Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer in Vilnius

On my previous trip to Lithuania it was a cold, frosty winter, and my thermophilic southern butt stayed most of the time indoors. Even on those rare occasions, when I heroically risked my life and dared to challenge the snowy, icy and slippery streets of Vilnius, I was dressed like a Teuton in full armor, and the slit between my cap and my scarf was so narrow that I could hardly see anything.

This time it was totally different: I could finally enjoy the city and its beautiful outskirts for real. The weather was often unpredictable (which seems to be typical for a Baltic summer), but most of the time it was warm and sunny.

There was another different thing this time: I didn't take my brother Soso with me. Instead, I took my mother. I know, it's kinda "not cool" to travel around with your mom, but Diana's folks were eager to meet my parents, and since my father doesn't live with us, my mother had to represent both of my ancestors. Besides, the woman hasn't been anywhere outside Georgia for nearly three decades and for her it was a real adventure -- I just couldn't deprive her of the chance to "see the world" again, like in good old Soviet times, when you could fly to Moscow and back just for a price of an ice-cream... well, a really BIG ice-cream.

Naili (that's my mother's name) quite enjoyed the flight, although at first she was a bit nervous: it had been a very very long time since she last flew on a plane and back then the planes were really scary. But the comfort of a modern Boeing calmed her in no time, and soon she was curiously observing the fascinating view from the window.

The Arrival

Yes, the flight was very enjoyable and pleasant... until we found out what airBaltic had done to my suitcase! My friend's suitcase, actually, which I had borrowed for the trip. The poor thing looked as if it had gone through World War II. The airBaltic representative (a very nice girl, by the way) described it as "all crashed and beyond repair" in her report. But words cannot truly describe its state, you should see it for yourselves.

Strangely enough, the contents of the suitcase had survived. All the fragile stuff had been packed in Naili's suitcase, anyway. Most importantly, the gifts were safe and sound, so the traditional greeting part went smooth, without those embarrassing "oops, it was a bottle of fine Georgian brandy, but you can still drink it, if you find a way to filter out the tiny shards of glass" moments. But we still had to buy a new suitcase before departure, and I was still angry at airBaltic for being so careless with luggage.

But enough of that. Everything else was just peachy, and nothing could overshadow the anticipation of a wonderful vacation with my beloved wife... and the Honeymoon, Part II, of course -- Diana and I, naturally, were eager to continue where we left off in Tbilisi. But first, we had to introduce the city to my mother... and re-introduce it to myself, too -- I missed so much in winter! So that was the first thing we did next morning. Since Diana lives in Avižieniai, a rural outskirt of Vilnius, we would have to take a regular bus to get to our destination, but Diana's uncle, who lives nearby, kindly offered to give us a lift in his car.

The city was overwhelmingly beautiful in summer, just as I had expected. Vilnius welcomed us with a bright, sunny weather, magnificent buildings, neat streets, short skirts and long, tanned legs (which at first I honestly tried to ignore, as any decent man would do in the presence of his lady, but then I realized that resistance was futile and succumbed).

No, there will be no photos of amber-haired and long-legged Lithuanian beauties in this post (other than those of my wife's, that is), so bear with it. Instead, I'll show you how we enjoyed walking the streets of the Old Town and posed graciously before the camera -- all for you, my dear readers, all for you...

Manual Labor

Being on vacation doesn't necessarily mean you should lay on your back doing nothing. In my case, manual labor was an excellent way of recreation, because I mostly work at my computer, getting very little physical action. So the next day, when I heard Juozas (that's Diana's father) unloading some wooden boards from his tractor, I eagerly volunteered to give him a hand. Thus we ended up working together, and that was a really nice feeling. Juozas told me those boards were good for heating: they were unpolished chipboard leftovers from a nearby furniture shop, and chipboard burns extremely well, because it's completely dry and has low density. For now we only had to unload them and cover them from rain with a large polyethylene film; as the need would arise, Juozas would break them into smaller pieces and take them to the basement, from where the central heating system was maintained.

