Me and Vilnius are reluctant bedfellows. The passion between us has evaporated years ago, after it made its third? fourth? fifth? plastic surgery, after it became expensive and inconvenient to live in, or maybe simply since I stopped being a student. However, jobs for a social science graduate with a Lithuanian passport, who thinks too good of herself to scrub floors, are here. So the cohabitation continues. I need to get out of here periodically to start appreciating what I have again. But afterwards the city grabs me back to its frigid embrace, holds me to its hairy chest, sticky with traffic jams, and mumbles, "You are at home, my child."
I only rediscover this city when I have tourists around. Indeed, there is much beauty to observe, and lots of convenience compared to many other cities. Coming back from Israel, it's amazing how many trees this country has in the first place. There are several cosy parks, and the joys of Uzupis are still waiting for me. Then again, here goes the gloomy side: some buildings are still for sale/rent just as they were when I left. Drivers still enjoy risking our lives and splashing poor pedestrians with dirty water as they pass by. People's faces look more worried than ever.
This city does have something about it. It somehow makes you sigh with some kind of relief when you walk around in its old town. It has something calm about it, even if you look at its greyness while munching a banana from IKI that indeed tastes like soap after having lived in the South. As the rain stops, I watch a snail which set out towards a busy street away from the tiny green area around the dysfunctional and dilapidated "Kablys", which used to be an underground club. It can't see too far, it doesn't know where it's going. Flinching after every occasional raindrop, it did not even look certain that it wants to go forward. With its home upon its back, with direction unknown, but certainly more industrial than the place it left, it moved just as slowly as to make anyone mistake there was no haste in its decision to migrate - a decision that thousands of Lithuanians take one after another when they can't take this gloom anymore.
Yet at the same time there are reasons to stay. People can be as intensely kind as they can be grumpy. Some things are less regulated, less alienated, and less assembly-line, more spontaneous and genuine than elsewhere. And all this green is enough to go crazy.
As I meet familiar people one after another (or many at the same time) after coming back, they ask, "So, you didn't feel like staying?" "So their academic system was not enough to seduce you?" "So you didn't meet anyone smart, interesting and affluent to convince you to stay?" Reasons to move around cannot be counted so easily, however. And don't worry, faithful readers, this melancholic is only a guest writer who has just come from Tel Aviv. Your semi-objective, critical and pungent, yet easily fascinated comrade will be back soon :)