Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 23. The Unpublished 'Scoop'

As Hillary Clinton left Vilnius’ Presidential Palace following a Community of Democracies meeting, flanked by her entourage and getting doused in rain, the last thing the watching crowds ever predicted waited to greet her just around the corner.
No, it wasn't hiding amid the greens of the grassy knoll, sporting a shaven scalp and a pocket brimming from buckshot.
Nor was it the beardly bad looks of a fanatical Talibandit.

But close.
Hovering close to the curbside like a burnt-out buzzard, I was clutching my camera in apprehensive wait for the Big Shot's appearance. As usual, in Litho-rainy-a, hair slapped against foreheads and umbrellas starfished above the scene, obscuring vision for the dedicated desk-hounds amongst us who were awaiting a possible angle.
The ones who needed something.
Who had nothing.

I had my barrel focused on a miniature sect: A Lithuanian-Canadian family of four, daughter, grandmother, mother and man, who stood on the roadside shaking soggy American flags at the end of the downpour.
Talking to them afterwards, after events transpired as they did, they told how the last thing they ever expected was to be met with hugs and handshakes by one of the world’s most famous women.
But, within minutes, there it was.

Police sirens sounded and Clinton’s motorcade, a convoy of dark four-wheel drives and luxury sedans, pulled out into the cordoned-off road, to take the one-time US presidential hopeful back to her hotel.
The family’s little girl, Cordelia, clutched a bouquet of local wildflowers, plucked with the passion of glittery childhood, as she waved at the passing brigade.

Without more than a signal, the motorcade suddenly braked, and a gaggle of security forces surrounded Clinton as she stepped out on to the Old Town cobblestones, to take the child in her arms, accepting her flowers in feigned grace.
Wriggling into the moshpit of CIA serve-bots and starstricken civilians, the trusty Nikon clicked and whirred seemingly seperate from my control.

After what was no more than two minutes on the footpath, evidently 120 seconds of arduous fret for her bodyguards, Clinton clambered back into the safe haven of her hired hatchback, and the motorcade sped off to their destination.
Cordelia, who grew up in Boston, USA, was glowing, trembling like a trout, though was still, as would a pistol-whipping patriot, shaking her Stars and Stripes.
“It was amazing,” she answered as you'd expect a starry-gazed five year old female to answer, when asked how it was meeting one of her role models, one of her favourites after Harry Potter and her goldfish, Greta.
But so not to drone on like a cynic, they were a happy lot, and it filled me with something akin to humanness (if possible), I guess, to watch them, the family of four, stroll off contented into the purple hued evening.

Seemingly, perfect.

But there was something about the spontaneity of the whole event which rang out with questions.
What was interesting about Clinton’s sudden stop was how the world’s media were already present: obviously professional photographers standing idly beside the family in wait. The next day, Clinton’s grapple with the girl was plastered all over daily newspapers, and online.
So, was it set up? Was it a pre-planned public relations dig to gain some brownie points so close to American Democratic election time? Did she need it? Or was it, as one would hope to believe, a pang in the heart of a politician at the sight of a real fan and family?
Whatever the case, Clinton’s two day visit to Vilnius heralded some interesting sights and scenes for the locals, as she now jets off to the Mediterranean, to meet with some President or drug-don, or whatever of the Spanish Government, part of a seemingly endless circuit of high-wheeling publicity frenzy.

And as for this guy, the lone shooter, he wandered back to his crazy outpost on the outskirts of oblivion, and removed the tie he bought especially to strangle himself on this special occassion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 22. Legging it Across the Latvian Border

Memories of Things from Time

“Casting your gaze south from the colourful Latvian border pole on the Baltic Coast, a sprawled out beauty lies stretching for kilometres, petering out in the distant Lithuanian horizon. Spilling against the shoreline, the inky tides of the Baltic Sea harbour all the romanticism of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. They also, tragically, harbour thousands of tonnes of industrial chemicals from Russia and Sweden, making the sea one of the most polluted in the world.”

I cringed and tossed my pen aside.
What was this jabber?
I rose and slumped into my Nixon thinking position, fogging breath against the window pane, hands clasped behind my back.
Staring out between the pale curtains of my cinderblock commie outpost, sweating from the heat of mid-summer, I couldn’t see anything- stifled as I was by my own internal writhing.

Eastern block. Apartment block. Writer’s block.
I just wanted to block it all out.

I felt like a cigarette. I felt for a cigarette.
I pawed at my pants in presumption.
The smoke would dance and I would write again!
But my pockets were empty as a Lithuanian bank account.
Ah, forget it.
I don’t smoke anyhow.
To hide my article anxiety, I went to hide behind a mug of the Earl’s finest Grey.
I flicked the trigger, and the kettle blurted into function.
I tried staring out the window again, as the steam began to whinny from the kitchen. This time, instead of seeing blank, I peered out at a domino row of the commie cinderblocks, micro-districts, racked together in stack of grey, taking on the guise of gutted granite yards.
A crow clacked his warning from atop an opposing balcony.
A friendless scene.
It reminded me of the Karlgoorlie Superpit, a gigantic mineshaft in Western Australia, one I had never witnessed first hand, but whose monolithic moniker stirred some kind of synonymous leanings to the sight before me.
I sighed and tilted the kettle, tipping its warm innards into a cup.
What was this article about anyway?
It’s sounding like the sleazy start of a romantic novel. A romance novel, if it were chiselled by the knuckles of Nostrodamas.
“You’re a knockout hun, BUT FORSOOTH! THE WORLD WILL PERISH!” and so on into the night.
Yes, but it was about the Baltic Sea. But why, what?
I couldn’t even remember the angle I was arching for.
Pollution? Baltic? Bah…
All I remember was how it all began.

How I found myself standing at that lonely, sandy junction, on the crossing point from Latvia to Lithuania, wind stripping the trees to their sheaves by my sides. I did gaze south into the grimy distance, I did, and wondered why we can never retrace the steps we took when we were younger, never go back and rectify what went wrong.
Never backtrack to where our souls were once before.
Here I stood in the blustery Baltic breeze. So far away from everything I had ever known, wearing shoes ground into mulch, and carrying a backpack bloated by useless utilities.
Cyclones of time had captured me, thrown me here, as part of their whimsical will. Abstract forces beyond my knowing, they had conspired and pushed me onto these outskirts of oblivion.
But not alone!
Connected to company I was, with a troop of twelve, preparing to trek twenty kilometres across into the Lithuanian landscape.

And so it was: All spilling back into clarification now…I poured another Earl.

Like a lazy caterpillar, the clacking train delivering me to the country's far southern side had wound and whipped me there no faster than one could expect it to.
Half-sleeping and dreaming of people I no longer knew, I was jarred and jerked around as the rattly caterpillar kept me near to consciousness.
Memories were meshing with images of the outdoors, which was waking up with the dawn ongoing outside my window.
Soon it would be bright, and the day would spawn from beneath its sleek silkscreen. Soon Australia and the Pacific Ocean would be covered in the gloss of a thick black winter midnight.
Soon the train would be arriving at Kretinga, my station, and soon I would be meeting my ride.

It seemed for once the early bird was me, and I awaited the worm with vigour.
The worst coffee ever brewed found its way into my skinny palms, and I supped and gagged consecutively.
Without a need for dialling numbers and questioning whereabouts, the overpiled auto appeared, nearly toppling around a corner and into the carpark.
Greetings were exchanged, and codenames allocated; a thoughtful figuration so I wouldn’t have to remember twelve Lithuanian names.

My codename was Kebab. I thought the comparison of object to person was succinct: meat of questionable origin and taste, though always gets better after a few too many drinks.
From musical styles to degrading Russian pseudonyms, the rest of the nicknames served for a hearty vernacular gumbo.
Jazz, Elvis, Juggs and Kebab, among the others, were off on their way to the water, to taste the tingle of the Baltic tides.

Spurting along to the border, the back seat of the car was overflowing with oodles of cheeks, thighs, expectant eyes.
Squirming sods, we swivelled into pairs, pretending to be two sets of Siamese twins if the cops ever stopped us.
A bag of cucumbers was placed upon my lap.
Juggs quaffed:
“It’s the only food for the duration of the trek.”
I stunted. “Uhh, Trek? Weren’t we heading to the coast for a swim?”
“Didn’t we tell you, Kebab? We’re walking down the coast into Lithuania! It’ll take days! Jazz must have told you.”
“Jazz never mentioned anything about walking. I would distinctly recall the word ‘walking’. I have my damn computer in this bag! I don’t have a tent! And besides, we’re already in Lithuania!”
“Not for long…”
We sped passed an empty soviet border station. We had crossed the government’s invisible ink into Latvia.
I stooped in stupefaction.
“We’re walking Kebab. There’s nothing you can do. You’re here now.”

The tyres crunched against gravel, speeding up a dirt driveway.
Then, the implanted image struck upon me for the first time.
Over the treetops, under the silver sky: a vision of the coast.
My virgin sighting of any sea for the summer: the first in what felt like centuries of landlocked labour.
It slithered along for kilometres, out into the puzzling mist and down to Lithuania. We rumbled out of the car convoy, twelve bodies in mass unison, running toward the sea, our bags bouncing, thrust across our backs.
“Ready Kebab? It’ll be a long couple of days.” Juggs mocked gently.
I scooped my feet out from their cotton coffins, smiled half-heartedly, and sunk my pearly toes into the sand.
“Couldn’t be too long,” I spoke quietly, not really listening, gazing south, to where the seaside petered out into the mysterious Lithuanian horizon: missing now for so many months the one I loved, and sliding over the faces of all the folks with whom I had ever laughed. I wondered how and from what hand it all had come to pass…
“Can’t be too long at all…”
Juggs peered at me sideways, quizzical.

And I remarried the pen to my fingers, and frantically continued the article.

“If one manages to secure the time, trekking the Baltic coastline brings to the soul a sensation of wonderment: the wafts of salt air, the icy water against your soles and the occasional score of a piece of glinting amber underfoot. It paints a scene of idyllic, untouched splendour…”

I grumbled, snapped the pen in two, and shuffled out for the last of the Earl Grey teabags.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 21. Hitchin’ Out of Stalinland (and Into the Soul of the World)

The teepees were now history. All which remained as muddy memories were the grass-stains on our crud encrusted costumes.
After a mid-morning bathe in the lake- a chance for airing out all the external corridors: armpits, rivets, hairs: and exfoliating off any remnants of the prior evening’s encounter with the Bear- we took to the road.
Crimson light filled the sky, the product of a dissipating storm (which our teepees had miraculously survived) crumbling across a rising midday glow.
The highway in front of us, our exit path, curved away into pillars of nature. It disappeared into the forest, coyly, hiding from us, expecting us, waiting to be run, in pure exhilarated anticipation.
Light cut through the trees skirting beside, in tapering slivers of brightness, splayed out against the heating tar.
We heard her call and it revived us.
Kindled our hungover hearts.
Into king’s soldiers we turned once again,
Ready to start,
Ready to roam,
Ready for battle,
We weren’t going home.

