The Obvious

what i saw today

Posted in nablopomo, people, vilnius by theobvious on November 24, 2010

An old man and woman walking and holding hands. When I asked them for directions, the lady stepped in front of her man in a practised motion of taking charge and explained kindly. She then fell right back into step and into her conversation with him.

A guy on the bus telling the driver that women have trouble letting go of their virginity, but not their money.

An old blue van with a huge yellow smiley face on the front and “E=mc2” in yellow letters on the side. The people inside were laughing, probably happy, safe in their knowledge that E will always equal that, whatever happens.

Twenty minutes’ worth of streets in V. I didn’t recognize (that’s a lot for a small city of 600,000 people). When the bus finally wove out of the dark industrial neighbourhood, a graffiti said: “Welcome to V., such as it is.”

La Bayadère.

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our couch is good for surfing

Posted in food, good, people, vilnius by theobvious on November 19, 2010

The couchsurfers are here, and I expected it to be weird, because we’ve never been in a situation where we have to meet completely new people in our house with nobody to introduce us. Surprisingly, we quite hit it off, it seems, unless these are very polite people who’ll hang out with you because they don’t want to offend.

It’s a nice feeling to get to know someone with no shared background at all: not a new member in an existing group, or a new addition to an old team, or someone we got to meet because they’re Jewish. The only thing that unites us is that they were interested in seeing this town, and we happen to live here and have an open home.

For a while now, we’ve been a bit isolated in our own house. Many of our friends moved abroad this year, and in two couples the boys turned out to have severe allergies to cats, so hardly anyone comes to visit, and when we go out, it’s usually either the two of us, or us and my parents, or us and one other couple. We love them, but it does get monotonous.

Despite my social phobia and the anxiety I feel each time when there may be new people to meet, it feels quite nice to just sit there with someone I know nothing about and chat about Morocco and cats and thesis advisors and tourists. And pie, A. baked a pie!

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a strange friend

Posted in nablopomo, photos, vilnius by theobvious on November 4, 2010

they say it's modern art

This guy is a companion of mine in a way. Him and his kin of all shapes have appeared under all of the city’s bridges this summertime, supposedly as a project of art in unexpected places. Stands to reason that they picked these places, too, as V. is a city so very defined by its river and the bridges across it. Each of the bridges has its own character (the White, the Green, the King Mindaugas, the Žvėrynas/Menagerie…), and now each has a silvery shape dangling underneath it: a ball, a spiral, a straight stick, a sort of a cone.

There are three roads to choose from when going from our house to work, one of which leads under this bridge. When cycling, A. and I almost always take this one, and it’s good for walking too, as it goes on right by the river and is open and airy. Without fail, the silver ball is there to greet me every time. A few days ago, taking my camera for a walk after a long hiatus, I spent several minutes playing around with the perspective of the bridge, the ball, and the river reflection. It is, indeed, better with this art than it was without.

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flying notes

Posted in travel, vilnius by theobvious on May 10, 2009

The airport in our city is a tiny one, consisting of two halls: pre-check-in and post-check-in (with a duty free kiosk with alcohol and chocolate). The lavatories have a storey to themselves, glorious expanses with numerous stalls and mirrors on every wall, so that one can watch oneself from every angle and see in reality how one becomes a crowd in and outside oneself.  There are echoes and soap in every dispenser.

There are no people downstairs. That is because there are not so many people generally in the airport. For instance, there is never a shortage of power outlets, despite their rather limited quantity. This might be a sign of outstanding human flow management; they do seem to be able to fill the planes, at least to a certain extent.

Miraculously, however, there are always familiar faces at the airport. Those faces usually have certain distinctive features, placing them in a certain, evidently almost nomadic, ethnic group. ‘Hi,’ says High Ranking Community Executive. ‘Have you seen Notorious Religious Figure? I’m sort of hiding from him.’ ‘Hi,’ you say. ‘Yeah, I’ve seen him. Good thing he doesn’t recognize me.’

‘Hi,’ says Notorious Religious Figure. ‘What is your name? Where did you spend Important Traditional Holiday?’ ‘Hello,’ you say. ‘We went to Religious Organization #2.’ ‘Ohh,’ a resounding groan. ‘Why did you go there? Did you not know I had a beautiful celebration which was entirely free?’ By this time Religious Figure is already towering imposingly over your seat on the plane. You feel somewhat responsible for calming him down so that he does not scare the other passengers. ‘We found out too late,’ you say. The plane takes off.

