Eight: Spirits

In art, our understanding of a subject is informed by the media through which the subject of a piece is rendered: We feel, rather than simply understand, eternal torment through Hieronymus Bosch’s oil-on-oak depictions of Hell; we recognize the banality of the fantastic through Kurt Vonnegut’s spare and direct prose; and we grasp the eclectic, complex nature of first-person narrative through Kate Bush’s dramatic vocals.

Yes, and in this way, we can also understand cities–the multifaceted, living pieces of functional art that they are. We can get a sense of a city by looking at what it’s made of, analyzing the strokes of asphalt, draped sheets of steel, and underlying armatures, all of which inform its spirit.

However, cities are possessed of dualities not found in all art–they are both media and subject. Like a painting about paint or a sculpture about clay, we can understand a city by appreciating that of which it is comprised, and understand its composite materials by appreciating the city as a whole. Of course, the best way to experience a city, to know both media and subject at once, is to reach out, to run your fingers along its contours and kiss its mortar lips.

Klaipėda: Bronze, Brick, and Sea

Klaipėda, Lithuania’s third-largest city, has been rendered with familiar materials–brick, cobblestone, wood, and iron. Like other Lithuanian cities, Klaipėda’s buildings lose a little more to age every day while the skeletons of new buildings stand on the skyline, patiently waiting for the concrete and wire tissue that will give them life. Klaipėda is unique, however, in that its spirit and meaning are largely influenced by water: the deep grey of the Danės and the crane-lined shore of the Curonian coast. These elements can be felt in every piece of Klaipėda, and they provide it with a texture not found in Kaunas or Vilnius.

A map of Klaipėda’s old town on the side of a building on Tiltų gatvė.
Jūs esate čia: The large map is both decorative and functional. It helps orient visitors to the general grid and landmarks of the old town.
Looking up the Danės upė (Dane River) from the Biržos tiltas in Klaipėda’s old town. The Danės springs north of Klaipėda and empties out into the Curonian Lagoon, beyond which lies the Baltic Sea.
Its seaside location has made Klaipėda a popular destination for both local and international visitors, and its old town is bustling with restaurants, clubs, and hotels.
Newlywed locks hang on Meilės medis (The Tree of Love) in Danės skverelis.
Flowers in Danės skverelis.
An old building on the banks of the Danės. Though the building looks disused, one can hear the sound of machines coming from within.
A cryptic (perhaps unfinished) message on a wall on Vežėjų gatvė.
One of the many friendly denizens of Klaipėda. This one warns visitors to watch their steps on the uneven cobblestones of Vežėjų gatvė.
Waiting (Isroydon Barot, 2014) in Dienovidžio skveras (Midnight Square).
A shuttered factory on Pilies gatvė.
According to legend, a black ghost emerged from the Danės one foggy night in 1595. The ghost appeared to one of Klaipėda Castle’s watchmen and warned him that the city’s supplies of grain and timber were too low to provide for the citizens. It’s warning thus issued, the ghost disappeared. This statue, crafted from bronze and positioned next to a hand-cranked bridge commemorates the benevolent juodasis vaiduoklis (black ghost) that saved Klaipėda.
The old ferry port in Klaipėda. The ferry carries passengers across the Curonian Lagoon to the Curonian Spit. The Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is ahred by Lithuania and Russia, is 98 km. long sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea.
The Klaipėda skyline as viewed from the Smiltynė ferry port on the Curonian Spit.
There are several settlements on the Spit, most of which are small resort villages, including (from north to south), Smiltynė, Juodkrantė, Pervalka, and Nida. A trail, roughly 50 km. in length (on the Lithuanian portion of the spit), allows visitors to pass through large, beautiful forests and ancient sand dunes. Bicycles can be rented in Nida and returned anywhere along the trail.
Cycling the trail can be an all-day event, as there are many places to stop and many things to see. The names, dates, and distances of many visiting cyclists are carved into the wood of this small tower.
Between Pervalka and Juodkrantė lie the Grey Dunes, a fragile, desert-like environment which swallowed a village hundreds of years ago.
A walkway up the Grey Dunes preserve. Visitors must remain on the established path to protect the integrity of the dunes.
Human-made barriers keep visitors on the right path.
The Curonian Lagoon as viewed from the Grey Dunes. Both the lagoon and the Baltic Sea can be viewed from the top of the dunes.
The Baltic Sea.
The wind that batters the Spit affects more than just the sand. Trees bow to their blustery master on the scabrous path to Juodkrantė.
An emergency services structure on the Baltic coast near Juodkrantė.
Nearly back to Smiltynė. I smile despite having been rained on for the past several kilometers.
Back at the Klaipėda ferry port, the sun makes preparations to retire.

