Vilnius, Jerusalem of the North

Posted by on 22/01/2016
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I wake up with the optimistic idea that today must be better than yesterday, simply because it can’t get any worse: my adventure with the Devil on wheels has meant a minimum below which I don’t think I’ll fall, at least for the rest of this trip — which can’t be very far, by the way: I’m at the gates of Poland, and I guess in about two weeks I’ll get back home.

In order to guarantee myself a good rest and defeat my pathetic anxiety condition, last night I took a good dose of heavy duty stupefying pills; and it was long past noon by the time I woke up today… and only because the cleaning lady was banging my door. Since it was a bit too late for hitting the road, and besides it’s a rainy day, I chose to stay until tomorrow and play the tourist today.

La casa de las placas, un rincón en el casco antiguo de Vilnius

The house of plates, a nice corner in old town Vilnius

This time I don’t feel like looking for alternative places or the unbeaten track, so I just take the recommended route in the tourist city map. But, before starting, I get into a patisserie and indulge my senses into a honey-sweetened, ginger brewed tea (a regional speciality I enjoy better and better every time) plus a tasty vol-au-vent.

As I am sitting, an old lady comes in and, being saluted by the assistants, doesn’t bother to say hello back nor even look at them; but instead goes to the bar and starts checking all the pastries behind the showglass, from end to end inspecting them slowly. Then, upon deciding that nothing interests her, she turns back and walks her way out, not saying goodbye nor looking at anyone, leaving the door open; exactly the same way a cat would do: minding just her own business.

Certainly an odd woman but, nonetheless, she’s made me realize how I envy the way elderly people face society. They’re perhaps the only ones who can afford to be genuinely sincere. Not expecting much from this life any more, not trying to charm nor captivate anyone, they can’t care less about what others may think; they’ve already left behind the time for vanity or enticement, competition or boast; whichever their role in life was, they’ve either played it or accepted their time is over. Except for their beloved ones (and sometimes even to those), they don’t mind to disappoint others, to be disliked. Of course not all old people are like this, but I believe that only among them can we find the paradigm of true free will, alien to primary impulses — mostly reproductive. The rest of us, the “young” ones, are more or less heavily influenced by our instinct and ambitions, and this prevents us from being ourselves.

Entrada a un viejo patio interior

Entrance to an old inner yard

Vilnius, despite the growing tourism, its university, and being UNESCO world heritage, still preserves the charm of the old times, and the signs of the socialist failure are still fresh.

En muchos de sus rincones aún se ve la decadencia

Decline is patent in many of Vilnius’ corners

A sputtering tramway stops by me. When the dislocated doors open, I see the operator: she’s a beautiful, big blue-eyed young lady, blond as wheat, fresh and glowing. A woman like that, in my country, would be an actress; or at least the receptionist in a luxury hotel. Here, the beauties drive tramways.

Una anciana a la entrada de un patio interior que alberga un aarboleda

An old woman at an inner yard that hosts a small groove

This Jerusalem of the North — as Napoleon named it after the many jews living here in those times — is today almost taken by Poles and Russians: along with Lithuanian, those are the languages I most hear around. As a matter of fact, those nations have for centuries contended over the city, and the times are still fresh (the 60’s) when Russians and Polish inhabitants in Vilnius outnumbered Lithuanians.

Since the middle ages to our days, this city has been one of the most charismatic enclaves in Eastern Europe; but today, seduced by the big commerce, international franchises and shopping centres, it’s quickly moving with the times and losing its uniqueness. Like everywhere else, in fact. Soon it will be just another bulwark of consumption… to the great joy–of course–of Vilnius citizens.

vilniusProgreso

The inevitable, ubiquitous crane telling about progress and growth in Uzupis, the very heart of Vilnius

Around this neighbourhood called Uzupis, dividing it from the capital as an almost independent village (the Independent Republic of Uzupis, they jokingly call it), there is the quiet and peaceful river Vilnia, whereof the city takes its name. Watching this almos idyllic river, surrounded by greenery at the foot of the Seven Hills, I can’t help thinking: had we had something like this in our childhood, us suburb boys, what a thrill! What an amazing, unbeatable scenery for our teenage adventures!

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