Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

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Goodbye, Vilnius

The hardest city for me to bid farewell. But I’ll see you soon enough again, pretty sister, and perhaps next time I’ll be a citizen instead of simply a seasoned visitor. On this long, lingering summer evening, I wish you a peaceful night and a patient, glimmering year ahead. There’s a part of you in every word I write, every thought I think. It’s both a delight and a curse to feel one belongs in two places at once, but at least I know the places and no longer need to search. Iki malonaus.



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Europeans can’t give change

It happened today, in back-to-back instances.

I first went to a small shop here in Vilnius where my tab was 14 Litas. I gave the girl 54 Litas (in an effort to unload some coins). She entered “54” into the till and the till provided an answer: “40”.

Wait a minute, she said, leaving two twenties on the change plate. Wait a minute.

Everything’s fine, I said.

No, wait. Something’s wrong.

The flustered girl, blushing, searched for a calculator. The one she dug out of a drawer didn’t work, so she did the math longhand on a bit of paper.

Oh, she said. Everything’s fine.

Only a half hour later, in a mall coffeeshop, I ordered an overpriced cup of burnt Joe. The bill was 6.53 Litas. I handed the girl, in an effort to unload some coins, 7.03 Litas. She made some mistake while entering it into the till and grew flustered.

Wait a minute, she said, blushing. Her fingers toyed through the golden and silver coins.

I did not want to embarrass her by saying how much I was owed. I waited until she did some counting and handed me, at first, seven cents, then caught herself to offer fifty, two twenty cent pieces along with a ten.

So, there you have it. As has happened to me so many times in conversation with Europeans—a couple who happened across a gas station in Minnesota or a Dollar Store in Manhattan, perhaps a diner in Denver, and encountered an underpaid and exhausted worker who, in the course of doing their mindless and humiliating job, gave the wrong change or got flustered in the process, especially when a customer handed over an unusual amount of money—I now get to extend the gesture:

Because of these two girls in Vilnius, I’ll allow myself to conclude that an entire continent can’t give change. I’ll feel smug about it and decide that I am, indeed, very well educated, while an entire continent looks at me and thinks, What an unfortunate and small-minded little twit.

Or perhaps there’s someone thinking, No, because in America you would have gotten twelve or eighty cents, something like that. I’m certain that opinion exists. There’s also someone thinking, In, America this happens every time you go to the store but in Europe only twice in all the years you’ve traveled. That person’s out there as well. So is this one: The American wouldn’t know longhand.

Etcetera. I could go on for hours.

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You have difficulties? What a relief!

This week’s True Community, my weekly column on education and men, is an introspective piece. I ended up feeling relief when I learned professors in England and the Continent were also facing poor standards and disinterested students. I wonder where this relief comes from and if it’s the appropriate response.

Hope you’ll check it out and share.

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Ominous clouds in Vilnius

When these clouds first rolled in, tumbling over the buildings like heaps of crystal wool dancing with the ghosts of soot, I thought they were evidence of a great fire raging just over the creek. The photos don’t capture the vivid contrast between the shades of white and silver and gray and the bright orange evening sunlight against the facades and spires. And the static photos do not communicate the clouds’ gentle speed.

My daughter said, “It’s going to rain. Hard.”

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What’s my heritage? (Links to essays)

The Summer Literary Seminars are in their fifth day—fourth day of classes and lectures and readings—and the event has been fantastic. It’s a privilege to attend once again (this time with my little girl).

I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic from the SLS website has found its way here to Liquid Ink, and students are perusing my photos and blog entries. Last night I got into conversations with some students who asked about my connection to Lithuania.

Here’s an essay I wrote about my grandparents’ flight from Lithuania in the 40’s. It’s titled Displacing Forces, and was originally published in Dialogo magazine out of DePaul University.

Here’s the blog post that has gotten the most traffic in the history of my blog. It also says something about my heritage. You will not need to remember what happened in the London summer Olympics to catch its drift.


Photo: Twilight in Vilnius