Sticks and stones, and Lusitania

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I've told you that Lithuania had been struggling with its image. It is official now. And as one of the means to improve that image a proposition to change its Lithuanian name was mentioned. I promise a more in-depth post about that, but in the meantime I would like to ask my English speaking readers what are their thoughts on that and what would be the best name for Lietuva in English. My Irish colleague calls it Lusitania.

Possible options:

... or simply L? :)

On the other hand ... even though many tend to mishear our English name and think it is Ukraine or Romania, sticks and stones may break my [Lithuanian] bones, but names will never hurt me.


Un cafe s'il vous plait

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It is a gusty, damp evening in Dublin and I drop into one of the cafes belonging to a gargantuan chain owning thousands of cafes all over the world. They seem to be springing up in Dublin at the speed of light. Although everything mainstream and branded seems to be unwelcome nowadays, the place is packed and I find my spot besides an grey-haired man browsing through a holiday catalogue.

I'm sipping one of their special coffees, but it is neither special, nor great. Rather an adapted coffee flavored drink, mixed with vanilla syrup and topped with over steamed milk. I improve the cocktail with a pinch of nutmeg and a smidgen of chocolate. It is not cheap - I gave the girl a fiver without her even bothering to tell how much it was and got some change. I could get a meal for the price of this coffee in Lithuania. Yet probably not for long - prices have been soaring lately. As I was strolling the cobbled streets of Vilnius last September I remember dropping into a flawlessly spotless cafe owned by a Latvian coffee chain. I had an equivalent of over a euro in my purse, thinking I should be able to afford a coffee for that price in Lithuania. How innocently naive I was! The cheapest one was a Turkish coffee for about 2 Euro. In fact, I couldn't find a simple un cafe on the menu at all. Until then I had never paid for a coffee by credit card. Not to mention, I was waiting for the coffee and the bill for over ten minutes each.

But let's go back to Dublin. The service here is much quicker, yet just like in that cafe I find it hard to get my hands on a cup of good coffee. Not an Americano, not a double espresso and not a crème brûlée flavored pseudo coffee topped with whipped cream. If you ever had coffee in France or Italy you should understand me.

Why did I head to a cafe instead of a pub on this miserable evening? And who drinks coffee at this time of the day anyway, when the vast majority are sipping at their pints? True. Have you ever tried to find a cafe that is open till late in Dublin? No wonder the consumption of alcohol in this country is disturbingly high. It looks like socializing without booze has become mission impossible, apart from few exceptions. There is a tea house in Temple Bar, which to my knowledge was founded by a Croatian guy, and is the only spot in the city offering more than a teapot with a selection of tea bags - an extensive range of mixed herbal teas is available instead. And there is one cozy cafe that stays open till late, but the waitresses seem to be constantly struggling with their English.

Oh... and there is this mainstream chain I'm hiding in, buzzing with heart-to-heart talks, good music and the quality of coffee fading out into the background.

Opening a cafe might not sound like the most lucrative business, but I've never seen this place empty. Even though they charge nearly a fiver for a mug of coffee. On the other hand... it is quite a generous mug. Yet whenever I pass this place I tend to remember Krakow with numerous bohemian cafes, not acquired by global mega brands and with decent coffee. I admit having a few pints of Żywiec also. But sometimes one just needs a cup of good coffee.

Written for "Metro Eireann"


Time is not on my side...

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I went fishing today to Portobello canal. I caught a goldfish and when asked what three wishes I have, I told her the fulfillment of one would be enough - to add extra 3 hours to each day. "You idiot," she said, flapped her tail and off she went.

I know I am an idiot and it is possible I've taken up too much at the moment, but, hey, you only get to live once.

Writing for "Metro Eireann" is going well and I am really enjoying it, because finally I feel being in my shoes and the more I think about it the more I realize I should have tried to break into Irish media a bit earlier. If you don't risk you don't get to drink champagne - we have a saying in Lithuania. Now... not that I realize to have been wasting my time, but I'm just that kind of person - a perfectionist inclined to constantly ponder that things could have been done better. "Are you a journalist?" asked one of my tutors tonight when a guy I'm with in a course said he had seen my journalistic attempts. Possibly maybe. And then one Lithuanian newspaper in Ireland asked me to write for them now and again. It looks like my time invested in blogging seems to start paying off.

