Wednesday, 13 January 2016

From a train in Lithuania

We have started our first international project Sing Me to Sleep, a collaboration between homeless people in the UK and Lithuania. The project is themed around fairytales and forests. Here is a little flavour of Lithuanian woodlands, from Phil and Julia's explorations. Other instalments to follow...

This is written looking out of the train window while passing through the forests of Lithuania. As we leave Vilnius, factory chimneys turn to trees. It is a bright frosty morning and everything seems to be either a pine tree or a silver birch, a little wooden house or a factory chimney. This is our big day out of Vilnius, to the next largest city Kaunas where there's an art biennial. Julia and I thought it'd be good to see another place and to have the chance to rattle through the countryside. Apparently there are wolves in the woods, though we haven't seen any. To make up for the lack, the train hoots in atmospheric fashion. It also makes church bells sounds when we near a station and issues announcements in Lithuanian.

Mile after mile of woodland. Eyefuls of trees! I've also been told that many of the homeless folk we've met live out in the woods during summertime. Too cold now though, just starting to drop below freezing and it'll be minus 30 by the time it really gets wintry.

It's a fascinating place with whole archaeologies of hidden stories and histories - we've just scratched the surface. After four very intense days with our kind hosts Ieva and Simona, Lois has gone home and Julia and I have now started to shift to holiday mode. I've done a lot of deep sleeping and we've been pottering about nibbling cakes. Vilnius has got a pretty centre and at this time of year it's not touristy, simply a quiet bustle of ordinary people.

The churches are beautiful baroque places, rather like tiny palaces but it is the crosses and wooden carvings that I've found most moving. The crucifixes are hand carved and look rough at first glance but take as bit of time they become powerful, brimful of emotion. Crosses are important here because the USSR discouraged people from celebrating or even showing their Lithuanian identity. Consequently the crosses seem to have been a symbol of resistance to the Russians. There is a famous hill covered in many thousands of hand carved crosses that was bulldozed three times by the Russians, but each time it was destroyed people sneaked through the sentry lines in the night to put more crucifixes back.

On another of our sorties we go into the woods above Vilnius. Tucked in among the trees we find what looks to be a series of offerings. Fruit and vegetables tied in the trees and laid out in patterns on the ground. Lithuania became Christian far later than most European countries and there are traces of the pagan past to be found in many places, often alongside the Christian rituals there is a much older iconography...

Apple offering

Carrot man

No comments: