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.

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