Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Potatoes and Daily Living

In our class today we learned and sang a Yiddish folk song that helps children learn the days of the week. The song dates back to 1911 and is a humorous view of the poverty in which many Jews lived at that time. It was popular among Jewish soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Army during WWI. The song is about eating potatoes every day except Saturday when the novelty meal was a potato kugel. It is much more charming in Yiddish for which the cadences and rhythms are designed. The humor and the music are helping us experience and learn Yiddish in yet another way.

Later this afternoon we went to a show at the Contemporary Art Museum which had an exhibit by current Japanese artists, a change in pace from our immersion in Yiddish. En route we encountered a Hare Krishna procession with chanting and tinkling bells that felt like a time warp. Afterwards we found yet another charming restaurant. Many of our classmates are vegetarians and we have learned that it is very easy to follow a satisfying vegetarian diet here. Our geographical community is small enough that we frequently encounter our classmates studying at outdoor cafes. There are also many bicyclists in Vilnius and clearly marked bike paths on city streets. One of our classmates even purchased a bicycle which he will use during his stay and has arranged to sell it back to the store when he leaves. Another of our classmates is using her transit pass to take the different trolley cars to the end of each line as a way of exploring the city.

We also encountered another group of students in a creative writing program through SLS (Summer Literary Seminars: They were just concluding their time here. We are surprised at the number of tourist groups that we see here. We are in the heart of the Old Town and our street is a photographic mecca. This seems to be a hot area for travel as it is relatively inexpensive and has well preserved older sections to the city. Both Riga and Vilnius are designated UNESCO Heritage Sites.

In addition to classes and cultural activities we also deal with the more mundane aspects of our daily life in Vilnius. Our trek to the grocery store is across the main square. We buy as if we lived in NY, enough for short periods as we have to carry it back on foot. Everything takes more time to do, but we’ve begun to settle into new routines.

Activities such as washing clothes seem complex. We had our landlady come over to show us the trick with the washer/dryer which operates within one machine. While we had it set properly, we were unable to get it to run. She gave it an expert ‘zetz’ which set it in motion. Several hours later we removed the sopping wet clothes. Combined washer/dryers have not become popular for a reason.

In the afternoon we frequently meet at one of our two cafes outside our door. Often we start at one and end at the other. One of our favorite restaurants is Fiorentino, an Italian restaurant down our street with an open courtyard. It is across from the Ministry of Italian Culture which may account for the quality of the food. Across the street is the Stikliai Hotel, a very expensive hotel with Bentleys, Jaguars, Ferraris and Rolls in front. They have an outdoor café which is quite lovely and less expensive where we often enjoy aubergines stuffed with cheeses and spinach or fresh grilled vegetables. We've been pleasantly surprised by the culinary options; however, we seldom eat traditional Lithuanian cuisine.

Tomorrow we look forward to attending one of several concerts that are occurring at a variety of venues. In addition to our studies we are finding that there are many cultural opportunities in the city.


  1. I am teaching a class this Sunday and I remember the potato song from when I learned it as a child. Could you possibly post the lyrics? I might need a bit of a refresher to teach it to my class.

  2. If you are interested in the song you can find it at the following link:

  3. Talia,
    I do have a video I did of the class singing it if you need the melody. If you contact me at with your e-mail address, I will send it to you. We are stumbling over the words, but it may be helpful to you.

  4. Or even better, go to this site where it appears they have a snippet of the music if you can get it to play.

    They also have a library of other songs that you might find of interest.