Rudely stinking of myriad outdoorsy odours, we saddled ourselves into the shaking seats on the bus out to Stalinland. And the ancient engine grunted into gear.

And the highway ran toward us,
In all her shades of black
And cramped within a rickety bus
The soldiers leapt into attack.

Just over twenty minutes of bus travel torture away, positioned obscurely in the backwoods of a rural village called Grutas, Stalinland waited for us like a poised sniper.

For a bit of background, Stalinland (in Lithuanian, Gruto Parkas) is an outdoor museum. It displays the severe statues of fallen Soviet figureheads: monuments which once stood in the streets and squares of Lithuania. These same statues were toppled after the country’s victorious independence battle in 1991, pulled down during passionate protests: The local populous cheered as they ridded their world of Russian authority. In one of Vilnius’ central parks, Lenin, with his left hand upheld, was strung up by a crane, as if by a lynching pole. He was wrenched apart from his steel foundations, and the crowds embraced their new found freedom.
But as the bulldozers rattled in, to remove the ugly figures of totalitarianism from the city sidewalks, from spots across the whole country, some bright cookie realised: there was a potential future tourism opportunity amid the rubble.
So Lenin and friends were collected, and eventually, once the hubbub died down, deposited among the fresh fields of a rural back-lot, for tourists to enjoy, and for those who lived through it to visit the old days in confused nostalgia.

So, as can be deduced, it was a must-see on our tourism agenda.

Trudging two kilometres through the barns, bird houses and busted gates of Grutas, we slugged it through to the entrance.
Disguised as mild-mannered journalists, the ever-sagacious Tripvan handed over his pre-prepared phoney business cards to the attendant.
“Joseph Zapiano and Ray Parker, telling the tales to the people, that’s us.”
We handed them over with a wink and a cheap grin as they glossed over our bogus names. So we slipped in for free. Perfect.
But really. Why must everything be a fabrication?
Are we not respectable citizens who deserve free entry on our own accord?
As I scanned my red bulging pupils over the caking and froth, lining the alleys of Tripvan’s mouth and beard, I figured probably not.
So we took what we could get- and Ray and Joseph received their entry into Stalinland.

We wandered about, seeing this weird world through slitted eyes. Strange ironies were laced all over- little children happily playing army games. Hide and seeking behind the relics related to mass slaughter and suppression.
Stalin, Lenin, the founder of the Russian spy organisation the KGB, Dzerzhinsky, all peered down with the mocking stain of pigeon-shit marking their past stature and running down their cheeks. (Missing from the proceedings was former Russian heavy, Gorbachov- who when a pigeon deposits upon his face, it replaces his birthmark and looks perfect as a portrait).
After an hour of perusing this gloomy, yet lush attraction, posing for photographs perched on Vlad’s head, we thought it due time to make tracks back to Vilnius.
Joseph and Ray nodded their wishes to the cryogenic crypt-keeper at the gate, then swiftly transformed back into the mugs of Mutt and Tripvan.

Mugs indeed: we were facing a sorry situation.
“How are we going to get back?” popped the simultaneous query.
Vilnius was over 200 kilometres away, and there wasn’t a bus station in sight.
I figured our options on the abacus of my mental state…click, clock, clack…and the solution rolled its way into vision.
Without the need for verbalism, I held out my thumb and nosed it roadways.


The first ride prospect crawled into stoppage, opposite the shimmering swimming hole, where local blimps and beauties floated in formation like lilies.
A stark contrast to the bluebottle blues of the water, the swimmers were still blinding in their winterly whites.
We were aware of our stenches as we shuffled into her seductive sedan. Plush.
She spoke no English, and our jabbering seemed to her less than meditative.
The ensuing silence multiplied our skunkliness by trumps, and lines of scent were visibly noticeable drifting from Tripvan’s sneakers.
Fortunately, for everyone involved, after twenty-five kilometres of countryside, she removed us to some kind of pastoral crossroads, a gleaming gateway to anywhere, and off she shot. We stood and peeked about.
An ancient oracle in a straw hat and a rotary club jacket covering a sleet coloured skirt, stood nestled on the side of the road, thumb outstretched going our way.
“Damn! Competition.” We warbled over to court with our counterpart. We waved and tried to appear friendly enough to not seem like murderers, but not wanting to wreck her chances, we continued to wander down the road.
Looking back toward her, she, the old lady, a blazing silhouette backed by a searing white sky, struck the outline of a scanty scarecrow.

We continued roadways, beating forward. We were trailing our way into the real Lithuanian landscape- lyrical scenery so removed from modern Europe, where peasants continue traditions and routines of early harvest, circa 1850s. Carrying buckets by sticks atop their shoulder blades, scarves twisted across their heads, trundling toward the paddock, or leading the path for a wayward bovine.

