Grazus New York Times straipsnis apie Lietuva
Jei patys apie save graziai nemokate kalbeti, tai paskaitykite kaip graziai apie Lietuva parase uzsienietis Straipsnis netrumpas, bet skaiciau ji su dideliu malonumu. Patarciau atsispausdinti, tada lengviau skaityt. Gero skaitymo visiems
SOPHISTICATED TRAVELER MAGAZINE
September 14, 2003, Sunday
The Baltic Republics
By Bill Keller
In the light drizzle of a June evening, an Estonian friend, performing a slightly tipsy parody of a tour guide, led us up the slick cobblestones of Tallinn’s old town. We – my 13-year-old son, Tom, and I – followed him up a medieval stairway to the upper town, to a viewpoint from which you can look down upon this perfect replica of a northern European port city in the 19th century: the Lutheran spires topped with rooster weathercocks, the cupolas of Orthodox churches, the glimpses of Gothic and Baroque, the narrow streets just lighting up for the dinner trade, the tiled rooftops and chimneys sending up a scent of baking. Except, of course, that it is no replica. It is the real thing, alluringly intact despite centuries of trampling by Danish conquerors and Teutonic knights, Swedes, Russians, Nazis and Soviets.
Even in the days of Soviet grunge, which have left their relics in the shabby high-rise suburbs, central Tallinn maintained a tidy Nordic charm. Now, after a dozen years of capitalist restoration, it is so postcard perfect that it resembles a Hanseatic League theme park. It was preserved from ruinous conquerors and malignant modernizers by a national pragmatism that my friend summed up as we lurched through the rain.
‘‘We Estonians have never fought anybody,’’ he explained. ‘‘We’ve always surrendered at the right time to the right side.’’
Tallinn was our last stop on an eight-day, 1,200-mile trip through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the three Baltic states that were, until a dozen years ago, the northwestern corner of the Soviet Union. I last visited them when sympathetic outsiders still called them ‘‘captive nations.’’ Now Donald Rumsfeld, grateful for their official endorsement of America’s war in Iraq, embraces them as the newest of ‘‘new Europe.’’ (Of course, as my Estonian friend indignantly pointed out at every stop on our long stroll to dinner, Tallinn was an established city five centuries before white men set foot in upstart America.) Now all three countries are matriculating into NATO and the European Union – Lithuania voting in May to join the E.U., Latvia and Estonia scheduled to vote today.
Our itinerary was essentially three capitals and a coastline. Our mode of transportation was a rented Ford Mondeo, soon littered with the detritus of two guys on a road trip – Pringles, Nutella, soda bottles, a bag of little dried fish that became our Baltic junk food. The CD player blared Jay-Z and Sean Paul when we weren’t investigating the local radio options.
I’m happy to report, first of all, that the Baltics, whose aspirations of independence once struck me as brave but improbable, have been reborn as genuine, modern, entirely appealing European countries. Word of this has spread slowly. Two years ago Jonathan Franzen, in his novel ‘‘The Corrections,’’ conjured a Lithuania that was a hyperbole of post-Soviet decay and lawlessness, ‘‘rattling down the road toward anarchy.’’ Until recently, the Bradt Travel Guide series (the most reliable of the few English-language tourist books on the Baltics) listed scarce gas stations and warned against the conditions in local hospitals. Even in neighboring countries that have begun to discover the secrets of Baltic tourism, there is still persistent word-of-mouth that they are a little iffy, suitable perhaps for the adventurous, but not entirely civilized. For the record, the Baltic countries are now as safe, stable and traveler-friendly as any destination in ‘‘old’’ Europe. Indeed, if you knew the Baltics when they were vassals of Soviet power, you will marvel at things travelers in most countries take for granted – the ubiquity of 24-hour gas stations, A.T.M.'s, hassle-free car rentals, good and well-marked roads, convenience stores, Internet cafes and friendly, free-map-dispensing tourist information offices.
