Tag Archives: lithuania

but she didn’t like dogs or cats or


The girl had taken the Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say, ‘My daughter is a nurse,’ or ‘My daughter is a school teacher,’ or even, ‘My daughter is a chemical engineer.’ You could not say, ‘My daughter is a philosopher.’ That was something that had ended with the Greeks and Romans. All day Joy sat on her neck in a deep chair, reading. Sometimes she went for walks but she didn’t like dogs or cats or birds or flowers or nature or nice young men. She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.

—Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People”


marked eternal

Ilona & Narimantas, Worthing, UK, 2011


tattooIn 1995, I met Ilona and Narimantas in Kaunas, Lithuania. They’d met a month before at a bar in the Old Town called the Blue Orange (B.O.). Narimantas, bald and tattooed, was at the bar and saw Ilona with another guy. He said to her, “That guy you’re with, is he important to you? If not, come with me.”

Ilona, in the summer before her last year of uni, was intrigued by Narimantas’s manner and fuck-all attitude. Even upon meeting, he struck her as someone who didn’t care about the stupid things most people concern themselves with, and she liked.

She replied, “Not really.” She wasn’t particularly into the guy she was with. They were friends, really. Maybe a little more.

“Then come with me,” he repeated.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it,” she answered, taken aback.

“Don’t think too long or we’ll be pissed [drunk],” said Narimantas.

And so she went. I met them a few weeks later, and they were already thick as thieves. Weeks later, I took photos of Narimantas giving Ilona her first tattoo, over 16 years ago.

Then I lost them. After Ilona finished university, they left for the UK. Lithuania wasn’t in the EU yet, so they made their way in under the radar. Because unpleasant guys in track suits were interested in Narimantas’s whereabouts, they also left under the radar and I couldn’t track them, though I finally heard a rumor that they’d left for the UK. Narimantas found work as a tattoo artist and Ilona did all sorts of things. Seven years later, she became a tattoo artist as well.

ilonaThey moved from London to Brighton and last year, to Worthing, where they opened their own shop, Mantas Tattoo. I visited in September, and it was fun to see them together (married), sixteen years later. Although much had changed, not much had changed. They are comfortable with each other, proud of each other, and don’t seem bored in the least. They both have their own interests and habits and they give each other that space. Ilona does more of the tattooing now than Mantas, and they both only work when they want to work.

They’ve set themselves up in a home in Worthing, and walk to their shop, which is right next to the train station. Their home is suburban and comfortable, decorated with Narimantas’s paintings and interesting skulls and skeletons. The top floor is a little cove-like hideout, with a computer for gaming, pillows on the floor, and other creature comforts (there’s a cat, too). While they’re both involved in different online communities, they don’t go out much, the way urban artists might, preferring the comfort and entertainments of home during non-working hours. I found this inspiring, as some Americans like to insult suburban life on principle, though they live totally uncreative, conformist lives in small, dreary, overpriced urban apartments. Narimantas and Ilona have definitely found a way for themselves and live lives they enjoy on their own terms. Not many people can say that—especially first generation immigrants.

Looking back, none of the friends I visited in the UK have traditional 9-5s. Alys and her boyfriend are photographers, Angela and Karen are yoga teachers and studio owners, and Andrew owns a bike repair shop. I can’t help but wonder if people feel more free to venture into their own businesses in the UK because they don’t have to worry about/pay for health insurance, living without a “real” job. A chat I had years ago with an economist friend lends weight to this argument—that our sickening medical industrial complex stifles creativity and small business in the US. And you can bet the corporate giants like it that way.

Marked Eternal is the name of Ilona’s blog.

Narimantas & Ilona in Druskininkai, Lithuania

a pagan, an indian, and a bukharan-ashkenaz russian walk…

Wisdom is about seeking truth whether or not the seeker himself is vindicated or comforted by the unveiling of that truth. This desire to know—even if some knowledge is highly uncomfortable—is what makes the quest for wisdom so courageous and challenging.   ~Ethan Nichtern

Moscow_1990-03_016Where’d I leave off? Danchik? Old friends? Yes. There.

