marijonas mikutavicius
I shot this portrait of Lithuanian pop star Marijonas Mikutavičius for FHM Lithuania.

Trys Milijonai*

*Three Million

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.

uzupis independence
Left, a border guard checks passports on April 1st in Užupis; right, crowds gather at the Užupis Angel.

Back in Vilnius, I was invited for an entirely different evening of entertainment the very next day. In all the years I’ve lived in Lithuania, I had never been to the Opera and Ballet Theatre. A friend of mine who goes often got us three of the last tickets for Silfidė (La Sylphide), a ballet in two acts with music by Danish composer Herman Løvenskjold. I had never heard of it before, but it must be quite popular here because on a Thursday evening and not even a premiere, the theater was standing room only. We sat in the back of the orchestra section and paid only 25 litai for our tickets—and we had a great view. Standing tickets cost only 15Lt. Ballet for six dollars? As my dad would say, that’s cheap at twice the price!

During intermission, we drank šampanas (sparkling wine) and sipped the thick, hazelnut flavored hot chocolate the Opera Theater is famous for. The performance was enchanting, but what I found most impressive were the stage designs; multiple layers of translucent fabric painted with soft greens, blues and browns gave the forest scenes in the second act an ethereal quality. The audience was transported from the harsh interior of the Soviet-built theater to a mystical fairy world. Outside in the pink light of an early spring evening, the effect of the ballet remained with me. As I strolled home down Gedimino prospektas, my spirits were light, and when I thought no one was looking, I even risked a little pirouette.

2009 hockey world champs Lithuania
Lithuania celebrates after beating Australia in group round game of the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division 1, Group A.

As it turned out, winter was not quite over in Lithuania April 11–17 when Vilnius hosted the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division 1, Group A. My first reaction was, “Lithuania has a hockey team?” I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, so I got together a couple of sports-loving friends and bought tickets to the LTU vs. Australia game. At the start of the first period, it was like watching geriatric old men play pond hockey. But as the game went on, Lithuania at least started to get into their rhythm and managed to take the Aussies (who could barely control the puck) 9–3. We had great seats in the first row, just to the side of Lithuania’s penalty box. The crowd was going wild, and it was so much fun that we decided to come back on Friday to see Lithuania play Japan for the bronze medal. We lost 5–2 unfortunately, but the Lithuanians played well in a game significantly rougher and faster paced.

At the end of April, summer seems just around the corner. Sunny days and warm evenings make for very pleasant patio weather. We got invitations to Marijonas Mikutavičius’s concert at Forum Palace, a large entertainment complex on the north bank of the Neris, just beyond the Senamiestas (Old Town). Marijonas, as he is commonly known, is one of the few Lithuanian pop stars I actually like, and he sings the only Lithuanian song I actually know the words to—Trys Milijonai—so I was really looking forward to hearing him sing.

Before the concert started, we took advantage of the beautiful terrace at Forum Palace. Since it’s still early in the season, they hadn’t put the umbrellas out yet, and we were able to soak up the warm evening sun while we sipped cold lemon beers. The concert started just before the sun set, and inside the club it was packed. Marijonas started off with some slow ballads before being joined on stage by a few special guests. The concert gradually got louder and faster to the delight of the audience before closing with Pasveikinkit vieni kitus. He hadn’t played Trys Milijonai. The show was great, but still, I was a little disappointed.

Before he left the stage, Marijonas told us he wanted to be called back, so with that the audience began to roar, “Pa-kar-tok! Pa-kar-tok!” (En-core! En-core!) After a few minutes, he did return to play a rousing rendition of AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long. It was a lot of fun, but the audience continued to demand Trys Milijonai. The band started to play, but the melody wasn’t familiar at first. Finally, he asked us, “Ar pasiruošta?” (Are you ready?) Oh, were we! The audience sang so loud, it would seem that ALL trys milijonai were in the concert that evening.

Later that evening, I sat with my friends in InVino sipping wine and chatting in English as we always do, when a Norwegian man at the next table asked where we were from. My friend spoke up and told that we were all three Lithuanians. It’s nice to be one of three million.

From Lithuanian Heritage May/June 2009


How can I help you tell YOUR story?