Later that evening I saw something you don't get to see every day -- at least here in Tbilisi. When all the dogs in the neighborhood, including our own Amik (a mix of German shepherd with something unidentified), started barking like crazy, we looked up to the skies to witness an extraordinary sight: it was literally covered with balloons. And we're not talking some kids' balloons here, but the real airships with people and everything. Some of them were flying so close to the ground that I was even able to make out the inscriptions -- and that's with my nearsightedness, mind you!

Pressing Matters

Vacation is good (not to mention the honeymoon), but we had some pressing matters to attend to. Namely, I needed to officially apply for the residence permit, so the next few days were spent running "there and back again" to the Migration Department with a document folder in our hands (or rather in my hand, as you see on the photo on the left), dubbed the Red Folder No.2 (No.1 is my famous Red Folder where I keep my unfinished drawings). On the first day of our quest for the residence permit we just went there to learn what was required from us. We gathered all the necessary papers, filled all the forms and returned the next day, hoping to be done with it. But as it always happens, we turned out to be lacking one of the critical documents and had to come back another day. Finally, they accepted the application and told us to wait "up to 6 months" until the case was examined and approved by the higher authorities. Until then, I could enjoy my preferential visa as the husband of a citizen of the European Union.

I still had plenty of time ahead, but nevertheless decided to begin my resettlement preparations immediately... by learning Lithuanian. In case you didn't know, it's one of the hardest languages in the world, but I was quite optimistic. While Diana searched for some self-tutoring books and software online, I grabbed a short Lithuanian-Russian dictionary, borrowed from my brother before our departure from Tbilisi, and started to practice random words. In the following days I continued in that spirit, only now I practiced on the streets, reading out loud everything I saw: shop titles, billboards, advertisements, posters, even road signs. Naturally, Diana was there to correct me when I was wrong... and sometimes I was deliberately wrong, like in the case of "maisto papildas," which I, for some twisted reason, persisted to pronounce à la Portuguese (something like "maishtu papyudas"), finding it rather amusing how Diana diligently corrected me every time I did it.

As expected, I didn't learn much by merely walking in the streets and reading the inscriptions, but in the process I invented a whole new Lithuanian word! It's žmuoklis, only I still don't have a slightest idea, what it means. Diana didn't like the word at first, having said that it sounds rather Finnish than Lithuanian, but with time (and I made sure she heard the word on a constant basis) she got used to it, then she started to like it, and finally she loved it -- especially when I murmured it into her ear playfully, like a contented tomcat: "Žmuooooooooklis..."

Earginity Lost

Speaking of ears... We had another important mission this summer, only much more pleasant than applying for residence permit. Well, surely pleasant for me and maybe a little hurtful... for Diana. Thing is, we decided it was high time for Diana to loose the virginity... of her ears. Say what? Yep, her ears had never been pierced before. Like every (ear) virgin, she tried to resist at first, but soon had to surrender in the face of inevitable. Besides, my mother had given her two pairs of beautiful earrings as a gift, and as a woman she just couldn't fight the desire to try them on. Yet, I decided to stimulate that desire even further by buying her another pair -- something more delicate and expensive (expensive from a poor artist's perspective, that is).

So we went shopping for earrings before visiting a beauty salon. It proved to be quite a task trying the earrings on ears not even pierced. Besides, we didn't like the assortment. Diana, just like me, hates gold and prefers silver, but we couldn't find anything to our liking at the silver stands. When all hope was lost and we were already running late for our bus, we finally found something in the white gold section. Since white gold looks almost like silver, Diana kindly agreed to try it on and there it was -- we both liked it!

There was still little time left and probably we could make it to our bus, but I saw how excited Diana was about this whole thing, so I officially announced that we were late. Now we could go piercing to our leisure and catch a taxi later. So we did. Diana was a bit nervous (to be true, she almost chickened out at the beauty salon entrance), but the desire overcame the fear. Soon she had gotten two little holes in her ears, along with a nice pair of temporary earrings. Bad news was that she couldn't wear anything else for at least a month, as the "piercing lady" instructed, so all those pretty new earrings had to wait. Nevertheless, even these temporary earrings looked very nice on her, so we were still happy.

