Follow me into Peripheral Mythologies

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For more on the East being fast-forwarded into the Western embrace, on nostalgia and expectations, on the challenge to perform and the clashes between the past and the present follow the virtual rabbit to Peripheral Mythologies. Modest attempts to bridge dialogue.

 

When last things don’t work out

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Last week at work was supposed to be five days of upfront honesty. That man who comes for a bottle of Shmernoff every week stinks and has seriously bad breath. Your man (that most Irish of sayings!) who once was begging not to sell alcohol to a woman who was supposed to come shortly dressed in a beige coat should try to get some serious help for his wife (whom empathizing with her husband I actually didn’t serve that time) instead of asking the staff of a local off-licence to help him out. And all those of you with that uberconfident expression on your faces and the banal “I know what I’m looking for” as you grab any bottle of any Barolo or anything Grand Cru or Reserva sitting on the shelf are nothing but pitiful snobs trying to dazzle in the vanity of your husbands, wives, lovers and colleagues.

Last column for “Metro Eireann” was supposed to be equally straightforward, yet focusing on Lithuanians rather than the Irish – I’ve complained enough about them to be deported to the furthest East.

The finale turned out to be quite different though. My area manager decided to send me on very sudden holidays – with less than an hour’s notice. And as for a column – to cut the long story short – I became aware that I ended up focusing on myself rather than on Lithuanians in general and somewhere halfway through answering whether three and a half years I had spent here were not in vain I stopped writing because I didn’t know the answer. My last column was never finished and the reasons behind that vanished in the crossfire of emails exchanged between myself and the deputy editor of the newspaper.

On the other hand, I can hardly complain – I have plenty of time for books, movies and more movies and my sister’s kids, but the way my career in enology ended was a bit of a slap in the face. Two days before I was told the news my wine shop was held up by an armed masked guy. While he was stupid enough to rob a place on a Monday night when most of the Euros are safely chilling in the bank coffers, he was relatively courteous as he said “thank you ladies” when he got the cash from the tills. Gentleman, huh?

I happened to be off when this happened. The girl whom I replaced as an assistant manager worked in the shop for five years prior to leaving it and during that time the place was held up about five times – once thrice in a period of a year. Syringes and screwdrivers mainly. Never a gun - unlike this time (Gardai still don’t know if it was a real one and I doubt they’ll ever find out). Perhaps a coincidence, but that girl was never there when the incidents were happening. She said it was because the robbers knew she was crazy. “It won’t happen to you either, because they know you are crazier than me”. Whichever was the case, indeed nothing happened in more than three years I have spent in various Oddbins shops. They say that dogs attack the people who are scarred of them – does the same apply to robbers?

Either way, it was our new manageress who was behind the counter when she was greeted by a wild West-like “Hands up!” Ever since she started working in June I didn’t get along with her. At all... Well… why should I – she was spying on me on CCTV as if she didn’t have better jobs (besides, those cameras are there for security measures, not to play Big Brother). Have I mentioned that she’s always stressed? So voilà – the shop was robbed and obviously she’ll need some time to recover (as will another girl who was working with her on that night). My suspicion is that she asked the area manager (who doesn’t boast too much people management skills) to send me on holidays (even though I don’t have any left), because she doesn’t imagine her recovery with me working alongside her.

Whichever way it was, I’m on holidays and she’s recovering. I hope this time does her well. I’m enjoying mine. Sometimes the days get a bit too self-reflective and it is probably inevitable before leaving the country where I’ve spent three and a half years, especially when you consider the pensive Lithuanian nature. Perhaps I might write a book about my experiences in Dublin some day. I’ve made a bet with one Irish guy that I’ll have it written and translated to English (not many books in Lithuania are) before he releases a proper CD (not a homemade disc which could only be found in Road Records). The thing is the bet was made before I heard him playing in Whelans. I guess I should hurry up writing otherwise I’ll end up buying a bottle of vintage Krug which we bet on.

 

Irish and the Olympics: when money is not the issue what is then?

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Even though it is said that sports and politics should always be kept apart, the history line only serves as a proof that the Olympic games have always been more than a sports stage. The 1936 Games in Berlin the Fuehrer used as a means to display the efficiency of the Nazi system, while in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepted their medals shoeless, each wearing black gloves on their raised, clutched fists with silver medal winner Aussie Peter Norman wearing a human rights badge in support of the protest against racial injustice. About 50 countries boycotted Moscow games in 1980 in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in 1992 in Barcelona Australian basketball team refused to play Americans when one of Dream Team’s stars Eaerwin Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive, this resulting in Aussie doctors’ statement that if played, Johnson would pose a threat of passing on the virus.