We flew, via Helsinki, to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and picked up our Avis car at a tiny, efficient airport. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lithuania. According to type-casting, Lithuanians are the most passionate of the Baltic peoples, Estonians the most standoffish and cerebral and Latvians temperamentally (as well as geographically) in between. I know people who give the lie to all three stereotypes, but it is certainly true that the Lithuanians – who alone among the Baltic states were once a power in their own right, subjugating swaths of Poland and Russia – were the most daring in grabbing for the freedom dangled by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980’s. This was the first Soviet republic to declare independence. I was there in 1991 when that courage was challenged by Soviet tanks.
Vilnius, of the three Baltic capitals, was the one still deepest in the throes of renovation. The interior of the majestic, neo-Classical Catholic cathedral at the heart of the old city was a honeycomb of scaffolding. We had to make our way under an acre of plastic sheeting to visit the splendid chapel of St. Casimir, a little Baroque orgy of Italian frescoes spilling cherubs into stucco foliage. On Gedimino, the main boulevard of Vilnius and political bellwether of Lithuanian intrigues (it has been variously named for the Polish strongman Jozef Pilsudski, Hitler, Stalin and Lenin, and now for the 14th-century duke who founded the city), there was a whir of saws and clouds of dust as workmen cut new paving stones. Many buildings in the sprawling old town were undergoing face lifts.
Still, an astonishing amount of restoration has already been accomplished in the dozen years of independence. Vilnius is less precious, more lived in than Tallinn, with an active university at its heart, beer gardens along the cobbled streets and a number of residential buildings that keep it from feeling too much like a museum. The city is a treasury of Catholic and Orthodox churches, lovingly buffed and painted, reflecting the rival tides of Polish and Russian influence. Its medieval maze of twisting streets is also rich in cafes, shops and hotels. We stayed in the Stikliai, a luxury hotel cleverly insinuated into a 17th-century building in the Jewish quarter. The furnishings and food were exquisite, although the architects seem to have been sometimes baffled by the challenge of reconciling the 17th and 21st centuries. We stayed in a sloped attic room the size of an Olympic swimming pool, with the furniture clustered at one end and the closet at the other end.
Our first pilgrimage took us out to a western suburb, past the moldering hulks of Soviet-era tenements, to visit the television tower where, in 1991, I watched one of the last gasps of Soviet power. Free-speaking television had become a symbol of freedom, and when Moscow threatened to shut it down thousands of defenders surrounded it and began a kind of defiant festival. Suddenly a parade of tanks – dispatched by the same renegade hard-liners who later that year would try to overthrow Gorbachev – roared up the grassy hillside, firing off thunderous artillery rounds. Thirteen Lithuanians were shot or crushed under the tank treads, and the tower become the Alamo of Baltic independence.
A little exhibit has been installed, touchingly amateurish, remembering that day with black-and-white portraits of those who were killed, murky photographs of the attack and crudely typed captions in Lithuanian, Russian and rough English: ‘‘All Lithuania is mourning and weeping for the deads.’’ We were the only visitors. We had a Coke in the revolving bar atop the tower, and bought T-shirts. On weekends, I learned from a tourist brochure, the city sponsors bungee jumps from the tower. At first this struck me as sacrilege, or indifference to history, but upon reflection I conceded it might be a sign of Lithuania’s mental health. You can’t let the past weigh too heavily upon you, I suppose, not when you’ve got as much past as the Baltics have.
Lithuania has always had the smallest population of Russian-speakers in the Baltic countries, which makes it easier for Lithuanians to be tolerant. We noticed that the bridges over the Neris River in Vilnius still feature triumphal Soviet-era bronzes of noble peasants, sturdy workers and soldiers bearing the hammer and sickle.
For some Baltic residents, a more pressing concern than the Soviet past is the homogenizing influence of their European future. I suspect this fear is overdrawn, but Latvia this year was host to the signature event of pop banality, the Eurovision Song Contest. Estonia had held it the year before. The missionaries of European commercial taste have colonized the storefronts in the hearts of all three Baltic capitals.