On the way home we decided not to tell anyone what we had done, but instead let them notice the change themselves. We wondered, who would be the first, Naili or Franciszka, Diana's mother. As I expected, Naili won this contest (she's a mother-in-law, after all), although it took quite a while. This is how Diana officially lost her earginity (ear virginity, that is). Now she already has three pairs of earrings (besides the temporary ones) and surely must be looking forward to expanding the collection, while my duty and my pleasure is to assist her in this matter.

A Perfect Place

Meanwhile, the vacation went on. As expected, Naili was fascinated by the beautiful garden Diana and her parents had grown -- she does some house planting back home and has a thing for decorative flowers, like many housewives do. But walking around the yard and enjoying flowers certainly wasn't the only thing for her to do when not in the city. From time to time she went "on tour" around Avižieniai, all by herself, to experience that little "foreign adventure" she missed all these years. She even visited a hair-dresser a couple of times. In the evenings she enjoyed her favorite TV series on Rustavi 2 and Imedi -- the two Georgian TV channels available worldwide via satellite.

Naili wasn't the only one to appreciate the beauty around us. I also liked walking in the yard, exploring it, breathing fresh air, and trying to make friends with Amik, the dog (not so successfully, I must admit -- good thing he was kept inside an enclosure). Generally, I'm very glad that Diana lives so close to nature -- I really miss that in Tbilisi.

Avižieniai is a perfect place for people like me, who'd love to live in a rural area, but can't abandon the city life completely. On the one hand, it's a typical village, with yards, gardens, greenhouses, domestic animals, fresh air and quietness. On the other hand, it has all the essential benefits of civilization: modern communications (including satellite TV and broadband Internet), comfortable facilities, public services, a decent supermarket, etc. Surely there are some things missing, like nightlife, specialized shops or bank offices, but the big city is only 20 minutes away and you can "dive into civilization" any time you want.

Personally, I don't care much about nightlife or any other city life, but there are certain things I can't live without, like shopping for computer hardware or art materials, for instance. Surely I could shop for them online, but I prefer to do it in person -- especially in case of drawing papers, which I really have to "touch" before I buy. Luckily, Vilnius has plenty of opportunities in both regards, but we'll talk about that later. Also, I love those ultra-modern shopping centers in the city -- especially Europa and Akropolis. I'm not some sort of shopping maniac (quite the contrary), but I like to wander around these giant malls, just like in a museum.

Touring the City

Now back to the story. We went to the city almost every day, shopping, sightseeing or just walking around the Old Town. Diana loves to spoil me with presents (and not only me), so she literally bombed me with them. I tried to "return fire," but my attempts were miserable: all I was able to come up with, beside those "initiation" earrings, was a modest silver ring bought in a street stand. But it's OK: I gave up on competing with Diana in buying gifts a long time ago, because it's impossible to beat her.

Among other things, Diana bought me this new "Mao Zedong" outfit, as I call it, so I couldn't miss a chance to pose before the camera whenever I could, alone or with my companions.

Speaking of chances, I also couldn't miss a chance to eat my favorite pizza on this vacation, so when we got tired and hungry, we went to the nearest Čili Pica restaurant -- that's where they make my favorite "Septynių kalvų" with tomatoes, champignons, smoked beef and black olives. Naili doesn't eat mushrooms, so she ordered "Pikantiška" with chicken fillet and pineapples -- and, of course, an ice-cream on dessert. She loves ice-cream, and Vilnius really didn't disappoint her in this regard.

Full and happy, we continued the tour, which in our case means more walking, shopping and posing for camera. The weather was fine and we really enjoyed the leisurely stroll after nice meal.

The day was drawing to a close, so we had to return home. Pizza is great, but nothing compares to a simple home dinner, with fruits on dessert, gathered in your own garden!

Talking about eating, we were really lucky on this vacation in that regard, having not one but two skillful chefs this time around: Franciszka and Naili. Lithuanian (or rather Polish-Lithuanian) and Georgian cuisines joined forces to our ultimate satisfaction!

We had a special guest that evening: Mruczek, the youngest of Diana's three cats. He lives in the yard with his elder relatives, but sometimes likes to visit the house, although he's not officially allowed there. Cats and curiosity, you know...

