Archive for the ‘street art’ 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

A Perfect Day (Day 76)

Terri Hooley on laptop

Pretty much the best day so far. Started out from Terri Hooley’s house in the company of Stuart Bailie, radio presenter on BBC Ulster, head of the Oh Yeah music centre and expert on Van Morrison, having grown up in the same hood. The pair of them gave me a beautiful tour of Van’s East Belfast taking in not only his birthplace in Hyndford Street but all those mythically poetic names like Orangefield, Cyprus Avenue and the like. Stuart really knows his shit, he recently made a radio tour of the place and is making a longer programme along the same lines to be broadcast soon. That’s the pylon where Van arranged to meet, the third one over. That’s where he drunk alone under the bridge, chips in Terri. It was such an evocative way to experience the city.

a gift from my nephew repatriated and signed by the 'old puffin'

a gift from my nephew repatriated – and signed by the ‘old puffin’

When we got to Oh Yeah in the Cathedral Quarter, all within spitting distance of Terri’s Northern Irish Punk hub at the old Harp Bar, I took my leave of Terri, a warm hug from a genuinely warm and charming personality, at the entrance to the former whiskey warehouse which is now one of the physical legacies of Terri’s activities over the years, Oh Yeah indeed, and Stuart gave me a really insightful interview, shedding light on some of the more mysterious parts of the Good Vibrations story.

oh yeah stiff little fingers

From there I trotted round the corner along the alleyway where Wizard Studios used to be, where Teenage Kicks was recorded. At the end is a red door which marks the new home of Atto Partners, a digital and design agency I work with, having introduced them to the emerging world of multiplatform TV on 4thought.tv . They gave me a bag of Christmas tea – happy days!

KVLR

KVLR says hi

Within a literal stone’s throw is the John Hewitt which seemed as good a place as any to hook up with my old friend KVLR, Kev Largey to dull mortals. He’s an artist who does a lot of top class work on the streets of Belfast and Dublin. One of his pieces opposite where we were seated happens to be on page 194 of Terri’s book Hooleygan. It’s beside the Art Deco arcade where Terri’s shop was immolated by the forces of darkness. [see Day 75 post for eejits and incendiary devices].

breaking bad graffiti

Kev took me on a splendid tour of the best of the top-notch street art around North Street where Good Vibrations currently resides. He gave me a bag of dried seaweed – happy days! It’s a Belfast favourite, which he picked up as we passed a greengrocer’s stall, to give me my first taste  – it brings the sea to you like nothing else, even shellfish and fishfish, the minute you start chewing. It brought back memories of the seaweed baths my beautiful young bride and I visited in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo on our honeymoon.

To round off a perfect day we popped in to the record shop below Kev’s studio where I found some of Malcolm Garrett’s finest work for Buzzcocks [more of him in the new year] and a bootleg or promo album entitled On The Road with, yes you’ve guessed it, Allen Ginsberg on the cover sitting with Bob Dylan beside Jack Kerouac’s grave.  Waiting for me or what?

on the road bob dylan allen ginsberg jack kerouac

Hooley in Belfast (Day 75)

The One-eyed Man

Writing this one in Terri Hooley’s kitchen with Terri at the table sorting out his Facebook and emails. On the fridge door is a magnet saying “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. The weird thing is that is from 4Talent, a Channel 4 talent development initiative I was in charge of establishing in my first years there. It couldn’t have ended up in a more appropriate place after all these years (it must be a good five years old by now, more probably).

Terri Hooley on laptop

I spent the whole of Day 75 in Belfast with Terri, mainly at his Good Vibrations record store on North Street. I picked up a copy of Teenage Kicks there for a fiver. How could you not? – it was on the wall crying out to me. I also picked up a New Order LP with a Saville cover and not much by way of writing – no title or band name as was the Factory way, just FAC153 on the spine.

Good Vibrations records - singles

Terri took me on a tour of the area past the site of Wizard recording studio where Teenage Kicks among other Good Vibes things was recorded. We also went by the site of the Harp Bar, hub of Punk Belfast. We ended in the John Hewitt for a swift pint or three. I’d been there in the past, originally with Peter Logue, then Channel 4’s Man in Northern Ireland, and later with Kev Largey aka KVLR, a (street) artist who I first met through 4Talent – then known as Ideasfactory Northern Ireland – and one of whose pieces appears in Terri’s book Hooleygan.

the john hewitt pub belfast

We headed back to East Belfast to Van territory and Terri’s place to do an interview which was quite revealing about the kind of person Terri is and therefore some of what fuelled his catalysing of Punk in Belfast, which proved to be an important act in the context of the bleak days of The Troubles. He has many things in common with Tony Wilson (and some key differences) but the political dimension and the urgency of need to provide an alternative were particular to Terri’s situation and enabled him to help deliver the Needed Thing at the right time.

Terri Hooley and Teenage Kicks mural Belfast

As we sat up late partaking of some grapejuice, listening to Stuart Bailie’s show on Radio Ulster (with roots in John Peel), news came on about a failed incendiary device attack in Belfast city centre around the time we were in the Hewitt. Some eejit ended up setting himself on fire. Kingdom of the Blind.

Good Vibrations record store Belfast

Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations Belfast record store

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