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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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Photo: Dainius Dirgėla, The Last Shot

By Kerry Shawn Keys

 

Mushrooms. Lithuania and mushrooms. Mushrooms and Lithuania. Especially in late Summer and Fall. Sizzled in butter with some moonshine to follow. But beware, if you collect and eat the wrong fungus, you might fall, too. A lot harder than a fallen leaf – like a buffalo over a precipice. Or you might trip, and find yourself spinning with Rumi or Pan’s puffballs in Turkey, or around Kirke’s g-spot – a merry Merry-Go-Round. But they are delicious when a Druskininkai mom prepares them or a grandmother or wood nymph in a village. So many kinds, so many preparations, so many tastes and combinations. They are so hardy that clouds of their spoors have been witnessed on the squash courts of Chicago and Vilnius!  Why go to a casino for fun, or play Russian roulette, when you can munch mushrooms at random. They grow in the woods, they grow in bear poop, they grow in saunas. They are the delicacy of Lithuania, and an organic treat more worthy than the finest subterreanean truffles of France, or French or Yankee fries as a matter of fact. Better than snails, or even the snail pâté my village friend concocts. And if you like slime, some are as slimy as an uncooked snail. Not to get off the trail, but besides gathering mushrooms, snail safaris are picking up speed. Not the snails but the big game hunters of snails for the European Common Market. Mammoths once roamed Lithuania, and now some scientists are investigating the trunks of frozen mammoths to see if they sniffed snails or magical mushrooms to get high. Perkunas often eats mushrooms before dancing in the sky. Santa’s reindeer love to get high on fly agaric. Maybe a soma recipe will be found in an ancient Sanskrit-Lithuanian text,  and at Christmas young children and babies will be treated to a prehistoric ambrosia as well as poppy-seed milk. The two could strike a balance that would suit any manic-depressive.

Don’t worry, be happy. Fewer people have died from suspect mushrooms in Lithuania than from fireworks in the old days at the Cathedral on New Year’s Eve, or vodka or falling icicles. Every household has its wisdom about the proper cuisine, similar to Italians and their pasta and tomato paste, though mushrooms are wilder and might have a taste of Chernobyl if bought at the outdoor markets instead of gathered. Be sure they aren’t glowing before you take a taste. The supermarkets don’t display any of the interesting domestic varieties, but prefer Japanese and portabellos, and the traditional tasteless, generic types.

How should one go about gathering these phallic wonders in the forest? First, be sure to carry a local villager in your rucksack, a sharp knife, a nationalistic Lithuanian apple to nibble on, a wicker basket or plastic bag, and an enlarged, photogenic photo of fly agaric as an example of what not to even touch or try a conversation with unless sipped via ravens’ urine in a powwow with a Romuvan. Never study a field book on mushrooms – useless and dangerous. Maybe a book on shamans or Brussel sprouts.

If you are a foreigner and go on holiday to Lithuania, remember that the mushrooms served in restaurants are more than passable, but often cooked in a common, mushy way as a sauce for potatoes – another Lithuanian delicacy. Better to make friends with someone from the countryside, or a witch in a strip club, and ask them for a jar of their pickled specialty or holiday fare. You won’t regret it. Gourmet grub for the finest of holidays – Halloween, my birthday, and Christmas Eve. And if a few strange spoors get mixed in the fare, who cares – you might just dream you’re Alice or Eve in Wonderland hallucinating a grass-snake on top of a revolving toadstool the size of the Vilnius Television Tower.

 

 

 

 

 

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