This year, for Christmas, Laika and I were forbidden from our usual tradition of leftovers (nothing is open Christmas Day) and lounging around all day reading. Nope, this year Rasa invited us (both of us, mind you) to celebrate the day with her family in the northern Lithuanian village of Mažeikiai, which, with a population of around 45K, is the 8th largest city in the country. So off we went, the Saturday before Christmas, driven by Rasa’s sister, Lina, and her husband, Paulius. It’s about 220km away, but since most of what we’re traveling on is two lane roads through hundreds of tiny villages, it takes about 3 hours to get there from Kaunas.
The ride was uneventful and that evening, after depositing our stuff at Rasa’s mom’s place, we went to visit her other sister (she only has the two), Ruta, along with her family. So by the end of that first night, I met almost everyone, including one nephew and two nieces (the oldest nephew, Ailenas, was the only absentee). A great start to a week long vacation. The next couple of days were spent visiting and on Monday we were invited for a “spa” treatment at Ruta’s workplace, a physical therapy facility. Naturally, we accepted.
The three treatments we received were delightful and relaxing, but not at all what I was expecting. Upon arriving, we were separated, with Rasa going to an “underwater massage” and I was going for the more traditional type (we would switch later). Upon entering the little room, I was encapsulated, from foot to waist, in a vinyl covered sleeve (one for each leg and then a torso appliance). The administrator plugged everything in and left me to enjoy. Now, I want you think about what a blood pressure cuff feels like. Got it? Now imagine that same feeling starting with your feet and working all the way up to your middle. I figure G Suits are like this, manipulating the flow of blood so you don’t pass out. Here, the device was kneading me up and down, squeezing me like a tube of toothpaste. It felt… unique. It was interesting and different. Relaxing in a weird way. In the end I just shut my eyes and enjoyed it. The twenty minute session was over before I knew it and the attendant came in, unstrapped me and I went to await my turn in the underwater massage.
This was a large tub, filled with hot water and the attendant here had a high pressure, pulsating hose with which to gently (??) massage your whole body. It was like an industrial strength “Water-Pik” and again, while different, felt great! I’d been dying for a soak in a bathtub for a while so this was a nice combination of soaking and pummeling.
After this we met up again and, dressed in hospital gown, entered a “salt room.” This was a new one on me, but evidently it’s good for respiration and skin conditions. Have no idea if it did anything, but it was was fun nevertheless. All in all, we were there for about 3 hours and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.
On Tuesday, I was invited to Boy’s Night, which was myself, Rasa’s two brothers-in-law, and her 7 year old nephew all going to a basketball game. The game was the Mažeikiai team (which doesn’t have an official name so they’re called Mažeikiai Mažeikiai) vs Žalgiris Kaunas (the top team in Lithuania). Here in Kaunas, they play in the Žalgiris Arena, one of the largest arenas in the Baltics (this is where the Red Hot Chili Peppers played) and while I wasn’t expecting that, I was figuring we’d have a nice night out, I could get a hot dog, maybe a souvenir of the game and just have a nice night out.
What I got was a bit different. It seems that Mažeikiai Mažeikiai co-opts a high school gym for their home games, with a seating capacity commensurate to that venue, not the other way around. Saulius, Ruta’s Husband, got us tickets in the VIP section so we were sitting in the second row, just off the floor (granted, there were only about 6 rows so there were really no bad seats). At first I was confused, thinking maybe this was a jr. team, or an exhibition game but nope, this was part of the Lithuanian league play and Žalgiris has to play at least one away game in every other team’s home court. All the big names were there, including local legend Šarūnas Jasikevičius who is now an assistant coach (nice connection is that he was once married to Linor Abargil, the subject of my piece Linor’s Story from last January’s David Magazine).
By the time the game started, the balcony was filled with local supporters, all dressed in the team’s color (and if they don’t call themselves the “Red Army” they are missing a serious opportunity for reclaiming a bit of language) and ready to watch a great game.
There was a point, about two minutes in, when the score was Mažeikiai 8 – Žalgiris 6. This was the last time to home team had the lead. From that point on, it was a lopsided affair, with Žalgirisjust spanking the boys in red. To their credit, though, the Red Army never wavered. Granted, their team has a current season record of 0-18 so winning is not high on their priority list, but their enthusiasm was outstanding. US Major League fans could learn something about how to cheer your team on in the face of ridiculous odds. Despite the fact the score at the end of 40 minutes was Mažeikiai 47 – Žalgiris 95, the cheers were just as loud, the flag waving just as fervently, as when we started. The players in that town did their best. They left everything on the court and even though they came up short that night, they were going to be back with the same energy the next game and honestly, that’s why you play. Screw these players holding out for more millions. Anyone who plays sports for a living can learn something from these 10 guys (against the Žalgiris squad of 12). If you don’t love it, shut up and go home.
Christmas Eve and Christmas were spent with family (I finally met the last member), sitting around a plentiful table, laughing and eating and generally enjoying the season. (Oh yeah, that picture up at the top? I got to help decorate the tree on Christmas Eve Day, very reminiscent of my recent David article, Egg Nog and Gelt).
Now though, back home and back to the grind. There’s work to be done. Hope you all had a great holiday!