Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Vilnius and London

Monday evening, and a book launch of a book by the writer Arvydas Juozapaitis. No, my Lithuanian has not suddenly improved vastly; my friend Arunas Statkus promised to give a rendition of a Hindemith Sonata as part of the launch.

My first visit to the writer's club in Vilnius; a friend had been in the evenings to the bar part of it and found that much drink was being taken - which my friend quite liked (He's Irish). The launch was in (one of) the meeting rooms downstairs. I arrived late, and found my friend Laima there already. The room was packed.

This was the first time I was in with a literary crowd, as opposed to the concert crowd, and the difference was quite remarkable. Because of the subject matter, not many foreigners attended (I was the only one, apart from some expat Lithuanians). The audience was generally elderly, and did not exude an atmosphere of great wealth. Writing must be poorly paid in Lithuania, as anywhere else. The room itself was seriously ugly; a golden painted ceiling with kind of soviet, very heavy-handed, stucco - no subtleties about it whatsoever.

More and more people kept pouring into the room, and the room became seriously crowded. Old ladies defended empty seats to the death. Old ladies in Lithuania, like the ones in Russia, are to be feared, it seems.

When the author and his entourage came into the room, I realised that I knew the guy - we had once shared a stage together during a conference on social matters. At the time he was described as the 'president's philosopher'; now he is the consul general of Lithuania in Kaliningrad. His other claim to fame is that in his past he has won some medals in the Olympics for swimming (maybe 1972 or 76? He was born in 1956). Nice looking guy, too.

Anyway, Arunas played very nicely, and then someone else started a long and apparently amusing speech - this kind of vocabulary is entirely beyond me, and it was a bit embarassing. As it happens I really had another appointment elsewhere, but I left rather earlier than I needed to. This was tricky, because although I was going out, other people were pouring in; I had to negotiate an old lady's huge shopping bag; I found two chairs being put directly in my way as I was trying to leave, and other people just walked across me. If I had fallen on the floor, I would have been trampled to death by pensioners!

Yesterday off to London, to do some work on Friday. Flight was ok; a young couple beside me - suddenly I was given a pastry made by the young lady's mother, and I asked her 'Is your mother Armenian?' - and indeed she was. Can be diagnosed from the pastries.... She is an interpreter for Russian/English and Italian/English; he is a musician playing the 'birbyne' (spelling?).

In the evening to the French Institute for the film 'Fallen' set in Latvia, by a German producer (Keleman). First the underground did not run well due to signal failure in South Ken where the film was, so at Victoria I got onto a bus. It's really a pain travelling in London during the rush hour, and I don't know how people stand that - no choice, I expect.

The film...well...did it need to be made? It was about a man who had heard a young woman fall/jump off a bridge, walked back to the place, heard a shout of help and called the police, who found nothing. Disturbed by guilt he investigates all relating to the young woman. The young man in the film had two speeds 'slow' and 'stop'. He walked every where very slowly, and he did a great deal of walking. When you saw him at the end of the street walking towards the camera, your heart sank because he would take so long to get there. I had asked about the translation, in case it was into French, but it was into English all right (from Latvian and Russian, an interesting commentary on the social situation in Latvia). In any case, it did not matter too much since the dialogues were no more than 15 minutes out of the whole film. The film was shot in black and white and shot in the most depressing locations in Latvia... happy days.

Now, Wednesday morning and shopping day in London. My hotel is in the County Hall and I use the Westminster underground station. I must say that walking across Westminster Bridge in the morning is quite an awesome feeling - the skyline in London is really impressive. It is also really nice to walk around and see familiar shops, read familiar newspapers, find familiar products. And also seeing so many places that one reads about and hears about. London is really not bad (if you are a tourist).