The sun had risen into midday fury, high and brutal, and we, wrapped like Arabs in t-shirt headware, marched into its tempers.
Ground shook from gassy fumes, melting tar.
Turning to peer back- the old lady, rigid as a crusifix, still hovered hooking for a ride.
We may have to wait some time, we figured, if granny wasn’t getting any luck.
Steps stomped the ground, following steps, placed one in front of the next, slightly stumbling, but continuous.
We lurched on, past the warmth of smiling tractor drivers, and the whispering lips of wind wavering water flowers, until steps could be stepped no more.
Base camp appeared beneath a buxom willow.
We took turns on the road thumbing, as we waited, while the other guy shaded in respite.

Vans, loaders, lifters, shifters all sped by. Lorries loaded with grain for a starving city stalled but didn’t stop. And we were left in limbo out under an open escarpment.
Fringes of forest licked the periphery. We slumped stagnant among the wafts of manna and dandelions, pondering which way from here.
Tiredness was conspiring to stall us. Sun rays lapped over us like lathers of buttermilk.

Suddenly, a stop! A screech mid highway!

Two hands reaching from out atop a sunroof beckoned us over. We bolted like escapees, our shoes sticking upon the melting asphalt, and we thrust their doors ajar.
Two apostles of humankind- consecutively female and male, gorgeous laugh and youthful calm, were not expecting to find two unwashed antipodeans on the outskirts of everywhere, clambering into their caboose.
“Heading to Vilnius?” The male, 20, and soon known as Jonah, propositioned.
“Wherever you are going, we are.” We answered, realising our stench had returned to irrelevant.

We had tapped into the Soul of the World, and it was guiding us as it felt necessary. The engine grinded into get-go, and we began to fly.
Mirages of brilliance glided through our visions and into the catacombs of our hearts.
Oxygen blasted in through the sunroof. Oh, to live!
The girl’s laughter echoed around the airspace like bubbles, as her curls twirled from the wind whooshing in.
We paid our fare by cracking jokes, radiating craziness and relaying our stories.
Lank storks perched on farmhouse rooftops, unchained horses mellowed by the curbs. A nuclear tinge in the sky captured the bloodstream tingle of a top afternoon.
We chased the Soul of the World through the pastures, down the runway of the road, as if we were chasing a physical fireball which was lighting our way back homeward.

Stopping in stepping stone leaps, we encountered drunken Russians who had been stomped on by the fall of the Soviet system and heavily hobbled by booze.

We came across a dog dubbed Jackie Chan, next to a castle on an island, Trakai, a place of mysticism, fabled knights and pastries.

We found ourselves in the fog of a mushroom fest, the most magical thing about it being the poverty friendly prices of beer.

And like mossless stones we continued to roll.
Gazing over a lakeside backflipping competition, Jonah lulled us, his half-cut crowd, sliding his fingers along the guitar chords of Lithuanian lovesick folk.
Naked trees flashed by in teams, streams of green, joining naturally the hues of house paint, lakes, fields, humans, blurring together naturally, into one gargantuan pattern of molecules, of beauty, (perhaps a little hint from the artistic heavens):
“It’s all one thing. It’s all one big ball of beauty and wonder.”
And on we swam, blessed by the streamers of sunlight which danced over us. Through the earth like the swans which tore through the sky, we pelted onwards, as part of it all, as vapours, as insects, as sawdust, as light: and I turned to Tripvan and lamented,
“The worst thing of it all, is that it’s gotta come to an end.”
And Trip stared blankly out the window, as the city semblance lurched into view.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 20. The Contipi Tour (Continued)

Awaking in my cone-shaped sauna, I had no idea which way to go next. Just staring, I focused on the vast ocean of sky, through the tiny hole in the top of the teepee.
There is a chance I may have encountered worry at this disastrous lack of direction, had I not been infinitely more crushed and warped out due to a night of fending off bugs the size of bullets, and freezing from an artic crosswind disguised as a lonely Lithuanian breeze.
I felt ruined, and stretching wiry fingers at the loose skin beneath my peepers, I understood, I looked it as well.
Wearing the ecosystems of a dozen endangered insects, I crawled my bony arse out the cat flap, and into the sizzling sunshine.
As one flap slapped closed, another one ripped open: “HI-YI-YI!”
An Indian burial call curdled out of from the chapped slugs of my lips, to summon the dead spirit of Tripvan.
I took a look round the vista, as I waited for his tepee to stir…
Nothing was as it seemed today, and I imagined a volley of coked-up Indian dreamtime assassins ready to bust me down from behind every waiting birch tree. This was the life of a teepee dweller!
I knew how the last of the Mohicans once felt, and it was lousy. There were more Mohicans, out here in the deserts of the western world, and I could hear one of ‘em rattlin’ out of his domicile right now.
A moan shook the colourful neighbouring pyramid.

In a flurried flashback, words which Trip had continually repeated the night prior appeared levitating around my frontal lobes.
His dire prediction of things to come:
“It can only spiral from here, Mutt, man, it can only spiral from here.”
Indeed, when anything: rockets, vultures, druggies, reach their highest altitude and perhaps a glimmer beyond it- there is but one direction from there, and it is descent.
(Though, in retrospect, if I was worrying about plummeting from our muddy pontoon which acted as our pinnacle, we didn’t really have a long funnel to fall).

Tripvan materialised, eyes more blood than suds, body more mud than man.
“Morning,” He coughed it out.
This slumping sundial, no matter the disdain in his dialect, was correct.
Morning it was, and the orb above, casting our meek little shadows upon the shaven grass was our enemy on this one. Bearing down on us, his gassy gargantuan grimace bubbled our skins like a pair of wayward weenies.
“Phew. Maybe a swim is on the cards?” the sentence galloped from his jaws, almost in agony.
“Soon, my fried friend, soon. First, there is work to be done,” assumed the sensible journalist who was so often dormant within me.
I tied my beaten boots, ready for the day’s awaiting slog of interviews, and raised my gaze to face the world. I had a story to research, and an accomplice to help me.
I thought.
And then all I faced was an empty paddock.
Tripvan was already half a kilometre away, towel in tow, racing off toward the lakeside.
“Sorry man! Good luck with that! I’ll see ya this afternoon…” the voice petered out, luckily for it too far to reach with a rock.
And there I was, forced into the coalmines of routine journalism, alone.
“Just like the old saying,” my wisdom feigned to the surface. “When the mowing gets tough, the grass gets growing,” or something similarly idiotic.

Andre Agassi, the caravan/tepee park owner was the first plank on the chopping block for an interview. He seemed almost to desire it, to deserve it. So I clicked up my pen nib, my shovel, and trudged off into the mines.


Covered in a visible layer of teepee induced crust, I plunged into the shining, apple-crisp waters for a cleansing.
Though the water was by no means less dirty: a new crust enveloped my sun-spot speckled Australian skin- apparently, a dredging crust, a clingy algae created by a sifter shifting sand way out on the backdrop, beneath a flailing wisp of cloud.
I stopped and stared at it. The green machinery seemed to be billowing out balefuls of gasoline bi-products, and bilging grey chemicals into the picturesque, sky-reflecting scenery.
Also, the aqua man, of whom Trip had informed me by pointing, had hobbled freely in his freakishness from his camper parked by the lakes ragged rim,
(Side Note: Though I appreciate and rather revere the ‘freaks’ on every other day, this one had a back hump like a Sherpa’s bulging baggage, and a glint in his eye more murderous than a pirate with her period)
,into the sandy waters to begin exfoliating his lepers suit with a bar of soap and what appeared to be sandpaper.
“Gross,” I muttered, quietly urinating in hypocrisy.
“Hey, check it out.” Tripvan pointed out a sixth finger growing from out his palm, as the dredging machine continued to dredge, and the leper continued to lep.
“mm,maybe let’s get out now.”

Sitting on the shore, staring at the humming machine, all was not lost: in fact, everything was spotless and found.
Today we were stocked and ready: Clk!! Fzzzzzzzz…
The universal sound of unwinding- the crack off the top of a tinny.
Sip away as the sun slips in to setting.
“Yeh, well, seems like a perfectly relaxing end to the day.”
Tripvan shook his head in sorrow at my words. I realised it as well, in horror.
I had jinxed us! Any chance of continuing our calmness for upwards of ten minutes had been catapulted off of my tongue. Damn.

The seismic clattering of a carnival didn’t take long to run through our eardrums.
I winced, and crumbled at the prospect of my head’s interior by morning.
Clk!! Fzzzzzzzz……..
In Lithuanoa (I can’t remember about other countries, but I think I recall the same), the sight of others public drinking is an open invitation for the sidelines of society to come over for a conversation. Normally, this is one of the finest attributes of existence, embroiling a fellow earthling in a chat about everything, but today, as can be well understood, if you’ve braved your lonesome eyes over the last five pages or so, we really just weren’t up for it.
The Wild Call of the Booze Beacon can sometimes attract unsavouries.
And today, as we sipped on the sap from our honey pots, we were greeted by a bear.

I wish I had taken a photograph of this marvel, this human jackolantern. The girth of his skull was equal to a waterlogged volleyball, and his grin reached across both its sides as if it were the ball’s stitching. In his mutant paws he clutched on to a bottle of brandy, which he proceeded to peddle ad-nauseum.
“You want Lithuanian brandy? You must drink my Lithuanian brandy!”
“We’ve got our own pal, never mind an old thing.”
I pulled our plugger from my back pocket, and Tripvan sank a swig.
Time marched onwards.
Tripvan had taken quickly to the whims of the Bear, and begun devouring his ‘Lithuanian’ Napoleon brand brandy (which on the side of the bottle read, ‘Product of France’).
Within an hour, we were throttled.
New bottles seemed to be conjured into the Bear’s claws faster than the last could be forgotten.
Tripvan, especially, was hitting the spirits like a Bunbury local hits his spouse: hard, and frequently.
The Bear’s hound was growling at us, moreso even than the Bear himself, and the night folded over upon itself and into the photo negative of delirium.
The hound took a lunge at the Trip man, gnashing at his shirt sleeve, and ripping it from the hem. I was shocked. Tripvan guffawed and drizzled himself from Napoleon’s guts.
How would this night end?
Taking another tug at the toxins, I realised: neither of us would be around to find out.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 19. The Contipi Tour

A stark contrast to the black woodlands encroaching us (and the blacker night hovering upon it), we carved our way along a luminous gravel path, guided by our mysterious and fated bus broads, as if skipping down an evil Yellow Brick Road.

