Archive for the ‘jewish’ Tag

4 places worth visiting in Vilnius

I was in Lithuania last week working on ESoDoc, a workshop and development space for social documentaries. The last time I worked on it was back in 2010 in Tenno, Northern Italy. We were based this time in the National Library of Lithuania and between sessions I adopted my favourite role of flâneur.

1. The National Library of Lithuania

the national library of lithuania vilnius 1919

Its classical grandeur dates back to 1919, the year after Lithuanian independence from Germany and Russia. It sits next door to the modern parliament building which stems from Lithuania’s second independence day, 11th March 1990, the first of the Baltic States to break away from the USSR.

Lithuania parliament vilnius

An important emblem of Democracy

The books in the main atrium are cleverly decorated with black covering on their spines to create the faces of various key literary/historical figures.

Lithuania national library vilnius

2. Knygynas VAGA book shop

Knygynas VAGA bookstore book shop Vilnius lithuania

Knygynas VAGA book shop

A book shop where you can get strudel – what’s not to love? Really enjoyed hanging out here. Had to speak German as the strudel lady couldn’t speak English. We struggled a bit trying to identify pumpkin.

I picked up two Lithuanian novels in English here: Cold East by Gabija Grušaitė (“A new voice that disrupted Lithuanian lierature”) and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (a Lithuanian American, author of the very successful debut Between Shades of Gray).

3. The Republic of Užupis

uzupis republic vilnius lithuania

Border of the Republic

A hippy, bohemian quarter a bit like Chrisiania in Copenhagen. The name means “other side of the river” – it sits in a loop on the far side of the Vilnia. It declared itself a republic in 1998 – it has its own flag, currency, constitution and ambassadors (including my friend author Charlie Connelly who it turns out is their UK ambassador – I believe drink may have been involved in precipitating this appointment). They change the flag every season – it is currently blue for Winter.

uzupis flag vinius lithuania

Winter – blue, Spring – green, Summer – yellow, Autumn – red

It began life in the 16th century as a mainly Jewish area. WW2 reduced the Jewish population of Vilnius from 58,000 to 2,000. The Soviets then destroyed the cemetery up the hill from Užupis.

Now it’s mainly an artistic area, albeit a gentrified one at this point. Between the War and Independence in 1990 it was the realm of the homeless and prostitutes, very neglected. Needless to say, the artists moved in and made it cool and meaningful. Gotta love the artists. It still has a certain charm and some good street art. It seems to have been set up as an artistic provocation, to prompt important conversation. The Republic’s independence day is 1st April.

4. The Ghetto

the site of the great synagogue vilnius lithuania

Site of the Great Synagogue

Vilnius had two ghettos during the Nazi period – the small and the large. They both got liquidated (or “liquidized” as one Lithuanian tourist website has it) by Nazis and Lithuanian police shooting tens of thousands of Jews in the forests around the city. Above is the site of the Great Synagogue where 3,000-5,000 worshippers could be accommodated. It was damaged in the War but the Soviets were the ones who finished the job in the mid-50s, turning a magnificent building into an architecturally insignificant kindergarten (in the background above). I had an interesting chat with a Polish woman at this sign. She told me how poor all the Poles were before the war. Just like the citizen of Neulengbach in Austria (location of Egon Schiele’s studio) who told me how poor the Austrians were.

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

Commemorating the inhabitants of the ghetto

Despite these dark shadows I enjoyed the ghetto area in its autumn colours. I could sense the people. I sat in an open area reading a Lew Archer novel and sucking up the vibes. The city has peppered the area with monochrome murals of the former citizens, with QR codes linking to some basic information. I wonder what this fella would have made of QR codes…

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

QR codes schmoo R codes

Live Long & Prosper

Live Long & Prosper – the most famous half-Vulcan, half-Jew sadly is beamed up

A hand gesture inspired by the traditional Jewish blessing

A hand gesture inspired by the traditional Jewish blessing

Jewish priestly blessing Synagoge,_Enschede,_Mozaiek

4 stories from Songlines

Shane MacGowan

Songs move from generation to generation like lighting fagbutt with fagbutt

Songlines is a project I’ve been doing for some years recording the answer to the question “What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?” from all kinds of people. I feel a new burst of recordings coming on so now’s a good time to gather a few of the already published ones…

MC Hammer – Hammertime (the recording only)

The Blues (the recording)

Dayenu (trad.) (the recording)

The Pogues – Rain Street (the recording)

Songlines #2 – Rich Mix

What song means the most to you and why?

James aged 12 chose Dayenu (trad.)
HEAR HIS EXPLANATION HERE: Rich Mix MP3

“The Jewish perspective on thanksgiving is to magnify the kindnesses that God has performed for us. Thus, we dwell on each of the momentous things that He performed for His people as He brought them forth from Egypt. The refrain, dayenu, means that each of these kindnesses is sufficient to cause us to give thanks.”

If He had split the sea for us,
and had not taken us through it on dry land
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

Crossing the Red Sea

Crossing the Red Sea

UPDATE Jan 09:

Conor McK from Connecticut gave a remarkably similar answer – he chose the song James Connolly

HEAR HIS EXPLANATION HERE: ws_10007conormck.mp3

The man was all shot through that came to day into the Barrack Square
And a soldier I, I am not proud to say that we killed him there
They brought him from the prison hospital and to see him in that chair
I swear his smile would, would far more quickly call a man to prayer
Maybe, maybe I don’t understand this thing that makes these rebels die
Yet all men love freedom and the spring clear in the sky
I wouldn’t do this deed again for all that I hold by
As I gazed down my rifle at his breast but then, then a soldier I.
They say he was different, kindly too apart from all the rest.
A lover of the poor-his wounds ill dressed.
He faced us like a man who knew a greater pain
Than blows or bullets ere the world began: died he in vain
Ready, Present, and him just smiling, Christ I felt my rifle shake
His wounds all open and around his chair a pool of blood
And I swear his lips said, “fire” before my rifle shot that cursed lead
And I, I was picked to kill a man like that, James Connolly

A great crowd had gathered outside of Kilmainham
Their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground.
For inside that grim prison
Lay a great Irish soldier
His life for his country about to lay down.
He went to his death like a true son of Ireland
The firing party he bravely did face
Then the order rang out: Present arms and fire
James Connolly fell into a ready-made grave
The black flag was hoisted, the cruel deed was over
Gone was the man who loved Ireland so well
There was many a sad heart in Dublin that morning
When they murdered James Connolly – the Irish rebel.

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