In between concerts and festivals, I made a point to visit some of Vilnius’ literary monuments and installations, such as the statue of Žemaitė (the pen-name of Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė) on Gedimino Prospectas Ave, just east of Lukiškės Square.
Žemaitė was a Samogitian writer of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, born in Plungė, in the northwest region of Lithuania. She was born to a Polish-speaking family who forbade her to speak the peasants’ language of Lithuanian, but Žemaitė defied that ish by befriending the local serfs and writing about their experiences in the local vernacular. Her first piece, Autumn Evening, was published in the 1895 True Lithuanian Farmers’ Calendar.
In addition to her literary work, Žemaitė was active in political and social causes, supporting the 1863 uprising against the Russian Empire and participating in the first Lithuanian Women’s Conference in Kaunas in 1907.
Lukiškės Square is also home to the #VilniusSkaito (#VilniusReads) station, where people can choose a book and sit for a few hours in the orange beanbag chairs on the lawn. The #VilniusReads project was inaugurated this year, with kiosks scheduled to pop up all over Vilnius throughout the summer, the books donated by the central library and various publishing houses.
Farther east, on the banks of the Vilnelė River, lies the Bohemian artists’ district of Užupis. Užupis is a unique, out-there place with exhibits like a broken piano and stone washing mashine dumped on the riverbank, an alley covered in graffiti murals, and a random statue of a naked woman with no arms or legs in front of an old building.
Užupis considers itself an independent republic, and even has its own constitution, with such articles as: “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation,” and “Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.” You can even get a stamp in your passport from Užupis.
My favorite exhibits, though, were the writers’ and poets’ wall on Literatų Street, and the mermaid statue guarding the bridge over the River Vilnelė. The mermaid is said to lure people from all over the world to Užupis, and those who give in to her temptations will stay in the district forever. She can also be found guarding the Užupis Cafe, where I had a very mermaid-y trout lunch under her approving gaze.
Finally, what self-respecting bookwyrm travels anywhere without visiting the bookstores and libraries? And what Lithuanian Potterhead visits the bookstore without picking up a copy of Haris Poteris ir Išminties Akmuo (Harry Potter and the Stone of Wisdom)?
The Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, named after the author and editor of the first printed book in Lithuanian, was established in 1919 as the country’s central hub of cultural heritage, and now offers a variety of themed Reading Rooms (Lithuanian Studies, Music and Visual Arts, Rare Books and Manuscripts…), creative workspaces (art lab, recording studio, cinema…), a MakerSpace, a Children’s Activity Center, and more. Even the entrance foyer is a work of art, with a stained glass mosaic and shelves arranged to create the faces of famous Lithuanian literary figures, the latter an installation called “Pabudę iš knygų” (Awoken from Books), created by the artist Jolita Vaitkutė.
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So, that was my European summer vacation, two weeks of amazing bookish and cultural adventures that will inspire plenty of future reading and writing projects. For instance, I’m curious to explore some of the YA novels written by Dublin native Anna Carey, co-host of the hilarious Double Love podcast, which I’ve been bingeing for the past few weeks. And of course I picked up more than just Haris Poteris at the Vilnius bookstores. Future posts may review the story of an American boy who meets the Baltic sea goddess Jūratė, and the chronicles of the magical town of Mažosios Klampynės.
What have been your favorite summer 2018 adventures, so far? Any big trips planned, or already undertaken? Tell me all about it!