Spending the week with Georgie, okay, sorry, George. He prefers George. Not Gumby, Gum, Gumshoe, Jorge (he’s now a prof of spanish literature, though he got the nickname in HS), Georgie, or any other of the nicknames he acquired over the years. Simply George, like his dad.

After spending the week with George, and Danchik the weekend before, I realize that old friendships both comfort and confine.

I met George when we were 8 years old. I remember when I first saw him, a very tall Indian boy at his locker about 10 up from mine. He was looking down, adjusting his books. For the next ten years we were in the same classes, because kids in Ohio who can read and add all get schooled in a room together, to learn things like cursive writing and long division. We were a small group.

George gave me my first book on Buddhism when we were twelve, though he’s a Malayali Catholic, and was offended when I thought that his family had converted from Hinduism (I was twelve, okay?). “My people have been Catholic 1500 years longer than yours, you pagan!” he yelled, referring to Lithuania’s hold on paganism long past any other nation in Europe.

Mexico_1996-05_Oaxaca_006Fair enough.

So, we have a history. We’ve known each other a long time. He knows my family, and I know his. And yes, maybe he planted a spiritual seed back when I was a diehard pre-teen atheist. Maybe.

This is lovely and comfortable. But it’s also limiting. Not entirely, but George still sees me the way he did when we were eight. Or at least thirteen. Some of his attitudes toward me don’t reflect the person I am now, but who I was. And George knew me during some difficult times, when I was just trying my best to be tough and get through it all. I’m no longer a guarded, highly-protected teenage hardass. But because this is what he expects of me, part of me slides back and gives it to him. Because it’s familiar and comfortable, and because we are old friends.

Likewise, my ideas about him are probably outdated, too.

D's MuralThis isn’t a statement about George, but about people and relationship. George is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know. And frankly, these are the most difficult people to be with, because when I’m grumpy or I’m being an ass, there’s no excuse. It’s not because he’s selfish or mean. It’s because I am grumpy or being an ass. And that’s not easy to own. Usually, I have plenty of targets worthy of the projection. Haha.

And so it is with Danchik. We go back ten years. Long enough. Danchik has very different ideas about me than George, and while I do think he’s seen me change over the years, his ideas are still his ideas. Recently, we were chatting about his old friend Katya, about her recent relationships. I asked him what happened and he said, “What happened? She kirtiklised him! That’s what happened.” We both had a good laugh.

Meanwhile, our 12-year-old friend Pasha, who doesn’t know much English, said (in Russian): “What did she do? What is kirtiklised him? What does this mean?”

There’s no chance I will tell you.

Danchik and I laughed harder and Danchik said, “Molodetz!” which means, loosely, “clever boy,” or “well done.”

It was funny. But it speaks to Danchik’s ideas about me. They aren’t invalid, but they are fossilized. I don’t think he’s interested in seeing who I am past his ideas of me, which, granted, we spent a fair amount of time building up. In good ways, and bad.

NewYork_2008-06_summer_002It’s easier to see and perpetuate this with friends I don’t see all the time, so my ideas about them, and projections on them, aren’t challenged. Friends I see often grow along with me. As I fumble along, they challenge me to stay real, and to remember exactly what that means. It’s easy to forget. Or, to find it too hard, and seek distraction. George and Danchik keep me in line in their own way. Otherwise I’d have dumped them. Or they’d have dumped me. I’m hard to take, really, as I have no patience for those who run in bright-fast circles to numb the pain of their existence, full force against a second’s rest to actually face themselves. Once I see a person’s bullshit and she admits to no interest in facing it, I lose respect. Perhaps worse, I’m bored. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut over the years, at least a little bit, but I don’t stick around and watch the cycle perpetuate. They seem cowardly. Or average. Or boring.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~Albert Einstein

I thought it was “Stupidity: doing the same thing…” but I’ll take insanity, too.

Wisdom is about seeking truth whether or not the seeker himself is vindicated or comforted by the unveiling of that truth. This desire to knoweven if some knowledge is highly uncomfortableis what makes the quest for wisdom so courageous and challenging.
~Ethan Nichtern