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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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reflections on belonging

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Photo: Dainius Dirgėla

By Kerry Shawn Keys

 

Ever since Halloween started to make inroads into the Lithuanian religious calendar, the country has grown more and more spiritual, and there are more and more Spirits revealing themselves, especially to the younger generation, winos, and the imaginative clergy. The clergy know how to call in an exorcist or hole up inebriated in the former 7 Fridays restaurant and bar which they re“possessed” . The youth know how to keep everything amicably religious and ritualistic without losing sight of other transporting spirits, namely alcohol. A witch’s broom can transport you to the moon or a hellish, heavenly party with Faust ( we see it all in Oskaras Koršunova’s Master and Margarita), but alcohol has similar powers of enlightenment. It seems that just when most of Europe has almost finally gotten rid of its irksome wild animals, Noah’s Ark, and burnt nearly all of its witches, their vengeful souls in the guise of Spirits are multiplying, taking over the dark and even the light. Halloween Eve’s day. You can see them going in and out of the pubs and parks and Parliament, and walking the busy streets. At night it gets really spooky and downright unpredictable because often the Spirits carry their own spirits with them – Lithuania’s various kinds of lemonade: beer and Three Nines; vodka; and wine and Starka. Wine and Starka perhaps because they are sacred drinks. Jesus turned washwater into wine, and Adam and Eve used to drink fermented apple-blossom tea in the Garden with Old Skyzat himself. And after the Fall, Eve hid her nipples behind apple leaves, not fig leaves. And Adam hid his grass-snake in Eve.

Most of this current Spiritual revival is manifesting itself in Lithuania in what scholars call animism, though the more purer breed of Lithuanians might refer to it as animalism. These pure-bred traditionalists prefer ancestral worship – voodoo it’s called in Haiti – and so their preference is All Souls’ and lighting candles for dead humans so they can get around better in their graves at night, certainly not feeding them ceppalinas or dancing a sutartine or ring dance with grandma. In the lackadaisical Theocracy of Lithuania, everyone thinks that animals can’t possibly have souls, and that a witch’s soul can be burnt by a bonfire or a blowtorch or a priest’s tongue. So why then do they entice an ancestral zombie with a candle that will get rained on anyway. Well, it’s family thing. Halloween remains a sort of blasphemy against the Establishment, and on this issue their token pride in the country’s recent paganism gets set aside. It would be shameful to admit that their pagan ancestors had dealings with animal entrails and Spirits, and possibly used fermented substances – maybe a little hempseed or fly agaric with vodka on wedding nights – to engender contact.

Let’s sally forth from preaching about Halloween and All Souls’ and focus more on alcoholic spirits and their august achievement of inducing contact between human beings, especially between the expanding number of sexes and between the rather Victorian Lithuanians – something feared very much by the current, puritanical city fathers and many a mother. Still, alcohol does promote Roman Catholic religiosity in a way – that is, condomless, conceptual baptism after, say, an evening of grinding away among other inebriates on the dance floor at a resurrected Sokobies Bar or PDR(DPF), and a year or so later the more formal christening probably followed by a glass of champagne or Lithuanian apple-bubbly and more bubbling babies about 9 months later. By gosh, the Spirits and spirits are inseparable it seems.

As a connoisseur in both of the above fields, I have come up with the following prospectus for newcomers to Lithuania:

  1. Three-Nines with Coca-Cola for the health of the stomach and to keep vigil for ghosts, Kestutis Navakis, and Vytautas Stankus during the long winter nights.
  2. Starka with apple juice to show that you are truly Lithuanian and still have dreams of Paradise and the Virgin Mary.
  3. Degtinė (vodka or water to some) if you want to drink to the end, and then some more with Peter at the gate.
  4. Any of the dozens of delicious beers if you want to grow big and fat as the Happy Buddha and then rest on your laurels or cabbage or oak-leaves in la-la land.
  5. Wine from Moldova if you’re a cheapskate and can’t tell the difference between Chateau Lafite, Eucharistic grape juice, and drinking water with a teetotaler.
  6. Wine from Spain or France or Italy if you think you’re classy or cosmopolitan or dining with the Pope.
  7. Lithuanian raspberry wine made in someone’s kitchen if you like getting sick and vomiting in a patch of peonies in Purgatory.
  8. And the homebrew, Samanė, if you know its source and a friend says this is the real stuff and not some back-alley brain-rot from the Ukraine that will give you radiant, celestial visions you’ll never live to remember.

The list could go on and on all the way to Alytus. As I said, Lithuania is a very spiritual place. Enjoy it, but be careful you don’t stumble and freeze to death on a sidewalk with nary a Samaritan to help, or encounter the blue Devils, himself, at a crossroads.

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