Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Impossible! December is TOMORROW!?!

All right, so I don't actually have any regrets about November, but that's only because I didn't realize I was in it. December. I guess the Christmas decorations and the dress rehearsals (for the Christmas program: I'm on vocal choir and finger-cymbal duty... bell choir is students only) and the tinsel in my hair should have tipped me off.

If I were a daily blogger instead of sitting somewhere around biweekly that might have helped too.

So it's the typical term-end rush, but kind of inverted. Or maybe a sin* curve + 1 instead of 1 over: the students breathe their mighty knowledges onto many pages and the teachers stick around to clean up the mess. School seems very untidy these days.

And yes, the adventures of the first-timer continue. Someone asked me in an email if I was finding a bit more of a routine. Yes, I've been routine-finding a bit. I've also been shortening the long hours and balancing my sanity better. That doesn't mean the occasional egregious error doesn't crop up, but we're making it through.

It's even, at the bottom of it all, kind of fun :)

So now I'm off to make Indian food with some fellow late-nighters... then it's back to the office for some quick emails and a lesson plan or two. Good times all around.

Let it be noted that when Lithuania snows, it's really beautiful.


*pronounced "sine," not "sin." Math, not religion. Although aren't the two--? Never mind.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who doesn't like really good free stuff? Google Analytics does some pretty awesome free website analysis. I'd never bothered with visit counters and so on. Now I get cool graphs and stuff, for free! Lose twenty pounds! Okay, maybe not that last part.

How's life in Lithuania been the last little while? Pretty good. Coming back from Fall Break was a bit of a kick in the teeth, but it finally started to snow, and now everything feels fresh and clean again. I'm sure there's lots of stuff that will need to get done before Christmas, but it doesn't seem overwhelming today. We're in the semi-finals in volleyball, I don't have to emergency-relief that solo for the Christmas program (on Dec. 2nd and 3rd! Papa sang bass...), and well, marking. Grading! Sorry, keep forgetting.

I guess I'm supposed to have pictures or stories here or something, but this is just a momentary procrastination. So in a mental rush, here's a list of some of those small cultural differences that creep up on you every day:

    well, the currency is called the "lita," but more importantly:

  • light switches are hip-height, and *outside the bathroom* (hope you don't have hip-height kids)

  • you have to "clamp" your bus tickets like a time-card: holes are bus-specific

  • walking by parked cars? there's often people in them

  • everyone has cell phones. I mean this literally.

  • windows open at the top, not just the side

  • all four wheels are turnable on shopping carts

  • your heating depends on everyone else

  • there are no driers; my washing machine cycle is 2h 45m

  • very little public conversation, and it's never "boisterous"

  • the air is wet

  • the countryside is beautiful

  • potato farmers! using tractors and horses

  • van taxis, aka "pocket rockets"

  • pointed dress shoes... for guys

  • wedding procession? Must be a Saturday.

  • high heels are the rule... cobblestones nothing!

  • my ATM advises me to "keep your money in a secret"...

  • which is good for PIN codes too, cause there's no personal space in lines...

  • which you're often waiting in: cashiers insist on exact change... often plucking it from offered hands

  • "Iki" - the grocery store name that means "see you later!"

  • female janitors in male bathrooms... common occurrence! I mean really, mopping under my stall? LEAVE ME MY DIGNITY!

  • the sport is basketball, not hockey

  • FOOD:

  • fried stale-bread sticks and garlic... with cheese

  • 1%? 2%? nope! sour cream is 35%! (or more)

  • your milk is already expired

  • ...unless it came in a box, in which case it expires in two years... unless you open it, then two days

  • pizza sauce tastes like ketchup, but so does everything else

  • sandwich meat: roast beef? chicken? turkey? nope. ham.

  • pork!

  • cabbage!

  • potatos!

  • (beef? chicken?)

  • there's no such thing as fast food

  • there's no such thing as preservatives (yet fridges are either nearly empty or... not there)

  • there's no thing so good as the bacon here... it's almost Canadian Back

  • missing: oh, baby carrots, syrup, dill pickles, salsa, roast anything, a big, juicy burger...

  • And, as a bonus, THE BEACH:

  • wooden booths to change in on the sand at the beach... hope you don't mind showing your ankles!

  • nude beaches... sure, what's so funny?

  • trunks? nope, speedos only

  • two words: sauna, snow

I know, I know: "there's a lot more!" or, "that's not true!" but hey, give a guy a break. I miss you too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

My Partners in Crime

As promised, several more photos are up over on my Flickr account. Here are some of the highlights.