Rita Dapkus, a Lithuanian-American who moved here to aid the independence movement and is now a member of the Vilnius City Council, has struck a blow against creeping uniformity by opening a restaurant in an unfashionable shopping center in northern Vilnius, offering food, drink and music of strictly Lithuanian origin. (No Coke, no Pepsi, and the only ‘‘coffee’’ is made from carrots or acorns.) The night we went, a wild, accordion-propelled folk band filled the room with delirious polkas and waltzes. We ate hogs’ ears, deviled eggs with pickled herring, Lithuanian goulash, chicken liver patties. Lithuanian cuisine is not for cholesterol watchers, although you can dance it off.
We had a choice of side trips out of Vilnius. We passed on Stalin World, a park an hour’s drive from the city in which an entrepreneur with a taste for political kitsch has assembled discarded statuary from the Soviet occupation. It was hard to resist the idea of a concentration camp for Soviet memories, but I felt I’d seen enough of Stalin’s world. Instead, we drove to Trakai Historical National Park, a luxuriant mosaic of forests and lakes where the oldest remnants of Lithuanian history are preserved and reconstructed. Perhaps the country’s most famous sight is a handsomely rebuilt castle on an islet, reachable by footbridge. From a distance, the orange-brick castle seems to float on a wind-ruffled lake like a Lord of the Rings apparition.
The next day we left Vilnius in a downpour, on a roundabout route to the coast. An hour out of Vilnius, the purple thunderhead lifted and a dazzling light spilled down on the pine and birch forests and pastures, saturating the landscape with greens and yellows. It was as if someone had suddenly turned on fountains of chlorophyll. Tom, serving as D.J. and navigator, yielded up the CD player for a musical salute to Lithuania – piano preludes by Mikalojus Ciurlionis, the painter, composer and collector of Lithuanian lore who is a cultural medium for the Lithuanian soul. The pianist on the CD was Vytautas Landsbergis, who led the independence movement and became the first president of post-Soviet Lithuania.
After a detour to the town of Siauliai for one of Europe’s odder roadside attractions – the Hill of Crosses, a weedy hill densely planted with thousands upon thousands of crucifixes, a pilgrimage site that honors, among other victims, the Lithuanians deported to Russia in the 19th century – we made our way to the coast and caught a ferry to a narrow finger of shifting sand called the Curonian Spit. The spit is a sandbar 60 miles long, a national park with cool pine forest down its spine, a chain of four villages along the lagoon side and spacious, powdery white beaches on the Baltic side. On our drive through the forest, we encountered a large family of wild boars panhandling for snacks from delighted human visitors. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast in Nida, a pristine, red-roofed village nestled up against a vast sand dune. The spit has spent much of its history in German custody, and Germans still predominate among the foreign tourists who come to hike, rent bikes, toast on the beach or congregate at the beer gardens tucked into the forest. Thomas Mann lived here for a few years in the 30’s, and his cottage is maintained as a museum that draws a steady tide of German literary pilgrims. Except for some remnants of Soviet-era rest homes – grim concrete barracks hidden back under the pines, still serving as rock-bottom tourist lodging – you would never suspect that you were fewer than three miles from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, home of the decrepit Baltic fleet.
The rest of our journey hugged the Baltic, north from Lithuania, around the Latvian coast, and finally up into Estonia. The coast is flat, so the road affords no view of the water, but from time to time we would turn left through the coastal forest to discover a fishing harbor or an industrial port. One foray took us to an abandoned Soviet watchtower, no doubt erected more to keep citizens in than spies out. The major beach resorts – like Palanga in Lithuania and Jurmala in Latvia – are more Jersey Shore than Riviera, jammed on sunny weekends with families and carousing college kids, and increasingly built up with holiday homes of newly prosperous Balts. Other seaside towns, like Parnu and Haapsalu in Estonia, are famous for their spas. We visited the Fra Mare spa in Haapsalu for a little rejuvenation, and found the experience more clinical than indulgent – spotless hospital tile and fluorescent lights, staff members dressed in nursing scrubs and posted treatises touting the ostensible therapeutic effects of aromatherapy and mineral baths. After a thousand miles or so on the road, though, our mud wraps and expert massages left us relaxed, happy and sulphur scented.
