Liquid Ink

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


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Reading this Tuesday: Tuesday Funk, Chicago

If you’re in Chicago this Tuesday, I hope you’ll join me at The Hopleaf for Tuesday Funk #110. The exciting lineup includes Parneshia Jones, Henri Harps, Jeff Ruby and Britt Julious

I’ll be reading an excerpt from my manuscript-in-progress, which I expect to finish by the end of the year. I have not shared a single word of this manuscript with anyone yet, so Tuesday Funk revelers will be treated to a public premier. My current project is a memoir that deals with perceptions of race, and links between racism, trauma and forms of abuse.

The vitals:

Tuesday, November 7th.
Admission is free, must be 21 to attend.
Doors open at 7pm sharp, show starts at 7:30pm. 

5148 N. Clark St., Chicago

Please RSVP on Facebook — and if you haven’t yet, please like Tuesday Funk’s page so you get their announcements right in your stream.

This is me writing at Volumes:

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Photo by Rebecca George.


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Open letter to Lithuanian-Americans who tend to vote Republican

Dear fellow Lithuanians:

Today I’m asking you to think about one of our mutual interests: the continued independence of Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic States.

No, I’m not a Republican and never have been. So if you’re Lithuanian-American and have heard of me, I get that you’re probably not a fan of my writing or public comments. If this is your first visit to my website, know I’m not posting today to get you to like me or buy my books.

Instead, I’m asking you to think about something I know you take seriously: the sovereignty of  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I’d like you to weigh what party loyalty you might feel against the possibility of that sovereignty’s breach.

I was among those Lithuanian-Americans who protested wildly for the United States to recognize the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1990. Many of you were there in places like Daley Plaza in Chicago or before the Church of the Annunciation in Brooklyn.

I’m also aware that many of you, particularly those born prior to 1985, are old enough to have some idea of what Soviet occupation meant following WWII. Many of you know this meaning intimately.

I know not all of you vote along party lines. However, chatter on social media is compelling me to share my point of view. Perhaps some of you will conflate my post as a plea to approach an election based on a single issue. The independence of Lithuania and the Baltic States isn’t really that.

As we all know, the world is interconnected; we have, all of us, always been interdependent, but that is only more readily apparent now in a globalized economy where  commerce and communication are instant. The survival of NATO and the EU affects every global citizen, at least economically and politically. The possibility of an occupation of a country in northeast Europe should concern us morally, intellectually and even spiritually.

I find it paradoxical, at minimum, for those who were either blasted across the planet while fleeing Soviet aggression, or found themselves (like me) born to the displaced, to now enter a ballot box and vote for a candidate who looks at an alliance like NATO as a sacrificial pawn in a geopolitical board game.

It is also curious, for those who migrated during the 3rd wave, to find oneself living between countries, with friends and family in Lithuania, now to face the prospect of electing a candidate flippant to the possibility of a Baltic invasion, of leaving loved ones open to the increased possibility of foreign occupation.

You might find yourself voting for a set of personal reasons, perhaps to return jobs to mining or steel towns, or to punish the politically correct. If you’re that person, fathom waking up one morning to learn little green men are supporting a “separatist uprising” someplace in eastern Latvia. It soon grows and spreads past Daugavpils and into Lithuania, where “liberators” come to rid Zarasai of “fascists”. This is theoretical but hardly hyperbolic. A similar scenario has been taking place in Ukraine.

Our friends and family in Lithuania—indeed, in the rest of the EU and in the rest of the world—do not have a vote. But if they were faced with the choice, to the vast majority it requires not a nanosecond of thought.

Yes, there are plenty of things for Americans to be angry about. We haven’t been all that nice to each other, and it’s a fact that both the government and our bosses at work haven’t listened to the concerns of the middle class. Your gripe is legitimate. But what are you willing to risk in order to voice it? What alliances are you willing to tear down? No one has proposed anything we can prop up to replace the structures currently keeping the world from chaos.

The battle for Baltic independence cost lives. When I was a child, my elders believed it was something I’d never see in my lifetime. After so much progress, here we are, playing with fire as the world holds its breath.

