COULD MY KAUNAS BE A GRANDMOTHER? OR THE MAP OF KAUNAS ACCORDING TO GINTARĖ ADOMAITYTĖ.
We want to see Kaunas through the thoughts of writer Gintarė Adomaitytė born in this city. Even though Adomaitytė moved to Vilnius from Kaunas with her family in 1966 (currently the writer divides her time between Vilnius and Ignalina), both Kaunas and Vilnius are very significant for her: “These two cities are everything to me. They are me.”
A brief note about the writer: Gintarė Adomaitytė completed her journalism studies in Vilnius University. She creates texts of various genres for adults and children, publishes books and articles in the cultural media. She is the member of Lithuanian Writers' Union and Lithuanian division of International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). She received IBBY prize three times for the best book for the youngest readers and a prize from the Ministry of Education and Science for the promotion of children's literature.
In your essay Šokis ant Stalo (A Dance on the Table, 2004) you briefly mention your grandparents who, it seems, ended up in Kaunas by accident. Could you tell us how is this city related to you and your family?
My grandparents Ona Baranauskaitė and Ignas Medekša were going from Liepāja to Vilnius. In Šiauliai, they found out that Vilnius is occupied by the Poles. They reached Kaunas...
My mother Živilė Medekšaitė was born in Kaunas. She was so incredibly proud that she is Aušrokė, that she graduated from Kaunas Aušra Gymnasium for Girls.
My father and his sister became blind during the smallpox epidemic in Kielionys Village (close to Stakliškės). They were both brought for treatment to doctor Nemeikša. The good doctor could not heal them. But he advised them to learn and live in the Institute for the Blind. They both lived there supported by the state. Their father and stepmother died in emigration. Relatives from Kielionys did not visit the blind children and forgot them.
Is it a coincidence? Or faith?
Which cultural places of Kaunas, in your opinion, are the most exceptional in the context of Lithuania?
Museums. All of them. Especially the one of M. K. Čiurlionis. Kaunas Musical Theatre. Its architecture, history, lifestyle.
Unique architecture of the interwar period.
The hilly landscape and endless stairs.
Funiculars, even though it is more fun for me to call them lifts.
The confluence of two largest rivers of Lithuania.
Ąžuolynas (Oakwood Park).
Which places of Kaunas do you find significant, dear and loved? Could you share your memories about such places of Kaunas?
A sculpture by Petras Rimša Vargo Mokykla (School of Poverty). My grandmother Ona Baranauskaitė. Her feelings, when she stood unmoving and so dignified in front of it, liked others stand in front of an icon. The plaque for book smugglers (knygnešiai) in the Garden of the Museum of War, where her father Augustinas Baranauskas is mentioned as well. I have known it always, maybe since I was a baby, that communists destroyed it. Now it is restored.
S. Daukanto Street, because my grandfather Ignas Medekša had a barbershop there.
... but the final question awaits... you will find everything there that still exists or is lost... Those special things...
Things I will not recover. The smell of poplars and fluffs, when in spring, my grandmother and I, we climbed from the Presidential Palace to Žaliakalnis through the narrow streets. My meadows, now a green corner next to the active Tvirtovės Avenue. There were so many flowers, moths, bugs... Conkers brought from the School for the Blind by my father when he worked there as a teacher. Conkers collected by blind children... The old pier next to Aleksoto Bridge and a steamer going to Kačerginė. Hauf's Stairs. I thought they were called this way to honour my beloved writer and his fairy-tales, turns out it's Kauko stairs.
Algirdo Street and my first school: green, wooden. Now demolished.
Which things, objects, phenomena, people, feelings... Would you associate with Kaunas?
Train Kaunas–Vilnius, the tunnel. Žilinskas Gallery and Lithuanian paintings. Operetta. Neighbour Varčikas who was in charge of Kaunas Musical Theatre and issued to me and my grandmother contremarques, whenever we wanted them.
You have probably noticed that in my replies, I mention my grandmother a lot. The one who did not get to Vilnius in her youth. And reached it only when she was older.
Could my Kaunas be the grandmother that showed me everything she could? Probably, yes. Thanks to her, I am close to the old Kaunas, the Smetona Kaunas.
What map of Kaunas would you draw? In other words, which places of Kaunas would you show to your friend that has come to Kaunas for the first time? What place in Kaunas is the one, to which you are drawn every time?
