Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Beruta, Whisky & 36 hours without sleep...

Beruta, Whisky & 36 hours without sleep...

We arrive at the apartment in Kaunas, Lithuania in the car of Lisa's cousin Vile (Vee-La) and her husband Edmundas - a very kind and gentle guy whom I am sure has the wisdom of the ages locked behind his bright blue eyes. It is really too bad that he does not speak English and I do not speak Lithuanian (although I am trying to learn thanks to Pimseluer and iPod) - I would love to have a conversation with him. Lisa is especially fond of him as she is quick to point out his gentle nature. That being said - that gentle nature fades once he is behind the wheel. In fact, most drivers in Lithuania would scare the hell out of drivers on the Dan Ryan Expressway! Driving at near light speed - weaving in and out between cars and sometimes pedestrians, Edmundas would make a NASCAR driver proud as we make it from the airport to the apartment in record time!

Lisa's father is traveling in a tricked out mini-van owned by Lisa's cousin, Saulius. A Burgundy Toyota Mini-van with the center seats removed to accommodate the largest sub-woofer I have ever seen - this baby had its own amp and power supply! To demonstrate, Saulius begins to turn-up the volume and I watch the windows begin to vibrate along with my teeth! I am glad that I am in the relative safety of Mario Edmundas' car - which at worst will be blaring Lithuanian Country and Western - a very interesting listen by the way..
I suppose this is a good time to try and identify the players here - get a note pad - I hope I get it right - it is after midnight here and everyone is sleeping....
Mary Dapkus (who passed away) is Lisa's Grandmother. Mary has several sisters: Stella (who passed away) and Jane are the ones I will be concerned with today - there are more to mention later.

Stella has four children: Vile (Vee-La) and her twin sister Milda; Gvidas and Ramius (Ray-Mus) the two brothers - they all have children as well:
Vile - Rasa (who is married to Vaidas) and Linus (I fought his wife's name but he has two little girls: Eve and Migla) Milda - Saulius Gvidas - Egedias (who is also married and has a little son)
I am not sure about Ramius as of this writing.

Jane has several children as well: Beruta, Aldona and I think a couple of more that I will have to fill in later.

So these are the players for today! Vile & her husband Edmundas along with her daughter Rasa & her husband Vaidas, Milda & her son Saulius with his fiancée are there to greet us at the airport and transport us to Kaunas. Two yellow roses are handed to Lisa as we are lead bleary eyed to the cars.

So - now we have come to a screeching stop in front of the apartments. If you can visualize the Cabrini Green Projects - you can visualize the apartments we are staying in. Remember, Lithuania was under communist control for decades - housing was supplied by the government - everything was built the same and pretty basic. I really don't know how they could raise the large families they have in such a small space. In either case, when they became a free nation, the occupants of these little apartments we given the opportunity to purchase them. Most took the offer and now the apartments are passed through the families like inheritance. Real estate and apartments are now very expensive and difficult to come by - having one, even these little things, are like having gold.

We stayed here three years ago, so it felt a bit like coming home - which is nice after such a long flight. We walk into the door - lugging seventy pound bags behind us - and we are greeted by Aunt Jane, Beruta, Aldona and her husband Jonas. Greetings are heaped upon us in a flurry of hugs, kisses and meaty hand-shakes. Aunt Jane (who had spent quite a few years in the states) was calling "Lisa, Bobby!" while kissing our faces. It was the warmest, most wonderful feeling in the world - filled with genuine warmth and love; the perfect tonic after a long flight. The best part - I am treated like family and not just as an in-law (a German one to boot!). Now, in their arms and in their eyes, I am Lithuanian. And you know what? I am very proud of that fact!
We are lead into the apartment - Saulius and I begin to carry in the bags, while Lisa and her father greet the family and begin to visit.

A brief layout of the apartment - as I said this will be the base of operations for the next two weeks - we are located (Thank God) on the first floor. You enter into the doorway and immediately to your left is the kitchen - about the size of a walk-in closet. Straight ahead form the door is the family room/dining room/extra bedroom that is about the 3/4 the size of our master bedroom at home. To the right of the hall is a bathroom - just a toilet with barely enough room to stand let alone sit down when the urge bellows from below. In fact, when you do sit to relive some much needed pressure - you will crack you head on the door if you lean forward. Oh by the way - note to self - no ventilation - choose your time of entry carefully! Next to the bathroom is a room that is just twice the size that has a sink/tub and small Russian wash machine. The sink and tub share the faucet - only one person at a time though - otherwise you will fall into the tub as soon as the door is shut. This is where we also dry our laundry - we have a wash machine but the dryer is nothing more than the air that God provides. Across from the bathtub cubby is a spare room where all 6 (again, count 'em 6) seventy pound each bags are now sitting next to the bed that Lisa's father will use. Roughly half the size of the living/dining/extra bedroom. So as you can see - space is something of a luxury that we do not have - but it is home and we enjoy it. Oh did I mention: no cable, no high speed connection, no ice, little refrigeration, no A/C, no screens on the windows but a warmth and hominess that far outweighs any convenience we could ever miss. In other words, a well loved home.

How am I posting this blog you may now ask? Linas provided me with a GPRS card that allows me to connect to the internet through cell towers - so I can post this, but more important we can remain in contact with the kids throughout the stay.

Okie dokey - back to our welcoming! The living room/dining room/spare room is loaded for bear with food. Spread out on a small coffee table is a wide variety of luke-warm foods: smoked chicken, breaded/fried chicken, chicken tenderloin, rice, breads, salmon on bread, cucumbers, tomatoes and various cookies. Remember, food is expensive here; this spread alone must have set them back considerably, at least a couple of hundred litas. We are all invited in and told to begin eating.

Eating is something of a contact sport here. You are required to do it often and with gusto! Anything short of the food flowing out of your nose is considered a failure. No sooner is a plate empty that Aunt Jane is filling it again for you. Aunt Jane is a marvel! Blue eyes that sparkle with life rest in the body of an 80 something woman with a Prince Valiant hair cut! So full of life she is not afraid to speak her mind or give a very friendly ripping to her daughters. Always smiling she looks on at her family with love and pride - but, that being said - she is known to make plenty of people crazy! As most older people who have survived Siberia, Nazis and the Russians are allowed to do! Sitting next to her is Aldona, her daughter - a tall drink of water who looks to be the youngest of the bunch. Quiet and a bit mousy - Aldona smiles at her mother and occasional lets fly some gentle ribbing. Next to Aldona is Beruta - her name sounds like her, a bit of a bear. A little bit older than Aldona, Beruta is wearing a knitted mesh top with only her bra underneath and she does not care! She quickly whips out some shot glasses, a bottle of whisky and two shots later she is filling a third for me! This whisky by the way is home-made and can power several electrical plans for days. As this goes on - we have not slept yet and we still have to head to Vile's for dinner.....


Nat said...

This is so cool! I love the description of everything--especially family. I am glad that you are enjoying your trip. Tell Lisa Hello. --Can't wait to see the pictures to go with the images in my head now.

Anonymous said...


When are going to write the screen play?


Mark said...

Hello Bob,
Thanks for sharing your trip with me! The detail that you are providing helps me to see your surroundings, hear the people and almost taste the food. The names of Lisa's family members are so delightlfully different than names over here, they are almost whimsical... Beruta, Vile (are you making them up)? Please continue to post and if you can, add some photos. I hope you continue to have a fun and safe trip.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob,

I know you are not making up their names!! Say hello for me and that I send my love...I don't know whose apartment you were in the first night, but I do remember Vile's! Aunt Jane?!!? Wow!! I haven't seen her in YEARS.

take care,