I finished Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet-Major on the farm and am saving War and Peace for the long train ride ahead, so I had to do a little book browsing in Vilnius. Happy to report that the local history shelf even in the Baltics is alive and well.
Vilnius: City of Strangers (http://www.indiebound.org/book/9789639776449) offers a well-documented look at the city’s marginalized role in major world events, from the Crusades, through the Napoleonic and World Wars. The author, Laimonas Breidis, writes: “Vilnius has never been a city of travelers, and unlike the more celebrated cities of Europe, such as Rome, Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna or Moscow, it has never acquired a narrative and representational canon which could guide foreign visitors through its history and geography. The history of Vilnius mirrors that of Europe, but only as an altered, distorted echo of its grand story” (16).
During WWI and under German occupation, the newly created German language newspaper in Vilnius published a series of vignettes from everyday life called “Wanderstunden in Wilna” or “Wanderings through Vilnius.” These vignettes were collected to a form a very successful volume, the introduction to which echoes my personal travel philosophy:
In this world, the right to conquer foreign cities is a privilege reserved only to a few mighty rulers and military leaders, but every traveller can successfully master unknown cities if he perfects the art of wandering. If the traveller is a clever strategist, he will certainly consult various maps and chronicles before he ventures into a strange town. If the traveler is an artist – and wandering is the freest form of art – he will approach the city from a completely different perspective. Without any hesitation, the urban wanderer will let fresh air guide him through the unfamiliar streets of the far-flung city. This form of travelling has the potential of breaking every kind of fortification. Fortunately for the traveller, our good old Wilna is blessed with a perpetual breeze, creating perfect conditions for endless roaming through its streets and squares.
Paul Monty, Wanderstunden in Wilna (Wilna: Verlag der Wilnaer Zeitung, 1918), 76.
Once I disembark from the LuxExpress (yes, I’m blogging from a bus in far-flung Europe; the Fung Wah this is not), I’ll continue my wanderings in Riga, Latvia, a city known for its saunas and Jugendstil architecture.