Do you have time to go? And strength? Are your shoes comfortable? Are you not afraid of October or maybe even November?
If you are not, then let's go.
We can start from the Railway Station. Going from Vilnius to Kaunas is great. So, if you look from the railway bridge to the railway itself (if you face Vilnius), turn left and see Žaliakalnis.
But maybe it’s better the other way? I need to walk on Vytautas Avenue towards the bus station and stop by the market on my way. Just for a short while. Even if I don't need anything. Yet I needed something last fall. For a friend. I was looking for a cache-nez. And I found one and had options to choose from. To tell the truth, I like markets of Kaunas. It is a unique layer worthy of a careful look. Their loud voices, cleverness and politeness, their talents to guess the size of more intimate clothes... And they fit. And how they address you: “Dear lady”.
After passing the bus station, we turn to Bažnyčios (Church) Street. In the novel Raudonmedžio Rojus (Mahogany Heaven), [its author] Vytautas Sirijos Gira places the Toleikis family precisely there. In Bažnyčios Street, where, just think, the vodka factory sings its song for the entire day. If you pass it on an early morning (while it is still dark), you can see employees and conveyors... It means you are also passing Ramybės (Tranquillity) Park, former cemetery, and you cannot remember that the first grandchild of my grandmother who died at the age of five was buried there. And some time later, when the cemetery was destroyed, uncle Rimvydas exhumed his son.
And then you approach the Frykas stairs. All white. The stairs of the architect. We will climb up. Let’s say it’s November. Dawn. Cosy houses in terraces, you can see blazing fireplaces inside through windows. Warmer. And it’s warm enough, when school children jumping down unexpectedly greet an unknown passer-by. We rest at the top. We see and hear Kaunas: you can still hear the clinking of those conveyors carrying intoxicating drinks. We walk around the streets, Putinas, Vaižgantas and... and... and... houses. So many stories...
Carousels at Vytauto Park are drowsing, and when they do, they are the most interesting. Let’s look at the white palace of Young Lithuanians, and then to the Oakwood Park, where I made my first steps. With my eyes closed, I will walk you to the Song Valley and tell you about the first Song Festivals. Or the ones taking place later, during the Soviet times, but still Lithuanian ones.
From the Song Valley we will cross the Oakwood Park and go towards the Zoo. I always get scared in Radvilėnai Street: have I got lost? It is too active for me. And yet... Let’s walk in front of Šv. Antano (St. Anthony’s) Church and the fence around the Jewish Cemetery. And then the Institute for the Visually Impaired, where my father and his sister, both blind, started their path of life.
There is also the Savanorių and Tvirtovės avenues. My family used to live here in one of the houses. If we stepped to the left, we found a silent Algirdo Street. There was my green two-storey wooden school, gone without a trace. But... This is where Viktoras Rudžianskas and Donaldas Kajokas attended their classes.
We do not have to turn left. To the right. This is where the real Žaliakalnis is: in Kalniečių, Utenos, Molėtų, Širvintų streets. Let’s go to Žemaičių Street. To the left, and towards the Resurrection Church.
A wonderful church. Waited. Dreamed of. Turned into a radio factory. I don’t think that it is worth climbing on its roof: Kaunas is visible from the hills. But the church itself... Dignified, modest, recovered...
Then we take the funicular down. And visit all museums or only some. The most important thing is to see Čiurlionis and... and... and... Laisvės Alėja, next to the Musical Theatre, to the Presidential Palace, which was the House of Teachers in my childhood. This is where I attended by first dance lessons. Next to it, there is the former Aušra high school. I would tell you about a teacher that female students loved the most, his name was Juozas Ambrazevičius. He was the most liked in all the senses of the word.
Then understandably we will reach the heart of Kaunas, Rotušės Square. What should I choose, descending from the old family of freethinkers? Not only Maironis Museum but also Vytautas church, stories of Vaižgantas. I would cycle around Kaunas Castle, reach the confluence of rivers and go back.
Do you think that’s all?
I have to go across the entire bridge and go up to Aleksotas in a funicular. Only from its peaks you will see my Kaunas, the real one.
I haven’t thought of how I am going to return back, descend the stairs and... When returning, we need to go along the entire Laisvės Alėja. And we will drop down on the stairs of Soboras...
This is my Kaunas.
Foto: personal family archive of G. Adomaitytė.