Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Ave.)

Aleksandra: “I lived just next to Laisvės Alėja. I remember myself, an 11-year-old, wandering somewhere around Soboras; first time alone, I walked outside without parents on a hot summer day and was so impressed by the number of people in Laisvės Alėja: I have never probably seen so many of them in one place. And everyone was moving, doing something, engaged in their important businesses. So, it became crucially important for me to participate in the social life. I had 15 kopeks and spent them solemnly in the modern public toilet installed next to Žilinskas Gallery, where everything, oh dear, smelled like shampoo and hand drier was functioning without any difficulties, blowing three types of air...

Moreover, in those times, it was forbidden to smoke in Laisvės Alėja. I approached a man with linen shirt who was smoking Kosmosas cigarettes next to Soboras and told him not to do it. I also pointed at a blue plaque on a post with a cigarette crossed out and a warning written on it. The fellow was very surprised and after a long pause, he told me that he could not read. This was probably my first solo visit to Laisvės Alėja.

Later, on my way from school, I would walk in Laisvės Alėja to catch an inspiration. Even though two of my best friends were living in more remote districts, they managed to calculate their route in a way that would allow them to board a bus not in front of their school, but a few stops further, in a stop which could be reached by crossing Laisvės Alėja and passing by the fountain. We would simply walk and look around. It seemed that in this street, that was impressive for us teenagers solely because of its size, the real life was bustling, and it had nothing to do with the annoying studies and discipline. Houses there were different as well: they were old, not, Khrushchyovkas; some of them were cafés with music playing, you could see unusually dressed people, and there were kiosks next to Merkurijus department store with unique Chinese goods... Later the square in front of it became a place for the ravers to gather and it was the greatest fun for us to put a battery-powered boombox on a shoulder and show how cool we were strutting proudly on Laisvės Alėja in spring: we played rap and Eurodance. We felt like in some fancy American movie. An important place was Tulpė café. There was a tiny store of pirated audio tapes nearby: there was an always sad guy sitting in it that we called him Brolis Triušis (Brother Rabbit) who sold recorded tapes for 5 litas. The greatest event was to save this amount and go with my friends to look for new music: the tapes of Ace of Base, Pet Shop Boys, Bryan Adams, Madonna, Michael Jackson allowed us to get a glimpse at this scary big and mysterious world of pop music related to the magic words America and Europe.

When I started hanging out with these teen subcultures, it was a necessary ritual to walk the entire Laisvės Alėja, because it was the only way to get to the Old Town. At that time, I would say that this street was too open, too bourgeois: it always felt that I was observed by tens of pairs of eyes and assessed by all those fancy ladies drinking coffee in the middle of the day in some café terrace. To me, spending time this way seemed like an insolent luxury. Moreover, Laisvės Alėja was famous for its crossroads: guys with tracksuits used to gather around the kiosks built during the Soviet times. If you dared to go through the middle path, among the trees, you would always meet some gang sitting on the back of the bench, with the legs on the part designated for sitting, spitting and loudly commenting the appearance of passers-by. They even threatened to hit some of my friends. There was this one time, when I was walking with my classmate, a metal-head, and heard a very nasty comment about his hairdo. And another time I was full of horror, when I recognized my other classmate in one of these gangs... Back in those times, the main street and its shops were changing every two months and we could not afford them in any case, but there were also various yards, secrets passages between buildings, inner labyrinths of infrastructure, gateways... I remember very well one of the first cigarettes I've ever smoked: with a metal-head from my school we were sitting on a bench not far from Pieno Baras (Milk Bar). Some guys he knew invited us for a smoke to some gateway, because it was forbidden to do it in Alėja. Then they played some guitar and we parted. In order for my mother not to smell smoke, we would spray female deodorant to our mouths...

These yards are probably the most precious places in Laisvės Alėja for me. The yard of drama theatre, stairs and nooks of Žilinskas gallery, phantasmagorically colourful shops Pigūs Rūbai in a yard next to Spurginė (Doughnutry), a park next to the Musical Theatre, where one night I fell in love unexpectedly and fatally... I will never forget that sight of bats flying in circles around large trees in a mysteriously luminescent July sky, while my friends with rolled up trousers went for a swim in the fountain amidst the people bustling around, because the weather was too hot.

When I was a student, I was not afraid of going to Laisvės Alėja, neither at day nor at night. I knew places that should be avoided, and I could freely go back even at 3 in the morning. It was empty but somewhat cosy: I felt that it was my city and it would defend me. I liked wandering around those yards alone: walk and explore those “unofficial” places on some sunny autumn's day and after I started longing for the people, to get out somewhere next to Spurginė and buy some pastries. We would go to Spurginė in any case on long autumn afternoons, because it always smelled nice and was cheap. But I feel personal connection with those yards, it would be interesting to see how they have changed. I have found incredibly artistic nooks with all sculptures or plastic and wire constructions that appeared in those yards from who knows were: every time walking there, I would find something picturesque and mysterious. Later, all those yards inspired me to describe Ūla’s walks in the novel “Mes vakar buvom saloje” (2014).