Weariness was casting its claws at our tethers. We had begun to wonder if a house of respite and replenishment would fling itself upon us, or if perhaps we would be sleeping in a ditch after all.
Taking our aims away from dozing in the sleek and shaven arms of the bus babes was a necessity, for our thoughts were filthy, and our clothes were appropriately matching. We were figuring ourselves a lower chance of this than of finding a clean bookie in Bulgaria.
Quiet chatter shared between us, the duo of two-o, about bunking in the basement of the bus babes’ abode, was beginning to ring like a nefarious ploy.
We took it in better judgement to never pop the topic, and find our slumbers out under the still moon, like cattle, like drifters, where noone could question our motives bar the mosquitoes, police and pigeons.
To their due credit however, the femininas were saying nary a word to lead us thinking otherwise: they had stuck around, acting as our fair tour takers, and were in all fact trying to steer us away from spending the night sleeping by a muddy brook or badland in the lovely salt-water spa town of Druskininkai.
Well, kind of away.
“My father owns the town campground. You won’t find a cheaper place to stay in whole Lithuania,” spoke the grandly glandulared Ginta.
We hummed, hoo-haad and hawed.
It wouldn’t be cheaper than lying facedown sprawled over an anthill by the lake, and after having to forego our dinner due to the forking of bribe at the bus station, we were wary of any unneeded purchases.
“Come on, you’ll love it!” Ginta’s bouys bounded against her chin as her mouth wobbled in unison. She had drummed the point home with fair words, a bounce and a giggle.
“Alright then, let’s take it,” we agreed, though still glanced hesitantly at each other in fantasy of clean linen in the bus bunnies’ basement.

It was only the first hours out of civilisation, and already we were beginning to dilapidate into shoeless, mangy wolfmen under the moon’s pale tug.
Well, maybe wolfmen was an overstep.
But at least into ragged poodles.
Poodles without oodles of whiskey to help in our friskiness, without hopes and without beds, and simply trailing along behind the spherical lanterns connected to multiple items of Inga and Ginta as our beacons.
Anyway, we had decided to brave our money-spending option, and we wanted the details.
“So, where are these caravans anyhow?” Tripvan grumbled.
Ginta’s shelf shook from glee.
“There is no caravan! I said cheapest in Lithuania, not the pope’s palace!”
Okay, so what are we looking at here. Bunks? Dugouts? Ditches? Tents? Teepees?
The eyes of our guiding squaws lit up.
Out of the black, Tripvan’s countenance began to alter. He seemed to stir and glow. The gravel pathway was growing ever slimmer. Yellow beads twinkled from the forest, starlight against tree sap, or…eyes?
Beating his naked feet against the ground, Tripvan suddenly started to undertake what appeared to be some kind of whiskey rain dance: as if the amber alcohol would come flooding from the sky in recognition.
Dancing and howling underneath the pines, he succeeded, if only for a brief second to let the cider slide, as I pissed unseen on his sneakers.
“Teepees ay? Well, lead on squaws, lead on!”

We tumbled onwards, deeper into the magnitude of precarious pines. Their carnivorous canopy was circling us, embracing us, forgetting us in our microscopic humanness. A cacophony of crickets, frogs and march-flies frolicked about on their business.

Perhaps it was the animals which brought it on, but out of my mouth flung a wild barbarian war shriek- and pain pulsed through my bloodstream. My bare heel had been shredded by a wayward flint.
An arrowhead?
As I assessed the injury and looked up, I realised- the enveloping madness, the same which is always on the edge of my breath, the same I was constantly anticipating, had finally reached us.
Things had turned. I glanced once more at the arrowhead, to judge its reality, then surveyed the situation. Yep, things had turned.
Conga drums were beating ferocious fast patterns out in the foggy distance. Incantations and the bleating of bog-men had erupted in place of the crickets’ cheerful chirrups by the gloomy water’s edge.
Seeking reassurance that this was merely a fantasy, a delusion, I grappled at Tripvan’s shoulder, and swung him around.
But Tripvan was no more.
Chief Rotting Liver peered out from a blood-drained scowl.
“But wha--?” I was paralytic in petrification.
The Chief clapped his hands together, and as if from prompt, began to duck and sway in a spasm of tribal fever.
The dark-featured West Aust Alien had reverted to an incarnation of millennia past- kitted up in all the headware of an ancient American Indian.
And the squaws, wrapped now in the skins of boars and bathed in chicken fat (some kind of food fondler’s fantasy), were rotating creepily around him.
“Hee-a-hoya-hee-a-hoya…” The creepy rhythm rocked out of their mouths as the Chief shook with electricity, a horrid white against the empty forest black behind him.
He hurled his arms skywards, as if in surrender to its vastness, and a thunderclap jarred the nation askew.

