Left Alone in Vilnius

Vilnius6

Vilnius, Lithuania – August 2008

One block off the beaten tourist path of Pilies Street and I am alone. The din of restaurants and souvenir shops and tour groups fades. The only noise is that of my shoes echoing on the cobblestone. I look up at the crumbling walls and smile with relief.

I peer into grimy shards that were once windows. They reflect the cracks that have begun to show in my own facade. How did I manage to live this long?

Vilnius1

I stop in front of an old church that’s closed for restoration. At first glance, the walls seem bare. Then my eyes pick up the faint, spectral outlines of faded frescoes. I contemplate that which has been chipped away, slowly, by time. This is more intriguing to me than empty spaces filled in, rough edges polished over, flaws erased. There is no mystery in perfection.

Vilnius2

For a long while, I wander these silent streets. They are not so much neglected as left alone. There is a story behind each exposed brick and shattered window pane. I open my ears and listen to them speak.

Certain life events can leave a rift down to one’s very foundation. It is beyond repair. There are two choices one can make: try to remain standing for as long as possible or succumb to total demolition.

Vilnius3

Every so often, a burst of color appears.

Vilnius7

Decay and beauty in harmony.

Vilnius8

Lost in Užupis

Vilnius, Lithuania – August 2008

After wandering around for an hour or so, I’ve finally found the tiny Republic of Užupis. I think. I’m staring up at the famous angel, so I must be in the right place. Or am I? The streets are eerily deserted. Maybe even the artists have fled the city during this heatwave.

uzupis01

I walk down the silent streets looking for signs of life.  I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something. That I’m close but not really there. Sweat trickles down my back, and every once in a while small prickles of pain move underneath my skull. I stop and take a few deep breaths of the stagnant air, but it doesn’t dispel my daze. Clouds have begun to gather at the edges of the sky.  There will be thunderstorms in a few hours and, if I don’t manage to fend it off, a severe migraine.

uzupis02

Unlike Christiania in Copenhagen, you are allowed to take photos of Užupis. The intense sunlight illuminates the facets of the derelict houses. The cracks, exposed brick, watermarks, and infinite shades of brown. The brushstrokes of time. Like much of the old city of Vilnius, Užupis seems totally at home in its own decay. But like so many other artist districts, it’s starting to become fashionable, and so it’s probably just a matter of time before it is “beautified”.

lithuania41

Finally, I happen upon the constitution wall. The constitution is translated into several languages and written on mirrors. The Republic of Užupis declared its independence in 1997. It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, constitution, anthem, and an army of about eleven men. Užupis Independence Day is celebrated on April first.

My mood lightens as I read the constitution, which seems to be influenced by Dadaism. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters, and parents. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday. Everyone has the right to be individual.

Everyone is responsible for their freedom.

This is the place that I’ve been seeking.

uzupis04