For giants like the USA, the USSR or Yugoslavia the Olympics and especially the team sports have always served as a way to prove their superiority. Two basketball matches between the Americans and the Soviets were as important as the Space Race, with the Soviet Union winning both of them. 1988 Olympics in Seul marked the second time in the Olympic history the American basketball team was beaten and it was the second time the USSR did it. When the Soviet Olympic basketball team was standing on the podium that summer clenching their gold medals, it was the last time the team of 12 were listening to the anthem saluting the victory of Communism's immortal ideas and an unbreakable union of freeborn republics. After four years four out of that team were standing on the podium in Barcelona, this time with bronze medals, but without the crossed hammer and the sickle on their T-shirts. The anthem of their unknown country wasn’t played in 1992, since the American Dream Team took the gold, but it was the first time in the Olympic basketball history the players of this Western giant were surrounded by the representatives of two dwarf countries, which for decades remained anonymous to the world. Croatia took the silver, while Lithuania took the gold. That moment epitomized the triumph against the system and the pride to finally represent the country you were born in, but were not allowed to mention its name, because it was part of the ‘unbreakable union’.

The subject of the freedom of Tibet is not first time the most powerful countries remain silent in the face of violence and human rights violations, while it is labelled as an internal issue. If the freedom of speech exists, this summer Olympics, which initially were supposed to be the celebration of vigour and beauty of the human body, will be interrupted with various protests, hopefully only verbal ones.

Yet putting the issue of Tibet aside, what fascinates me a resident of this country, is how little interest and ambition Ireland displays in the Olympics, even though it has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world.

I got used to the fact that the winter Olympics are completely ignored by the local media (thus confirming its parochialism), but I can partly justify it with the absence of snow on this island. Yet one expects that a prosperous country should be investing into brining up and training athletes that could compete not only in the perpetual Munster-Leinster contest, but would represent Ireland on the world stage.

Although, in my opinion, hurling and Gaelic football are fascinating games, it is a shame that when young, the best athletes oftentimes are directed into these two almost exclusively Irish sports. This is what a friend of mine working with the most prospective young tennis players in Ireland says. Playing for your city is great, but for the majority of sportsmen and women representing their country in the Olympics is the most prestigious experience.

This year Ireland is sending a squad of 51 athletes to Beijing, representing 12 sports: athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and triathlon.

Ireland has 20 Olympic medals under the belt overall, with the peak-time being the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where Ireland won 5 medals. The summer Olympics in Athens were not successful, as Cian O'Connor lost the show jumping gold after his horse failed a drugs test. The performance of Michelle Smith in 1992 in Barcelona, when this unheard of before swimmer swept 4 medals was marked with controversy, although doping allegations were never proved. Yet two years after the Atlanta Games, International Swimming Federation banned Smith for four year after she was found guilty of tampering with a urine sample. Her performance in Atlanta was never encored with a startling come back.

In a recent interview with the BBC the world number three in men’s tennis Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was trying to explain to the journalist, how come his poor and war torn country has so many first-class tennis players. “It's just a hunger for success, a mentality that we've been through a lot of difficult times in the past. We appreciate some things much more in life and we fight for every match”, he explained.

After the restoration of the independence in 1990 my country has won 11 Olympic medals. If you include the ones Lithuanians won representing the Soviet Union, we have 53. Luckily, in the past few years the government started to understand that basketball shouldn’t be the only sports supported by the state. Last year our country’s sports budget was 16 mln euro – as opposed to Ireland’s 316 mln.

This summer we are sending 69 athletes to Beijing - more than ever before. We have at least six medal hopefuls: a discus thrower, cyclists, wrestlers among them and, of course, basketball players. Recent survey shows that half of the population is hoping we could win up to three medals, while the quarter of the respondents believe we could win up to six. Even if we don’t win any, the country will be obsessed with the Olympic fever. For me it is an overwhelming feeling to see somebody on the TV with our little three-colour flag next to their name and to know that they are not representing some unbreakable political union.

Written for "Metro Eireann"

 

Taking my words back - love Apple. Got an iPod!

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As a student of media studies I have to admit that I am way too slow to clue in on some media. Due to the fact that I got my new shiny ipod (yippie!) and had to learn to make friends with it, I happened to discover podcasts. Discover as in EUREKA! Honestly, until now I knew that they work a bit like TV shows and you can subscribe to them and that's about it. Little did I know about the variety of the content available (that's from somebody who lives without a telly, works without the access to the world wide web and usually spends about 2 hours on line a day).

After a few hours of browsing on line, sorting out my iTunes, plugging in and unplugging (hate to brake things and prefer to read manuals first - just to be on the safe side, I know it makes me sound like a bore), I realised that I had been spending way too much time on oftentimes parochial (my hype word of the moment) Lithuanian news websites. Just for the crack of it I even checked out a Dutch one and thought that I quite like the sound of the language - that's all I can get for the moment - the melody of it.

Subscribed to a few.

Forum - A World of Ideas
New Yorker: Out Loud
Thinking Allowed.

Will listen to them on the way to work. Might even try that Dutch one as well. For the sake of melody... The DVD Player is still locked, but I'm discovering the joys of ipodism, which makes me Apple's slave as well, I guess.