Artist by Nature

The next day I finally remembered that I was an artist, so I decided to draw something. I hadn't done anything "en plein air" for years, and now it was my chance to recall the good old days. As for what to draw, the choice was obvious: there was a special place nearby, which I liked very much. As Diana told me, there was no church in Avižieniai, so the local community decided to raise funds and build at least a small place as a modest tribute to the Lord. Thus was born the "village cross," as Diana calls it. I hadn't properly noticed this place during my winter stay, since it was all covered in snow back then. Now it appeared before me in all its simple but touching beauty, and I immediately fell in love with it.

I was so eager to draw it, that couldn't wait for the proper lighting: the sun wasn't in the right position yet, casting awkward shadows on the cross. I still made a rough sketch just to feel the proportions and "breathe" the atmosphere of this lovely site. Diana was beside me, as always, sharing my enthusiasm, taking some photos and greeting the neighbors curiously passing by.

Later, when the lighting was more suitable for this particular scenery, I came back and took some pictures to be used later as reference: since I had no easel and no place to sit, I couldn't make a detailed drawing in the open air, so I decided to finish the job sometime later, at home.

Meanwhile, I wanted to find some other inspirational places around here, so I asked Diana to be my local guide. Avižieniai is a small settlement and there's not really much to see here, except neatly arranged houses and yards. Still, we managed to find a couple of places worth an artist's attention. Perhaps I'll draw them too someday.

Now that the artist in me had woken up, I remembered about my artistic needs as well. So the next day I asked Diana to take me to a specialized art shop in Vilnius, where I could find some materials for my future projects. Namely, I was looking for a suitable pastel paper for The Mornings After series. The art shop in the Old Town, where Diana took me, exceeded all my expectations. I was like a child in a toy store. This shop, called "Meno mūza" (meaning "The Muse of Art"), is a real heaven for an artist, with all sorts of quality art materials from all around the globe. It had the widest range of drawing paper I've ever seen, and I was finally able to find exactly what I was looking for.

Beside several different types of paper, we bought aquarel pencils (I had wanted to try them for a long time), a mechanical pencil (my old one had been expropriated by Sandro, my mischievous apprentice, who coincidentally happens to be my son), a drawing whiteboard and a large paper case with a zipper (not sure how it's called, but you can see it on the photo below).

Running for Hardware

Buying art materials wasn't the only thing we had planned for that day. Back in January we had decided to upgrade Diana's computer sometime in summer. Now it was summer, so the time was ripe for some hardware shopping. Good thing we didn't take Naili with us, because we had a lot of running to do. But we were yet to learn, what running for hardware REALLY means...

We decided to start with Panorama, another giant wonder of modern Vilnius. It was quite far away, so we needed to use public transport. When we arrived there, it turned out that the hardware section, belonging to BMS Megapolis, had been closed for some sort of maintenance, and that was the only specialized hardware shop in the mall.

When leaving Panorama, Diana showed me quite an unusual thing for a shopping center: a refuge for homeless cats! As she explained, two Lithuanian animal care organizations, SOS animals and Lesė, together with Panorama administration, constructed a special enclosure inside the mall, where the homeless cats and kittens are kept until someone adopts them. Want a kitten? Take one. It's free!

Diana remembered another BMS Megapolis store, where we bought a hard drive and a graphics adapter in January. We were getting impatient, so we called a taxi to get there. When we arrived at the place, it turned out that BMS was no longer there, and the building had been emptied for lease. "Crisis," said the driver and offered to take us to the central, largest store of BMS, which surely had to be operating.

Alas, the entrance at the BMS central building welcomed us with "CLOSED FOR INVENTORY" inscription. Yet there were some people inside, so we went in to ask what's going on. Apparently, the taxi driver was right and they really had some difficulties. Later that confirmed for sure: the parent company, owning BMS Megapolis and Optimalūs Kompiuteriai, went out of business.

But we didn't give up. We called another taxi and headed to Akropolis, which has a large section of electronics, including computers, called ElektroMarkt. Fortunately, they were open, but unfortunately, they didn't have what we wanted. To be precise, we needed a Core 2 Duo (at least 2.5 GHz), a suitable motherboard for that CPU and some memory, suitable for that motherboard, but ElektroMarkt wasn't a specialized store and it lacked many types of computer hardware, such as motherboards, for instance.

