Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's the First & I Haven't Even Thought about My Building till Now

Great day to do nothing and catch up on everything. Rimgaile, Arturas, and baby Skomantas (who will be one year old 10/24) were due in tonight from Kaunas (about 90km away) for a banquet Arturas would cook!
From the left: Inija, Czech lady, Vetra behind Jonas, Arturas, Rimgaile
Moved to the Living Room so they could have the bedroom, and went out around 4 pm for coffee and a walk. Dinner was typically Lithuanian - lots of good food, and we tried an Italian wine Inija had brought back as well as one of the 4 bottles of California wine (Charles Shaw)I had brought as a gift. Jonas likes CA best.
Now you can see Vetra
(we have better pizza, too!) Maybe all the good cooks left Italy. At the South Park Convention last May, Uncle Jimbo made us a wonderful Italian pasta dinner, and there are fantastic Italian restaurants all over the Bay area; I just wasn't able to find one in Italy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Annoucement from the Congress

The Old Baltic Gods
The following is the official statement (which I helped edit) from our recent Congress in Bologna, Italy, August 25-29, 2010.
The WCER delegates who gathered in Bologna, Italy (2010.08. 26-29) at our yearly conference came to the decision that hence forward our name should be changed to the European Congress of Ethnic Religions. The word "World" shall be "European" instead. Why did we decide to focus only on Europe? Thirteen years have passed since the creation of the Congress in 1998 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Every year, conferences were organized in various European countries, and it turned out that that the Congress actually unites only people of European indigenous traditions, even though the congress is open to all other traditions.
This year Bologna saw a gathering of representatives from Italian, Danish, Norwegian, German, French, Greek, Lithuanian, Latvian, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian ethnic religions. It was decided that the main concern for us all is Europe's ancient spiritual traditions. There is a lot of unity among us, and we feel the need to come together. The main point in all our discussions has been that Europe suffers the most because of its traditions' weakness, especially in the spiritual sense. As oriental cults thrive, European traditions are seen as obsolete, which can exist only in a museum. However, we have now begun to understand and cherish the importance and value of our own indigenous traditions. We also decided to strengthen our ties with the Parliament of World Religions, and to work together with India's cultural and religious organizations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Off to the Baltics at Last

   Taxi was early and so was I. Girl at hostel had said it would be 20 euros. It was 25 - whatever! I was at the gate by 6:15 for a 7:40 flight, and was too tired for coffee, but I was on my way.
   There were lovely cotton ball clouds over Austria with gray blanket clouds covering them and well-ordered earth below. I was astounded by the number of swimming pools I could see. It was cloudy, cool, and rainy in Vienna, and the plane was delayed a half hour, but we all climbed on a bus to the middle of a field and climbed on board. I was actually chilly.
   It's been two years since I was in my beloved Lietuva (which literally means "land of rain.") Globalization is everywhere, and they even have a KFC! The quaint cafe they used to have in the grand hall with the chandelier at the airport has been replaced with a pizza joint. The beautiful fixtures and building are still there, though. Inija had given me the keys to the house since they were going to Venice for the day and coming back Tuesday, and told me which stop to get off the bus. Every bus stop has a name. Isn't that a great idea? (However, my favorite guide magazine, In Your Pocket, states that proper bus etiquette when getting off or on a bus is to push anyone in your way into the gutter.)
   For a dollar I rode a spotless, comfortable bus which stopped 1-2 blocks from where I was going. I was so happy to be back, and my Lithuanian is much improved. Hauled everything upstairs, said "hi" to Vetra (who helped with the bags - she's the youngest daughter, and the same age as my youngest niece - the class of 2014) and took a nice 3 hour nap.
That's a lovely Rowan tree to the left of the entrace to their flat.
Woke up starving at 8 pm and headed out the door and about 5 blocks down the street to a huge grocery with a restaurant upstairs with great sunset views. As I walked in, they told me they were closing early at 9 pm. I said I'd eat quickly, and a "large capucino, please!" The coffee and view were great. The lasagna was okay by LT standards, but a B+ by Italian standards. Only 6 euros for all, and it was the first hot meat I'd had since leaving America.
   I took the escalator downstairs (they're really cool, and are flat, and will hold your shopping cart) to stock up on all my favorite Lithuanian things as there was no telling what was at the house since the Trinkunas' had been gone for a week as well. The biggest news in Lithuania is how well they're doing in the World Basketball Tournament - it is their national sport. When Russia beat the US in the olympics, it wasn't the Russians, the team was 80% Lithuanian! So it'll be a close match if they play the US.