 

Dublin mouse in my house

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I am at war. BIG TIME. Even though I got that plug that you stick in the socket and it makes the ultrasound that should discourage the mice from nesting and sticking their filthy nose into my private 150 or so square feet, the little fucker came back yesterday and, contrary to the first encounter, halted for a while, looked into the direction of the plug and me and rushed back into the gap between the stove and the sink.

So I got the traps today and bought a can of tuna - apparently the mice learned to nick the cheese without getting trapped (forget cartoons) as the cheese dries quickly, therefore something pasty works better. Bite the dust!

 

Cant' watch DVDs on my Mac anymore... :(

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F*** Mac. F*** Apple. F*** them all out there.

Can't watch DVDs from Laser... :( Apparently, I've changed the DVD regions more times than it was allowed - why the *** they don't create a system, where you can watch all regions?

It really makes me almost cry... What should I do? I love movies....

To make matters worse, since I was sitting in front of my locked Mac till 3 am, I think accidentally I saw a mouse in my house. For fucks sake as they say here... Could things get any worse?

PS The only movie from the ones I had at home that I was able to watch was L. von Trier's The Idiots. A very appropriate title (for me)... :)

PPS Did anybody try to unlock it in Apple support and would anybody know how much that pleasure would cost?

 

Guggenheim museum to be erected in Vilnius

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After months of negotiations and public relations campaigns' pros and
cons Lithuanian government gave green light for the establishment of
Guggenheim museum in the capital Vilnius
. This will be a joint project
between Lithuania, the Guggenheim and the State Hermitage Museum in
Russia. The most prominent supporter and the locomotive of the project
the former mayor of the capital Arturas Zuokas hopes that the project
will put Lithuania on the cultural map of Europe and draw a different
kind of tourist crowd (which at the moment mainly consists of
stag-partying Brits and Irish, along with hordes of Poles paying
pilgrimage to Adam Mickiewicz).

While the project adds up to a total of 80 million euro, it is
believed that over 400,000 people would visit the museum and in the
next 7 years state and private coffers would start experiencing the
benefits of this gargantuan once-in-a-lifetime project.

Even before the government's blessing some steps have already been
done, although until last week it wasn't clear whether the government
would back up the project and chip in – at least partially. The main
threat for Guggenheim came from the institution that was previously
run by the projects keenest flagman and fomer mayor Zuokas. During his
term he introduced many initiatives in the Lithuanian capital and was
awarded The Outstanding Young Person of the World 2002 title by the
Junior Chamber International
.

Yet despite the facelift the capital experienced during his term, he
couldn't avoid harsh critique for some of his ideas, an example of one
being the free public bike system borrowed from Copenhagen. Naïve
folly! The bikes disappeared from the cobbled streets of the Old Town
in less than a week.

The opponents of Guggenheim blame former mayor that the museum will
turn out to be another way of laundering money – an accusation Zuokas
has been facing from his first day in the office. Moreover, current
vice mayor of Vilnius has publicly accused Guggenheim with financial
intrigues and blamed it for colonizing third world countries. Along
came critique from a group of Lithuanian artists and architects
complaining that the government should give priority to the national
art and artists.

Guggenheim as an institution faces various critiques. A prominent
French art critic has dubbed it "a Coca Cola factory with branches
everywhere around the world"
, other museums point out that it has
metamorphosed into a franchise, while some of the exhibitions were
criticized for the subject matter, i.e. Georgio Armani dresses and BMW
motorcycles. Yet nothing of such a scale has ever happened in
Lithuania yet. It was the first time a number of renowned architects
were competing for the right to erect Guggenheim structure in Vilnius
– among them Daniel Libeskind and Massimiliano Fuksas. Eventually it
was awarded to Zaha Hadid's futuristic design.

It might have earned the name of a franchise for a reason, yet to
stubbornly oppose Guggenheim with wooden crosses, post communist
paraphernalia and local art celebrities
would mean to deny the idea of
art as a way of bringing cultures together. Moreover, it would condemn
the country for decades or possibly centuries of terra incognita
status in the eyes of the world. In a recent survey in the UK
Lithuania was voted as the least known European destination
.

When in the late 1990s Guggenheim was built in a poverty stricken
Bilbao in the Basque region of Northern Spain, some were suggesting to
use the money to build factories. Today many of the opponents have
become museum's keen supporters with more than a million visitors a
year. Moreover, the museum has contributed more than 1.75 billion euro
to Spain's GDP and helped to maintain 4,500 jobs a year.

Guggenheim might not be the only way to draw more people to Lithuania.
Pubs with smoked sausages, cheap beer and girls will obviously draw
more crowds than avant garde art or Litvak centre that should be
included in the new Guggenheim. I say should. Because after dozens of
disappointing decisions my country has made, I finally have hope in it
again. I don't think we'll be as prosperous as Ireland as soon as our
politicians hope to become, but if Dublin draws tourists for Guinness,
Vilnius could find its own way. And I keep my fingers crossed.

Written for "Metro Eireann"