First, a trip to Ramsiske and Kaunas in October. Ramsiske is a heritage village along the lines of Doon in Kitchener-Waterloo, only much bigger (park size). In other words, buildings and terrain are left as they were in much older times, concrete paths lead visitors from farm to farm (to windmill), and during the summer people live there in the old ways... kind of an open-air museum. At Ramsiske, the walking paths lead to several different landscapes; the unique geography reflects all four major regions of Lithuania. The place was definitely a time-warp: the dark bogs made believing in witches suddenly seem less preposterous, and I would not have been surprised if Teutonic knights had burst from the trees to raze the windmill:


Having the use of a coach bus for the day, our scattered collection of faculty then went to tour Kaunas. But first we visited Fort IX, the last and best-known "political prison" in Lithuania. The prison was a major part of Lithuania's execution of over one hundred thousand Jews in WWII; ethnic cleansing was at its most effective in the Baltic countries, behind only Poland. The experience was another moving one, and touring the grounds with my friend Rina (both of whose grandparents had escaped the Kaunas ghetto) only made it more tangible. I think I understood the persecution in my own family a bit better. I didn't have my camera, but Jen took a poignant shot of the powerful memorial erected on the hill outside the prison:

Memorial at Fort IX

The jagged concrete branches are turned into faces and fists, thrusting from the ground in pain and defiance. A difficult event to remember, but the memorial seemed fitting to me.


After several more teaching-packed weeks, fall break finally arrived. I don't remember the first three days, cause I was pretty much sleeping, but after that short recovery time, I was ready for action again. On Tuesday a few of the faculty that hadn't gone anywhere extravagant (yet) travelled to Kretinga for All Saints' Day. In Lithuania, All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) is a national holiday where the deceased are remembered with flowers, candles, and prayers. The cemetaries were full, though the sun was bright and the prevailing mood did not seem melancholic. We stopped by a Franciscan church that several LCC faculty had attended before on the way:

Franciscan Church, Kretinga

My own tour was... extensive. There are far too many cool old buildings to explore!


And finally, after all the options had come and gone with various degrees of planning and politics, I walked into the Eurolines office and bought a bus ticket to Berlin. What a deeply amazing city. The people, architecture, history... it was a wonderful few days. Maybe it's the German in my background, but I felt very comfortable there--I could definitely see myself living in Berlin at some point. The Pergamon Museum (excavations of antiquity), Berggruen Museum (private art collection, friend of Picasso's, included Matisse and Klee in addition to an astonishing number of orginal Picasso works), and a lot of glorious walking filled my time. I took many pictures, but really, I just wish you could be seeing it with me!

Underneath Berlin

Tiergarten in Autumn

The Parliamentary Chambers from Above

My Partners in Crime

Now it's back to marking (sorry, "grading," as my American friends insist) and other teaching adventures. It looks as though I'll be teaching 20th Century Literature and Public Speaking next term, so hey! Let's just keep mixing it up :)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The ashes of several discarded drafts sift behind me in the swirl of my furious passing. Yet the silence must be broken.

I have been busy. Since I have last written I have become a Lithuanian Business Consultant, watched autumn march across the Baltic states, touched ruins of the Berlin wall, marked papers, trod through the Ishtar gate of Babylon, shared smiles with Cameron Diaz, travelled Poland, breathed on the brushstrokes of a private collection of over 80 Picasso originals, read A.S. Byatt's "Possession," gazed on the churches of Riga, graded exams, joined a procession for the dead on All Saint's Day, trespassed the steeple of a Franciscan cathedral, tripped over love, stood on Lithuania's Hill of Crosses, passed under a Quadriga claimed by both Napolean and Hitler, read Alfred Senn's "Lithuania Awakening," prayed for sanity, slept on the park bench of a Prussian King, wrote a letter, and had my hair cut by a friend.

Which of these is untrue? I challenge you to prove false even one. Which of these is the most unlikely? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, slightly demonic-looking, Cameron Diaz on an escalator (far left):

Cameron Diaz

And the carpet she walked in on:

The crowds came later

I am quickly outpacing (have long outpaced?) my ability to keep up the documentation of these events, but I will do my utmost to get more pictures up at least. I have somehow managed to stand strong before an onslaught of emails--even returning most of them--so if there's a specific story you'd like to hear, I'd try that route.

Dear reader, this is not to say I've abandoned you. Instead, I will apply my meagre abilities only more strongly on your behalf.

Thanks for all the notes, thoughts, and prayers... considering that the above is about 2% of my life here (teaching being the other 98), you are all that has been keeping me going.