A Good Day

I don’t know if it’s part of the depression or just how I am (is depression an inextricable part of me?) but I have a hard time getting out into the world sometimes. Cumulative fear of people, risk, judgement, making mistakes. But I managed to get out into the world today and it was sweet.

Part of my discomfort is because my clothes aren’t right for this part of the world. I look too informal and too sexualized. Women cover up pretty well here, long skirts, pants, little to no cleavage. I come walking down the street and peoples faces freeze a little. They are not prepared for the boobage that is me. I had to fight this out in my head. My first reaction was screw them, I can dress how I want. Defiance. This was my mindset for a long time growing up as well. Then I swung away from that, I was feeling strange and miserable, and I wanted to camouflage. I considered buying skinny jeans and a blousey thing. But, but I don’t look good in skinny jeans. Or blousey things. So I decided that it wasn’t just unreasonable and childish for me to not want to wear those things. And then I started thinking about hijab and how I think about my body. I do dress for men on the street. I wish that I didn’t feel like I need that validation, but if I go through my day and no one admires me, I’m disappointed. Is hijab to protect men from lusting after women (which is bullshit. we all know it’s bullshit) or to protect women from relying on shallow praise from strangers?

I fought back against the skinny jean blend-with-the-herd desire and now I am the proud owner of BELLBOTTOMS, purchased with many fumbling hand gestures and timid smiles and talking to no less than five people, two of whom spoke English. There was an old lady in the thrift store, straight out of central casting. Headscarf, housecoat to her ankles, face like a nice prune. She was trying to buy a nightgown, I think one that gave her arms lots of room. She talked very rapidly to me, general commentary on the process. I’m pretty sure she realized I didn’t speak Lithuanian, but that didn’t seem to matter. The shopgirl and I helped her off with her housecoat (she was wearing a sunflower dress under it) and pulled the nightgown over her head. She was dissatisfied. She said something, and then she poked me in both breasts, in a friendly yet businesslike way, and then I left in a state of mild shock.

Cut to one block later. I smiled at a passerby, an older man, and said Labas. Labas is hi. He labased me back. I carried on and was waiting for the light to change and he sidled up next to me, saying, “You know enneh monnomins?”

“Excuse me?”

“Monnomins, you know enneh monnomins here?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t-”

“Monnomins, monnomins!”

“OH, monuments! Ah, no, sorry, I just got here.”

“You wan dringaber?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“Aber, you want dringaber?”

Long pause.

“…beer?”

“YAIS, you wan dringaber?”

“I don’t drink, sorry.” (massive lightning strike type lie)

“Okay.”

I walked on.

Things change so quickly here. In other cities, neighbourhoods shift from block to block, but here it’s all mixed together. Beautiful fancy hotels covered in graffiti, upwardly mobile parents leading their pink children down plywood, jerry-rigged stairways, stray cats lounging in fields next to supermarkets. I turned down a street and suddenly I was in a bad neighbourhood. For two blocks. It looked Soviet, poor, grim. That’s where I saw the beautiful prostitute, with legs like icicles in spike heels and a long jaw. I smiled at her and I think she did not expect that, because it took her a long time to smile back. When she did, it was very kind. A block down from her, a man stood under a grey archway staring down the street like sailors stare at the sea, with a tiny golden brown terrier tucked thoughtlessly under his left arm.

Then I was out, back into Old Town, which has tourist money and primary colours and where the sun shines more brightly. It really does. Odd.

 

A Good Day

Insufficently Foreign

The internet makes us able to just pick up our lives and stick them back in anywhere in the globe fairly intact. And in English. Modular living. This is good in that it’s easy for us and bad in that it is the most shallow excuse for a life. Par exemple, since my sleep is all whacked out I didn’t sleep during the night, and spent the dawn watching Reefer Madness and eating half a tin of anchovy olives. I could have done this PERFECTLY EASILY in the United States.

Yesterday was interesting, though. I took part in a catacomb tour arranged for embassy employees. There’s a fine big white tower in the center of the city and we met there. The guide told us, in a good matter of fact style, about this country’s history of dragons and how the Vilnius dragon was killed in the eighteenth century, finally. He ate, ahem, “young ladies”.

There are kings and queens in the crypts under the cathedral. Our guide was a gentle blond woman with an enormous English vocabulary and a thick accent. The air is thin down there and I was yawning constantly which I’m sorry for. I tried to make up for it by being interested and asking questions but my brain kept gently sliding away.

Crowns and swords, swords and crowns. I bet for the people who owned them, they were a pain in the ass. Agh, what if you sat on your ornamental sword by accident? Ow. Jewel encrusted. Ow. “Tis the mark of rubies on my bum, milady, nay, tis not a rash, DON’T LAUGH AT ME I’M KING.”

The embassy people are very nice and mostly very very normal. Being with them is a little like being back in high school. I was talking to someone a while back about homeless and poverty-trapped musicians and he was agonizing about their lives. I told him that they were where they were because, in some way, within or outside of their control, they were unable to compromise. They couldn’t lie and smile to get a job, or they couldn’t stop drinking, or they simply refused to wear the clothes they were supposed to. It’s compromise with the unreal monster we call Society that leads us to betray ourselves and not even understand to what end. I did not flourish for most of high school because I could not compromise. I lacked the skills. I hated the fact that I was genuinely unable to adapt and I hated the fact that there was a need to. Pay attention to your compromises. Make sure they’re worth something.

There is a queen down there with my name. Elizbieta (pronounced Eleejbyeta).

We went to two small, basement amber museums. Lithuania is famous for its amber. And basketball. There were gold plated bananas in the amber museum. I am glad to not know why, it leaves it much more open. And there was a tiny lizard trapped in amber, very rare. He was beautiful, in good condition, tiny dragon.

We were taken to a nunnery, which I guess doesn’t happen that often, although there are many nunneries here. The nun who watched us to make sure we didn’t sneeze on Jesus was very grim and I was nervous of her until she smiled and then she looked so kind. There is a well in the basement of this nunnery, with water known for miracles. The nunnery was a hospital in the old days (and those days are old) and as well as standard medical care they would pray with the patients and bathe their eyes with the water. They brought us down into the grotto and passed around a brown mug and some people drank. It didn’t feel right to me, it wasn’t given for me, but she poured water over my hands and I wet my eyes and felt holy.

We went to a glazier’s, where I held my body very tightly against the inevitable impulse to catapult into the wall like a vaudeville comedian and break everything in the shop. The basement was a workshop, but connected to tunnels. There are so many tunnels. 150 Jews escaped from the ghetto through the tunnels and got away. The history of the Jewish people in Lithuania is very grim. They mostly died. It used to be more than a third Jewish in this city, 100,000. Now there are 4,000.

I asked our guide if she was an historian as we were leaving, and she said no. She had wanted to study history, but had also been interested in religion as a young person. She had attended some secret Christian meetings as a thirteen year old and was found out and imprisoned by the communist authorities. When she was older and back in the world, she expressed interest in studying history and it was vetoed because of its parallels with religious studies. She studied biology.

Their history is so close here. They became independent in 1991. One year after I was born.

It’s good to think about the people who’ve walked on the stones that you’re walking on. It’s good to think about history. Sometimes it is hard to put yourself in the same time line with it. Yes, that happened, but it was a world apart from me and is impossible in my world. They became independent after I was born. More than half the people I see on the street lived in this time. History is lives and what can happen to them. Including yours. Including mine.

Insufficently Foreign

My Super Secret Location

I’m in Lithuania. I think I read too many adventure novels as a child because I have always had the perma-expectation that I would have to snap into a cover role as street urchin/bond girl (possible costume?) at a moments notice because of some unexamined thing. DARN YOU JASON BOURNE.

But I do not need to hide my location from you, just like I didn’t need to pretend that I lived on a different block when my poor sports coach dropped me off and then all the ensuing awkwardness when he saw my address later. Learn from my mistakes.

I’m in Vilnius, which is a town, like other towns, except for the mother-flippin’ church towers and nightly hot air balloons floating o’er the misty spires while yon erstwhile moon sits off in the corner like the cool guy who won’t talk to you because secretly he has a lisp.

And yet. And yet, I am here. Indoors. Not having achieved clothing. Eating caesar (ceasar? quasar.) salad and looking suspiciously at the sun that is hitting things outside. What if it hits me? Will it hurt? Will it leave a mark? Only time, the application of pants, and a bravery hitherto untold of will tell.

You see how I managed to make drama out of sitting at the computer in my nightgown? That’s a gift.

And the above is modesty.

And the above is candour.

Oh God, okay, that’s enough.

 

P.S. This is me. This is me eating an ice cream. This is me eating an ice cream IN LITHUANIA, WHAAAAT?

Photo on 23-08-15 at 18.07Photo on 23-08-15 at 18.07 #3

My Super Secret Location

Off and away

I’m going to start a charming and insouciant, yet smug and irritating travel blog. But I have to go get on a plane with lots of scary faced people now, so I’m going to bung this up here.

Poland. An airport is an airport, but Europe smells different. I wonder if it’s the plastic they use. Or it may just be that the carpet has gradually absorbed gallons of perfume and cologne. People’s faces look different. How much of it is genetics and how much of it is culture? And language. The language we speak shapes our faces. Do bilingual children look different? Must investigate.
I will tell you, because it is just you and me, that I am scared. I haven’t been in a country where I didn’t speak the language since I was seventeen and I have lost the habit of helplessness. No, that’s wrong. I am not helpless here. I am sure that were I to ask, they would try. But I would have to humble myself, being genuinely in need, and that is hard.
Right now, I need water. I was too much of a wuss to go up to the guy at the place (you know those little airport shops where they sell chocolate and magazines and shot glasses that some people, for some reason, must buy) and wing it. But I just realized I could go on the internet and find all my answers without risk. Plus the guy probably speaks English because this is an international airport.
NO! I should be bold! I should not look on the internet! I should fall repeatedly on my face in front of strangers who may well judge me on my clothing and general Americanness!
Okay. I’m going to go buy water. I got this. Yeah. It’s so easy to get on a plane, so easy to make up your mind to do something large. These little things are the complicated part.

HAHAHAHA! I did it. I couldn’t look her in the eye. But I did it. I now have water. I will drink the drops of its victory here, now, with you.

I’ve spilled it on the laptop.

It’s still good.

Off and away