Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 23 Landscape Art

In any art museum with a section of Northern Rennaissance paintings or even those from impressionist and expressionist periods, look closely at one of the bigger paintings entitled something like Sunset over a Winter Landscape, really close, maybe along the dirt road with patches of glistening mud puddles in the textured lumpy snow, or at the edge between a stand of birch trees and a stubbly frozen harvested field... there I am!  Can you see me?  The painting can be wet-on-wet watercolor or coursely applied oil, but objects blend into each other with indistinct edges.  I've been walking across these rich images for weeks now.  What a happy pilgrim I am!

As I passed from Estonia to Latvia and Latvia to Lithuania, walking along another ribbon of dirt forest roads for hours since seeing the last farmhouse or log home of the foresters, I entered Poland without fanfare.  This is the wonderful flip-side to the Schengen coin many complain about... no official entry points, no need for passport control, just suddenly - or gradually as it seems on foot - the signs marking the protection status of the forest stands are printed in another language and the culture is a bit distinct.  Easy-peasy, stress-free, like crossing state boundaries in the US.  Excluding the transit day in Helsinki, I've entered the fourth country of my pilgrimage in three weeks of walking.

Fun unrolls before me daily, and each day unpredictable.  I opted for historic Kaunas rather than Vilnius for the more direct route.  Each, I've been told, promote their amber past.  I stayed the night outside of Kaunas so that I would enter it in the morning, enjoy it during daylight(ish) hours, and get myself away from the hustle-bustle before dark.

Arriving in a frigid church to ask the priest for hospitality, the issue was put immediately to the covey of elderly churchladies who are the ubiquitous furniture of any church.  I waited a bit anxiously as they clucked and chirped with remarkable animation, pushing the priest away from their huddle, until one tall woman erupted from the scrum came directly toward me and planted great kisses on both of my cheeks.  She 'won' on unenumerated bases and took me to her home for the night's stay and years of bragging rights that would follow.  Her lovely large and immaculately kept house, where she and her day-farmer husband raised three children and host 'camp grandma' for the five grandchildren's summer holidays, struck my eye as more Germanic than Scandinavian influenced.  Blackbread, farm cheese, salami, and sauerkraut came quickly to the table, all the while mumbling and gesturing that my athletic clothing designed for winter sport is woefully inadequate and will lead me surely to the grip of winter.  She pulled great handfuls of dried apple rings from the garlands draped around the kitchen hearth, and knobs of dried ginger and lemon peel, instructing me to put these in hot water whenever I could to drink the tea they produced.  In fact, I later enjoyed snacking on them dried from my pockets as I walked - far more sensible food-for-the-road than anything that freezes.

That was entering Kaunas, an equally amusing pilgrim passage came on the exit of the city... I got as far as the village of Veiveriai before the darkness was fully engulfing, as the helpful and indulging nun at the cathedral office in Kaunas had advised (over tea and chocolate bonbons).  The priest preparing for the evening service had the idea to call over to the school for someone who might speak English or German.  A charming teenaged daughter of the English teacher came before the end of the service and took me back to the school.  There, more charming girls all able to speak English with strong competence - and distinctly in the American dialect, like, ya know... - found something lacking in my backpack and so adorned it with a long plait of dried rushes.  I'm sure to be the envy of pilgrims everywhere.

Much chattering ensued as to where I would spend the night, and in the end, I was advanced to the next village where the priest lived in a large home and spoke a mix of English and German... in the sense that he spoke words from both these languages in the same sentence without specific assignment.  I have this problem with Ukrainian and Russian myself.  There I passed some time sipping hot tea and listening to a delightful historical tale of the village, perhaps with some validity, as the portly priest, who could play the role of Friar Tuck without a visit to makeup or wardrobe, drank bottle after bottle of the local beer.

The name of the village traslates to 'punish' in English and was at one time the edge of Prussia.  Kaunas at this same time was within the tsarist Russian Empire.  Napolean and his troops were on the push eastward and spent the night in the village.  Napolean himself spent the evening chatting away with the village priest in the rectory while the soldiers made themselves comfortable in the church.  Reveling while they were preparing a dinner roasting pigs over the fire, somehow they ended up burning the church to the ground.  Napolean enjoyed the evening as the guest of the priest and so made immediate restitution for the damaged church with the spoils of war from the plundering across Prussia.  The church there today was the one rebuilt by that parish priest with the trunkloads of booty.  I didn't quite spend the night where Napolean did, because the rectory at the time since burnt down and a new one rebuilt much later.  But I slept in a village where Napolean slept... surely that makes me a participant in the village's history.

1 comment:

Michèle Dextras & Jean-Claude Barre said...

Even if Napoleon did not sleep in that village an American woman pilgrim is surely part of the village history! I am sure there will be tales told about your passing for years to come!