Photo Update

Here I am having gelato in Rome  
Worked for about an hour uploading and messing with photos, but I have them on Jonas' desktop, and will start the label and sort process. Apparently I can only upload one photo at a time, and there are only 400 photos, so this may take a while.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rome Is Not My Cup of Gelato

Wake up call at 4:44 am. Made instant espresso and out the door singing the "Birthday Dirge" to Jonas and the Danes as we walked over to the main hostel together to climb on the bus to Roma. If you don't like reading negative things, delete this post now. Almost everything about the trip to Rome and Rome was pretty terrible. The bus was completely full, and the seats were tighter and smaller than airplane seats. Also, there was no toilet on board.

Staring out the window at the waning gibbous moon conjunct Jupiter was lovely, and driving through the Tuscan Hills at dawn reminded me of driving down the California Coast with a little SF fog thrown in in patches along the way. As dawn broke and the Moon set over the hills and fields of grapes, corn, olives, even sunflowers and pear trees, I thought it might be a good day.

But then we pulled into an "Autogrill" for breakfast. They even had a Burger King - whopper and fries for only 7 euros, but they weren't open yet. The line for coffee was 20 people deep, and the bathroom was on the other side of the airbridge over the freeway. I bought some lemon shortbread cookies from the magazine side with no line and headed back to the bus. Passed the time editing the Latvians paper for correct English and grammar. I did a lot of that for people. Had NO idea it was a 5 hour ride (again, the Italians said it was only a few hours!)!!!

On that happy note, I was even more overjoyed to learn it was going to be at least 35 degrees (That's almost 100 F. - I'll be using the metric system - it's fun to complain in it.)

Just outsided of Rome, they told us we would be stopping at a Temple of Minerva for a short ritual. There was a small restuarant nearby, too, and they told us it was half the price of what it would cost in Rome. O joy. Capucino and cherry gelato. I spent time entertaining people with stories of Athena (whom they call Minerva).

By the time we arrived in Rome it was sweltering and crowded. The Indians all wanted to follow me after the Italians dropped us off the bus under what they said was a statue of a man in a chariot, and I told them it was the chariot of Apollo. (You can see where my day is going.)

They traipsed us over to the Forum and told us we'd have plenty of time to buy souvenirs later (another lie). I found out it was going to take 2-4 hours to look at the Forum and the Coliseum in the blazing Sun and we only had to pay 12 euros each for the privelege. About a third of us said, "no thanks," and decided to walk around the Coliseum and arch of Constantine on our own (and do our own shopping). Well, of course they spent too much time in "Death Valley" as Jonas called it (he and Surinder are over 70 and were admitted for free), so the places to go in the shade were greatly curtailed. We only spent 10 minutes in the Pantheon since they were closing, and less than an hour at ruins of the cult place of Mithras under San Clemente church (that's because we were all starving and fled to the nearby cafes across the street for the worst Italian food I've ever had). Andras had told me about the best gelatto in Rome near the Pantheon and we went there instead of the Trevi Fountain. I had 3 scoops of the best ever including Andras' favorite Blood Orange.

It's good we didn't go to the fountain. One of our party actually did go in the fountain and was almost arrested and those of our group who went were all treated like Mexicans in Arizona. While waiting for everyone to show up at the meeting point for the 5 hour journey back, Andras took me around the corner to show me some beautiful statuary and an ancient bust of Isis. It was a quiet and somber ride back, and just to make it even more memorable, once again we stopped around midnight at another Autogrill.

Opening Day of WCER in Bologna, Italy

Woke up to find out that breakfast was not in our hostel, but in the main one 500m away, so ran back upstairs to collect everything for the day at the conference site, and strolled on over. It was already at least 80 degrees. I was rewarded for my efforts with a tray with two pieces of bread, a packet of jam and a packet of brown stuff (it said it was chocolate, but I didn't believe it). One could help oneself to juice and coffee out of a machine. Duly underwhelmed, I ate a piece of the bread and thought that the bologney sandwiches they used to serve the prisoners at the Cincinnati workhouse must have been at least this good. Jury's still out.

