Thursday, August 18, 2005

For Those Who Have Passed Before Us

OK – Time check – I am writing this Blog on Thursday the 18th and the events that I am writing about take place on the 10th.

I am getting somewhat spoiled here. Generally I don’t eat breakfast or lunch – but here if you are not eating – you’re drinking and if you are not drinking you are sleeping! So it’s been three squares a day – sometimes more! So much for the weight that I lost! So Lisa has been making us breakfast every morning – generally scrambled eggs or we’ve been eating out with the family when we meet with them. Funny thing about food and drink here – it is neither cold nor hot – it is always something around tepid. I would kill for a huge Coke with lots of ice – heck, you can’t even find a single ice cube around here let alone a frosty glass or ice-cold, refreshing Coke! J

So after yet another hearty breakfast we are once again piling into the little red Honda to wind our way through the streets of Kaunas and see the sights with our ever agreeable guide Gvidas.

Today we are going to head to a natural spring to fill up on water. The city water here is not that good – most people do not drink it without boiling it first. Gvidas heads to this particular spring just outside of town once a week or so to fill up his large container with drinking and cooking water. The spring itself is located deep within a beautiful forest, surrounded by towering white birches and maples. The forest itself is calm and serene – the sounds of the city are a distant memory and you truly feel that you are alone. We climb down a moss covered path – there is a light drizzle (not enough to warrant an umbrella) and the air is warm. A small stream is bubbling below and the sound drifts upwards towards us. It is very picturesque and we stop for a few photo opportunities. The spring itself is actually a pipe that someone must of dug in at one point – in the pipe is a crude stopper of wood with a piece of wire holding it in place. Gvidas pulls the plug and the coldest, clearest water I’ve ever seen or tasted begins to spew forward into the stream. He places a huge multi-liter jug under the powerful stream and quickly fills it. He then fills a 2 liter bottle for us to drink in the car and offers us a taste.

There is not a bottled water in the States that tastes better! Cool, crisp with no hint of minerals or salts, the water is delicious. Between the three of us we finish the first 2 liters while standing there. We refill and head back up the mossy path.

From the Spring we head to a local cemetery that is home to some famous politicians, artists and historical heroes. I don’t recall the name of the cemetery but I will always remember the images inside.

The cemeteries in Lithuanian are nothing like the cemeteries in the US. The grave sites are tended to meticulously and are often monuments to the person who has passed on. Every grave site we look at is clean, crisp with fresh flowers, lit candles and husge headstones. One headstone was a monument that you would easily find in a museum in the US – the grave was occupied by a local priest who had done much for the cause of freedom in Lithuania. The monument itself was a large carving of the priest sitting and smiling as if looking directly at you.

There are two monuments in particular that struck us all very closely – especially Lisa’s father. One monument was a series of white, thick crosses – almost like the type that you would find at Arlington National Cemetery in D.C.. Each thick, white cross had a rusted shackle around the base – each shackle had a name imprinted into it. Each shackle was then joined to each other by a thick, rusted chain. Perhaps 6 to 10 crosses wide and 6 – 10 crosses long, with crosses and shackles in the center, a rusted web of chains are formed between all of the crosses. This monument represents the enslavement by the Russians during the occupation – each name represents a family that was wiped out through the genocide the Russians attempted.

The second monument is simple in form – a small black wall with breaks of grey, marbled granite to represent different time periods. Think of the Vietnam War memorial but reduced to knee high height. The monument is broken up into different time periods in Lithuanian history by the grey, marbled granite. Each break contains a date and the number of Lithuanians killed by the Russians as they attempted to rid the country of them. While as I write this I cannot accurately describe the look and feel of it – you have to realize that one of the dates represented is the year that Lisa’s father and his immediate family came over to America. In that year, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were slaughtered. That realization of the actual impact of everything bought a tear to everyone’s eyes.

Needless to say the drive to our next stop in the Gvidas tour was a bit subdued.

From the cemetery we headed to the Pazaislis Monastery. Dedicated in 1712 the monastery is currently home to the Sisters of St Casimir. Cavernous and ornate, it reminds me of the church used in the “Godfather Part III” where Michael is confessing his sins to the Italian Cardinal who will soon be Pope John Paul I. There is a small crew of art students who are working to restore the delicate features of the church. Paintings from some of the masters adorn the walls and ceilings – including several from Palonis. A very kind Nun leads us on a short tour of the church – apparently having been there before, Lisa’s father had become friends with another Nun – and while she is currently away from the monastery – he leaves a generous donation for her.

From the church and monastery we head to a restaurant called the “Green Wheel” for a very tasty lunch of potato pancakes. Wanting to take care of a lunch bill or two – I take the check from the pretty waitress. Needing change, I ask Lisa’s father how do you ask for change in Lithuanian, “Grazus” he replies. So I went up to the waitress – handed her my money and with a large smile said: “Grazus!”. She gave me a funny smile, took my money and went off to the back to get my grazus. I returned to the table looking a bit puzzled and everyone was laughing – apparently he had given me the wrong word – I called her pretty (which she was in either case). She returned to the table and with her very best English said: “You want change, yes?”

No comments: