Letters Home to my Wife, Patty, From Vilnius, Lithuania

Written almost nightly, during vacation, from an Internet cafe, on Pilies Gatve.

1 August 2004

Hi Patty,

Another day at the opera.  Sunday ... went to church
for a concert of organ music and arias.  I am reminded
why Mozart is the greatest composer that there ever was
or will be.  Bach, of course, was a subversive: can't
write 4 bars without sneaking in a blues chord, and
before you can say "what the..." he's back on the
straight and narrow, playing all innocent-like with
those notes.  Franz Liszt, I'd forgotten, is the sound
track of every Dracula and Frankenstein movie ever made
... the church windows shook, I thought the glass would
fall out.  I guess I'd also forgotten that he'd
invented rock-n-roll, or at least that every over-blown
rock band from the 70's ripped him off.  Emerson Lake &
Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Genesis (selling england by the
pound), Yes, Boston even.   Here I am tapping my toes
to the beat, smiling ear to ear at the riffs, and at
the end of the concert, my dad goes "Liszt, he's so
abstract; too complicated."  I'm like WTF???
rock-n-roll duude but how does one explain that to my
dad?  No common points of reference. 

Not much more here, met more people I knew from
Chicago, Prane (Francine) Shlutas (a different Prane),
she was a nurse in Chicago, here she runs around to the
countryside and teaches basic female health to
illiterate villagers.  Arguments about fundraising ...
the Lithuanian doctors in the US aren't donating any
money, but they want to take charge, and she's pissed
... like "where were you when we were building a
country after the communists fell?"  The discussions
often turn to nation building, although 9/10th's of
that is gossip about who did what.  Spent hours talking
about the Jews.  Turns out that much of the Lithuanian
government before WWII was run by Jews.  There were
towns that were 70% Jewish.  Today, I'm told that
Israelis are moving to Druskininkai .. its like Israel,
but without the Arabs, goes the joke.  Who was a
collaborator? Who wasn't? Why haven't they reprinted
those books yet (owning one could have gotten you
deported to Siberia) but now that Lithuania is free,
why haven't they reprinted them?  Discussions like
these ... old stuff, but they are still hashing it out,
and no, it wasn't my dad, nor was it Prane who started
that conversation, but a guy who's hoping to get
elected to City Council (we signed his petition, and
shared beer at the cafe).  I remembered that my Grandma
did speak Yiddish around the house, and that's how I
picked up what little I know/remember.  I  remember when
I grew older, the amazement I'd get that "a goyim like
me" knew Yiddish. 

There's a monument to Frank Zappa here. Big brass head
with bushy moustache... beats the heck out of me what
Zappa has to do with Lithuania, other than that he was
dangerously subversive.  You know he testified before
the U.S. Congress in the 60's?  He had to defend his
record label with free-speech arguments, they wanted to
throw him in jail for obscenity charges... funny that,
since he was also pissing off all the hippies too,
calling them all dolts, doing things because it was
hip, and not because it was right.   So I'm guessing
that for Lithuanians, under the Soviets in the 70's,
listening to this anti-establishment, anti-hippie,
anti-pop-culture anti-consumerist-culture subversive
like Zappa must of been this mind bending experience:
this great representative of the West explaining why
Western Culture was so fucked up.  And so there's now a
monument in his name.

Whatever. Good night now, I guess ... 

write ... 


2 August 2004

Hi Patty, 

Tonight's recital was Bach, Sor's Mozart Variations for
Guitar, and assorted Flamenco in an old, decaying
church. The outside was being restored (I guess that
means its structurally safe) but the inside was quite a
mess: Saints without fingers and noses; sunbursts and
cloudbursts without Saints, Saint Stephen's garden with
no Saint Stephen in it, he must have wandered away. 
Loose planks covering holes in the floor that drop
straight down to the crypt.  Smelled like a crypt too
.. something died a hundred years ago, but the smell
never went away.  What a place for a "Hot Classical
Guitar" recital (Ok, they did have elaborate
computer-controlled stage lights ... it was a
professional production ... and sold out.)   Two

Turns out Vilnius has "only" 33 Cathedrals, each and
every one a Baroque masterpiece.  Even if I went to two
a day, I still couldn't see all of them in my time
here.  Now that I've been here a few days, and have
gotten a look around, some history becomes clear.  The
16th, 17th and 18th centuries were very very VERY good
to Vilnius.  The 19th was a indifferent and possibly
negligent, and the 20th only a tad short of a disaster.
 Fortunately, and this is the good thing, the buildings
did manage to remain vertical, and the city counts its
lucky stars.   The last 10-15 odd years of freedom,
however, has wrought absolutely revolutionary changes,
most all for the better.  Vilnius is a showcase for
what can be done with free initiative.  Much/most of
the Old Town has been (beautifully) restored, although
I found a spectacular exception today, on the verge of
crumbling down, all shored up, next to another
unrestored strangely Moorish palace (can't use that
Islamic word, now can we?).   I don't know how to
describe the city: my best shot is to say "imagine what
Vienna must look like, or, better yet, find an
Architectural History book, and look it up."  Its a
distinct Eastern-European style, predominantly 18th
century.  Not at all like Paris or anything like that. 
Much prettier than Sofia (Bulgaria). 

Nightcap was with an absolute "kvankt": He knew Andy
Warhol and Yoko Ono and David Rockefeller and Salvador
Dali, and he stole the Gutenberg Bible from Harvard
(actually, that part I believed: he fell 60 feet in the
attempt, and was in traction for 4 months), otherwise a
bit of a bore: one sided conversation only.  Googled
his alias "Dr. Infinity" and found nada.  I guess the
chroniclers of Ono, etal didn't bother to include him
in their biographies.  Oh well. 

Tomorrow, another day.  Oh please do write back ... 


2 August 2004

From: "Patricia Wappner" 
Date: Mon, 02 Aug 2004 15:29:55 -0700 (PDT)

Hi Linas!
     Got your e-mails. What a blast! It sounds like
it's beautiful there.
     The kids have been not horrible, although they've
come close in moments. On Saturday, I packed them into
the car just to get us out of the house; of course,this
took 45 min. and involved many activities that don't,
in my book, qualify as "getting ready to go." I drove
us to the B.B. Museum and bought us tickets for the
next IMAX show. Wolfgang promptly wandered off and got
lost, but fortunately I had Jules with me, who was
quite happy to scream "WOLFGANG!" over the railing.
Eventually W. screamed back, and I told Jules to scream
his name again until we all found each other. 'NASCAR
3-D!' wasn't my first choice, but it was totally cool.
Wolf was completely absorbed by it, although Jules was
unhappy about the whole thing until he finally figured
out that you really needed to wear the special glasses.
We also have seen "Kill Bill" which we all enjoyed;
yes, it has a lot of stylized violence, but everytime an
arm gets cut off or whatever, blood gushes out via
pressurized hoses a la the Hamlet scene in 'The Addams
Family.'Jules was off playing for half of it anyway, so
it worked out well.
Well, it's hot here, natch. I'd better go get J.
now-more later.
Love, Patty 

3 August 2004


On Mon, 02 Aug 2004 15:29:55 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia
Wappner" wrote:

> Hi Linas!
>      Got your e-mails. 

And the same it seems... Unfortunately I've only 15
minutes before the Internet cafe closes, and that's not
much time to convert the clarity of truth into the
written word, esp. as the clarity derives primarily
from alcohol.

Today: no music, no concerts: today, Church day
(museums w/ primarily catholic exhibits, and churches)
and, for right now: the artist's quarter, the artist,
the President's speech-writer.  Mostly the president's
speechwriter; (actually, the ex-presidents Paksas
speechwriter, but that's another topic); the artist was
on the wagon and watched TV while we blabered and drank
Lithuanian whiskey in the kitchen.  Reagan, Star Wars,
Grobachev, Clinton, "oval sex in the oral room".  No --
actually nothing as crude as the last, it was all for
the most part the seeking out of great truths, setting
aside of truisms.  The Lithuanian politics I did not
entirely understand... although the speech writer
explained it well: In Lithuania, its a small country,
we (politically) all know each other, and we know what
each has done; there are no innocents or saints (in
Lithuanian politics). So what's this democracy shit?
Choose the devil or his right-hand-man? Fuck that, I'm
not gonna vote (to paraphrase a tee-shirt I saw earlier

In the middle of this, we got a phone call ... we are
putting together a book of famous people who have
visited Lithuania ... there are many, but we must
choose only three photos.  So an impromptu drunken poll
was conducted: Laura Bush?  boo!  or Prince Charles ...
mmm--nah ... or (...damn, I forget who)...   yay!  So
that is how decisions are made, it seems. 

OK, Internet cafe is closing, must go now.  You've been
spared a tirade about how Catholicism in Lithuania is
little more than cult worship.  For all these churches
and artwork, I am saddened, since the message seems to
be little more than "save me Lord, I know not what
from, or how to express it but save me, for where I am
is truly unbearable."  The last hope of a hopeless

Whoops really closing bye... 


4 August 2004

On Wed, 04 Aug 2004 13:00:04 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia
Wappner" wrote:

> Not much to report-our days have a certain sameness

They days here are starting to settle into a pattern as
well. Another guitar concert today; but more about that
later, first, some business.

-- How tall is wolfie?  I want to buy him a tee-shirt,
but they don't have them by sizes, they have them by

-- Would you like some lace curtains, or a linen
table-cloth, or linen curtains?  Would match the nice
linen sofa, if we only took off the covers ... ;-) (OK,
you understand that in internet-speak, that smiley face
:) means that I'm joking, right?)  Think about it, make
a selection, tell me some sizes.

-- What's your shoe size?  For that uniquely
out-of-this-world look, I can get you *the shoe* that
everyone is wearing here. I'm not sure if I've glimpsed
it in a fashion mag in Austin or not, but its this
thing with an absurdly long pointy toe, high or low
heel, flat shoe or tall boot, a zillion styles, but
they all have this stunningly long and pointy toe, and
*all* the women are wearing them.   There's even a
man's version of sorts, but its a square toe, very long
shoe kind of ugly I don't like it.  But the women's
shoe does have this unique hipness to it.  Think about
it.  You could look pretty, or rather pretty chic, if
you wanted to ...  

-- I haven't gone shopping yet; any special requests for
amber jewelry or knick-knacks and the like are gently

So tonight's guitarist was from Japan, and he reminded
me of nothing so much as Robb. I didn't quite
understand it then, but Robb would sometimes flash this
really strange smile, where he'd squint, raise his
cheek-bones, widen his lips into a long thin smile, and
then buck his front two teeth out of that thin smile,
and freeze that whole expression, and sort of stare at
you with it, slightly jutting his chin as if to show or
ask approval.  Well, I'll tell you, that was the only
expression this Japanese guy wore during the entire
concert.  He might break it for a moment, and then,
boom, I'd be staring at Robb again.  Now I know ... its
something he picked up in Japan, learned, must have
even practiced it in front of a mirror... Now that I
think about it, that's one of the cartoon face
expressions you see in Japanese cartoons.

Well, enough, the internet cafe is closing again, I
came too late.


5 August 2004

Hi Patty,

Today, I have a bit more time to write, so you should
assume that this will be a longer, rambling letter

Where to start? Today we traveled to Kaunas, a little
over an hour by bus.  One might be tempted to say that
Kaunas is somewhat like Vilnius, but its not, its
considerably smaller.  The Old Town isn't as big or
grand, and it certainly hasn't seen the restoration
that Vilnius has seen.   Its certainly dustier, a good
bit dirtier, grimier with diesel fumes, and still
living back in the somewhat older world, that older,
and somewhat vanishing world of the Soviets.   What is
Kaunas famous for?  Several things, I suppose; one of
them is that it never gave in to the system.   If you
asked for directions in Russian, it is said, you would
be pointed in exactly the wrong direction.  Kaunas is
famous for Romas Kalantas (google this name).  As one
walks down the  main boulevard, which now has (has
always had, I think) the air of a large outdoor
shopping mall, one passes the "City Park": a green
verdant square with walkways and a big pub/cafe outdoor
patio on one side, and a smaller one on the other.  We
stopped to eat diner on the patio, beet soup and
herring, entertained by a lone musician doing soft
renditions of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane
classics, not 100 meters from where Romas Kalantas
burned himself to death on May 1972. 

This happened, I think, while I was visiting Lithuania
for the first time, or maybe shortly before? I'm not
sure, it was all very confusing, (I don't think it hit
the Western news right away), and I don't have a clear
memory of this; I guess 13 might be old enough for some
to comprehend what this meant, but it wasn't really for
me.  I just remember everyone talking about it, and I
understood what had happened, and I understood why, I
understood the nature of the protest, and in some
narrow sense its meaning, but yet it was all so
distant, it was a thousand miles and a hundred years
away, and not, in fact, at the time, a few kilometers
and a few weeks away; this immediacy of the situation I
did not comprehend.  This was that other form of dumb
speechlessness, when someone asks you for your opinion
on something, and you can't answer because you've never
explored what it might have been.  I won't bore you by
repeating stories of what else we did that summer. 
This was an important moment in Soviet History, a moment
when it became clear that life was so unlivable under
Soviet rule that it was easy for a normal, ordinary boy
to announce to the world that its simpler to die now. 
I guess you could say that this is what Kaunas is known
for, and I guess that would be enough. 

Well, I was going to write more, but after that, not
much else seems appropriate.  Some people don't quite
know the Soviet life, and for these, I have my
collection of little illustrative stories from my own
travels; but you've heard all these.  They're all true,
so draw the conclusions that you will. 

Hmm, anyway, I was going to write an essay on the
nature and place of patriotism in the modern noosphere,
and what it means to live in Lithuania today (hah ---
based on a week's worth of direct observation, no
less!) but maybe I will save that for another day. 
Suffice it to say that there are aspects that make me
nervous and uncomfortable, and make me ask questions; a
certain element that both attracts and repels at the
same time, a grand culturalism and narrow-minded
parochialism all wrapped into one. 

My grand insight, I guess would be, is that all of the
various cultures and subcultures of Europe, from tiny
Laplanders to all of France, or all of Germany,
struggle with these same questions.  I think there is a
real economic burden associated with this struggle, a
burden that Americans do not bear.  Europeans can't
step into the future until they reconcile with the
past;  Americans, for the most part, have no past to
worry about, and dash gung-ho into the future.  This
seems to be one of the big differences between here and
there, the maddening source of the pervasive
parochialism, of the need to identify national heros. 
Babe Ruth is very easy to identify as an American hero:
he made no enemies, he lost no battles.  European
heros are much more like Abraham Lincoln, or maybe
better yet, Robert E. Lee: clouded by certain
complexities and intricacies of the time and
circumstance.  Enough, I suppose this sounds like
word-salad to you, as I write with no introduction to
the topic.  So, later, if I get the chance, I'll
explore some more.

Love and kisses, please respond to my earlier email
about Wolfies shirt size/height, etc. 


6 August 2004

Subject: Re: Are you drinking a lot?

On Thu, 05 Aug 2004 14:53:32 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia
Wappner" wrote:

> Hi Linas,
> I am enjoying all the long, rambling letters. They seem
> very European.

Yeah, well ... best to write while inspired and not
later.  Its easier to spew on the spot, than to hold it
all in; that's exhausting.  Think verbal diarrhea.
As to the odd-seeming sentence structure which I am now
employing, that is no doubt due to the fact that my
brain has now clicked into Lithuania-mode expression,
and I am too tired/lazy to click back into American
mode; I am even afraid to, I might loose the
naturalness of the Lithuanian lingo that I am now able
to spiel out.  Go with the flow, don't change gears all
the time.  I need some cruising time on the highway,
you know.

Am I drinking a lot?  I guess I haven't told you yet
about the 'water problem'.  You can't get any water
here in the restaurants (aside from the fact that wait
service is terrible, although that is due to the fact
that no one ever leaves a tip.  Like today, I paid a
bill with a 100 Litu note, and the waitress goes "do
you have 50 cents?" so that she could give me change in
20's and 50's.  How the f**k am I supposed to leave a
tip if she doesn't give me any small change? Sheesh.) 
Anyway, back to the water problem: the only thing that
you can get is "gazoutas": bubbly water, of which a
little bitty bottle costs about twice as much as coffee
(or beer).  So its impossible to hydrate, and I've been
living on a mixture of coffee and beer, and its
starting to take its toll.  I have never had so much
coffee in my life, and beer, well, not since junior
year in College.  Tonight, this young, smart-looking
couple next to me ordered tea, and this thought shot
through my head, like a bolt of lightning, lighting up
the sky: like, wow, how come I didn't think of that?
... that might be the solution to all my problems!  Of
course!  Tea!  An island of tranquility in the sea of

Anyway, did I tell you that the endless shots of coffee
with beer chaser are starting to take its toll?  I
think I will have to pack it in, my brain has been on
vacation most of the day, and so I have nothing to
write about.  Well, I do, I suppose, the events of the
day ... but what the hey ... later,

Love and Kisses,


p.s. the Russian sitting next to me on the computer is
doing guess what?  Playing chess, of course.  Who
woulda thunk.  I'm trying to figure out if he's winning
or loosing.  Hmm, time to go home I think.

7 August 2004

Subject: Re: dehydration,caffeine& alcohol

On Fri, 06 Aug 2004 14:29:09 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia Wappner" wrote:

> "You're-a-PEE-in'" 

Well, while we are on the topic, in Lithuanian, its "our-a-pee-tis" and I
keep saying "you're-a" and people keep looking at me funny.  No matter, I'm
catching myself more often.

> The kids truly have been as decent as can be expected. 

I'm going to try to write the next letter for Wolfgang; read it for him, or
let him read it.  I'm not sure I'll succeed in keeping it simple and
interesting, but will give it a try. 


7 August 2004

Subject: Dear Wolfgang,

Hi Wolf,

I'm having a lot of fun in Lithuania, and I wish you and Mom and Jules were
here.  Today we went to "Trakai", which is an old but very beautiful castle
built on an island in the middle of a lake.  It has lots of big tall towers
connected with tall double walls.  Its built so that there are rooms
between the two walls; its covered over with steep, pointy red roofs.  

(Maybe Mom can find a picture of this castle, or find a book with pictures
of castles?)

Anyway, it was fun, because there are stairs going up and down everywhere,
and all the rooms are connected, and there are many yards and gates and
bridges connecting different parts of the castle.  We would go up here, and
then down there, and then turn around a corner to find another door and
another place to explore. You could go into the dark, wet basement, or way
up high into a tower.  
The castle walls are built of big round rocks and red brick, and are more
than three or four feet thick.  Some of the walls are so thick that they
were able to put a very small circular staircase inside the wall!  The
front gate had a real, working drawbridge. 

Afterwards, we went to one of the souvenir stores, and they were selling
real swords!  I picked one up and it was very very heavy; I needed two
hands to hold it; I think you could pick it up and hold it, but I don't
think Jules could, its too big and heavy for him.   I thought about buying
it as a present, but it cost about 100 dollars; besides, its Jules who is
crazy about swords and not you, so I didn't know what to do.

Lots and lots of people come here to see this castle, and today was
Saturday so there were even more, a crush of people.  Of course, the lakes
around the castle are very beautiful (there are 5 big lakes, and 21
islands), and so people come here not just to see the castle, but also to
sail boats and to row dingys and to swim.  So after visiting the castle, my
dad (your grandpa) and I jumped into the water and swam around.  After
that, we ate dinner.

Our dinner was very funny: about 500 years ago, one of the Lithuanian kings
brought three Turkish families to the Castle as slaves and prisoners.   The
families couldn't leave, so they stayed on the island, and now their
descendants (great great great .... great grandchildren) still live on the
island.  They call themselves "Karaimai" and they speak a funny language,
which isn't Turkish any more, and it isn't Lithuanian either.  They also
still make their food the same way that their great-grandparents did, and
that is what we ate for dinner.   I got this thing, it was kind of like a
hamburger wrapped inside a pizza.  What made it funny is it had a few
spoons of soup inside it too, so that when you bit it, the soup ran out.

Its now late, and I'm pretty tired, so its time to go to bed.  Good night,
be good to Mom and to Jules, and please tell Jules about the Castle.  He
probably won't understand, but try anyway.  Maybe you can build him a model
from blocks, and explain that's where Daddy is.  Tell him about the sword.

Good night, love and kisses,


8 August 2004

Hi Patty,

On Sun, 08 Aug 2004 11:23:45 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia Wappner" wrote:
> unfortunately, Lulu ate his megameal while he was
> reading it, and he had a major meltdown, his first in a
> while. 

I'm sorry to hear that.  My nerves frayed a bit today as well, and I got in
a bit of a shouting match with my dad.  Seems I'm spending a little bit too
much time with him, and his shtick is starting to wear thin, and today I
lost it.  After a while it seems he starts talking to me as if I was a
ten-year-old.   For example:

For an avowed atheist, he has picked up a lot of factoids about saints and
religious symbolism.   So going through the cathedrals, he's a good tour
guide ... here's Helen with a cross, there's St. Casimir, one foot on a
blindfolded baby holding a broken arrow ... that's no baby, that's Cupid he
has his foot on. St. Casimir died a virgin, he rejected girls.  At one
point, a doctor had suggested that he could be cured of his wasting away
(pneumonia?) by spending a night with three whores.  St. Casimir turned the
whores away, and alas, died some weeks later.  This is the kind of stuff my
dad knows and is good at relaying.   But he won't stop talking either:  the
other morning, while drinking coffee, he started parsing the name
"Rosenfeld", who is a neighbor and an old acquaintance from Chicago: 
"'Rosen' you know of course, that means roses, don't you? and 'feld' that
means 'field', you know, as in a grassy area, and so now we can plainly see
that 'Rosenfeld' means 'field of roses'.  I was gritting my teeth and it
took an act of will on my part to not to snap at him; I'm not sure I was
successful, I might have let out a yelp. 

I could complain some more about some of his other habits and quirks, I
suppose, but there's not much point to that.  What gets me is how much he
reminds me of me.  There's a certain way and style that he uses to go about
things that is my style, and I am cramped by it.  I cannot fully express
myself, because he's occupying all that space.   This is both in social
encounters, where he commandeers the room, sitting in the center of
attention, but as well in 1-on-1 conversations.  So I shut down and sort of
just passively listen.

Here's one habit that hasn't irritated me yet:  Where-ever we walk, I am
always half a footstep behind him.  At first, this started, I suppose,
because I didn't know my way about, and he was showing me the way.  But it
has evolved so that I'm always in tow.  If I do catch up with him, and keep
even, then he points out something across the street, lunging his forearm
in front of my chest so that I'm tripped up, knocked off-balance, and by
the time I've recovered, he's now a few paces ahead.   God help I get in
front of him, he grabs my shirt and pulls me off my feet: 'we're not going
here, we're going there', but we're not actually changing direction at all,
we just exchange places on the sidewalk.  Arghhh.

This extends to social situations: For casual meetings on the street, I'm
standing behind: I'm trotted out and introduced, and that is as it should
be, socially speaking.  But in these social situations, I'm never promoted
to peer; I always wear the badge of second rank.  I'm kind of the
deaf-n-dumb guy who isn't really a part of the proceedings.  So after a
while, I'm just wearing a thin smile.  I'm starting to understand my mother
better, why she is the way she is.  Gosh.  I never knew ... the things you can

Well, the internet cafe is closing.  Till tomorrow.

Love and Kisses,


9 August 2004

Hi Patty,

Tomorrow we leave on a two-day road trip across Lithuania.  I rather dread
being in a car for so long, as the drivers and highways are atrocious.  I
can't wait for automatic cars.   The mom of one of my high-school friends
is here... Marty lived only a few blocks away from high-school, so his
place was a popular stop-off on the way home from school.  His dad Tony
Shlutas ran the Lithuania TV station in Chicago, Channel 26, if you
remember that (it might have been Spanish or something like that by that
time you moved to Chicago).  His mom, Prane (Francis) was a nurse at one of
the hospitals.  She is now the Director of Lithuanian Mercy Aid (I believe
its called) and she runs around all over Lithuania doing community medical
work (I think I mentioned her in a previous email).  She got a car loaned
out to her for business, and will be running between hospitals in various
towns Tues & Weds and invited us along for the ride, with promises to stop
at various tourist attractions.

There are so many visually interesting things here; what's more, its all in
a state of rapid transition.  There's a lot of economically driven growth,
and the way things were are being replaced by the new.  (e.g. Today, we
went to the Acropolis, which is a giant combo HEB/Walmart/Best Buy, as
fancy as anything anywhere.  I'm guessing that it stands where there were
once wooden shacks).  I'm once again contemplating the same high-tech
project I've been contemplating for the last ten years:  taking high-resolution
photographs and stitching them together into a full 3D navigable space, so
that you could walk or fly through it, as you wish.  I first started
thinking about doing this for the section of Burnet road between 35th and
Highland Mall; this stretch being somewhat neglected and down.  Well,
there's much more that's neglected and dirty here, and I am magnetically
drawn to it, its a certain craving.   I want to capture it all, engrave it,
so that I can show it to others.  A few photographs are not enough, one has
to immerse in its full 3D glory, and there's only two ways to do that:
visit with a time machine set for 2001 or take photos now with the aim of
creating the full virtual reality.  

Of course, this still doesn't translate what I feel when I look out on
this.  I suppose one could say that pictures of rural China, as shown in
National Geographic, are interesting too, but to me they are empty and
boring and irrelevant, in that they lack the certain cultural empathy and
emotional twinge that I get here (or in some sense, more generally, in
ex-Communist Eastern Europe).  Of course, I don't quite know how to
communicate this complex inner emotion/sensation... (OK, I will have to
give this some thought), and so for you, as viewer, or for most viewers,
mere 3D virtual spaces will still fail to communicate what it is, that is
my magnetic attraction to this imagery.  But it is in the end the imagery
that ravishes me so, so that maybe a sufficiently large quantity of it,
immersively, will be enough, possibly augmented with a rudimentary
grounding of recent history.  One shouldn't underestimate immersion for
provoking sensation.

Today, we saw the World's Largest Sculpture, so certified by the Guiness
Book of World Records.   It's a collection of something like 3000 or so TV
sets, stacked 7-8 feet high, forming narrow winding corridors arranged in a
maze-like way to form a tree/bush if viewed from above.  I don't know, I'm
guessing there's maybe more than a quarter-mile of corridor, and the
immersive experience of being "in it", inside of it, does start to
penetrate the the shell of experience.   In other words, it was kind of
spooky being in there, spooky, not scary, erie in the way that dreams can
sometimes be erie ... no past, no future, just a place, here, now, and what
you see around you, and if you turn around, what you see behind you is what
continues on in front of you.   Oh, and its set in a light forest, birch
and pine, much like Michigan or Wisconsin forests (all of Lithuania seems
to be Great-Lakes-ish in composition of soil (mostly sandy, good drainage)
and vegetation.)  So this walk through corridors of TV sets is hushed by
the sound of a natural canopy of tall trees, with soft sandy sod afoot. 

