The Hill of Crosses

I mentioned we went on a trip.

One of the places we went was the Hill of Crosses. It’s in Šiauliai, in Lithuania.

We’d gone to the Museum of Genocide Victims, in Vilnius, in the morning. We’d been on a train, for maybe three hours.

It was winter. This was January. Four o’clock had come, and it was going quick. And the light was going with it. We left our bags at the train station, a tiny place with one room of shelves for storage in a closet beside the ticket counter.

There were taxis waiting in the parking lot, bored men chatting, or smoking.

My sister strode up to one, a heavy-set man with dark hair and dark eyes. She talked to him. We got in the cab, with this sense of isolation. I’d been here before, but only once, years ago, in the summer. And I’d never taken a cab.

My sister sat in the front, talking to this man we’d never met in a language we didn’t speak. (Where are you from? Are you Lithuanian-Americans? It’s cold out there, you won’t be longer then half an hour. I’ll wait for you.) We stared out the windows at the fading view, past a mall, past dirty snow and towering old brick buildings built as if the only shape in the world was a long rectangle. Past people bundled, unsmiling and bent against the cold.

The view grew darker.

The car grew warmer.

The city left us. In moments we were surrounded by snowy fields, with the occasional telephone pole to remind us of the way.

The Hill of Crosses is actually two hills. And they’re small, maybe not deserving of ‘hill’. On the other hand, Lithuania is pretty flat, so maybe ‘hill’ means ‘small bump’ there, instead of ‘kind of a hike’.

It’s not a monument, not really. Or, if it is, it’s a monument that means a different thing to every person that comes there.

Maybe a place of faith.

Maybe a place of defiance.

Maybe something else again.

IMG_2099

It was dark when we stepped out of the car. The sun had set, and the light was fleeing. It starts with just one cross, and then two, then a cluster, and then there is a line of them, going from the paved road to the hills.

For a moment, I thought it was silent.

No talking, just us, no road noise but the low hum of the idling taxi.

But it wasn’t.

The wind was blowing. Winter wind, small and fast, and sharp.

The crosses rattle. Like a thousand different wind chimes without the space to ring. They beat against each other.

Jangle of metal, thunk of wood on wood.

Crosses.

Big ones, huge lurking shapes in the dark. And little ones, not even visible from far away. Crosses piled on crosses, hung from crosses, leaning on crosses.

All covered in snow.

All covered in silence.IMG_2120

We spent maybe half an hour there, wandering in the dark. Alone.

It was a place to be alone. One of those places where the silence is filled, and will fill you, if you sit still long enough to breathe it in. (Or at least, sit still in your heart. It was too cold to actually sit still.)

As if solitude is a solid thing.

 

 

There were ducks. They made funny noises.

There are two hills here, both covered in crosses, linked by a

tight path. There are paths among the wood, marked out by ragged edges and handrails.

IMG_2136.JPG

Eventually, in the darkness, we gathered and, noses chilled, left.

One short drive later, through a pair of lighted doors-

And we were in a bustling super market, solitude and silence spent, and darkness scattered by florescent light.IMG_2140

2 thoughts on “The Hill of Crosses

  1. I liked the inclusion of pictures, you did a good job of that ^^ Also, you’re probably aware of this, but this genera is called ‘travel writing’. Good travel writing is cool/surprising from you because its quality stems largely from the ability to simultaneously convey a bit of the emic sense of an eidos as well as the experience of that eidos from a specific edic perspective– viz. it is not character focused at all. Nevertheless, your construction of the eidos from carefully-presented versions of your experience of various interactions works well to establish simultaneously both the emic (the taxi driver, the weather, the world outside you upon the hill) and edic (your sister, you, your thoughts and snark and other bits) in a way that feels both authentic and authoritative, while also leaving room for itself to be wrong. Not too much room, like you always do in your opinion pieces, but just the right amount of room. “Maybe something else again” when what you really mean is “the words were falling useless and limp from your lips like broken shells tumbling from numb and bleeding fingers”– These are my words, this is the best I can do, but you need to know that they are describing something too big for words. You can’t just read, you need to listen. And maybe even then you’ll find them wrong . Or the light at the end and the picture of the ?krumkake?, drowning out the night, saying “This is not the world, this darkness and solitude. This is a piece, a small piece or a big piece or something in between. This is a place”.

    I’d write a fuller review but I think you probably would kill me so 😛 In any case I liked it a lot, and I hope you write more like this ^^ You’re really good at it– it uses almost all of the skills you have a bajillion in and isn’t really reliant on any things you’re bad at. Like, it principally involves being good at listening to and understanding people and ways of life, perception, caring about stuff, and feeling the existential crisis at the edge of yourself and the Other, especially the Other you will never truly know, and also writing. Or, at least, that’s what I think.

    In terms of improvement, I think some of your departures from standard English weaken the piece. For example, I am confused by your choice to engage in tense-non-agreement with respect to ‘solitude’ in a very pivotal line. You start off firmly in past tense, rapidly transition into a sort of past progressive with some ambiguously present progressives tossed in, which does a good job of establishing setting and getting us engaged. That’s a solid and very classic storytelling technique. When we get to the hill we have an abrupt cessation of tense by virtue of not having any verbs in our sentences any more (excellent transition btw), and then we’re hit with strong past and present verbs in alternation which helps evoke this sort of dissonance and mystery and sense of you needing to come to understand and to re-think and listen because who you are when you get there is wrong about what’s there. That’s all great. But then when we come to the post-climax resolution:

    “It was a place to be alone. One of those places where the silence is filled, and will fill you, if you sit still long enough to breathe it in. (Or at least, sit still in your heart. It was too cold to actually sit still.)

    As if solitude is a solid thing.” (emphasis added). We’ve got all this great tense in the climax , but I just can’t get why that ‘is’ is an ‘is’ instead of a ‘were’. We just moved from extremely strong, consistent present back to the sort of reflective, removed, wistful past tense, so there’s no need for it to be in the present, as far as overarching emotional buildup, at least that I can see, and ‘is’ seems much too confident, too sure of yourself, for something like this. I mean, we’re breaking down here and falling back out of the memory of darkness and solitude and into the light of El Supermercado (or equivalent)– wouldn’t ‘were’ convey that sense of uncertainty better?

    ‘As if solitude is a solid thing’ could be an appropriate suspension of the rules of grammar in some contexts, like perhaps if you were a supervillain cynically dismissing your foolish adversary’s overconfidence in the reality of their source of power: “You walk in here as if friendship is a solid thing.” Hmm, nope, I think the ‘as if’ calls too strongly for a ‘were’ even then… but in any case, I’m sure you could do it somehow somewhere else, but it’s just so jarring here and the direction it’s going in (foolhardy excessive confidence, by my reckoning) I’m not even convinced is productive. Wistful, tentative reaching that at last finds something it’s scared even to grasp seems much more appropriate: ‘As if solitude were a solid thing’. And it’s such an important line!

    But, I mean, I don’t want to devalue your experiences and if that tense non-agreement is necessary to communicate the truth then you should definitely not change it to a lie. Just, maybe you would need to get that in there some other way that’s a little less jarring, like diction or something (I realize the syntax is pretty foreshadowed and can’t really budge, and ‘As if’,+ ‘solitude’ is far too central to alter, and ‘were’ would then be necessary cause we just said no tense non-agreement, which leaves you like one tiny phrase that would ideally be four syllables for the wistful, tentative reaching or one syllable for dismissive cynicism, and I see that that doesn’t leave you a whole lot of options but you’re pretty smart, maybe you can figure something out).

    In any case, I really liked this a lot 😀 Thanks for sharing it! ^^

    Like

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