The conference was supposed to start at 10, and a bunch of us traipsed over to the bus stop just after 9, but when we realized it was going to take a loooong time (Geza the German said we must change buses in town), Andras went and called 3 cabs at 18 euros each. So we all paid around $10/person to arrive on time for a conference that didn't start till 11 am. While hanging out with Inija, we both set up a small area on one card table to vend. My ankles were still swollen from the heat and the plane so I took my shoes off and put them up on a spare chair. Boy, were we in trouble! First Marina said only books could be sold and we must put all else away, and I had to put my shoes back on. My bad! One of the Danes warned me the 10 euro lunch buffet was all vegetables, so I went out exploring. Found my first gelato for 3.5 euros (including the glass) and a delicious ham & cheese calzone for 1.6. They also had some free samples, but what I had was better. Still had an hour so headed toward the center of town and ran into the Latvians who offered me peaches and some lemon-sized green-skinned fruit with a red mushy center - very tasty, but I still don't know what it was.

Found "Orpheus Street" and headed along it back to conference center - we had the use of what appeared to be an old chapel in a 16th century building. It was sooo hot, I just headed back and was too full for the gelateria and burger joint (which I never saw open again) I passed on my way. Thursday was the individual group presentations where every tradition had 5-10 minutes to talk about theirs. The most interesting were from the Danes and the Russians, and there were over a dozen Indians attending. A very nice lady named Rita let me use her cel phone to call Patty Costa (of Pasha & the Pagans) who was staying in Bologna for the summer with her son's family. We were supposed to meet around 5:30, but at 6:30 Rita and her companion were the last ones out, and saw me, and insisted that I could not stay by myself, and that if Patty didn't show up (she got lost) by the time their cab arrived I was going with them. I was very grateful for the ride back, and figured I'd sort it out with Patty on Saturday.

It's amazing how Californian everything looks - same oleander and silk and palm trees everywhere. The only option for dinner at the hostel was to purchase frozen pasta and nuke it or order a pizza for 5 euros with free drink and delivery. I ordered mushroom and cheese. It was about a C-, but it was hot and I was hungry. Off to bed and Roma tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Off to Bologna

Those who know me know I am not a morning person. I can
 stay up till 5am easier than I can rise then. 
Nevertheless, I popped out of bed, and was out the door and on my way to 
the airport by 7:45 am. A neighbor gave me a ride to the BART station, and I only had a 
few minutes wait for the train to SFO. It was supposed to be the hottest day of the year 
with temperatures over 100, but it was only 77 when I left. As we neared the airport, I 
dug around my bag looking for my alarm clock (since I wasn't taking my cell phone nor pc 
to Europe)and discovered I'd left it behind. Oh well, if that's all I forgot, all will be 
fine. Trip was pretty uneventful, but very long: over 17 hours. Fortunately no weather 
nor volcanic ash delays. Andreas and Manuella met me at the airport holding a small 
"WCER" sign and drove me to the hostel in the countryside outside Bologna. 
Although I'd escaped the CA heat, it was in the 90's! 

I remembered to ask to be on the 1st floor (and not the top floor which is where they 
usually put Americans) and was. I later spoke with an Indian family of five who were 
bitterly complaining about being on the top floor. To be charitable, the organizing 
committee did their best. Unfortunately, they had little idea what they were doing.

After having spent almost a full day in transit, I was pretty exhausted. I was relieved 
to find out that the hostel was only 85 euros for the whole stay instead of 85 euros a 
day (which is what they first told me - just one of many mistaken perceptions - by the 
end of the week, I felt like a mushroom - kept in the dark and fed a lot of fertilizer). 
I did have a lovely room, and the other two ladies who were supposed to share it never 
showed up (one misperception about which I was very happy). They also told me there would 
be a meeting to explain all the details and and an "Opening Ceremony" at 7 pm.

I was soo happy to see again my Lithuanian homeys, the great Danes, Geza from Germany, 
and Andras Corben from MA, but was soo tired I thought I'd take a nap. The Italians give 
a whole new meaning to the term Pagan Standard Time. Although I awoke before dark, and 
had nice chats with friends, everything kept being delayed. I decided to go back to sleep 
and recuperate, and Inija promised to wake me for breakfast.