Books about merde and some spiritual essentials

  • 2011-02-16
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

MUST-SEE FAIR: The president and other Lithuanian high officials attend the Vilnius Book Fair each year.

VILNIUS - On Feb. 17-20, thousands of people will flock to the traditional annual Vilnius Book Fair in the Exhibition Center Litexpo, which is situated on Laisves Ave. 5 in Vilnius. Usually people leave the fair carrying big sacks of newly published books in Lithuanian, English and other languages bought at Litexpo. It is better to have some cash going to that fair because in previous years, it was a problem to find a cash machine there. Twenty one foreign writing celebrities and over 100 Lithuanian writers will arrive there to meet their readers. The lines for tickets can be quite long, but it is possible to buy tickets via to avoid those lines. A special bus free of charge will be leaving the Cathedral Square for Litexpo at the top of each hour, from 13:00 to 20:00 on Feb. 18-19, and from 11:00 to 15:00 on Feb. 20. These buses will leave the Litexpo territory and head towards Cathedral Square 20 minutes after each of the above mentioned hours and days. The intermediate stops for this special bus are the Opera, Lukiskes and Savanoriu.

This year’s fair is dedicated to Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet and prose writer of Lithuanian origin who was born 100 years ago near the town of Kedainiai in Lithuania and died in 2004. In 1980, he, then living in the USA and having an ideological conflict with Communist Warsaw, received the Nobel Prize in Literature and in receiving the prize spoke highly about Lithuania as his inspiration for writing. Milosz could understand and read Lithuanian, although his native language was Polish. This year was announced as an official Milosz Year in Lithuania and Poland, although in Warsaw, some MPs protested against such an announcement due to his criticism of the traditional Polish ultra-nationalism. Tomas Venclova, a very close friend of Milosz, a Lithuanian poet and Soviet-era dissident who had to leave for the USA in 1977, where now he is a professor at Yale University, will appear at the fair.

On Saturday, Feb. 19 at 15:00 in the Litexpo’s conference hall 5.1, visitors will have an opportunity to meet and talk with Stephen Clarke, who is a writer on only one theme, which is the French people. That theme is a favorite for Brits, if not counting themes about the weather and their pets. Clarke finds a lot of similarities between excrement and the French everyday culture which, he says, includes hatred of people, bad service and similar features. British-born Clarke has lived in Paris for more than a decade and, therefore, says he knows pretty well what he is writing about. Almost all the titles of his books include the word “excrement” which is “merde” in French. He will present four of his books: A Year in the Merde, Merde Actually (its title is the allusion to the good British romantic comedy film Love Actually), Merde Happens and Dial M for Merde. The translations of these merde series into Lithuanian was recently published by Baltos Lankos, the Lithuanian publishing house of mostly intellectual literature. The novels by Clarke have been translated into more than 20 languages throughout the world. He has his fans in France as well.

Andrius Uzkalnis, who has lived for 16 years in England where he worked for the BBC, will also take part in the meeting with Clarke. Uzkalnis, being a devoted anglophile, writes in Lithuanian, with books about the English national character. There are no comparisons with excrement in his writings about the English people. Uzkalnis is close to such comparisons only when he writes about Lithuania, where he now plans to return for good. He is especially critical of the linguists related to the current State Commission on the Lithuanian Language (Nazi Germany had a similar institution, which was dissolved after WWII). He states that state-imposed bans and state regulations on words limit the natural development of the Lithuanian language. Uzkalnis is envious of the English language, which has no state-sponsored or fine-imposing inspections upon it.

Leonidas Donskis, philosopher, member of the European Parliament and columnist of The Baltic Times, will present the Lithuanian version of his Power and Imagination: Studies in Politics and Literature, which was issued in New York in 2008. The book will also be issued in Germany, Ukraine and Italy. Donskis states that studies of classical literature can be useful for contemporary politicians. The book deals with liberalism, conservatism and human feelings such as love and friendship. The Italians might be especially interested in the book due to the rehabilitation of Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian writer based in Florence during the Renaissance, who was demonized by the moralistic British as a theoretician of dirty political technologies, although he was just teaching how to implement humanistic ideals in a not so perfect world.

Machiavelli was definitely a more interesting personality than another Florence dweller of those times, Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican monk and fanatical fundamentalist who is known for being a fan of book burning and destruction of ‘immoral’ art. According to Donskis’ book, the essence of La Cosa Nostra was perfectly described in the Italian story about Romeo and Juliet (most of the world’s population knows William Shakespeare’s version of it) – so, keep studying the classics. On Feb. 18, Friday, at 16:00, in conference hall 5.3, Donskis will also take part in the political discussion Global Changes and the Baltic States where Edward Lucas of The Economist, who recently became famous in Lithuania due to his harsh criticism of President Dalia Grybauskaite, is expected to participate as well.

The Vilnius Book Fair is open:
February 17, Thursday: 10.00 a.m. - 7.00 p.m.
February 18, Friday:  10.00 a.m. - 9.00 p.m.
February 19, Saturday: 10.00 a.m. - 9.00 p.m.
February 20, Sunday:  10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.
More info at