It was high time to stop running and start planning. Diana accessed the Web through her mobile and found a couple of alternative computer stores, along with their phone numbers. We established a temporary base of operations at Akropolis and started making calls.

One of the probed stores, ICG Kompiuteriai, turned out to have everything we needed, so we called another taxi and rushed there frantically. When we arrived, we saw another BMS Megapolis branch nearby, and decided to see if it was open, just out of curiosity. As you could have guessed, the same "CLOSED FOR INVENTORY" message had been waiting for us. We ultimately determined, that we had enough BMS for one day, and returned to ICG Kompiuteriai to finally bring an end to the running part and start the shopping part.

As I expected, the shopping in ICG still didn't go quite entirely as planned: the promised Core 2 Duo in practice turned out to be a Core 2 Quad, which was twice as expensive. Fortunately, Diana could afford that, so in the end it was even better (although certainly not cheaper). Beside the CPU, we took an MSI motherboard (I wanted an ASUS, but they didn't have one), 2 GBs of RAM, a keyboard (to replace Diana's hellish IBM keyboard with the most masochist arrangement I've ever seen), and a dual cooler for HDD. As I mentioned, we already had a HDD and a graphics adapter, so that was all we needed at the moment.

Tired but happy, we finally returned back home. It was getting late, so we decided to put off the upgrade for the next day. Until that, we just plugged in the new keyboard and tested its wondrous features, like a built-in calculator and a Skype button. My suffering had been finally over! Now I could type without breaking my fingers. Not that I had much to type, but still...

The next day was meant for hardware upgrades: it was cloudy outside, and the rain drizzled from time to time. In other words, a perfect day for staying indoors and digging inside your computer. So we stayed, and we dug. Or rather, I did the digging, and Diana kept watch in case anybody entered the graveyard... Sorry, just kidding.

Unfortunately, the dig unveiled something I should have had checked prior to hardware shopping, but terribly overlooked: the form factor incompatibility and the insufficient capacity of the power supply. In plain English, the new motherboard didn't fit into the old case, so we needed a new, bigger one. Also, the power supply was weak: only 230W, while we needed at least 400W to handle the new, more power-hungry hardware. Too bad I hadn't thought about it earlier. Another shopping? Noooooooo! But we had no choice.

Luckily, Michal, Diana's uncle, was available to give us another ride to the city, saving us much time. But before that, we had to know where to go. First thing on our minds, naturally, was to call ICG Kompiuterai, and we did, but unfortunately they didn't have anything suitable. Then we started searching online. It took some time, but finally we were able to discover just what we needed: an ATX midi-tower with 400W PSU. And the price was quite reasonable. We praised our luck and immediately left for the city (Diana's uncle had been already waiting outside).

For a change, everything went smooth this time. The case turned out to be very good looking, with a decent exterior and convenient interior (unlike Diana's old IBM case, which looked like a miniature version of the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria, only black). The computer shop itself was very small (especially, compared to the monsters like BMS or ICG), but we liked the cosy atmosphere (especially, a pair of hamsters in a glass cage with a wheel). We took the case, a pair of 80mm case fans and an 8GB flash drive for Diana. Now we REALLY had all we needed. Uncle Michal took us back home, and I continued with the upgrade.

The rest was all plain sailing. I may not be an expert in computer science, but I can assemble or disassemble a custom PC with my eyes shut, because I've done it probably a hundred times. Now I was finally able to plug in the PCI-E graphics adapter, which we bought back in January, but were unable to use until now, due to the slot incompatibility (the old IBM motherboard supported only AGP, and that's another thing I had overlooked, which I often do with hardware, as you may have noticed). Now Diana, at long last, could enjoy the 3D accelerated computer games like everybody else (she had been dreaming of Guitar Hero III ever since she had a chance to play it on my home PC).

