May 15, 2007

The Worlds Only Memorial To Frank Zappa

Frank ZappaVILNIUS, LITHUANIA - In my mind, there is nothing that better illustrates the confusion that ensued as the Soviet Union crumbled as the Frank Zappa monument in Vilnius, the Capital of Lithuania. This monument (pictured) holds the distinction of being the worlds only memorial to Frank Zappa. This wouldn't seem as strange if Frank Zappa had been born in Lithuania or even if he performed there but Frank Zappa and Lithuania have nothing in common. I'd be surprised if Frank Zappa even knew where Lithuania was.

According to the local who took me to see the monument, it was erected shortly after the USSR collapsed. As images of Lenin and Stalin or anything else representing the Soviet occupation were tumbling, new governments and councils and committees were looking to the West with enthusiasm for heroes and icons. At some point, perhaps as a joke, a proposal was put forward to the powers that be to erect a monument to Frank Zappa. The fact that it was approved, I think, says a lot about the confusion of the times.

It still stands as a quirky reminder of "those crazy times", as my new Lithuanian friends put it. Most people who mentioned it seemed slightly embarrassed; I'm certain though that I also detected more than a little pride as well.

Of course there is much more to Lithuania than the Frank Zappa monument. The four days I spent there really didn't do it justice. They are some of the friendlies people I've met and their cities are beautiful in a typically European fashion. It's a place that is changing very quickly and I would very much like to return before it becomes unrecognizable.

May 10, 2007

The Baltics

RIGA, LATVIA - With Russia behind me, and my travel arrangements all set for the Atlantic crossing, I can't help but feel that I'm on the home stretch. In just over a week I'll be meeting Jon in Prague for my last two weeks in Europe. He's finally decided to come out for a visit.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying the spring weather, long hours of daylight and the medieval charm of the Baltics - Estonia, Latvia and tomorrow Lithuania. When not actually travelling, I spend my days wandering the cities, tasting the local food and visiting the occasional museum. (I've also spent a little time dodging riots in Tallinn.) The nightlife has been great as well; provided you can find places where the hordes of British stag parties and football teams aren't.

This trip is quickly morphing from adventure into a vacation - not that I need one after a year-and-a-half without work but I'm not one to complain.

Next up: Vilnius, Lithuania.