Ice Cream and Rinoks

If you go in the summer to Russia or another country that is usually very cold, like Lithuania where I am now, they have ice cream stands everywhere. In my personal opinion it is always the season for ice cream, but I have heard from a reliable source that these stands are only around in the summer. I guess when it gets as cold as it does in Russia they don’t want a cold desert in winter. I always like hot food and hot coffee in summer and the opposite in winter. Regardless, today I decided I would see if they had any interesting ice cream flavors because I remember when I went to Ireland I found honeycomb ice cream. Well, luckily for me, they did have interesting flavors. Flavors like kiwi, watermelon, mango, blueberry, and so on. Some of these flavors you can find in the United States but, if you see watermelon or kiwi it would probably be a sorbet and not actual ice cream

Right now I am sitting at a park writing this blog post on my phone. I don’t know if anyone remembers when they used to have merry-go-rounds, tire swings and other play-structures at parks that used to be more fun than what they have now because now they are considered too dangerous so the structures have all been removed from the parks in the United States. It is always the things that children have the most fun with that they consider too dangerous. Children need to learn safety on their own somehow; we can’t keep them in sterile boxes. In Lithuania they still have these merry-go-rounds, and I am very jealous. I wish I was still a child so I could go play on them. I am also glad to see that this park is full; there are children and their parents everywhere spending time and enjoying the outdoors. In my opinion, this is how childhood should be. Too often in the United States today I see a parent hand a crying child their phone or their iPad to play with. When I see this, I think what a pity it is that these children are missing out on the rest of the world from such a young age.

As I sit in the park, I am sitting near an elderly woman who is speaking on the phone. She is speaking in Russian but it sounds strange to me and it is a little hard for me to understand because she has a Lithuanian accent. It is interesting being in this country right now, because the older generations usually speak only Russian and Lithuanian as a result of the Soviet Union. The younger generations speak Lithuanian and English. Some of them occasionally speak Russian, and many of them understand it even if they don’t speak it. Either way, I can speak in English to the younger people, and practice my Russian with the older.

I have been in Lithuania for almost a week now, and have had some time to observe this culture versus American culture or Russian culture. I know in Russia, people like to get married young. They get married right out of college and start a family. Friday is wedding day in Russia. I remember the first Friday I was there; I was walking around with my peer tutor for about an hour and a half. In that hour and a half I counted seven weddings. The following Fridays I decided not to count. After getting married, the women stay at home and cook and clean, and the men go off to work. People only seek a higher education (past our equivalent of undergraduate education I believe) if they are interested in becoming a teacher. Since many young people rush into marriage, there is also a very high divorce rate. People will then remarry to someone else who has a family from before as well, thus creating a sort of mess. In the United States, people are waiting until they are older and older to get married and start a family because people are caught up in their jobs and education. Another factor that I will mention that contributes to having late families, but I won’t discuss due to its controversial tendencies, is women in the work place and how having a child impacts their job positions. In Lithuania, I understand that in the city people tend to wait a bit to get married. They finish their education, maybe start some work and then decide to get married. However, I was told that in the country, people tend to have marriage patterns more like Russia. They get married right out of school, and the woman immediately goes home to work and start a family. I wonder how true this is though since today is Friday, and as I was walking around the streets I definitely spotted a few sets of brides and grooms. Perhaps they kept the regular day for weddings, and just get married at a slightly older age. If this is the case, it’s interesting to see how the Lithuanian culture has broken away from the Soviet Union over the past 25 year. It has been 25 years this year I believe since Lithuania regained its independence. They will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the human chain that ran from Lithuania through Latvia and to Estonia that was created at the end of the Soviet Union, with a bike race and some other festivities. I am glad I will be here for that.

Earlier today, I was walking up a street in Vilnius that I have walked through a few times now. The street splits in two and in the middle there is a sort if triangle of land. Usually this is empty with maybe only some chairs and canopies for people who want to sit outside restaurants and eat. Today the triangle had a sort of festival. It was like a Lithuanian version of a Renaissance Fair, but on a much smaller scale. The people at the shops were dressed up in costume, and everything looked hand made. One booth had food that I considered eating for lunch, but there was a group of rambunctious travelers that would not move out of the way of the sign so I could read it.

I returned to this area with the Lithuanian Renaissance Fair, and in the few hours I had been exploring other parts of the city, the festival had grown to cover some streets. If it is there again next weekend, or even tomorrow, perhaps I will return and examine their goods more closely. I am reluctant to buy anything from a place like this, because the products sold are often overpriced, or not really useful. I definitely want to buy some souvenirs in Lithuania, but I barely have more space in my luggage to carry much else. I am luck that my flight to St. Petersburg allows suitcases to be 23 kilos, instead of just 20 because this will allow me to have a little extra room for the souvenirs I intend to buy.

Again, I spent time individually drifting around the streets of Vilnius, and I stumbled upon a Russian Rinok. Rinok is a word in Russian that sort of means farmer’s market, but it is actually an open air market that we don’t have anything like in the United States. That is why I call it a rinok, and not a farmer’s market. When I was studying in Kazan’, the two guys who were in my class and I would often go to a rinok during our breaks because there was one right next to the institute where we studied. The rinok there and the one I found here are only partially open air. The majority of the paraphernalia that is being sold is sold inside. In a rinok you can find anything from clothes to butchered meat and raw fish to sweets and honey and other more practical items you might need to live. The first room in the rinok in Kazan’ was the meat room, and in the summer this is awful. I hated this room, not because of the sight; it doesn’t bother me to look at raw cuts of meat. The smell of raw meat sitting in a hot room in the summer, though, was one of the worst smells I have ever encountered. As I walked through this room with Hank and Peter, I would always hold my breath. Whenever Peter walked in front (it was not wide enough to walk side by side) he liked to dawdle a bit as I was trying to hold my breath to not smell the meat. We would go through the meat room, to the rinok almost every day so the guys could buy water, and just for an excuse to walk around in the middle of a four hour lesson. Sometimes we would go there for lunch because they had a very good Central Asian Cafe, and thankfully by the end of the program we would usually walk in through one of the side entrances, and avoid the meat room altogether. In Kazan’, most of the stands at the rinok were run by people from Central Asia. Here, in Vilnius, I say the rinok is Russian because as I was walking through it, all I heard were people speaking in Russian. No Lithuanian. Probably because it is a Russian thing, so that’s where all of the Russians in Vilnius do their shopping. It would have been exactly like being back in Kazan’ if Hank and Peter had been there with me. The only thing I bought in there was a chocolate bar from a vending machine (there were no vending machines in the rinok in Kazan’).