What else has been going on my block? Do you remember the coup of the palace we started planning in NCAD? Well.. we're getting there. It appears that I wasn't the only one unsatisfied with the quality of some classes and the dissatisfaction had occurred in the course last year also.

Oh, and I'm taking TOEFL on the 1st of March, because I need it in order to be able to apply for master's studies in the Netherlands. What if it doesn't work? Then I'll go fishing again. In Amsterdam canals this time.


Lithuanians head to church for God, music, friends - and tea

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Here's my story published in "Metro Eireann" last Thursday

It is Christmas day and it feels like Dublin has turned into a deserted ghost town, yet St Andrew's Church, adjoining Pearse Station, is nearly full. Some of the people, quietly sitting in the pews, had to walk for over an hour in order to get here - there is no DART, Luas or bus service today. Everybody is well-dressed and they quietly whisper greetings to their neighbors. A congregation of about 250 Lithuanians are waiting for Father Egidijus Arnasius to start a Christmas mass in their native language.

Majority of them are in their thirties, many sit in couples, while now and again children climb the steps trying to approach two brightly lit Christmas trees standing behind the altar.

There is a choir of 10 people, among other songs performing "Silent Night". The pipe organ doesn't work and they are accompanied by acoustic guitar and percussion. Some of them had never sung before, others used to perform in a folklore ensemble "Lietuviskas Dobilas" ("Lithuanian Shamrock") which had participated in many Lithuanian events in Ireland, but recently many of the singers returned to Lithuania and the ensemble started to crumble.

Socializing and keeping the tradition

Jurgita Karazija is one of the members of the choir. She arrived to Ireland this summer and for her going to this mass is the best way of meeting her friends, since they live all over Dublin.

"The whole day is dedicated for socializing with Lithuanians. We stay in touch this way and it has become part of the weekly routine," says Mrs Karazija.

A woman, sitting next to me, is visiting her son who has been living in Ireland for 6 years. It is the first time she came to Ireland and it is the first time her son crossed the threshold of St Andrew's Church. His mother mentions that going to the mass during Christmas has always been a tradition in the family.

The crowd today is large - on an ordinary Sunday about a hundred people would gather. Despite the fact that Lithuanians boast to be quite religious, with about 80% of the 3.4 mln population claiming to be Catholic, majority tend to visit the church only on special occasions - Christmas, Easter or All Saints' Day.

"We are that kind of Catholics. The culture of faith has been destroyed by bulldozer-like atheism," remarks father Egidijus.

Lithuania was the only majority-Catholic Soviet republic and during the Soviet occupation the Church remained a stronghold of resistance against the regime. Some of the churches were turned into storehouses, Roman Catholic publications were prohibited and property confiscated, but the Church was safeguarding Lithuanian traditions and the language - the most archaic among the living Indo-European languages.

The only priest on the island

Father Egidijus had been in Ireland for almost three years and recently his mission was extended for another three. He is the only Lithuanian priest in Ireland which, according to census figures, has become home to over 20 000 Lithuanians, although some estimate the real figure to be about 100 000. Father Egidijus had been busy throughout December, conducting masses in Ashbourne, Galway, Longford, Carrickmacross, Moy and Armagh, where over 500 people showed up on Christmas Eve.

"During those three years I saw many faces. Some had disappeared, because people returned to Lithuania, but new ones turned up instead," observes the evolution of the local community Father Egidijus and acknowledges that many appear in St Andrew's Church on Sundays in order to have a chat with their fellow countrymen.

As a matter of fact, the easiest way to meet them is to stay after the mass for a cup of tea - there are always biscuits and a kettle in a room nestled beside the church. Sometimes people bring along homemade goods and some claim that this is the best part of the day.

As they chat, a hand-carved wooden Rupintojelis (The Pensive Christ) is quietly sitting on Father Egidijus' work desk in his apartment - a characteristic Lithuanian art form, depicting a worrying Christ with a crown of thorns sitting on a stump. It shares our worries and reminds that hard times of life would become better. In the meantime Father Egidijus rushes to put the kettle on.

All photos © Lina Zigelyte


Blogging as a delusion of journalism

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When I saw Primal's suggestion to nominate my modest reflections on living in Ireland in the best "Blog by a Journalist" category for Irish Blog awards 2008 I was obviously flattered. Hell, yeah.

Of course, as Primal admits, you can have doubts on whether I could qualify. I have some doubts as well - I believe out there, in the Irish cyberspace, there must be more journalists with more articulate English and plenty of time to ponder about zillions of issues. Yet it is up to you to decide and come to a conclusion in a debate what criteria define you as a journalist in this era of blogging, Current TV, You Tube, etc. Do you have to belong to the mainstream or can you be a voice in the wilderness while remaining independent? If everything goes well and I have a bit of luck, as of September I might plunge myself into a more academic research on this subject. Or continue a life of a mongrel with occasional posts on this blog...

On the other hand, Primal mentions the fact that there are not many non Irish journalists working in Irish media.

Amelie Mouton in her story "Why no news isn't good news for Ireland's ethnic journalists" published in 2006 in the annual magazine of Metro Eireann - Ireland's multicaltural newspaper - points out that the National Action Plan Against Racism asks for "positive actions" towards the recruitment of journalists from cultural and ethnic minorities. Yet a well-known Irish journalists, who's name is not disclosed, observes in the story that "Irish journalism does seem to be drawn from the white middle classes nearly exclusively - unless you count Protestans and Scots, there are not ethnic minorities represented in my staff".

In a way it is understandable - a little more than 20 years ago Ireland was almost exclusively Irish. I remember and Irish woman once told me that when she went to London about 25 years ago she was startled by the variety of people over there - never before she had seen so many shades of skin and heard people speaking English in so many different ways.

For the past five years Irish society has been experiencing vast changes. About 10 percent of the population today are foreigners. It is widely seen in cafes, "Penny's", construction sites and supermarkets. But not as much in the media.

Of course, immigration issues are being covered. The usual ones: possible layoffs, abuse of immigrants as cheap labor force, accidents, caused by drunk Eastern European drivers, other criminal offenses, etc. Yet apart from these clichéd news there is so much more worth feature stories, photographs, broadcasts and documentaries.

Seamus Dooley of the National Union of Journalists in a story mentioned above said that the main barriers preventing the mainstream press from taking on ethnic journalists are language barriers and a possible lack of knowledge about Ireland's socio-political background on the migrants' behalf. I'll tick for the language, yet many migrants have experienced that socio-political background themselves, therefore the last argument could be disputed. On the other hand, why not give a chance for foreigners trained as journalists and with previous work experience to gain more knowledge of that kind while they carry in-depth research? Many of them speak more than one language and know plenty of personal stories. Besides, we all know that journalists are jacks of all trades, yet masters of none and they all learn as they go.

I'm no expert in immigration and I am not a typical immigrant myself. A virtual friend of mine in Lithuania expressed a wish for a blog that would describe emigration process from day zero in a foreign country. As she said, the first slap in the face and the first applause.

A blog of this kind would be immensely popular. There are still many myths associated with emigrants in my country: hearsay about pay, living conditions, Irish, etc. If blogged honestly (therefore probably anonymously), it would offer the best chance to satisfy virtual voyeurism. If blogged in proper English, it would be phenomenally popular in the British Isles. Either way stories we - virtual voyeurs - would like to hear would probably never reach that blog. If blogged honestly and in the native language, most likely it wouldn't come from some mushroom factory. Even if internet access was available, blogging still requires some sort of ability to write. As another virtual friend of mine has observed, ability to write quite often does not coincide with the capability to tell something and vice versa. In terms of blogging in English, although I am convinced there are more people capable of doing that than we encounter today (non-native speakers), again those things we would like to read - everyday immigrant stories - would probably never make it to such a blog, just because they wouldn't happen to somebody who emigrates with more than basic knowledge of English. It would become a boring blog - with no bad news.

At first my blog was an attempt to highlight some of the issues Eastern Europeans have to face in Ireland. I should probably write more about the likes of my friend who came over to Ireland in November. For the past three months she had been working in an Eastern European grocery shop for less than the minimum wage, doing about 60 hours a week and without a single pay slip. I could also mention that they sell spirits from behind the counter and whoever speaks Russian can ask for a pack of 200 cigarettes for half the regular retail price. But I'm sure these stories will get to be covered someday by those who thoroughly know Ireland's socio-political background.