And people who fled Stalinism—or the children and grandchildren of those who survived it—enter the ballot box prepared to vote for a demagogue on record as saying he may not honor American promises to protect the country which remains a cornerstone of our identity.

It begs so many questions, among them this one: if American promises have a price tag, what will the demagogue’s promises cost, and who will pay the price?

Please think about that.

Gint

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Photo: the Vilnius Television Tower, site of Soviet crackdown against Lithuanian independence on January 13, 1991.


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I Am Lietuva (not me, personally)

I was recently interviewed by Alexsandra Kudukis of I Am Lietuva. She asked me one question that is, to date, the most difficult one I had to answer in any interview.

The script is available in a newsletter available to subscribers only. To subscribe, please follow this link and go to the upper left-hand corner of the web page where you can add your e-mail address and receive the weekly letter.

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Here’s a teaser:

 

6.) We ask all of our guests at www.iamlietuva.com the same final two questions. What does Lietuvybė, or being Lithuanian mean to you?

Being Lithuanian in America offered me a vantage point from which I eventually grew and evolved to imagine myself a global citizen. What I mean is that the policies of isolationism and the point of view that sees America as exceptional and God’s best friend with a gun didn’t work on me.

When I came to Vilnius at age 19, read the city’s history, realized how complicated the place was, it was liberating, and I started to see the entire world not as a set of teams behind borders but an ever-shifting, ever-changing interplay. Realizing how different Lithuania was from the story I’d been told drove my curiosity through the stratosphere. I started traveling, opening myself up to the stories and ideas of people different from myself. Vilnius was my gateway drug to global consciousness.

 

 


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Best Christmas Gift: Taste Lithuania

I’ve never explored the foodie side of my personality here on Liquid Ink, but readers should know I love a good morsel and fancy myself a decent cook. You won’t get liver foam or liquified porcupine eyeball induced wildebeest spleen at my house. But you will certainly get something like homemade mushroom broth.

My sister-in-law and brother sent me a gift in the mail: Beata Nicholson’s Taste Lithuania. It’s a cook book of Lithuanian cuisine, a simplified and modernized version of a book like Didžioji Virėja, which attempted to be exhaustive (the tome has over 3,400 recipes), and had appeal only for those who speak Lithuanian.

I’ve yet to make a single of Nicholson’s suggested recipes—the book has been in my possession for only a few hours—and yet I feel my house is warmer for the book. I know many, perhaps most of the book’s dishes. Beata has included anecdotes and photos of real people from the Lithuanian countryside; the book feels one part family album, one part encyclopedia. A 500 word story of a Curonian fisherman’s daily routine, along with gorgeous photos of him coming out of a smokehouse with a  spit of smoked fish, is steeped at once in centuries-old lore and works as a piece of contemporary ethnography. The recipe for fish soup will yield, I know, exactly the kind of tasty and filling žuvienė I’ve eaten in small family-run cafes in Nida.

What struck me was how intimately the photos of herbs and cutting boards and flax cloths and stacked wood affected me. I won’t get into the ethereal nature of identity—you can read about that in The Fugue—or the mysteries of how we feel drawn to an aesthetic that belonged to forebears we never met, living in cottages we’ve never seen. It seems to me that the straightforward idea in this book—food is made from scratch, using ingredients available in nearby rivers and forests, vegetables grown right in your own garden, prepared to be healthy, simple and hearty, best enjoyed in the company of loved ones, savored over many hours of conversation—should be a universal value. That it isn’t leaves me exhaling a humid, befuddled sigh.

At any rate, I’m endlessly grateful for the gift, and I wanted to share with others who may not have heard of this book. The foodie in your life will adore it. Click here for the Amazon page.

