Thursday, September 9, 2010

Another Lithuania Adventure, Part 3: A Successful Trip

Erik's short trip was quite productive. He and his colleague made significant progress on their project and he carved out a few opportunities to relax and enjoy the beautiful city.

Erik ran around 2-3 miles almost every morning, making different circuits around downtown. He ran along the Neris River, down Gedimino Street, by the National Cathedral (pictured above in a slightly distorted panoramic to give a full view of the cathedral and bell tower), and around the hill that houses the old castle of Gediminas. He planned to run the circuitous route up to the castle, but it was closed (apparently the path is closed overnight, and he ran early in the morning before it was open). With the temperature around 45 degrees in the morning, Erik provoked the babushki of Vilnius to cast nasty glances due to his short sleeves and shorts (one even said something to him in Lithuanian which he assumes was unflattering). It reminded him (fondly?) of the family visit to L'viv when the elderly women of Ukraine decided to "teach" Lea and Erik how to properly raise Carter by regularly scolding them on the street and in public transportation. One of their major transgressions was to not bundle up Carter adequately by local standards (i.e., full snowsuit, winter hat, and gloves in 60 degree weather).

On his final evening in Vilnius, Erik watched US beat Russia in the FIBA World Championship. The big game for all Lithuanians is the second one of the night - Lithuania vs. Argentina. Alaus Namai was filling up when he left (in fact, he couldn't stay because all tables were reserved for the Lithuania game). After rooting for Lithuania, it will be time for a few hours of sleep before the early departure back home!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Another Lithuania Adventure, Part 2: To the Hoop, Y'all

Basketball fever has gripped Lithuania, the Butler of international competition. A small country with a strong hoops tradition, Lithuania's team has performed well in tournaments, but has not won a major championship (it has received the bronze in Olympic competition three times, but no medals in the FIBA World Championships). Unlike its NCAA counterpart, Lithuania hopes not only to make it to the big game this year, but to knock off the international equivalent of Duke along the way.

Erik spent the last couple of evenings taking in the competition. He watched the US thrash Angola on the big screen TV at Alaus Namai on Monday. On Tuesday, he joined the crowd in front of the Ratusha in Vilnius' Old Town to watch Lithuania edge out China.
Erik arrived on the square around 45 minutes ahead of time, and found a great seat in an outdoor beer garden. He watched the pre-game warmup, featuring a clown, a Mickey Mouse clone, Superman, and a gyrating woman in a skin-tight purple dress. The clown and Mickey cruised the crowd for volunteers while Superman served as the emcee, with the purple woman playing the role of Superman's Vanna White. They were accompanied by a "Dixieland" band, which Erik believes was called Chicago. [Note to Lithuanian musicians - this name was already taken by a mawkish American soft rock group in the 1970s - avoid it at all costs.] Inexplicably, the Dixieland band played the Village People's YMCA repeatedly during one of the contests. In any case, contests were held and prizes won. One more thing - the guy who won was sporting a mullet. Of course, a photo is below as proof.
The square filled with people as the game progressed. Erik gave his table to eager Lithuanians after the first half and cruised around to observe the crowd. Lithuania is a strong team that played poorly in the opening quarter, but pulled it out by a comfortable margin at the end. If the US and Lithuania survive the next elimination round, they will meet in a semi-final on Saturday.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Another Lithuania Adventure, Part 1: The Buzzing Avenue

Over Labor Day weekend, Erik returned to Lithuania for a research trip related to his NSF project. He is working with a Lithuanian collaborator to finalize the coding of their data about political party personnel decision-making. He arrived on Friday sans luggage (which didn't make it through the connection in Frankfurt), but made do with what he had stored in his small backpack. Saturday and Sunday were working days, but he had an opportunity to stroll during breaks.

Just like in the US, Vilnius is enjoying a holiday weekend as it entertains visitors with Capital Days. The photos were taken along the "Buzzing Avenue" - the label for all of the activities on Gedimino (the main drag of Vilnius). The fair features artists and artisans of all sorts - from contemporary and abstract to traditional and folk - as well as musicians, dancers, buskers, kids' games, and food vendors.

One of the stages for musical acts is located about two blocks from Erik's hotel. He caught the end of this performance of traditional singing and dancing. You can see the dancers' lovely costumes in the three photos that follow.

Buskers moved about the fair, along with an active group of Hare Krishnas and Scottish soccer fans (who flew in for Friday night's game against Lithuania - a rousing 0-0 tie). The Scots wore kilts all weekend long (see below) and were a rather happy lot (unfortunately, Erik missed the opportunity to snap a photo of an especially giddy, large Scot dancing with the Hare Krishnas).

The buskers ranged from older, more seasoned performers (see the top photo) to families playing traditional Lithuanian favorites, such as Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" (see below). Indeed, American music was far more prevalent in the setlists than Erik expected and was not limited to Ragtime classics. A youth group sang and danced to Elvis Presley ("Jailhouse Rock" in Lithuanian) and a duo belted out an acoustic version of a Pixies tune.

Vendors of all sorts lined the street. The pleasant, rustic smell of burning wood wafted down the street as restaurants served hungry visitors traditional foods. Erik had some of the yellow stuff, which is not corn despite its appearance in the photo below. Instead it is a kind of split pea stew that is usually accompanied by a hunk of pork and beer. Erik just had the peas. [For full disclosure, he has already visited his favorite pub - Alaus Namai - for local farmhouse beer.]

A blacksmith showed off his craft, bending iron to make various implements.

While the weather occasionally failed to cooperate on Saturday, with unexpected torrential downpours, the festival provided a nice break from work. Sunday was sunny all day, making the festival an even nicer break.