As we were told in ICG, Windows XP doesn't support quad-core CPUs properly and we would have to install Windows Vista or Windows 7 in order to fully utilize it. I'm not quite sure if it's true, but I'm no expert in that, so I decided to follow the advice and install a new system in dual-boot mode, leaving Windows XP intact just in case. Diana had Vista at work and she didn't like it, so the choice was obvious: Windows 7. Besides, I had tried the RC version of Windows 7 on my PC and was quite impressed with its performance and usability even in that incomplete state.

Naturally, we spent the whole next day installing the new OS and all the necessary software and drivers for it, so there's nothing much to tell, except that everything went nice and smooth and by the evening we had a brand new PC at our disposal, with most programs installed and running just fine (and a lot faster). The only thing that bothered us was the noise -- probably caused by that dual-fan cooler I mounted on the hard drive. But it was worth it: Diana's 1TB Seagate was running at 26°C now, while my drive, which is exactly the same, usually runs at 44°C.

The Reception

The next day, August 20, was very important for us. If you follow this blog, you should already know, that when Diana and I got married earlier this summer, we had no wedding ceremony, no reception, no formalities -- we just registered a marriage. On this vacation, Diana decided to arrange a little celebration, just for her closest friends and relatives, who were eager to meet me. I'm not much into banquets and receptions, but I liked the idea, because it would give me a chance to take a first step in becoming closer to Diana's family, which is now my family, too.

Everything had been arranged long before the day of reception. Diana had invited everyone in good time, and a week earlier we had gone to one of Diana's favorite restaurants in the Old Town to book the tables for the date of reception. The only thing left to do was figuring out how to seat the guests. We already knew that the tables would have been joined together to make one long table for 18 persons. Now we had to think how to arrange these 18 persons around the table in the most efficient way. Diana had to face the task alone, because I didn't know anybody from the guest list, except Uncle Michal and his wife, Zofia. I, personally, didn't care much, who would sit where, but as Diana explained, a certain system was absolutely necessary, otherwise we most likely would end up in a primordial chaos. Diana knew all the details: who was going to drink (and even what), who wasn't, who was going to like each other's company, and so on. After all, they were her people, so it didn't take too long to sort them out. Soon, with some help from Franciszka, Diana came up with a perfect scheme. Now we just needed to print out the name cards and make the final preparations for the evening, powdering our noses, and so on.

Diana's childhood friend Lily and her husband Sergey had kindly agreed to collect us on their way to the reception. They came for us an hour earlier, because we needed to arrive to the restaurant before everybody else, to lay out the name cards and make sure everything was under control. Naturally, we took Naili with us, but Diana's parents stayed home "to watch the house."

Everything went as planned. When we arrived, the tables had been already set. We distributed the cards according to Diana's scheme and were ready to receive the guests. Soon they started to come. Diana tried to explain to them earlier, that it was no wedding, just a friendly dinner, but they still brought presents. All of them.

When the majority of the guests had arrived, we took our seats and the dinner commenced. A few people were running late, including Wincenta, Franciszka's sister, who always comes late, and Michal with Zofia, who never come late (but apparently decided to make an exception in our honor). Fortunately, they didn't take too long and soon all the guests were accounted for (and, most importantly, seated neatly in their proper places).

As a Georgian, I'm not used to drinking without rules: as you may know, we have a whole drinking system here in Georgia. So I felt myself in the wrong box at first, but soon I got accustomed to the local habits and even found them to my liking. You see, I always dreamed one day I could drink to my leisure, without thinking about the toasts, their proper sequence and timing, or how to trick the toastmaster and his watchmen into believing that I actually drink every glass, or how to avoid those huge special drinks coming my way. Now that glorious day had come! I was free to drink whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and how much I wanted, without having to say anything before drinking. And that was great! Although I felt some minor twinges of conscience as if I was betraying the centuries-old traditions of my ancestors... but that passed without a trace after a few glasses of Italian wine. Besides, the toasts were still there, even if there was no toastmaster, and they were really interesting, well-spoken and, most importantly, from the heart -- as you would expect from your family and friends, the people who really love you and don't have to pretend.

