Today was a 'Missing Lithuania' day for me: if I didn't have to go back to Kyiv to get a visa, if I could just buy a ticket and jump on a plane, I would go to Palanga (via Vilnius or Kaunas, I guess) this very evening. But this is not possible, so I just spent part of the day feeling nostalgic - and even joined a Yahoo! Lithuanian Language Group.
Palanga was such a wonderful place back in the 1980s, so different from what we were used to: one of the main distinctions was that they didn't have fences around their private houses, no fences at all, neither tall, nor small ones, just shrubs and, beyond them, flowers and green lawns for everyone to admire. And the Baltic Sea. And amber.
My parents and I first went there in May 1985, for a kids' tennis tournament, and we fell in love right away. Last time we were there was in August 1990, fifteen years ago, and I've missed Palanga ever since.
At some point today, I walked into a tiny bookstore on Prechistenka, the one where I once bought a Czech and a Yiddish language textbooks. What if they have a Lithuanian one, I thought. Not that I'm planning to study seriously, but I seem to be collecting language textbooks, and Lithuanian is such a very beautiful language, it'd be a pleasure to try to remember some of the words I learned as a child.
The saleswoman said they didn't have Lithuanian textbooks but were thinking of ordering some. As I was paying for another book, she asked me if I had Lithuanian roots, I said I didn't, and this was how I got myself into that conversation...
The saleswoman was very angry at Lithuanians and the rest of the 'pribalty' (do you call it 'the Balts' in English?) - for their dislike of the Russians.
She must've been pretty bored, too, sitting in a cellar all day long, for it was somehow impossible to just say good-bye to her and leave.
She recalled how once, as a tourist in Lithuania, she was standing in line for a sausage and a vendor refused to pay attention to her because, naturally, she spoke Russian, not Lithuanian. Feels like a fresh wound, I thought, but when I asked, it turned out the incident took place in 1987 - and the bookseller has never gone back to Lithuania. I told her I was sure she had encountered a billion rude Russian vendors in these 18 years - did it mean anything to her except that jerks abound in every ethnicity and race, has it forced her to consider emigrating from Russia?
She seemed to agree - but not enough to let me go.
She recalled yet another offense: how Latvians were putting flowers to the monument to the Nazi collaborators on May 9 this year. I said there were probably many people in Latvia who found this as offensive as she did - similarly, there was a pretty large group of Russians with portraits of Stalin on May 9 here in Moscow, which, however, didn't mean that the majority of this country's population wanted Stalin or his policies back.
At this point, a man entered the room; he must've been the bookseller's colleague.
"Why," she exclaimed, pointing at the man, "I suspect our Sasha walks around with a portrait of Stalin every now and then!" My jaw sort of dropped. I was shocked, mostly, by how out-of-the-closet she sounded, not really proud, but still too casual for this subject.
The man she called Sasha turned to me and said that no, he didn't carry Stalin's portrait with him, but he did believe that Stalin deserved credit for many good things he had done.
I'm disgusted to retell the rest of the conversation here and, in any case, it had nothing to do with Lithuania.
We didn't fight, we didn't even argue with this Sasha. We spoke about Stalin in two different languages: the language of emotions, and the language of figures and economic data trimmed to fit a certain point of view. He even had an idea of how to praise Stalin in connection with the Ukrainian famine: according to him, the famine kept returning in cycles for decades, and the horror of 1933 was the last one, wasn't it, and all thanks to Stalin's economic policy...
I wanted to return the book I'd bought and get my money back, but that would've prolonged the torture. So I just left, having promised myself to forget this episode as soon as possible and not to be mad at those two assholes for the next 18 years.