In the transit airport you try to keep an eye on the Figure, but the next plane is flying to the Holy Land, so he is lost in the throng of his likes, engaged in Vigorous Religious Activity against the darkening window looking out on the departure field, full of lights planes flickering cars workers luggage trucks things. You are halfway there, at least you’ve already caught up with the holylandish laid-back attitude towards time. Your flight is being delayed, there’s time to read. The Religious Activity ought to have been performed several hours ago, but Providence must not disregard time zones. There’s time to read.

surrounded by people

Posted in i don't know, people, random, vilnius by theobvious on February 19, 2008

It’s 9.30 pm when I get to a trolleybus stop in the centre of the city. It’s dark and drizzling. Two people are shuffling about in the white light of a vitamin ad. One of them is missing an arm, the other has pupils so narrow his blue eyes look like empty fishtanks. They are clearly intoxicated, probably on drugs. I brace myself, but they are too busy discussing money and leave on the first bus.

Next, a group of three shows up: a bushy-haired woman, dressed in a long black coat and black trousers, a fellow in tight jeans, looking like Johnny Depp in a cheap crime flick, and a drunk man with a cigarette. The man is half pleading, half harassing the lady, grabbing for her shoulders, mumbling. When he gets too physical, the young man pushes him away in an easy motion – he is taller and very calm.

As I stand there, trying to assess the level of aggression, thinking whether I should interfere, a trolleybus arrives. The three get on, still arguing, and I follow. I sit facing them, thinking slow thoughts about fear (I’m not afraid of being hit, except for the face, because of the glasses and the braces). There are other people inside: a man in a cap, with a gold ring on his finger, is speaking importantly on his cell – ‘Yeah, I’ll call you tomorrow, after the shoot.’ A bulky middle-aged woman is frowning into the window.

The lady in the black clothes sits down, and her son (I’m guessing that’s what he is), wraps his arm loosely around her, protecting her from – his father? – trying to lean in from the back. His face looks skeptical and contemptuous. His whole posture broadcasts control. It feels like this is a familiar situation for them, requiring no intervention.

Yet there are newcomers on the bus who think otherwise. Several drunken kids about my age, dressed funky (one is wearing shiny golden sneakers, all of them in skinny jeans with silver chains), berate the man for assaulting the lady. They are insistent: threatening, upbraiding, gesturing, shouting; but ‘Johnny Depp’ is smiling, nodding – it’s alright, everything is fine.

The youngsters tumble out soon, taking the noise with them. The journey continues in silence, even the loud man is off his cellphone now. I look at the woman across from me, taking comfort in the sight of her confident, disapproving face and her trouser-clad elephantine legs. I think she might be a teacher, or an accountant. Sensible, respectable, no-nonsense, she is my safety (normality? reality?) anchor, and she doesn’t even know it.

When we get to my stop, the worrisome trio gets off and onto the same path I need to take to get home. They are still grumbling, but the boy does not need to shove the man anymore. I keep my distance, walking behind them. At some point they veer off. I pull my hood over my eyes and concentrate on the McGilliguddys playing in my earphones. This is not a bad movie, just a regular night.

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free hugs in vilnius

Posted in event, important, life, photos, vilnius by theobvious on February 11, 2008

This Saturday the Free Hugs Campaign was brought to Vilnius by Fabrice the fabulous Frenchman. The nice people over at Laimikis brought this to public attention, and they also said they could use some photos. So I grabbed a friend, and more importantly, his camera, and went out to shoot some hugs.

I took close to 300 pictures, out of which about 30 came out presentable. They are all on my Flickr page, and here are three (to make all the numbers match) I especially like:

When I asked Fabrice why he had decided to do this here in Vilnius, he said he had done it twice in Siberia, so Vilnius was bound to be easier. Which is a strange answer, but what do you expect from a guy who gave out hugs to frowning people in furs.

We walked around the two main squares of town, the eleven huggers with their signs and me with my camera, making people laugh, squirm, run away, nudge each other, and swear at us (just a couple times), and experienced the city like never before.

