Lithuanian Storks, Very Fine

In Salamanca I noticed giant nests on top of the church spires and remembered that storks come to Europe in the summer.  Soon I was stork crazy, looking for them everywhere and was sad to be leaving Spain thinking I wouldn’t see them any longer.  Little did I know I was off to the region with the most storks in all of Europe.  All through Latvia and Estonia I was glued to the bus and car windows looking for the giant nests, hungry babies and graceful large birds.  When we arrived in Lithuania I learned that they had the highest concentration of storks in Europe.  There were so many that they had to build stork nest supports or the birds would build their nests, weighing hundreds of pounds each, on telephone poles causing power outages.

Of course we were in Lithuania for more than storks!  Ieva, Gabe’s friend from high school was back in her hometown visiting her parents.  We were amazed at the coincidence of seeing her both in Pucon, Chile and now in her hometown of Panevėžys.  Her family graciously hosted us, cooking local food as well as gourmet Italian.  It was fun to finally meet Ieva’s parents and sister.  Gabe and her Dad, Jonas, had a good time drinking and trading stories.  Jonas grew up under Soviet rule, but speaks great English, and if he likes something (like a whisky), it is “very fine.”  Next time that we visit, we’ll have to come on the weekend so that we can go to their “very fine” country home! 

As in Latvia, Gabe and I were eager to hear stories that began with “during Soviet times…”.  I began calling them our Soviet bedtime stories and we were enthralled to learn as much as we could about daily life under Soviet rule.  There were many tales as expected about shortages and lines, but many others about happy times and certain benefits of living with communism.  One of the most amazing memories told to us was about Ieva’s grandmother who was “reeducated” and had to hide that she had come from a landowning family from her husband and the rest of her family until the 80s!  Our images of the Soviets were a mixture of 1950s black and white propaganda films, Gorbachev making speeches while the Berlin Wall came down, and destitute cement apartment block streets.  Learning from those who actually lived through it has helped color those memories and made us even more interested to picture life in that society.

–Sarah

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