“Haha, we’ve made it!” Cheered Tripvan, as the Chief faded into the shadows of his mind’s-eye. I wiped my brow in wonderment and fatigue.
But the cockerel crowed at the correct time- indeed, triangular silhouettes zig-zagged upon our horizon.
“Teepees??” we cackled on like a couple of burning Indians.
Our helpful squaws too had reverted to their normally well-formed physiques, and took about squirreling up all the arrangements with Ginta’s father.
A quick splash of words on her pater- he stood as a classic of modern sculpting and evolution. From his nostrils bloomed a brown bouquet of a hairpiece, and on his body was strapped a fluorescent lithograph of aging sportsman Andre Agassi, pre-baldness.
So, after a few minutes easily spent staring at him and his movements, all the hairy details were sorted.
“Do we need keys?” Tripvan inquired in apparent dementia.
The squaws tee-heed as we closed in on our teepees.
“No, no keys. But I hope you brought something warm.”
No, we didn’t bring anything, but perhaps if you just stuck around…
Somehow the squaws managed to vaporise, and our colourful enemies of igloos appeared before us.
I peeked inside the flap of the nearest one of the two, which would be our homes for the duration of Druskininkai.
All the lay within it was a feeble wooden bedframe on a layer of moulding soil. The pestering zing of mozzies quickly brought its presence into ours. Oy.
The suitcases beneath my eyelids began to pack with weight. The realisation had kicked in: the night ahead would be arduous.
I removed myself from out of the plastic pantheon, and turned to check opinions with Tripvan.
“Hey, do you reckon we’ll live the night through?” I grappled upon his shoulder.
Chief Rotting Liver spun round: fresh blood tainting the perfection of his hideous, ghostly grin.
He passed on his American-Indian greeting call, answering my question in the same, shiftless syllable.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 18. Hookers, Bribes and Bus Babes: Beyond the Average Tuesday with Tripvan

Following a crazed (crazed being the operative word, after our endeavours at the Belarusian embassy) and lengthy night, we decided to cash what was left of our few chips and heave to the highway for the countryside: but it wasn’t easy.
Pulling ourselves together was like building scarecrows from spaghetti.
In our slumping stupor, we parked ourselves by the busted up bitumen at the wrong side of the bus station- and henceforth began a(nother) ‘crazed’ and unpredictable cyclone of proceedings.

We had sat, peacefully at first, watching the wildlife, the local working girls, turning tricks for the passing drivers. Well, at least they were trying to- the brow-beaten street strutters weren’t having much luck, as each battered car, even if it was on its second curious loop around the block, in a shop for a score, kept driving onwards without so much as a brief glance. Maybe the girls were overpricing for somewhat tarnished goods…no offence meant to the hard working hookers of Vilnius.
Watching these folks go about their business was somehow transfixing, and at the same instant, relaxing: like staring at a sleazy screen-saver.
The sun was packing it in for the day, slipping down the surface of the world, as if mimicking a metaphor of the poor pro’s hopeless existence.
We sipped away, equally empathetic in our hopelessness.
We had snuck to this secretive location so to sip away on cold ales unnoticed, for in Lithuania, street drinking is an outlawed sin, and authorities, or at least borderline stasis, don’t take too kindly to it: as we were about to find out.

Ready to whip across the flat plains, we were taking off on the bus to the resort town of Druskininkai- a gathering of shacks and shambled shanties, nearly smothered by surrounding forest. I was chasing a story of questionable viability, and was accompanied by an accomplice, Tripvan, a man of questionable morals (no offence Trip, but we did just watch street walking strippers for over an hour).
Our initial aim was to be onboard the 18.30, but as it ripped away from the station in scoff at our lateness, we wandered off unconcerned to graze on a patch of green and glass to laze away the hour.
‘We’d get the next one,’ we figured, cares were beyond our grasp for now.
For now.

Within the ticks of half a sunset, we had to move. We were being slyly eyeballed by an overworked, under-tanned loony, who judging by his tawny appearance and scars would have many a prickly pointer in his knapsack just waiting to call home to our guts if he got a chance to get close enough.
So, like dinosaurs, we made tracks.
This here, this immediate point in the history of this retelling, is where we fell upon the locale of the stringy sex-workers, and ogled their gaunt fly-bitten fleshes for an hour, as mentioned previously.
A blond in a tennis skirt previously utilised as Pat Cash’s headband, stomped past sporting sinewy muscles. She was winged by a trillion year old redhead with stitch marks like a puppet, sitting on slabs of horse meat for arse cheeks.
Tripvan raised an eyebrow in interest.

A parody of Bruno Mars strangled by a gold chain swaggered for a chance, down hooker lane, in such comical footfalls, he seemed like a moon man taking his first steps on ground with gravity. We tried to save ourselves from plummeting into uproar, but due to Bruno’s bewildering stature, we failed, briefly avoiding murder, due only to his unbridled embarrassment. We sat unhindered.
For now.
After conversing in dark shades about double teams and woodland abductions, all the normal barroom blabber, we marched off stiffly to the beckoning bus platform.
Of course, not without calling passed the drinking fountain for another frosty flagon for the road.
After all, what is a bus trip without a beer?
Like hell without water, so to speak. Boring, burning, sober, sombre, sad, infinite.
The visions of lush greenery in the Litho countryside were bound to liven under the burdens of the bottle, and opinions kept where your mummy made them, we were unanimous on our calling.
“Į sveikata!“ Resounded the celebratory catcall after a freshly cracked Lithuanian bottle cap.

The preliminary glugs slipped down our oesophagullies leisurely, as we mused over our spare change and checked our watches for time. The hooker catwalk was still crawling into conversation, though we realised we’d better not dally, as we had only thirteen minutes until the bus departed, with or without us.