The setting is "Europa Park", a sculpture garden of, I dunno, hundreds of
acres of forest.   It's filled with over 75 sculptures, most all by
first-rate, world-class artists from all over the world.  Almost all of
these sculptures are HUGE, at least 10 feet high or (lots) more, and/or
very wide and broad.   They are set individually in the forest, and so one
takes this walk through the woods, and happens on some installation.  One
of the knock-outs that no doubt everybody likes is "Drinking Structure with
Kidney-Shaped Pool" by Dennis Oppenheim.  Its a house: Two windows for
eyes, and the front door makes for a big mouth.  The house is leaning over
a pond, not just leaning, but fully facing down into it, bent over into it,
with a big slide coming out the front door acting as a tongue that is
lapping up the water out of the pond.  Its 'feet' aren't feet, but a big
rocker  (like a rocking chair) so that is how the house can lean over without
loosing its square shape.  The siding has fallen away, and inside the house
you can see a regular American-style kidney-shaped in-ground backyard
swimming pool, complete with pool lights and all the other accoutrements. 
Of course, the pool is level with the floor of the house, and as the house
is pitched forward, so is the pool.  The whole thing is more-or-less life
sized (OK, so it's a small one-room house, but that still means the
sculpture as a whole is huge).   The thing is made out of stainless steel,
cement and enamel and so will last an eternity.  This is a teeny sample of
what one can find here; its really a great collection, better than what you
would find in any museum.   Lots of fun in all.


(Let Wolfgang read the part about the drinking house).

12 August 2004

On Tue, 10 Aug 2004 15:32:04 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia Wappner" wrote:

> I googled Europapark-the pictures were tiny, but I saw
> the TV thing and the house tipped forward like a face.

Try clicking on this link; it should have much bigger pictures:
http://www.europosparkas.lt/English/collection.html and then a few links down on that

Also, for your entertainment:
Not in any way related to Lithuania, but fun: new products in old

> Tommy and Gary were by here today-they were perplexed
> at how flat the crown moulding seemed to want to sit.
> Please comment. 

That's right, it lies very flat to the ceiling, and not vertically, like
Doug thought.

Today will be souvenir shopping day ... 


12 August 2004

Subject: Re: The Zen within

Hi Patty,

On Wed, 11 Aug 2004 13:52:46 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia Wappner" wrote:
> Wolfie still is ailing-he seems to be feeling okay but
> has a croupy kind of cough and continues to make
> hawking noises from the couch.

My dad ate some bad food on the last leg of the trip so he's laid up today.

900 km (about 550 miles) in two days.   Prane apparently wields a fearsome
budget; we had an ultra-fancy executive lunch with one hospital
administrator, and when we arrived very very late at another clinic, the
receptionist ran around shitting bricks;  it has been a long time since
I've seen anyone so greviously apologetic, as if she would loose her job if
we failed to smile for even a moment.  A kind of leftover behavior pattern
from Soviet times; I've seen it before but only in Eastern Europe.

The current project seems to be breast cancer screening.  Each regional
hospital is to screen 50 women a week, for which Prane pays 50 litu (about
16 dollars) per patient. This price includes the cost of x-ray film (4
shots) and a reading by a radiologist, as well as the doctor's salaries and
other misc expenses).  I would presume that the medical system here
subsists on miniscule sums of cash; I'm guessing that doctor's salaries are
measured in hundreds of dollars a month, which is shameful.

Prane's also involved with things like AIDS; she apparently shamed an
Archbishop over the issue. 

The highlight of the tour was Paulius and his party in the middle of the
woods.  There were nine of use, including 4 doctors, all city-folks but for
Paulius and his cousin.   First we drink some champagne, and then some
beer, then we drink some vodka, and wash that down with a few bottles of
wine, and then a bottle of cognac that was brought by a latecomer. Then
Paulius takes us on a tour of his wild and fabulous under-construction
theme park in the middle of the woods; a fantastic, outsized project that
includes damming up a tiny creek and building a cozy dining room under the
resulting waterfall, and a giant bridge over the resulting pond.  Paulius
has been working as a construction foreman/contractor on and off for the
last 13 years in Chicago, and has saved up his money.  He is now plowing it
all into the ground (in Lithuanian, he is 'providing memorial services for
it', which is really pretty funny in Lithuanian.  At least if you're
drunk).  I hope there will be enough water, and enough tourists, to make it
all worthwhile. 

Re water: Lithuania and rain have nothing to do with each other.  As I
mentioned before, the climate is similar to Michigan or Wisconsin, and
maybe drier.   I have no idea what scholars think of the origin of the name
'Lietuva'; if it was ever rainy here, then it must have been before
recorded history, followed by a climate change.   My dad insists that the
similarity of spelling of 'lietus' (rain) and 'Lietuva' (Lithuania) is
purely accidental, and that the two words have unrelated linguistic
origins.  I'm no so sure.

Another note: Lithuania is basically one big giant sandbar, the stuff left
behind by glacial retreat.  For all practical purposes, there are no rocks
here:  The biggest rock in all the land is a tourist attraction by itself,
and its, I dunno, 10 or 15 feet high.   What this implies is that all of
the castles and fortresses were wooden: once stormed, they were all burnt
to the ground, which more or less explains why there's nothing left of the
rich history.   We did stop at one big red-brick castle, built in the late
16th century.  No longer defensive, it was instead done up in a decorative
English Tudor fashion.   It looked nothing so much to me as American
Firehouses from the 19th century: all red-brick and wide Gothic arches and

I'll have to talk some more later about architecture and style and design
here, its an interesting mish mash.  Let me only mention that at its worst,
most tasteless, it harks to velvet Elvis and big-eyed sad puppy dogs. 
Imagine, if you may, the worst, most garishly tasteless Italian-American
mini-palazzo-in-my-small-living-room that you can imagine, and now replace
all of the obviously Italian decorative elements with Polish lace and
highly varnished hand-carved pine.   But leave the silver-metallic, textured
velvet, faux-marble wallpaper in place.  Wish I had more film in my camera;
I really must mount that 3D visual project I told you about.

Love & Kisses, 

till later,



12 August 2004

Subject: Thongs (was Re: Are you drinking a lot?)

On Thu, 05 Aug 2004 14:53:32 -0700 (PDT), "Patricia Wappner" wrote:

>    I don't want anything. I don't want the trendy shoes
> unless the pointy toes curl up and you can find them in
> green.

Couldn't find them.  How about a thong?  Thongs are very popular here,
peeking out from under low-cut jeans, or visible through sheer pantaloons
and skirts. 

I just figured out the cultural reason for this, um, "style".  It is at
least partly economic and partly architectural; if you're patient I'll
explain.  In America, we have a car culture; people live in (horrid) burbs,
and go everywhere by car.  This has the net effect of making much of
American culture invisible to other Americans: you cannot see what they are
wearing when they are driving their cars.   There are, no doubt, many
American girls who wear thongs poking out from under their low-cut jeans,
but they motor out to whatever nightclub it is that we don't go to; ergo,
we do not see them.   By contrast, here, they do not motor, they walk, and
as they walk, boy o boy do you see them.  

I say that this is "architectural" because walking, as opposed to driving,
is also due to the structure of European urban centers, or rather, that
Europeans actually live in cities, as opposed to suburbs, and that those
cities have narrow streets, too narrow to drive a car down, much less park
a car in.   There is a large fraction of (young) Europeans who, even if
able to economically afford a car, do not own one, due to the sheer
impracticality of housing it somewhere, and being able to access it.

I think this may well be the primary reason why Europeans are perceived as
being "sexually liberal" by Americans.  Good Lord, there are any number of
uninhibited gays and overtly bi-sexuals and cross-dressers and what not in
America, not to mention the assorted strip club clientele and
sexy-industry workers.  Strip clubs, for example, seem to be popular in
Texas, but you simply do not see any of these people in the cross-section
of your daily life and daily routines.  No one goes to the supermarket
dressed like a prostitute.   But they do go places, and they get there by
car, and so you never see them.  In Europe, its an "I'm-too-poor-to-drive"
culture: you walk from here to there, and people see you.  At least, that's
my theory-after-drinking-two-beers-theory. 


12 August 2004

Hi Patty,

While we're on the topic, why don't you visit http://www.boingboing.net.  Its, um,
an example of a "blog", which I was trying to explain to my dad.  Better
than reading a newspaper.

Tonight's concert was a Jazz ensemble from Russia, called "Second
Approach".  Interesting stuff.  I counted exactly two blues chords played
throughout the entire concert, in the first and third, um, "compositions", 
and approx one-half of a bar of Leonard Bernstein in the first encore. 
While one might be tempted to say "what the hell do Russians know about
Jazz anyway", a more accurate description would be that its the result of
someone writing about Jazz in great detail, describing, in words, all of
its polyrhythms and nuances, and then having someone else read that
description, someone with powerful musical skills and a good musical
education, and having that someone, never having heard a note of Jazz even
once in their life, try to interpret musically what they had read about.


14 August 2004

Today's events: 

-- Mushroom soup.  I'm told that this year's harvest of wild mushrooms has
surpassed all expectations.  Wild mushrooms are a major part of the
cultural heritage here.

-- Revolution.  I met today an old man who had played host to my last visit
here in Lithuania.  He remembered me on sight.  March 4th, he remembered
the day, 1986 (he was off by a decade on that).  He remembered our
conversation; I had asked him about what lay ahead for Lithuania.  I'd
forgotten his answer, but he hadn't: "to preserve the Lithuanian culture,
that was the most important task for the future."   This was in 1986, after
Perestroika and Glasnost, but before the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence,
which occurred three years later.   My visit indeed should have been
memorable, as I was carrying a copy of the only copy remaining in existence
of the original (1918) Declaration of Independence, printed in the
newspaper "Lietuvos Aidas" (Echo of Lithuania).  This was given to me in
Paris, by Petras Klima, the son of one of the original signers of the
declaration.  All the other copies of that newspaper had been stolen/burnt
by the Germans during WWII.   So it was a subversive act to carry this paper
into Lithuania, and of course I got quite a strong reaction from everyone
who I dared give a copy to.   Especially, since I think I would always add
the words "Well, don't you think its time again?  The time has come to talk
of these things."  So that's rather provocative.  It helped, I suppose,
that it was not a pure, pristine document handed down from heaven, but
just another classified:  it ran alongside other ads: "Lost. Little brown
donkey last Saturday. Reward offered."

