Friday, June 28, 2013

The Valiant Vandals of Vilnius

At this very moment, I'm feeling like simply recapping a trip I took in the past wouldn't do justice to the creative mood in which I find myself. This creative mood seems to be present quite a lot recently - I wonder if I should be worried. I don't want to delve into a grand historical narrative, nor do I want to get into the political idiosyncrasies of any particular city. I want to write, for the sake of writing, about a place that I haven't written about in the past. The place I've chosen is Vilnius, Lithuania and not for its history or architecture, but for its art. I suppose that's a fitting thing to write about while in a creative mood, wouldn't you think?


Walking the streets of Vilnius can seem like an artistic endeavor in its own right, it's as poetic and quaint a city as any in Eastern Europe. It's the little known, petite sized capital of Lithuania, and it frequently misses the typical tourist list for anyone's "summer in Europe." I grabbed a bus from dreary Riga Bus Terminal with two friends I had met there, and before I knew it I was in Vilnius, departing from the bus, with a heavy backpack on my shoulders, and a hint of a general direction. We were walking towards a hostel that we all knew was somewhere in the Old Town, a UNESCO heritage sight in its own right.

Vilnius is quirky and unconventional in the most intriguing of ways. It's a city that seems to say, "So, we were occupied by the Germans and the Russians in the past, but where are they now?" The city's art screams this ethos.


Although, it would be unfair to suggest that this city is rebelling against their past, as opposed to celebrating their bright future. Or maybe it's neither. Maybe it's a city that has been aching to express itself for so long that a burst of culture was inevitable with the arrival of autonomy and independence (Lithuania achieved independence from the Soviet Union in September of 1991). Part of this expression is no doubt a deep appreciation for humour, or perhaps a concerted rebellion to the cold, somber life that once existed under Russian rule. I found myself constantly stopping along the road, examining humorous, eccentric art that was strewn about, far from the famed Old Town.


Even the crosswalks, likely organized by the municipal government, had a humorous edge to them.


But not all of the artistic expression seemed geared towards garnering a laugh. There were entire areas that seemed to use art as their pillar, to establish and maintain their very essence.

 
So why did I highlight Vilnius as a beacon for artistic expression of all the cities I've been to? That's a good question, and the answer is probably not black and white. Vilnius felt like a city that was dying to be heard, needed to be heard, and most importantly deserved to be heard. In all fairness, I actually decided to go to Vilnius because I didn't yet know anybody who had been. I saw the architecture, the cobble-stoned streets, and the classic Eastern European Old Town.  I tasted the greasy, delectable food priced to enlarge your waist line. I heard the cars and pedestrians that rummaged around the city. But I discovered the city through its art

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