As the alcohol kicked in, the guests started to have a jolly good time, like the British say. Soon I could hardly tell the difference: as it turned out, it only takes a few glasses of a good drink to transform a sedate European reception into something closely resembling a Georgian feast in the stage when the tamada loosens his grip and the real fun begins. I felt at home, because everything was there: the joy, the laughter, the jokes, the "bruderschaft drinking" (an old German custom, widely popular in former Soviet States, when two people drink with their arms intertwined, with the subsequent kissing). Speaking of kissing: there was even the good old Russian custom, when the guests cry out loud "Gor'ko!" (meaning "It's bitter!") and the newlyweds have to "sweeten their drinks" by kissing each other in front of everyone. I didn't know they had this custom in Lithuania too. Now I know. Our feeble protest, that it was no wedding, but merely a party, was completely ignored by the guests, so we had to yield to the wish of the masses and give each other a long, Hollywood-style kiss to their utter satisfaction. Not that we didn't like it...

Besides having a good time, it was quite interesting to be present in such a multilingual company. Trilingual, to be precise. Diana's relatives were communicating with each other mostly in Polish, seamlessly switching to a fluent Lithuanian or Russian when necessary. All toasts, naturally, were spoken in Russian, so that Naili and I could understand. There was also a tiny bit of Georgian -- just to spice up the table.

In the height of the feast I suddenly realized, that Diana's scheme actually worked! I really enjoyed the company of her friends, who were seated beside me, just as Naili enjoyed her company. And that was true for everybody else. No awkward silence, no mandatory conversations, no uncomfortable situations (maybe except a few flat jokes, but that happens on every table -- especially this informal and relaxed). In short, everyone was happy with the system. The only one to "resist" it was Patryk, Diana's godson -- a lovely boy with a cute earring in his left ear, about the same age as my son. But Diana had wisely foreseen this possibility as well, having allocated a suitable place for him at the farthest edge of the table, allowing him to freely move around, leaving and coming back whenever he pleased. I let him take my cell phone, which always has a couple of games in it, so that he could entertain himself while waiting for the dessert.

We returned home late, full of impressions, a bit tired, but in excellent mood. Naturally, we were eager to open the presents, but first Diana had to find the vases for the numerous flowers they gave us. As expected, all the gifts were more or less household related, and they were really wonderful. Beside gifts, as tradition required, there were greeting cards and envelopes with money, which proved that no matter how hard we insisted on our "it's not a wedding" thing, they still regarded our little party as some sort of wedding celebration. Well, it's their problem: they'll have to bring presents twice, because we're definitely going to have a REAL wedding in due time.

Enjoying Life

There were only five days left till the end of the vacation, and I wanted to make good use of them. I didn't want to tour the city anymore, but rather spend these last days in Avižieniai, walking with Diana, riding the bike, drawing, and simply enjoying life with my beloved.

The Village Cross

I still had to finish my "village cross" project. Franciszka liked the sketch so much that she asked me to leave it to her, so that she could boast to everyone, what a talented son-in-law she had. But I wanted to leave her something more valuable than a simple sketch on a rough paper, so I took the sketch, the reference photos made earlier, a sheet of Canson® Vivaldi Crème paper we had bought in the art shop, my brand-new drawing board and a brown pencil, and started to draw.

A few hours later the drawing was finished, but it wasn't quite ready to be given away -- I had to scan it for my website and frame it. Diana's scanner had died on her a long time ago, and I couldn't make a frame myself, so we'd have to go to the city one more time before my departure. But that could wait for another day.

Still Life with a Mirror

Meanwhile, I was still "on the vibe" and wanted to do more drawing, so the whole next morning I spent thinking of what to draw. It was raining outside, so another "plein air" was out of option. I had my Red Folder (No.1) with me, so I could continue one of my unfinished drawings, but I didn't feel like working on old projects, I wanted to start something new. The indoor possibilities were scarce to say the least, and I was on the edge of frustration, when I incidentally looked at the mirror at Diana's table and was struck by a sudden idea. I asked Diana to look inside the mirror, only not at herself, but at me, so that I could catch her eye in the mirror. That was it! I took a probe shot and started to polish the idea further. I needed to clean up the scene and leave only what's necessary, making it more minimalistic. But I also wanted to bring in some "conceptual elements" that would help convey a certain mood. And that would have been a lipstick and a ring.