One night we meandered in from the coast to spend the night at a cavernous stone-and-timber farmhouse converted to a guesthouse, near the medieval town of Kuldiga. Our host was Yuris Akis, an English-speaking double-bass player from Riga who retired from the jazz life into country hostelry. We joined him for a strange, multitasking evening – drinking beer, watching a muted Formula One race on TV, listening to an a cappella jazz sextet sing Christmas music at top volume, all the while poring over our host’s memorabilia from encounters with the likes of Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. His wife fired up the sauna for us before bed. We roasted and smacked each other with birch branches, and fell into a clean country sleep.
We had two nights in Riga, which of all the Baltic capitals is the one I could imagine happily living in. It is the largest, with about 800,000 residents, and the most cosmopolitan. It has a lovely old town hugged by leafy parks and a serene canal, and its own architectural treasure – in particular, scores of immaculately restored buildings in variations of opulent Art Nouveau from the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Where new buildings have been slotted into the old town, they have mostly been done with reverence for the feel of the place. Walking the shady parks or sipping a beer in one of the cobbled squares to the music of a good local jazz band, you can readily believe this city has been home at various times to Sergei Eisenstein, Isadora Duncan and Richard Wagner. We stayed in a hotel fashioned from a convent whose courtyard frames a perfect view, over tiled rooftops, of the splendid Baroque dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. At night, we fell asleep to cello and violin duets drifting up from an alley below our window.
On the last day of our excursion, Tom and I paid a visit to Lennart Meri, the eminence of Estonian independence – writer, film director, philosopher and, until recently, president. Meri owns the tip of a peninsula north of Tallinn, where he has built a sleek house reinforced against the gales that blow in from Finland and landscaped with hardy evergreens. He has removed most of the evidence that it was once a Soviet military outpost, retaining only a rusty underground bomb shelter as a conversation piece.
As we strolled the grounds, he told me a story absent from Western histories of World War II. He pointed to a distant lighthouse that was, he said, the site of the first American casualty in the war, when a plane from Stockholm crashed in nearby waters. While Estonian fishermen watched, a Soviet submarine surfaced and officers boarded the downed plane. Moments later, shots were fired, and the Soviets emerged with a package of diplomatic post, carried by an American diplomat. The intrigues this coast has witnessed would make a shelf of thrillers. Meri tells the story, though, as current events, an illustration of the perfidy of large neighbors, the precariousness of liberty, the need for powerful friends.
On his patio, Meri poured us coffee and mulled a question about Estonia’s national identity – the eroding influence of global culture, the lingering effects of Soviet dominion – and concluded that Estonia, like his landscaping project, is a work in progress.
‘‘Except for the Vatican, I don’t know any countries that are finished,’’ he said.
Liuks, persiunciau savo amerikanui deckui. gal visdelto sugalvos kada nuvaziuoti paziuret pats paskaites .
tik linkas neveikia.
Puikus straipsnis rashymo stilium ir technika.
Cia po tu visu skandalingu forumo temu ir laikymu save "lithuanian s**t", tikrai labai idomus straipsnis. Tik kazin ar "jie" peskaitys…
danas, kodel linkas neveikia? Jei neveikia, tai nueikit i http://www.nytimes.com ir iveskit zodi Lithuania i search. Ten ismes visus straipsnius, kur yra paminetas zodis Lithuania. Ten turetumet rasti ir sita straipsni. Tik tiek, kad po kurio laiko priejimo prie straipsniu nebebuna ir norint gauti straipsni reikia uz ji moketi.
Ginger, butent po viso sh pilimo, labai tinka temu paivairinimui
viskas ok. radau per paieska, tik tiek kad reik prisiregistruoti pirma karta.