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 by: Dainius Dirgėla, To the Top, 2015

By Kerry Shawn Keys


Palanga and Nida, the two most well-known and largest of Lithuania’s Baltic Sea resort towns. And in summer, folks do resort to them. Not as a last resort, but as a first, because both are quite lovely with their wooden architecture, schooners, and the balmy, salty air. And they are not far away from larger urban centers of Lithuania. Yet, they are very opposite options in the spectrum of options along Lithuania’s tiny coastline.

Nida attracts baby carriages and babies. Palanga, studs on motorcycles and babes.
Nida is relatively serene with vast dunes and scenic views of the blue lagoon and the sea.
Palanga, on the other hand is a haven for vast hordes of testosterone and tangas. Nida is often so quiet you might hear a spider drop from the ceiling onto your cot – or an ant or three if you are staying in the Writers’ Union watering hole.  But don’t be fooled – if your nostalgia is Heavy Metal you can get charged and gored by a boar free of charge; if you like more sedate versions and your penchant is Queen, you can get goosed by an eager, young moose. Palanga’s pulse is so vibrant that you will be lucky to hear what sweet-nothings your love is whispering in your ear. Nida has Thomas Mann and Laurynas Katkus. Palanga, Rolandas Rastauskas. In Nida, you often can hear the murmuring of German folksongs lofting out over the lagoon from the larger chalets Ah, “An der Memel anderm Rand”. In Palanga, you will hear the ancient Lithuanian language often spoken in a way that would make any mother blush. Nida rests on the beautiful spit of Neringa, not far from the black-markets of Kaliningrad. Nasty gossip has it ( and I would hate to spread such rumors ) that Brigitte Macron used to vacation in Nida perched high in the dunes overlooking the family beach spying on young boys engaged in the drama of the waves. Palanga is not far from the thriving port of Klaipeda where Amber Growlyellsky holds court, and not too far from a good hangover. Both Nida and Palanga have merchants dealing in real and phony amber. Nida’s forests boast tree-huggers, used condoms, and wild pigs. Palanga’s streets boast bottle-huggers and restaurants with fried pork and smoked smelt. Nida shares its coast with its gorgeous, sister city of Juodkrante, and with an aquarium with dancing dolphins and imprisoned fish. Palanga shares its coast with itself, and, like its bathers, is incredibly narcissistic. Well, why not – Lithuanian women are known throughout Europe for their stunning beauty, long legs, genderless Lilliputian butts, and skill at applying makeup. And they say the men shave the mirror in the morning after a night of Starka. Just listen to the words “Nida” and “Palanga”. Nida sounds Scandinavian and low-key as a Swedish farmer. Palanga could be a sumptuous dish from Tanzania. In Nida, you are more likely to hear Abba, Vladimir Vysotsky, or a drunken poet from the Writer’s Union Villa serenading his dog. In Palanga, Michael Jackson and reggae, a saccharine Portuguese Eurovision song, or pulsating, recycled Euro-trash disco.

In the off-season, both towns are quiet and misty, and the beaches not polluted with tourists anymore, but lavish with wind and sand and emptiness. Sandcastles and children’s glee have vanished into the air and waves. An ideal timeless time for self-reflection, reunions, trysts, birthday parties, nerd New Year celebrations, and Masonic activity. Early risers in Nida can find amber and washed-up buoys on the beach. And in Palanga folks can meditate sprawled on the pier with a bottle of beer while the baleful surf crashes all around.
Ah, Nida and Palanga. Dunes or Dancing. Artsy crafts or the Crafty arts. Bipolar opposites almost, but so close to one another that it is said that in their sleep Nida dreams of the curvaceous flesh of Palanga, and Palanga dreams of the ghostlike soul of Nida.
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