Even the teenage girl who babysits my daughters informed me that it was an igav maa (“boring country”), chock full of Maxima supermarkets — and this was a comment from a human being that has spent most of her life in south Estonia.
So, I was prepared for boring. What I got was central European. Yes, I know, everyone hates it when you try to break out of the Baltic straight jacket, but I am an observer, and I don’t feel much more different here than I did in Prague or Ljubljana. It’s humid, cut by rivers, and populated by ladies who somehow manage to walk over cobblestones in yellow high heels.
What’s the difference between Estonia and Lithuania? Well, Stereotypes are nasty little things but we DO rely on them to find our way in foreign surroundings. I asked my seatmate on the bus if there were any especially dangerous pockets of Kaunas, you know, something like the Baltimore City Bus Terminal at 4 AM of the East. He said no, and, so far, he has been proven right. But my stereotype of Kaunas, is that there seems to be no innate rush among the populace to give the place a facelift.
In Estonia, I feel as if there is a collective determination to exterminate every last outpost of shitty Soviet-created ruin and replace it with something shiny, efficient, and new. Nothing is ever finished, but one day, one glorious day, all of Estonia will beam with buildings refurbished with materials from Ehitus ABC or Bauhof. Old monstrosities will be demolished and replaced by modernity. Ancient farm houses will receive a fresh coat of paint. Everything will be as it should be and there will be free wireless Internet.
In Kaunas, I get the feeling that people are happy with the way things are. Unkempt grass? Dilapidated buildings? Eh, what the heck, let’s grab a Svyturys and go watch the game at the bar. This city feels like it is what it is. The Lithuanians just happen to live here. That’s how I feel right now, at least. But who I am I to arrive at gross generalizations after spending one day in a place?
Here’s another observation. Lithuanians have funny names that bring to mind some Roman epics. Consider: “Eimantas sat in his cashier seat at the local Maxima, plotting his revenge against his cruel manager Daumantas for stealing his fiance Jadvyga’s heart. I know what I’ll do, thought Eimantas. I’ll put poison in Daumantas’ pierogies!” Or something like that.
We’ll see what the next days bring for your man in Lithuania. Seeing that a trip to the local Maxima can even fire up my synapses, I doubt they will be boring.