How a Sunday photography club spawned a friendship with photographer Šarūnė Kajietė that led to a book editing opportunity that blossomed to an article in Lithuanian Heritage about a farm-to-table restaurant in Užupis.
My friends Agnė Alenovič and Jura Radzevič opened Valgomasis, a tiny lunch spot around the corner from the flower market in Vilnius, in December 2015. I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time last September while on a heritage trip with my entire family.
Ellen Cassedy is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust. In this interview, she speaks about discovering her Litvak heritage and her connection to the future of Lithuania.
My favorite word in Lithuanian, grybauti, means “to go mushrooming.” In English, the meaning is simple and to the point, but in Lithuanian, the sentiment of the word is much more poetic. I didn't fully understand it until recently, when some friends put me in a pair of rubber boots, handed me a basket and a knife, and drove to a “secret spot” some 20km outside of Vilnius on a cold, damp morning.
After more than five years of living, working, and enjoying life in Vilnius, it is time for me to move on. By the time this magazine goes to press, I’ll already be in New Zealand, where I will spend the “summer” coaching a local ski club. I do intend to return next winter to Lithuania to coach the Kalnų Ereliai ski team and hopefully to resume writing this column, but for the moment, it’s time for this little lietuvaitė to pack her bags and learn to speak Kiwi.
Since much of my winter is spent out of Lithuania, I spend spring getting in touch with friends and catching up on all the activities I’ve missed.
As long as I can remember, on April 1st the weather is always warm and what better way to start the spring than by celebrating Užupio Independence Day. On the bridge, we were greeted by “immigration agents” dressed in white jumpsuits and 3D glasses waiting to stamp our passports. Yes, that’s right, you can get an authentic Užupis visa, good for a one day visit! The atmosphere was festive on the patio of Užupio Kavinė where residents and visitors mingled with plastic cups of “imported” Švyturys. Live music went on long into the evening. We clutched our beers and sang along with the rag-tag group of “jazz” musicians playing Lucky Man.
When I was hired at Cosmopolitan magazine a week after arriving in Lithuania in December 2003, I told the editor-in-chief, "Don't worry, my Lithuanian is a little rusty, but I'll be back to speaking fluently in a few weeks." That, at best, was wishful thinking.
The parliamentary and presidential elections in Lithuania are far less colorful affairs then they are in the United States. There are no primaries, presidential debates, national conventions, or celebrity endorsements. In the weeks up to the parliamentary election this year, posters appeared on empty walls, and occasionally an interview would be given by one of the candidates on Lithuanian National Television (LTV). I didn’t even realize it was an election year until the magazine I work for did a parody of some of the popular parties and their posters.
As a ski racer, it was not uncommon to meet Olympians. It's just that kind of sport, easy access to the athletes. I raced against Olympic team members, American and otherwise, as a junior. I even rode up the chair lift with Kjetil Andre Aamodt (a skiing legend from Norway) in Aspen—and spoke to him in Norwegian! It's something different entirely though when you get the chance to not only meet but hang out with an Olympic star from another sport. So, while it was incredibly exciting to have dinner with the entire Austrian men's ski team in Vail, that was nothing compared to the honor of being accompanied by Gintas Umaras during a road ride just a few days before the Olympic torch reached Beijing.
When I convinced my parents to buy me a one-way plane ticket to Lithuania in December 2003, I expected to stay six months to two years. Now, four years on, I'm still in Vilnius, going to work every day, making new friends, and complaining about the customer service.