Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UK/ Ireland/ Europe Tour: Days 17-20 & Welcome to Lithuania

The last destination on my tour was Lithuania. I didn't know much about Lithuania other than what Wikipedia had provided: 3.3 million occupants, part of the European Union since 2004, and the highest rate of suicide of anywhere in the world. And my attempts to find out more about Lithuania on my tour were pretty unsuccessful. I asked at every stop if anyone had ever been to Lithuania or was Lithuanian. One woman told me on twitter she was married to a Lithuanian and she was pretty sure she was a werewolf. In Amsterdam, one boy told me he was fourth generation Lithuanian. And his mother was evil.

So I was looking forward to it.

I flew from Amsterdam into Vilnius. I was supposed to have a public book signing just a few hours after I touched down, so I was feeling my lack of knowledge acutely. The plane touched down and rolled down the runway. I caught glimpses of landscape that looked like Virginia, fighter jets with tarps over the mouths of their engines, tiny prop planes also wearing tarps to keep out birds, and beyond all of that, Lithuania. I was picked up by two folks from my Lithuanian publishing house, Alma Littera, one of whom spoke great English and the other . . . not at all. Guess which one escorted me to my hotel and book signing event?

I thought, if I don't learn to speak Lithuanian in two hours, this may be the longest three days of my life.

Then I thought: I am 4,561 miles away from home and people who know me and possibly no one will come to my book signings and then I won't have to worry about speaking Lithuanian anyway.

This is what the first book signing looked like.

(more from the article here)(and more here).

There were television cameras and journalists with cameras and basically a million people who all made a lot of noise when they saw it was me. And before I spoke, they had a Lithuanian singer from Amberlife singing before me. Basically, it was like having that dream where you have to give a presentation in front of a big class and you look down to your notes and they're blank and everyone's watching you, and right before you wake up, you realize that you're in Lithuania. 

But it was kind of amazing, too.

Dalius, my interpreter, was terribly nice and terribly funny (he also taught me things like vilkas and Koks tavo vardas?) He introduced me to Lithuanian cuisine:

And he also helped me to find Lithuanian pastries to take back home to my kids. This, for instance, is Sakotis, and it's an eggy pastry that you can buy in bags at grocery stores, which I did. Those of you who were following along will remember the Great German Cookie Disaster of 2010, so it was with great care that I stored this in my hotel room until such time that I could fly back home with it. I want you to remember that I said that, later. Okay?


So. I had three book signings and a ton of interviews to do while in Lithuania, and one of the signings was three hours away on the other side of the country. I was rather keen about this one because, like you, I imagine, I wanted to know what Lithuania really looked like and figured a car ride would be the best best. Well, here's what it looked like.

So, beautiful. I left two postcards -- one in Vlinius and one in Klaipeda. Scenes of the crime:

And this is what they said.

Then, on the way back from Klaipeda, as I was riding in a Mercedes van with three Lithuanians under the age of 30, going about 85 or 90 miles per hour because the road was dead straight and the speed limit is very high, one of them turns to me.

LITHUANIAN: *with funny little smile* Would you like to hear some traditional Lithuanian music, Maggie? 

ME: Does that smile mean I should say 'yes' or 'no?'

LITHUANIAN: That's a yes!

She puts in a CD and this is what plays.

I would like to remind you again that this is playing at 90 mph with three hysterically laughing Lithuanians and some swerving. So, basically, it was fantastic.

I really loved Lithuania -- they were funny, friendly, and the country was gorgeous. I was more than ready to come home, though, after 20 days of touring. I'd never gone so long without seeing Lover or Things 1 & 2. I'd never gone so long not playing a musical instrument. I'd never gone so long wearing socks.

So I went off to the Vilnius airport with my computer bag and my clothes bag and my Lithuanian pastry held very carefully as not to break it. It had to get x-rayed along with everything else. Security eyeballed it. I eyeballed them back. The Sakotis survived security. It survived boarding. I put it in the overhead compartment. I had to connect in Frankfurt, and remembering The Great German Cookie Disaster, I was determined not to forget it there.

I got to Frankfurt. I remember the Sakotis. I carried it gingerly through customs.

SECURITY: What is that?

ME: A Lithuanian pastry.

SECURITY: Can I have some?

ME: No.

This happened three times, but the pastry survived all three times. By this time I was elated to be on my way home. I was so close I could taste it. 8 hours on a plane, and I'd be home. I was trying to stay awake so that my jet lag wouldn't be so bad, so I paused to get tea and a muffin at one of the shops in the airport. I had to put sugar in my tea, so I had to set the Sakotis down. I eyeballed it, because I didn't want to forget to pick it up again.


ME: A Lithuanian pastry.

PASSERSBY: Where's Lithuania?

So I carried the pastry with me toward my gate, stopping to put my money away in my pocket. I got to my gate; my flight was on time and leaving in thirty minutes. I sat down. Lover called.

ME: All is going well! I'm going to make my connecting flight! I'll see you in 9 hours!

LOVER: The kids are excited to see you.

ME: I'm bringing them a pastry! It's a --

This would be when I realized that I did not have the pastry.

I had put it down when I put my money away. I yelped something at Lover, hung up, and went tearing over to where I'd put my money away, to where I'd set the sakotis on a table. And . . .




Yes, folks, that's right. It had been five minutes, but already, it had been whisked away as abandoned goods. Meaning that, in the end, security had gotten another one of my baked goods. This hardly seems fair.

But the blow was softened this time by the fact that I was going home after three weeks. 20 days, 4 countries, hundreds of readers, thousands of books, two lost pastries, over 10,000 miles of traveling, and now I was going back home. 

I left my last postcard to a stranger on the baggage carousel in Washington, D.C. Last time I saw it, it was going around and around next to a large green bag and a black duffel. I like to think that whoever owned those bags picked it up, but it's possible that Security got that one as well.


Zoë Marriott said...

It's a conspiracy. *Someone* wants your baked goods, Maggie. Hide your blondies. No pastry is safe.

Actually, as someone who has lost a purse, a mobile phone, a mobile phone charger, two umbrellas, two pairs of earrings and a scarf while travelling in the last eighteen months, I find your tale comforting. I am not the only one. Though in my case, if my cookies vanished it would be because I had eaten them but didn't want to admit it...

Donna Gambale said...

Lithuania is GORGEOUS! Their use of color in architecture/design is wonderful. With such pretty buildings, that suicide stat is mystifying.

And the disappearance of baked goods is definitely a conspiracy.

PS - Every time I hear "Lithuania" I automatically think "Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania" from when I was memorizing locations of countries on a map of Europe for a high school history test.

Nichole Giles said...

Sounds like an awesome trip--minus the pastry disasters, of course. Congrats on surviving 20 days away and making it home in one piece.

Love the postcard idea.

Justinaa said...

Hey. ! I'm from Lithuania : ))) I can teel you that shiver in lithuania is : virpėjimas .
Linger : Laukimas . Soo . I love that's books but i cant to go into Vilnius . And i'm so sad ....

Mike said...


Mike said...

Very well described Uk, Ireland and Europe tour. I want to travel with some friends to the thin places in Europe. Thanks!
honeymoon in europe

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