Diana doesn't like lipsticks, but she still has one. As for rings, she also didn't like them... until I gave her one. Now she never takes it off! Of course, she would take it off to let me draw it, but there was no need, because I decided to use a different ring: the one I bought her on this vacation.

Now that I had all four elements, I needed to get the most important, but elusive "fifth element" -- Diana's face in the mirror. After some intensive trial and error, I was finally able to catch her face exactly the way I was looking for.

All set, I started to draw, using my usual technique, which is very detailed and takes much time. Naturally, I wouldn't be able to finish it in one day, and most likely I would have to continue later in Tbilisi, but still it was a start. I had done some initial work on the basic elements by the evening and that was it for the time being.

Someone to Walk With

The next day was the last before the departure day, so basically it was the last time we could go out in the city together. I wasn't feeling very good -- I'm always in a bad mood when it comes so close to parting with Diana. But we still had some unfinished business to do, so I had to pull myself together.

We took Naili with us, but since we had some running to do, we left her in Europa, where she could shop at her leisure, eat some ice-cream and wait for us.

First we went to Diana's office at the university to scan The Village Cross. I had been there quite a few times before and knew almost all of Diana's co-workers -- even had a chance to meet her boss, the dean of the faculty, earlier on this vacation (yep, not all the things we did on this vacation are described in this post, although you may refuse to believe it). Diana had to go to work only after my departure, being completely off duty until then, but somehow she still managed to get busy while I was scanning. What a workaholic!

Having finished here, we headed to the part of the Old Town, where the art shop was located: the framing shop was right in front of "Meno mūza" (very convenient, because I needed to buy some more of that Vivaldi paper, which I literally fell in love with while drawing The Village Cross). We chose the frame, left the artwork and were told to come back in an hour. So we went for a walk.

I love the Old Town of Vilnius. It's truly beautiful! It's a real pleasure to walk its cobbled streets, so cosy and quiet. And the pleasure is doubled, when you have someone to walk beside you, someone very dear. This is one of the most romantic places I've ever seen. And it's also really old. You can see an actual Gothic lettering on one of its walls, advisedly left untouched by the building restorers.

Time passed quick and we had to go back. The frame was ready and it suited the artwork just perfectly! We hurried back to Europa to pick up Naili and return home. Our last tour was over, and I started to feel sad again, because soon our summer vacation would be over, too.

The Departure

"Everything comes to an end someday, and everything good, moreover, comes to an end quickly and suddenly," I once wrote. Only now I fully understood the meaning of my own words: it doesn't matter if you know that the end is near, it still comes unexpected, because you refuse to expect it until it's already here. It's amazing how the bad things seem to last forever, but the good things always end too soon.

And here it was: August 25, the day of parting, when everything seems so short, even the longest ride to the airport. And the shortest of all things is the precious piece of time between check-in and security control. Finally, there comes a farewell kiss that never seems to be long enough, yet lasts for days and weeks on your lips.

This vacation might have seemed too long to you when reading this epic post, but it surely was too short for me, because I had to leave Diana for months, when I can't spend a day without her. But then again, we're always together, no matter the distance...


Sweet said...

Woohoo! Long enough to bookmark and return again ^_^

Rezo Kaishauri said...

I have divided the post into chapters. It should be easier to swallow now. :)

Metalliana said...

"But then again, we're always together, no matter the distance..."
:yes: :2kiss:

Anonymous said...

super, super. so happy for you guys. hugs. Rezo, i hope we'll meet at a point. Dinochka congrats. Nodari

Willie Aames said...

when i was there, i wont be able to stream my favorite netflix shows, thanks to gotrusted vpn, they came in handy.

teraziki said...

Wow, what a detailed story about your Vilnius staying a couple of years ago :) I see the time was a little bit other than today:) Did you visited Vilnius another time, or maybe you relocated to Lithuania capital? I am considering to move to live in Vilnius. I am even looking for apartment to buy, although there is not so much to choose from (butu pardavimas Vilniuje, local lists). And the prices are enough, especially in Vilnius.

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