We hugged tourists who spoke different languages, children who looked shyly to their mothers for permission, old people whose eyes shone at being happily addressed by youngsters, salesmen who gave us small sweets and gifts for every hug…

We advertised more than Juan Mann, the inventor of Free Hugs, would probably recommend, but then we live in a much colder climate. So we followed people asking them for hugs, and said time and time again: ‘Come on, it’s absolutely free!’

At some point we stopped for some tea/milk/cake at the Milk Bar, and when we came out, it was already getting dark. So I packed the camera away and took a hug sign. Hugging a stranger is like having an epiphany – intense, and different every time.

And then, for the first time ever, a local newspaper published a photo I took that day, and I realized that it’s all about being there when it happens. This simple effort will bring me so much closer to everything I’ve ever dreamed of. You too, probably.

Thank you Laimikis, and thanks to everyone who did this. Meeting all you guys and watching the things you did was so much inspiration.

Update: my friend Mark has posted almost every picture I shot with his camera here. Check them out, if you like.


Posted in books, good, important, link, vilnius, websites by theobvious on December 18, 2007

I was happy today. Because of little things, like peeling a tangerine at the bus stop and having a woman smile at me, but mainly because I got a new copy of ‘Up the Down Staircase’ and laughed out loud in the street reading my favourite passage, translated perfectly into Lithuanian (I think I should start translating my favourite books pronto, before they are all translated better than I ever could).

I believe every educator should read, and preferably own, this book. No, screw that. I believe every sane person should read and preferably own this book. This is why I’ve made most everyone I know read it, and now I’m giving it to a friend for Christmas. What? He’s a teacher. Have you read this book? You ought to. I hear there’s also a movie, but don’t watch that instead of reading! It’s not the Odyssey after all.

And now that I’m already bossing you around (don’t I have a talent for segues), let me direct you to several websites you might find nice, especially around this time of year, which is all about being charitable and giving others what you have enough of and they haven’t got any. Like food. I can only use some of them for want of a credit card, but at least I can spread the word.

1. FreeRice – a very nice campaign. It’s a word game that lets you expand your vocabulary while giving rice to the poor. Best part – it’s free both for you and the people at the receiving end. It’s also educational, yay!

2. Kiva – this lets you support an entrepreneur of your choice in a developing country. It’s basically a loan program with a smart follow-up system, so you can help someone out of poverty and then watch their progress.

3. Donors Choose – a totally awesome website where teachers submit their educational projects and you can choose which of them to fund with your donation. You will then receive feedback from the students.

4. Of course, there’s always the Red Cross. They are doing an amazing job and need all the help they can get. You get to choose whether to donate to their poverty fund, their disaster relief fund, or plenty other funds.

There’s a nice, albeit less dramatic, project on the web called Streetclash. It’s a street fashion competition. Vilnius is one of the last two finalists, and I encourage you to vote if you like it. There’s a different photo daily.

And then, if you just want to be doing good things for the world, you can give me a paid Flickr account. Just kidding. Instead, always recycle, choose handmade, organic, and fair-trade products, smile to people, and pass these links along.

thinking my own bird fairest

Posted in vilnius, weird by theobvious on November 18, 2007

What I love about my city is the charming air of randomness it exudes, – thought I today, staring at a graffiti in a trolleybus, which read SHOE. In white block letters, stacked in a column.

There is a district in Vilnius that has declared itself an independent state. It has a President, a Constitution (read it on their website, it’s pure genius), an Independence Day (April Fools), even a radio.

There is a festival of one-minute-long films, held annually. 99 best features are compiled into a set and shown in movie theaters. I’ve never been – the tickets are always sold out way before the premiere.

There is a beggar lady who they say comes to town every morning and asks everyone very politely for change, until she collects enough for a cup of coffee, a cake, and the bus fare home.

There is a seventy-percent student discount for opera tickets an hour before the show. (We will go snatching this week, probably. This feels like a spy movie. Operation Madama Butterfly.)

There is an insistent job ad running on the trolleybus screens for workers at a mannequin factory. We need you! Come and work for us! Students too! Competitive salaries!

There are black faux-Christmas-trees on sale at the supermarkets, along with black decorations and black tinsel. Right beside them on display are hard glistening polar bears.

There are about 600,000 people living here, most of whom are extremely weird. Every home, every car, every child, every dog, every item is totally random. I love this place.