Then we caught sight of the heavies. The police shunted by, accompanied by two heavy-handed, greased up security thugs, who eyeballed us with beady pupils: scoping the scene like Robocops.
It spelled Eastern European complications all over, and we should have paid more attention. They were hurrying a long-hair in a pink shirt away, no doubt for him to rot in solitude for his life’s remainder.
“They frown on the wearing of pink in this country,” we agreed solemnly.
We checked our faded apparels for traces, but other than dried blood and skin blotches, we were pretty much white and brown all over.
We judged that perhaps, under the murky circumstances, it would be best to disengage ourselves from our beverages.
We hid our beers: a couple of David Copperfields, Tripvan placed his arm in front of his, me, mine underneath a hat. Genius.
Needless to shout it, we’d been spotted. The first half of the rent-o-cop Robocops, shaped like a security brick-house, approached us and lifted my hat off the evidence.
Whoops, you got us.
Eight minutes until the bus.
Last bus of the day.
He tapped his walkie-talkie into awakening. It began to fuzz and crackle:
“Protokalus,” he stated, (which in retrospect I figure was code for ‘two suckers, red-hot’) “Protokalus…”
The transistor mumbled and tweaked, then switched off. Robocop towered menacingly.
There were no cops to be seen, just this security bozo, this overbearing thug and his gun, holstered to his hip.
Tripvan was eyeing me telepathically in fear, mind-messaging, “don’t say fuck you this time, don’t say fuck you…”
Six minutes until our bus ignition ignited.
Passengers were already beginning to hobble on.
We realised it was transaction time- now or never. I thought about those poor sickly hookers down in the parking lot, and gulped along with them.
We had to field a bribe, or else potentially lose something more important- just use your imagination, and don’t stop at limbs, livers or lungs.
The thug’s skinnier twin appeared, sentenced to a life of red cheeks and acne slashes. He sweated as if interrupted from a marathon masturbation session, and taking a swamp mug like this out of a trance like that, could only mean murder for us.
“Protokalus,” must have sounded like sweet ecstasy to his pinking eggplant ears.
He spoke enough English to let us know the deal.
“One hundred euro,” was his proposition.
For two beers?
From two deadheads?
Not likely.
I began to make the haggling stance, for ‘let’s get this over with,’ shuffle, when he grabbed me, and shoved me toward what would either be his office or a back alley.
“Don’t touch me, or I’ll call the police!” I uttered lamely.
Five minutes until the bus.
Tripvan rose to follow, but as luck was his lampshade tonight, Thug the Second ordered him to stay plonked and puzzled on the bus bench. Tripvan had a wallet full of Swiss francs and euros. I had 60 Lithuanian litas (the equalivent to about 20 Aussie dollars) and black holes in my pockets.
Talk about a bad choice of travellers by the Thug Brothers.
It could be seen at this stage: they wanted us on the bus and outta there, as nobody wanted the situation to linger.
A seemingly standard procedure unfolded: he took me to his cupboard posing as security post.

He was sweating, stinking and rose-coloured, his hands outstretched.
He opened the middle draw of a stripped-wood desk.
“Put the money in there.” He waved a slimy digit in my direction.
I whipped out the disintegrated remains of what was once my wallet, muttered melodies about the holes in my shirt, and threw the sixty rubles in the drawer.
“What, you are joking me?” he winced, visibly, as if in abdominal pain, at the minimal amount.
“Sorry, man, that’s all I got!” I led him on the tour of my rotted, gutted purse, and gave him up to grievance.
A piece of lint hovered between our unbroken glare.
Two minutes until the bus left us behind.
“Ahh, okay, just get out of here.” Annoyed at picking the pauper over the prince, Thug One abandoned himself to the reality of my poverty, opened the hatch and hustled me out and running.
Hopping back to Tripvan, I waved the bus driver as the air blower in the doorway breathed the sigh of closure.
“We’re coming!” We bolted like savages, bearing our tickets like spears.
“WAIT!” Tripvan suddenly turned, springing back to where Thug Two had been babysitting him. “Mind if we take our beers?” This brazen exhaling dashed from out his jaws. The guard brushed the air in perplexion, swatting at microscopic insects of annoyance of the ordeal, as if saying,
‘Just take ‘em and go! You’re more trouble than you’re worth! Literally!”
So somehow, still clutching our near full beers, the cause of all the trouble to begin with, we clambered into the awaiting sanctuary.

We were aboard the bus with but seconds to spare. We were off.
But then we realised: our sanctuary was missing something.
The bus driver mulled over his pipe curiously, as he gazed upon our tickets.
“hmm.” He seemed to have made a slight oversight when counting passengers.
He had oversold the seats.
Our passes were valid, though there wasn’t a chair to spare. Smokey driver motioned that we find an empty slab of floor, at the buses rear, alongside a panting middle-aged drunk, soon to be our buddy, who had scuttled on in behind us.
We sat and started to cack in disbelief.
A gold toothen old lady who we leant on screamed in hysterics, at us and our situation, and unknowing any of each others languages, she started chanting,
Which translates fluid into “TOTAL NIGHTMARE!” as we later learnt.
Suddenly half the bus was in a tatter of hilarity, chaos and disorder, as the Australian duo began to introduce themselves around.
Six heads, perched on two bodies, smiling and holding out painted fingernails in pleasant greeting, suddenly took us by surprise.
“Hi!” They both sat grinning in all their 21-year-old glory.
“Shit,” murmured Tripvan. ”Maybe this evening is starting to get interesting.”