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New Lithuanian film: Suokalbis, Anthology of the Plot

Longtime readers of Liquid Ink know how much I loved Suokalbis, the since defunct Vilnius dive, which in an essay that won’t go away, I called the greatest bar in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Suokalbis, A Eulogy and Lament:

When an old man dressed in tan Soviet-era trousers gyrated in imitation of Freddie Mercury, and when his dance partner — a young woman who might have worked at the reception of an area hotel — swung her round hips to Fat Bottomed Girls, you knew what it was about. When you saw a scrawney trolley bus driver color his cheeks with lipstick borrowed from a tourist — one perfectly happy to hand her makeup over — and you watched the couple bounce around to Ra Ra Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine, you understood that Suokalbis had a purpose. The bar wasn’t merely a refuge for the city’s 86-list. It was a public space in Vilnius that experimented with the notion of absolute freedom. 

I’m far from the bar’s only fan.

Filmmaker Arturas Jevdokimovas contacted me a few months ago about the essay, asking if he could use some of the text in his new film, Anthology of the Plot. Obviously, I agreed. The website promoting the film, which will make its way around the festival circuit, is now out, and I encourage readers to visit.

Click here for Anthology of the Plot.

Click here for the full text of Suokalbis, A Eulogy and Lament.

Lietuviškas vertimas pasirodė Šiaurės Atėnuose, Suokalbis: pagyrimas ir apraudojimas. Spauskite.

A still from the film, provided by Arturas Jevdokimoas. This is a rainy Soviet-era Lithuanian funeral.

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The evening we shared snowflakes (new translation)

It’s official. I am now a translator of poetry.

This past summer, I was delighted when Diana Rebirth, a poet participating in the SLS seminar in Vilnius, approached me about translating a few poems. She had a chance to publish in Quarterly West, and I happily took my hand to them. The results were very interesting, to say the least.

Now I get to put “translator” on the resume. Translating poetry is much more fun than interpreting bar room conversations outside the Vilnius bus terminal, if you know what I mean. One of the poems, Glassland, required learning the structure of a dual pane window, something I never thought I’d investigate.

At any rate, if you enjoy poetry, I hope you’ll share these texts with your friends.

Here are my children, sharing snowflakes, albeit in a different way:

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Dreaming of Ingrid Bergman

Prior to last night, I had dreamt of Ingrid Bergman three times that I can remember. The dreams, while similar, can’t really be called reoccurring. What’s interesting about them, despite their featuring a woman among history’s classiest and most gorgeous—Ingrid’s accent murders me—is that they are all black and white. I usually dream in color, but Ingrid Bergman’s presence turns any dream into a film from the 40’s.

Curiously, these dreams always coincide with another experience. Every time I can remember dreaming of Ingrid, I also remember running into an ex-girlfriend within a day. Prior to these dreams, I never knew these women were “around” or had heard anything about them. The synchronicity is just one of those weird things.

While I dreamt about Ingrid again last night—we were having a conversation at a cafe in Vilnius, one that no longer exists, where I used to be a regular, and she was telling me that cigarette lighters were things of the past, that contemporary smokers should use wooden matches, that they smell better, that the strike of the flame is more sensual—I don’t expect to run into any ex-girlfriends this evening. First of all, I’ll probably stay home for the rest of the night. Secondly, this dream was different, ringing with a tone of finality.

We ended up in the place where Karaliaus Mindaugo bridge should be, only the bridge was different. Go there today to find a swooping steel parabola; in my dream, the bridge was wooden, made of rough logs tied together with coarse ropes, the construction above a swiftly moving river of foaming waves. There seemed to be some tower or checkpoint on the opposite bank of the river Neris. Ingrid showed me the bridge and said, “I’ll have to say good-bye here. It’s late.” And I watched the elegant lady negotiate the path of rounded logs, her feet in short heels, the process twisting her ankles and straining her knees so that looking on actually hurt my legs.

I turned away before she had reached that looming medieval tower. Then I turned toward a building which should have been the Mokslų Akademijos Biblioteką but was instead a monolithic bank, its exterior walls built of polished brass, like the whole thing were a Roman mirror, or like it were a massive version of the constitution of Užupis. Here the dream became colorful again. I could see the gold tone of the brass. Yet my reflection, obese and hairy, a body I left behind many years ago, appeared black and white, as if cut from a Walker Evans photograph and flooded by brass, so deeply reflective that it appeared liquid, virtually breathing.

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Photo from Wikipedia, Public Domain