For the residents of Kalvarija it must have been an odd sight indeed: A gangling academic in jeans and old thermal coat strolling alongside a young blonde ablaze in full medieval costume with shiny pendants and brooches and bracelets. He was a dysfunctional linguist interested primarily in his abstruse research, and she a medieval emissary preparing for war.
I wasn't sure what to think, and couldn't begin to imagine what kind of thoughts passers-by were having.
I looked at Arva. She glided along with an aplomb that evidenced her familiarity with the stares and expressions of dismay directed at her. Yet I could tell she was soaking them up, like royalty returning home from a long and bloody war-trail that lasted years. As if all the attention provided her with a hidden energy so coveted by the rich and famous.
"You look splendid, Arva," I told her, "I sense that at one time you were quite used to being at the center of attention."
She didn't respond; nor could she, I suppose, given how loaded my comment was. So I took in the scenery, admiring the diverse architectural ensemble in this southern Lithuanian city that prides itself on being a model urban center. I was impressed - and I was born in the 20th century; yet Arva, who claimed to have been born in the 15th, walked along without a trace interest in her surroundings.
"Aren't you amazed by what you see?"
She shot me a quizzical glance. "Why should I?"
"Thisâ€¦ this is a bona fide, modern urban community. One with electricity, heat, plumbing, Internet--"
"Big deal! We had all kinds of nets! Bed-nets, ceiling-nets, fishnetsâ€¦"
I shook my head vigorously. "No, no! You don't understand! This is civilization, the result of hundreds of years of scientific progress!"
Arva was nonplussed. "Progress? You call this progress? A woman at the store had to use a small rectangular card to buy underwear. The machine they stuck it in didn't work, and the woman had to walk away without her underwear. I'd like to hear you give her husband a lecture about progress tonight..."
"Alright, alright," I admitted, suddenly finding myself pigeonholed in a vain attempt to defend the obvious. "So there are some glitches. The system isn't perfect--"
"That's for sure!"
The princess' snide attitude was back, and immediately it rubbed me the wrong way. "Well, it sure beats chamber pots and the ubiquitous stink of pig manure. Heck, chamber pots were before your time - you probably used your own soup bowls!"
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"And you had a plague every other year," I continued.
"Watch your tongue, American crusader," Arva warned.
"And had to bathe downriver from Teutonic feces," I added gleefully.
That got her gall. With Arva, the crusades were still a touchy subject. "At least when we went to pee we didn't do it all over our legs," she blurted.
By now, a few onlookers had noticed our exchange. I suppose much of their consternation was due to the weird pidgin that Arva and I were firing off. It was filled with a variety of Baltic languages - case endings brutalized throughout - though containing enough Lithuanian so as to be recognizable. They must've thought we were lunatics. Anyway, I should've stopped, but her last comment was a low blow I couldn't let slide.
"Don't forget when we met," I said, "you were filthy, and sinking in a bog."
"We were as clean as anyone I see here," she said, now on the defensive. "In fact, much cleaner! I'm sure of it! Cleanliness was a focal element to pre-Christian Baltic ways."
"Yeah, and the Latvian word for 'cleanliness' that you're so fond of using [tiriba] is directly related to 'teors,' which is Old English for penis. Because you pagans believed that intense carnal activity was imitative of godly behavior and 'cleansed' the organism of internal foulness."
Arva froze. "What's so bad about that?"
It was too late. By that point I was inconsolable, so the verbiage came a-flying. "True!?! 'True,' she says! Well, the Russian word for truth [istina] is a cognate of the Old Icelandic word 'eisto', which means the male sexual organ."
"Kalba kaip is medzio iskrites," she said, using a Lithuanian proverb. He speaks like one who's fallen from a tree.
"Tree, you say? The tree in ancient times represented Mother Earth, the Universal Womb. It is no coincidence that the Latvian word 'koks' comes from Indo-European 'kukus,' or vulva!"
"Okay, okay, professor. Take it easy," said the princess. Exhausted, I heeded her plea. My entire being was on the verge of collapse. "I got a better idea," she said. "Instead of arguing, let's go get something to eat. All the talk of sex has made me hungry."