grey, something burst in my stomach. I don’t experience this feeling any more – not when the first snow falls, not going to see The Great Gatsby, no… Perhaps I’m lying. Not that long ago something burst in my chest. I had bought tickets to a Martynas Levickis concert for a friend and her father who was going to be celebrating his 80th birthday, the tickets being a present. Two days before the concert my friend’s father called me from the hospital, thanked me for his ticket, but because of unavoidable circumstances – pre-heart attack symptoms - told me to celebrate his birthday with his daughter. We did what he asked. We raised our glasses at a pizzeria. Firstly, to his (three) irreplaceable wives. From them my friend had some stepbrothers and stepsisters, as lively as beagles, with Lithuanian and Polish first names. To his ability to repair church organs not just in Lithuania but also in Ukraine. To my friend’s first driving lessons on the ‘Dakota’ plains of the Soviet Union – travelling from one Catholic church to another, the priests of which would pay with boxes of Belyi aist brandy for the restored roar of organs. A blood clot after the stent operation travelled to the father’s head and he died two days later without regaining consciousness. My friend’s youngest brother, one of the three ‘beagles’, decided that the three of them would bury their father. Because that’s what was written in pencil on a serviette, left on the table in the kitchen before the ambulance arrived. The coffin was pushed in the son’s Opel Universal that had been precisely measured by the two of them – my friend and him, that is, the brother, the son. My friend began playing the harmonica when they were past Vievis[14]. The brother had another harmonica in his pocket just to make sure, in case the first one filled up with saliva (the ‘beagle’ family didn’t have tear ducts). My friend played the organ made small by death as best she could, propping her left elbow against the end of the coffin where the deceased’s head was. There are basically two things that are important to me in this story – time and intonation… This happened in April 2013, not in Faulkner’s time. And I would call the intonation of the narration as being like that of a news reader. The three of them, holding the serviette with the behest on it, showed up at St Peter and Paul’s funeral home. And when my friend pulled out the urn from a wooden box in front of the first official visitors and gave it to me to hold, telling me that her dad was no longer hot, I repeated in my thoughts what I already knew – we are bound by fundamental ties and then something absolutely has to burst in the stomach.

I’ve strayed a bit from the Baden-Baden baths… In the changing room an old woman asked me if I was going to the exercise class. I said it was too difficult for me. ‘Why” she asked, surprised. She went every Thursday. It wasn’t too hard for her. Because she had been running marathons all her life: she began in 1939 after closing the gates to her house in the Czech Republic, fleeing from the war with a thirty-kilogramme rucksack on her back. A couple of years ago she had run back there. She hadn’t stopped over all those years, and her grandfather’s house was standing there exactly as it had before. “Perhaps I should reclaim the property?’ she asked, looking at me with her blue eyes, pulling with her fingers with rings on the corset holding in her waist and went out of the baths carrying the rucksack on her back. The same thirty kilogrammes, taken before the war. In the rucksack there were a jacket, a natural bristle tooth brush, a nightdress and a cotton towel. Vladas Kalvaitis[15] took almost the same things with him when he was taken to Siberia…

…From the baths to the flat rented from Igor for the week you have to go on foot – up one hill, and then again up another one. I was coming back along the same path already for the second, last, time, but I was still trying to take note of the turns in the narrow streets I had crossed several hours ago, as if I intended to still visit the baths in the morning before my flight. The town looked dead, perhaps because it was raining. As luck would have it, I had taken the key. But on the off chance I pressed the buzzer for the automatic lock. A woman’s voice after a ‘hello’ asked immediately: ‘Какая жителница? Мой муж умер. Es tut mir Leid. Horen sie? Er ist gestorben.’[16] And she suddenly cried out: ‘Удивительно бежит время, да?’[17] I looked around… Three identical doors on the same landing. I walked around the corner of the house – there was a beat-up yellow car without a roof that had been turned into a flower bed. Women usually notice what colour a car is, men – the make. Petunias, basil, heather, as well as unseen plants, to appear at some time in the future, were spilling out from the vases placed on shelves in place of the seats that had been removed. The words on the car doors advertised the café Back to Eco.

Even though I remembered Mark Twain’s phrase about the Baden-Baden baths and time, I don’t think I any longer understood what was happening. After a long swim in a pool I always feel a little dizzy and I’ve experienced that more than once on at least two continents. My friends and I had agreed that if one of us loses the keys or get the times of our meetings mixed up we’d meet at the kurhuas at 9:00 pm.