On the other hand, as I say in my profile, getting stuck in the topic of migration is easy, therefore I try to cover other issues as well, resisting the temptation to become too serious, too issue-focused. I'm learning to respect the readers - the second keyword bringing readership to my Lithuanian blog is "boobies" (because of a story about a character played by a Lithuanian actress doing it in "The Tudors" , shall I say, in a very open way - my suspicion was no English actress would have signed up for it). Therefore you might encounter more juicy material in the near future on this blog as well.

Whichever was the reason, a few weeks before Christmas I received and email from the deputy editor of Metro Eireann deputy editor offering to write about Lithuanians in Ireland. She said she had found my blog and thought it was very interesting. It wasn't all in vain, I guess... :)

If you think this blog deserves the spot in the nominations for the Irish Blog Awards 2008, mention me in any of the categories you think I qualify for. Or otherwise, please come back. Thanks for stopping by.


And the nominees are... Irish Blog awards 2008

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Thanks to Primal Sneeze I happened to come across the fact that the nominations for the Irish Blog awards 2008 are now open.

Nominations close on January 18. Good luck to everybody, especially new faces on the block.

I need to do more research before I make my choice, but hopefully by the end of this week I will make up my mind.


On freestyle tutors and rocking the boat

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Before posting this rant I sought advice from my sister, who is a fourth year full-time student in Trinity College, and picked my workmates' brains who previously were engaged in studies over here.

I asked my sister if she had encountered many freestyle lecturers over the years that she spent in college. Although her object of studies requires a more specific and systematic approach than mine (for those looking for some background information, currently I am studying photography and digital imaging in the National College of Art and Design), recently myself and a few other guys I am studying with got worried. We've paid about 1300 Euro each for a six-month course which takes place twice a week for about 3 hours each time. We're split into two groups and have three lecturers in total - one of them we are sharing and then each group has the main tutor whom the other group only gets to see rarely.

So. The lecturer that both groups are sharing is kick-ass. Tons of material, dozens of pictures, intensive and brain-teasing lectures, lots of feedback on the projects we are currently involved in, etc.

The guy who is the main tutor of the other group (despite my bewilderment about the fact that although he had been photographing for over 15 years, he never aimed to exhibit his work abroad) knows his stuff, is very expressive and was very helpful when we were working in the darkroom. But my group only gets to see him rarely.

Now my group's main tutor, as one of the girls I'm studying with said, is a hippy, which is great, yet when I was paying the money I wasn't expecting to spend half of those 3 hours listening about her trip to New York. Neither was I paying the money for her to constant cross-examinations of how we are doing with our projects. Not that I don't like them or don't accomplish them, but spending over an hour of those 3 hours (which in her case mostly turn into 2) on asking what's your project? how are you getting on? how's your research? ON EVERY SINGLE LECTURE OF HERS is ridiculous, because as we are just talking the same stuff all over again and again, she is just nodding her head or mentioning a few random names (which in my case were totally absurd and out of context - on which even the kick-ass lecturer had agreed). She comes unprepared every single time and I am not the only one who is starting to feel fed up with her impromptu lectures.

An artist, one might wonder? I don't even consider her as an artist at all.

My sister admitted of having a few lecturers like that, while one of my workmates said that two of his lecturers could hardly speak English and one of hem was lecturing about mechanical solids (the colleague I am talking about graduated in engineering).

As we were sipping our Christmas drinks with the guys I study with, quite a few of us mentioned dissatisfaction with the tutor I am talking about. And before I could say anything one of the girls said "We, Irish, tend not to rock the boat". If it wasn't for her, I would have continued thinking perhaps I am just nitpicking. After all, good tutors are rare. Yet my guess is that she has probably been lecturing like this always - without students' complaints or any notions of improving the quality of her classes.

Since I am not Irish and one of the better students should I rock the boat? And how?

Shoulda woulda coulda...


Rolling on...

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Currently roaming in the "Scotch Mist", rewinding 2007 and trying to avoid mystification of the past. Happy New Year everybody.