FALL COLORS: Knitting Shops in Vilnius

Right now I am reading a Lithuanian-language book about Ireland, and an English-language book about Lithuania. Earlier in summer, I mentioned how I was getting tired of reading travel books because all of the US and UK authors who travel to “exotic” places sound the same after a while. So I was excited to find two books that break out of that mold.

(Yes, this is about yarn shops, please bear with me.)

  • Airija coverAirija: Tolima Artima Sala (In Ireland: An Island Strangely Familiar) by Elvyra Davainė tells the story of a Lithuanian journalist who spent five years living and working in Ireland, and the stories of many different Lithuanian expats who have found themselves in Ireland for a variety of reasons.

In the book, Davainė talks about how Ireland and Lithuania are similar. It’s something I’ve noticed myself. Both are steeped in ancient paganism and a deep spirituality that is not tied to organized religion, although both countries are also very much immersed in Roman Catholicism. In both places, nature is held in very high regard. Something magical lurks in the remote places of these two countries. There are leprechauns and fairies in Ireland, there are laumės in Lithuania. A modern veneer slips and slides uncomfortably over the top of ancient beliefs and customs. Poetry and folk music have a hold on the popular culture that is stronger than in most places I’ve visited. The past and the future are somehow swirling together in a confusion of the present. It’s something I have been wanting to explore further in my writing. Oh, and there’s a lot of beer and potatoes in both places, too! It’s this less mystical side of things that Davainė discusses for the most part (at least that’s what I think based on my initial perusal of the book).

  • Experiencing Vilnius coverExperiencing Vilnius: Insider and Outsider Perspectives by Victor De Munck, Trini de Munck, Rasa Antanavičiūtė, and Linas Svolkinas tells the story of an American couple visiting Lithuania with the unusual twist of having two Lithuanians critique their observations and discuss their experiences with them.

I bought these two books at a shop here in Nida. I’ve been making my way through Airija, while my husband’s been dipping into Experiencing Vilnius. He rarely reads books, and spends most of his reading time with the electronic versions of magazines and newspapers. But I read him a couple of sentences from this book, and he took it from me and started skipping around in it, cracking up as he read different passages that reflected his own observations. But the book goes beyond confirming the experience of the typical tourist. The American authors spent quite a bit of time in Vilnius working, getting to know the place a lot better than you would on a weekend or week visit to popular museums and tourist attractions. And the responses of the locals give the book a depth of perspective that is quite uncommon in travel books. I suppose Experiencing Vilnius is not really a travel book, or not something that would be sold in the travel narrative section of a bookstore. It’s more of a sociological study, albeit one presented in informal and personal terms.

FALL COLORS: Knitting Shops in Vilnius 1

The two books read like mirror images. The de Muncks complain about how rude Lithuanians can seem to Americans, pedestrians not smiling at strangers in the street, shop girls not saying hello or goodbye or even looking you in the eye, people not saying “thank you” when Americans would. Davainė warns Lithuanians heading for Ireland that people will ask “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” at least ten times a day, but they don’t really want to know. Just smile, she advises, and say, “Everything’s fine, thank you.”

So where’s the yarn? It all comes down to this: Knitting is a universal language, and I find I can go anywhere and share my experiences with the knitters I meet. And where better to meet knitters than at yarn shops? But you’ll have to read the rest tomorrow because I’m not finished writing it yet.

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