…The sound of pebbles on the gravel path crunching underfoot was like that of a hard sweet in an angry child’s moth. Igor Podkidyshev’s surname is not a pretext to assume that he himself is a falsification.[18] In fact, when we think that time flies, then space changes. But does time have to pass for space to change? If we wish to measure or describe in words things that have no name, then problems arise. I don’t know of a more irresponsible phrase than – all time. All time is the same thing as a glass of sorrow. Whatever the case may be, the fact is that I ended up on the wrong landing. The three landings in the building were completely identical. And I became confused…  More than once I’ve walked into a mirror in shoe shops in Vilnius, causing buyers, who handle time like they do a shoe, to smile. My friends are most probably now digging into a roast in a tavern in Baden-Baden which I myself had found. I had asked the the waitress there how old the restaurant was because the curtains reminded one of mold and no longer of a material but not yet of rot, and instead of tablecloths there were vinyl placemats. More than a hundred of them it seemed. The place had been a hotel before. When I come back home, I’ll look for it on the internet, but for some reason I’m sure that there’ll be no information on the building. This was the first time I’d seen a restaurant where the toilet was on the first, and not the ground, floor. The floor was made up of black and white tiles, the window, very helpfully, was partially open, as if one was waiting for a passing Luzhin to take a pee. I closed the window just in case. I went downstairs after several minutes; a couple of pensioners, sitting next to me, who had just ordered some beer had turned into skeletons… Well, I’d seen that in Kubrick’s The Shining. I examined the pensioners as if with an x-ray machine invented a long time ago. The woman, with her tailbone against the cracked fake leather sofa, was holding her own porcelain jawbone in the palm of her hand. A cobweb veil hung down from her skull. The eye sockets were looking at the man, or, to be more exact, at time, because a skull cannot look at space, which is usually something real. The man’s elbows were resting on the table in order for him to be holding a faded menu in his fingers. Or perhaps it was a town newspaper… A German march was playing. Outside the window the water in a fountain was dancing almost to the same beat. I called over the waitress, the same one who most probably a hundred years ago worked here as a chambermaid, and paid for a schnitzel, a beer and for some Wurttemberg earth – a pinch of which was on the plate, in keeping with a local tradition, instead of bread… So, there you are… My friends, after my enthusiastic description of that tavern, were sitting there. For obvious reasons, they won’t be seeing any skeletons there. Mobile phones don’t work there for the same reasons.

…Let’s once and for all understand what humour is and start to differentiate between what is real and what is made up. The story of the funeral with the harmonica was not made up. And what is real now is that an SMS message has arrived on my phone which is in my bag on the bench by the kurhaus: ‘Geehrte Frau, wir senden Ihnen hertzliche Gruse mit der Errinerung daran, das Deutschland unsere Zukunft ist.’[19] The greetings were sent to me from Vilnius by an acquaintance of mine, who had been studying German intensively because she was getting ready to leave Lithuania to come and live here for all time. In Lithuania, as she put it, the truth appears only when the interests of systems coincide. An individual no longer exists.  A person’s fate is decided by zealous Eichmanns clicking their heels in every institution and that’s why she would like to observe the coming revolution from abroad. ‘Do you know how officials multiply? Like ferns. On the bottom side of their leaves ferns have spores that fall into fertile soil. Bureaucrats multiply from the dust of documents written and sent. Do you understand what the world is turning into? Into chemical materials and signs, there is nothing concrete and no one unifying thing. Films with Tom Cruise have become adrenalin, Birds’ Milk sweets [20] – glucose. Something has imperceptibly destroyed two temperaments – that of the melancholic and the phlegmatic. If they want to enter the public space, then, smiling, they pretend to be sanguine or choleric. People who see a dead person off not with sympathy but with the letters R.I.P. I will never, of course, manage to learn English or German, but Germans also can’t manage to learn Lithuanian. They, for example, are not able to differentiate between bardas ‘bard’ and gandras ‘stork’. Last June I was taking a German pensioner friend of mine to a bardic festival and I said to him that several dozen participants would be coming, and some from abroad as well. He asked me: “But how do you manage to catch them… Do you use nets?”’