Of course, what has happened here in Lithuania has not been forgotten. 
Today, browsing in the bookstore, I picked up a fat tome: "Memoirs of the
Partisans, Part 4", the partisans being, of course, the resistance, those
who lived in the woods and fought against the Germans in WWII and the
Communists after that.  The cover was adorned with a picture of a pretty
woman wielding an odd, ancient machine gun, snapped on a woodland backdrop.
 Inside, diaries and more snapshots.  Next to this lay another fat book: "Beria
and his KGB Collaborators in Lithuania"; no diaries; here it was rather
accusation and the naming of names.  An important sub-genre of Lithuanian
culture is the need to not forget what happened in the past, to which is
coupled a strong flavor of sadness, bitterness, unforgivingness and an
elevation to sacred-ness and a cult-worship of past events.   In this
sense, I feel I have an insight (like many other Eastern Europeans, but not
Westerners) into both current events in Iraq, and recent events in Serbia. 
In Iraq, a sense of repelling the foreign enemy who has come here to impose
their culture and thoughts and beliefs on our system, which we wholly
reject on the grounds of principle, as invasive and foreign and enslaving. 
 The need to selflessly give oneself over to liberation and freedom, and to
do so with direct action, using the tools most easily wielded by the one: a
gun, a bomb, a courier, a note.  One knows, of course, exactly what fate
has in store: one will be lined up against a wall and shot, without
ceremony.  No matter, the task at hand is more important than such petty
considerations.   In the case of Serbia, it was a case of 800-year-old
wrongs being rectified, a concept of which Western Europe has no
comprehension whatsoever, but is rife in the air here.   Good lord, the
Poles still think Vilnius belongs to them (until now, never before have so
many Lithuanians lived in the capital of Lithuania).  And the Germans still
claim the Lithuanian coast (well, they did live here for 800 years.  I have
a snapshot of the square in Palanga where Hitler addressed the "liberated
masses" and informed them of the greatness of their re-unification with
Germany.  The architecture of the rest of the town is very clearly Northern
German or Dutch: the hefty bare wood cross-beams in-filled with plaster. 
The tourists are all German.)  Americans are foolish in their foreign
policy, I believe, because the WASP's in charge, such as Bush or Clinton,
simply do not believe or understand their own policy wonks when they make
such pronouncements.  Neither Kissinger nor Brezinski had this problem,
because, I think, they had the cultural background to understand the
nuances.  I don't think the idiots in Washington today understand the
meaning of the word "nuance".  

No matter. I had one more related, hefty topic before returning to the
mundane.  Saw some more churches: I wonder if Vilnius has more churches
than, say, Paris or London or Madrid.  I wouldn't be surprised.  I got to
thinking: I wonder if piety, if this vast investment of energy in the
creation of places of worship is in fact the cry for help of the lost soul,
the expression of the deep need for a salvation by those who have no hope
in the world, an expression of a deep unhappiness.   What is the meaning,
the purpose of life? To what end our existence?  Surely there must be
something that will finally resolve and answer all our doubts and un-ease
and hopelessness in one great pearly Baroque sunburst as we are touched by
the outstretched hand of Saint Casimir in his state of Infinite Grace.  If
only we try hard enough, if we can only pray harder, surely we will be
saved, as there is no other way.  Hmm.  Too bad Buddhism never reached Europe;
I wonder how things might have been different.  Maybe one of the Cypherpunk
authors could write a sci-fi novel about how 18th century Europe would have
been different if Buddhism had arrived in the 16th century, say, through
trade with China, because, say, the American continent wasn't there and
hadn't blocked trade with the Orient/far-Occident.  Just a thought.  My
guess would certainly imply far fewer Baroque churches in Vilnius, a
peasantry not yet shorn of their stoicism, probably still nature-worshiping
pagans living in a state of stoic grace rather than passionately overcome
with Baroque helplessness. 

Speaking of 16th century, street that my dad lives on shows up clearly as
"National Street" on a 16th century map hanging in the Museum, and so does,
arguably, the actual red-brick facade (the map shows a number of houses
painted in red, one in more-or-less the right location).  So hows that for
Location, Location, Location?  And speaking of fancy places, you should see
the place my cousins (once removed?) are rigging up in the country-side: 
Sauna, walk-in larder, mother-in-laws cabin, etc.  More square feet than
our house, although all the rooms are smaller, and are interconnected by a
maze including a basement "tunnel", or rather TV-watching, fireplace-warmed
den between the main house and the outbuilding.   They are set to weather
out the Nuclear Winter.

You will really have to come here someday and see for yourself; the country
is, I'm sure, quite different than what you imagine after my outlandish
missives, as the photos I'm bringing home will clearly show.  Yes, I
understand, when I look at National Geographic and see the photos of other
Eastern European countries, I too think "how queer", and it takes a bit of
effort to understand that what appears to be some absurd language being
used by some absurdly small culture is, in fact, how Lithuania appears to
you.  I am truly sorry about that; of course, to me, Lithuania appears to
be about as normal as Austin, with nothing particularly out of place or
even odd.  So there.  Oh, I'd like to show you this one antique shop I
found; I think you'd go nuts here.    I guess its too late to ask if you
want an icon or anything like that.  Well,  next time.  See you tomorrow
night.  I'll take a cab if you don't answer the phone.