New schoolyear in spotlight

Article published on Sept. 1, 2010
community published
Article published on Sept. 1, 2010
This is going to be a melancholic post. After all, what else if not melancholy, sweet and ripe with memories or sad and heavy, is one supposed to feel, marking the third September the 1st as an ordinary workday?
No feeling of celebration anymore, and seeing kids with sword-lilies on the way to school, makes you feel somewhat nostalgic (even if you would rather spend a day in hell than a day back in middle school). This day changes Vilnius, and does so in various ways.

But beware: I'm only paying a tribute to this day today. The next post is going to be angry. Beware.

Typically kids bring flowers to their teachers and have a lesson-free day at school. High-school pupils and students join parties within their reach. Vilnius comes back to life - pupils return from summer camps or lazy days in front of their computers, students return from their hometowns, work-and-travel programmes in the USA or temporary workplaces, often at the seaside. Many youngsters routinely get drunk on that day and start picking up fights or get in trouble. Years ago, a 16-year-old was stabbed to death as he had a quarrel with other kids in an open-air concert premises in Vilnius. Ever since then drinking in public places and even carrying open containers of alcohol is forbidden. However, it was soon realized that the 'problematic' kids do not only hang out in the centre, but also get drunk in gas stations, yards and residential neighbourhoods. They easily ask senior friends to buy them some booze. Hence for a couple of years selling alcohol in supermarkets on this day is forbidden. The tradition of big open-air concerts has been continuing without major incidents.

This year brought many novelties. Firstly, Formula-1 star, David Coulthard, drove his racing car on one of the main streets of Vilnius on a one-man show of speed and power. For this purpose the street, one of the veins of public transport, was closed from 2 pm to 8 pm. As I was on the way home, I had to dive into the young crowd, hurrying between places where something was happening. Indeed, the official programme at school and the Vilnius University student march in the old town left them with lots of free time on their hands. It was interesting to observe the school-age proto-hipsters with skinny jeans and colourful sneakers from centrally-located prestigious schools (I would guess), walking alongside the more 'simple' kids in leisure/sport outfits. Empty, with no sight of Coulthard, but still closed, the Constitution Avenue drew tons of both types to its sides. Two loudspeakers were competing with their tiringly similar beat, one RedBull, one I didn't see what. Yet the drizzling of autumn, which, after record heat, threw Lithuania back to its usual seasonal gloom (as cold as Tel Aviv during the worst of winter) equally soaked those with and without umbrellas. I call this weather 'Brussels rain', and, standing on the pavement and watching in order not to be splashed with dirty water by typical rude drivers of Vilnius, it made me think again that I would be much, much happier to endure this rain in beloved Brussels.

As public transport runs differently, I walk to the closest bus stop near the Green Bridge, observing the lethargic wriggling worms of traffic jams along the way. Lines of buses, flocks of cars - all equally hopeless. "Koroche [Russian for "in short" - popular slang], this is like in New York," exclaims a small blond kid of about nine. As he walks on, smiling and unconcerned, he leaves me wondering whether he has been to NY or only seen it in movies. You never know with this generation. For us it would have been exceptional. But a few years ago, when me and my companion somehow started a conversation with a pre-school kid playing in a sandbox, he said something stereotypical about the Poles, and, curious where he would get the stereotype, we asked him, and the kid said, casually, "I met many while on holiday in Tunisia..."

On the way I realise that I don't want to spend two hours in jams, and getting home in reasonable time is unrealistic. I rush across a huge intersection to one of the two remaining old-town-based cinemas, Skalvija.

"7 o'clock, any movie."

I get to watch the Spanish "Fat people" (Gordos, 2009) in a half-empty hall, perhaps mostly with people to whom September 1st means nothing, or who have some time to kill before joining the evening concert. Skalvija is small and cosy, shows mainly European films and used to have 'Thai' and 'Filipino' sandwiches in its bar. As Lietuva was closed, its predator investors moved most of the equipment to Skalvija to show cinema enthusiasts that they don't really want to exile them from the old town. The comfy chairs were bought for municipal money, and the renovated Lietuva was sold for a lower-than-market price to private investors in a typical prikhvatisation deal (mix of 'grab' and 'privatisation'). People protested, so Lietuva has not been demolished, but is not functioning either. Skalvija and Pasaka are the only artsy cinemas.

On the way back to the bus stop, cold water from the sidewalk mercilessly penetrates my not yet seasonal shoes, but, hiding behind a bus stop from the wind, I think that it can't be worse than to two middle-aged Scotsmen, walking proudly in their quilts. The electronic timetable for buses, one of those installed for EU money, shows a logo. Vilnius feels so typically imperfect, but at least today it is young, inspired and vivid.