…I got up from the bench, leaving behind the terrycloth towel thrown down on it… Even though, as some official might say: ‘that creates conditions to lose things irretrievably’…. No one’s going to steal a tatty towel, even one with a lily sewn on it. With my last thaler I bought some apple juice with a straw from a vending machine. My head was still spinning. The unreal sound of a street musician’s accordeon could be heard out of the memory of the never-ending park. I remember what happened after a concert last month… Was it really last month? It doesn’t matter… I remember what happened after the concert… that month. In St Catherine’s Church ladies of exalted age surrounded Martynas Levickis in a cloud of perfume, asking him for his autograph: ‘Martynas, you’re unreal…’ The musician’s bloodied corrugated spine could be seen through his shirt torn by Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

The Japanese tourist, bending a little, was photographing the rhododendrons and columbines. He raised his camera so he could get in the branches of the plane trees and the hotel on the other side of the river in the rooms of which fathers and sons, turning into one another, had loved and hated one another for three centuries. Отцы и дети[21] When you drink down a large glass of juice in one go on an empty stomach it makes you nauseous, as if you had a high temperature. It’s highly likely that I also will be travelling to Japan in that tourist’s camera, packed in digitally next to the flower beds and recorded accordion music. He’ll show his friends or perhaps his dog the bath house and museum buildings, the kurhaus with the casino, the gravel path, the benches and a woman sitting on one of them, whose heavy body had been immersed in water, the body that I now felt myself in. The woman will have covered her knees with a shaggy towel. She’ll pull a straw out of her mouth – transparent and flattened, like a thermometer. It's hard to imagine that now… While the Japanese man (or perhaps Japanese woman? it’s safer not to guess at the gender) is flitting about close to me. While I’m looking at the mountains and remembering the events and the concert in the valley. In movements that are fluid, floating in the dusk as if in the steam of a Turkish bath, the person bends, turns, squats. The rucksack on the tourist’s back is open, a jumper is tied around his or her hips, the nails of one hand are painted black. The cover of the camera lens is hanging down, twisting and turning, swinging from left to right, from right to left, like the plastic pendulum of a clock touched by an otherworldly wind.

2013

 

1. On the waters.
2. An eagle or a token
3. Translator’s note. Vilnius‘s main street has had a number of names since it was built in 1836. For most of the post-war Soviet occupation it was called Lenin Prospect until 1989 when its present name Gediminas Avenue (Lith. Gedimino prospektas) was introduced. The avenue is named after Gediminas (c. 1275-1341), one of Lithuania‘s most importatn rulers, who is credtied with building Vilnius.
4. Good afternoon. What language would you prefer me to speak in – Deutsch, English or po-russki? Igor Podkidyshev. It’s nice to see ladies from my almost native city of Vilnus, my dad worked for several years at Sigma, and I went to the nursery there. It’s amazing how time flies, isn’t it? How’s Gediminas Tower, Lenin Prospect and our Neringa restaurant?
5. Translator’s note. Chicken Kiev is Neringa‘s signature dish.
6. Translator’s note. Sigma was a company which made the first computers in Lithuania. It was in operation from 1957 until its demise after Lithuania became independent.
7. The weather was lovely; everything around - the green trees, the bright houses of the cheerful town, the undulating hills - everything was in a festive mood and lay set out like full wine-bowl set under the rays of a benevolent sun.
8. Miiisha, I'd like those ... With the stones. Pink. I don’t have any like thaaat. Deeear, look on the left side, in the box, between the riiing with the sapphire and the earrings.
9. Do you think they’re real? The prices aren’t shown.
10. He was older than her, / She was nice, / In her toned body / There lived a soul…
11. The rabble really play in a very dirty manner. I have an idea that a great deal of the most ordinary theft goes on here at the table.
12. There was a tremendous crowd in the gaming rooms. How insolent they were and how greedy!  I pressed forward to the middle and stood next to the croupier himself; I then began to play the game timidly, putting down two or three coins.
13. They sit with ruled paper on which they make a note of the coups, count, weigh up their chances, calculate, and then finally place their bet, and – lose exactly as much as we ordinary mortals who play without any calculation.
14. Translator’s note. Vievis is about 35 kilometres west north-west of Vilnius.
15. Translator‘s note. Vladas Kalvaitis (b. 1929), an award-winning Lithuanian writer, poet and satirist, was deported from Lithuania in 1948 for his activities in the underground. He was allowed to return home in 1966.
16. ‘Which is your flat? My husband died. I‘m sorry. Can you hear me? He died.‘
17. It’s amazing how time flies, yes?
18. Translator’s note. The Russian word подкидыш (podkidysh) means ‘foundling, abandoned infant’, while the verb подкинуть (podkinut’) has the meaning of placing something in front of someone without them being aware of what it is with the intention of deceiving them.
19. Dear Madam, we send you warm greetings with a reminder that Germany is our future.
20. Translator’s note. Birds‘ Milk (Lith. paukščių pienas) are Lithuanian sweets made from cows‘ milk, with a lemon and vanilla flavouring and coated in milk chocolate.
21. Fathers and Sons.

 

 

Translated by Romas Kinka

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