Riga: Myth, Masks, and Mortar

Riga, Latvia’s capital, is a sprawling city–a massive canvas, an epic poem–that cannot be explicated within a single blog post. But, like an epic poem, pieces of it can be analyzed to inform the context and meaning of the entire piece. Thus, this section will focus on Riga’s old city and city center, both of which contain stunning examples of architecture designed in the style of Art Nouveau, or Jūgendstil. Nearly one third of the buildings in Riga’s center were constructed in the style of Art Nouveau, and many of them can be found on Alberta iela and Elizabetes iela.

Perhaps the most breathtaking examples of Jūgendstil architecture are those buildings designed by Mikhail Eisenstein. Like other architects working in Jūgendstil, Eisenstein incorporated atlantes, sphynges, nymphs, and masks into his designs. Somehow, though, the human forms in his buildings seem to carry the burden not only of the pillars and walls they support, but of the whole city. Eisenstein’s figures communicate the glory and tragedy of cities, trapped as they are in their buildings, and illustrate how we, too, may become trapped in the cities we design.

A lamp post on theVanšu tilts (Vanšu Bridge). The Vanšu spans the Daugova River, the lifeline upon which Riga is built.
Brīvības piemineklis (The Freedom Monument): The monument honors soldiers who died during the Latvian War of Independence.
Pilsētas Kanāls (City Canal): The canal was once part of the moat that protected old Riga from invaders. It is now part of a beautiful park lined with cultural and diplomatic structures.
A waterfall in the park along Pilsētas Kanāls.
A newlywed lock on a footbridge in Pilsētas Kanāls park.
The Latvian National Opera building on the Pilsētas Kanāls.
St. Peter’s Church in old Riga. The tower of the church has been reconstructed several times since its original construction in the 15th century.
A statue on the facade of St. Peter’s. (Figure unknown.)
A statue in St. peter’s Church. Embarrassingly, I did not take note of the figure’s identity. I believe it is the first Roland statue that used to reside in the town square.
The Museum of the History of Riga and its Navigation.
Riga Cat greets visitors to a gift shop in Riga’s town square.
An antique sewing machine in an artist’s sewing studio.
A sewing machine in an artist’s studio.
A bicycle belonging to a member of the Riga Rusty Bicycle Club.
Alberta iela: The street is lined with many gems of Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture collection.
The stairwell of the Riga Art Nouveau Museum. The museum was originally a residential building designed by Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns. Pēkšēns lived in the building, and his restored apartment can be toured.
An atlas on a building on Teātra iela. (Architects: H. Scheel, F. Scheffel)
A residential building on Elizabetes iela. (Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
A Sphynge guards an apartment building on Alberta iela.
(Architect: M. Eisenstein)
A residential building on Alberta iela.

One thought on “Eight: Spirits

  1. I absolutely love the section on Klaipėda. The pictures, your prose, and the lyrical flourish with which you describe the city do a remarkable job of capturing its beauty. I especially love the close-up photos of the locks and brick walls. I admire how you take the banal, and by magnifying its details, allow viewers to see these structures and objects in a new light. I always appreciate finding beauty in that which is overlooked. I will miss your blogs, not least because they’ve shown me the value in slowing down to imbibe my surroundings. They’ve taught me how important it is enjoy the beauty of life’s aesthetics–and to find meaning in it. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s