Today, the first entry from Vilnius – I say first, because it will be more 🙂
I stayed at Renata’s from Couchsurfing. She picked me up in the evening from the airport (in neighbourhood of which located is Gypsy camp – apparently the local place to buy various narcotic substances 🙂 ) and went to her apartment. Walking through the backyards I realized that I smile and I came to the conclusion that the backyards look very familiar – they are surrounded by ugly blocks – gems of Soviet architecture. Probably our architects were given projects from Russia at the time 🙂 There is, however, one major difference between the blocks in Poland and Lithuania – Polish ones are insulated, painted, very nicely presented in a word, and Lithuanian? Almost ruins – have not seen any older block (built more than 20 years ago) in Vilnius and Kaunas, which would not be shabby, with balconies threatening to fall down and bury passers-by under.
My main goal was to contact Ms Halina Jotkiałło (starts out as a story of espionage) as I had something for her from Ms Wala (with whom I do Fridays at the Sikorski Museum). The two ladies met in London when Ms Halina and her group came from Vilnius with shows. Ms Halina lives at some distance from the centre, so I decided to walk along the Vilnia River as I wanted to see that mysterious Vilnius with my own eyes (that day I did some 25km on foot, I do not need to tell you my legs hurt “a little bit” the next day 🙂 ).
I already described above my aesthetic experience (or lack of them) at the sight of residential buildings in Lithuania, so I will not repeat myself. I heard before leaving from a few people, that Vilnius is beautiful and yes, the old town is beautiful, but go outside the old town and it’s different world. One can see it’s a poor country.
But back to Ms Halina – she is a retired Polish journalist (among other things she worked for “Courier Vilnius”, previously called “Red Flag”) who spent her entire life in Vilnius. Her husband, George (Jerzy) Surwiło was a very respected journalist, writer and activist for the Polish culture. Her occupation and functions performed by her husband meant that Ms Halina was sometimes invited to various events where she met many celebrities and politicians. They were among others Richard (Ryszard) Kaczorowki (the last President of Poland in Exile), President Kaczynski and his wife and George (Jerzy) Waldorf. There’s an interesting story regarding President Kaczyński. In 2005, during his visit President Kwasniewski and President Valdas Adamkus unveiled at the entrance to the Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius a plaque advising that the work is carried out under the aegis of the Foundation of Adam Mickiewicz, under the patronage of the Presidents of Lithuania and Poland (though apparently Lithuanians didn’t give too much). Well, in the course of his presidency, when President Kaczynski visited Vilnius, he said that if the plaque is not removed he won’t visit the cemetery and will withdraw all financial support. The result is a new plaque, picture of which you can admire below. And no, it is not my goal to denigrate the late President Kaczynski, I quoted the story, because we spent a lot of time talking about the cemetery (Ms Halina also met the late Andrew (Andrzej) Przewoźnik, the then secretary of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom, who is largely responsible for the restoration of the Bernardine Cemetery and many others).
The afternoon passed pleasantly and quickly, with wine and conversation. I picked up a few words in Polish spoken in Vilnius which is totally different from Polish I speak. Listening to Ms Halina’s stories of the olden times and Poles, it felt as if I was there, transferred in time. I have to admit that the life of Poles in Lithuania is a totally different story. They’re Polish too but they had lived in the Soviet Union. Ms Halina talked about how the books were smuggled from Poland, because one could not get anything in Lithuania. Smuggled books were later read in turn by the intelligentsia. So maybe life was not so hard in communistic Poland – certainly Poles in Lithuania struggled more to remain Polish. The beautiful thing is that Ms Halina still feels Polish, loves Poland and is interested in all aspects, including the rising Polish tennis stars. You can meet Ms Halina and other ladies from Vilnius on 1st and 2nd November at the Powązki cemetery collecting money to keep Polish cemeteries in Vilnius. Dear Varsovians – be generous!