Palanga: "Jan Chatted Her Up!"
September 16, 2014
Several years ago, while on a trip to London to visit my English cousin Dorothy and her equally English husband Roger, I attended a theatre performance where, by chance, I met a lovely woman from South Africa whose name was Jocelyn. Together we planned some sightseeing for the next day.
When I mentioned my encounter and my surprisingly unplanned plans, my somewhat astonished cousin Dorothy queried, “Jan, how did you meet her?” (According to British polite society, Jocelyn and I weren’t “properly introduced.”) Roger immediately intervened and responded, “Jan chatted her up!”
Was it Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw who observed, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language?” And so, that evening in London, given the circumstances, Jan “the American” learned an appropriate and accurate “English” expression.
I suppose that over the years my predilection for patter, natter and chatter has not diminished one iota.
Here’s the latest. Listen:
I arrive in Palanga in the late afternoon. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I have no patience for a restaurant. Do they sell take-out food (take-away in the UK) at the Maxima supermarket next to my hotel? Yes!
The lady behind the counter speaks Lithuanian and Russian. Mr. Jan speaks not a word of either. In the middle of our transaction, a young woman approaches to help me out. She speaks some English and Lithuanian of course. My take-out herring salads are wrapped up and I turn to leave. I walk about five paces. Wait!
Jan says to himself, “Where are you going Jan? That cheerful young woman, so attractive with her broad smile and curly blonde hair … turn around now, Jan, retrace your steps and have a chat.” And so I did. And so we did. Sometimes, two strangers just “connect.”
My new friend Rima is a physician. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University. Her specialty is Rehabilitation Medicine. She is on the full time staff here at the Palanga Rehabilitation Hospital.
We chat a bit more: Rima is recently married to a Lithuanian man who works for the government.
As we leave the supermarket together, Rima volunteers, “Jan, let’s meet again tomorrow night. I want you to meet my husband Mindaugas. We will pick you up at your hotel. Please join us for dinner.”
At dinner the following evening Rima announced that she had made an appointment for me the next morning for a complimentary one-hour hot-water-tub massage at her hospital. I revealed that tomorrow is also my birthday. Regrettably, Rima is on overnight duty, but we will buy some food and have a small party in her office.
(Can you imagine, my dear reader, what the deli-takeout lady must have been thinking when Rima and I showed up again to buy food, this time, together?)
Needless to say Palanga is a delightful vacation spot. It’s mostly families from Lithuania or neighboring Latvia who come to enjoy the thermal baths, the seaside and the restaurants along the long promenade that runs perpendicular to the beach. At the end of the day, some folks come to sit at the end of the promenade (Basanavičiaus gatvė) and watch the show: the slow, shadowy sunset on the horizon of the Baltic Sea.
Palanga is also known for the pine forest that leads to high sand dunes. I decide to investigate. Once again I am quite alone as I follow the narrow path through the trees to the shore. I am not disappointed. From atop the dunes, the view of the broad sandy beach seems endless from north to south. At the edge of the flat, quiet sea, only the placid birds and I enjoy the tranquil scene.
“They” say that it’s a cliché to end a travel essay with “I will return one day.” To hell with the cliché. As someone once declared, “I’ll be back.”
And why not? Three reasons:
First: I get to see Rima and Mindaugas again… good friends now as the result of a chat and two lovely evenings together. Skype also helps.
Second: Along the coast, south of Palanga lie the Curonian Spit and the Nemunas Delta: undeveloped forests, wild animals, marshes, and hundreds of species of local and migratory birds.
Third: Rima informed me that she will admit me to the Rehab Hospital for a week or two. I will stay in a private room with three meals a day. Plus she will order the full protocol of rehabilitation facilities: exercise room, weight training, swimming pool, massage therapy, etc, etc, etc…..all for the price of a good hotel room.
How can I refuse?
My knees and my hips are aching to return!
For a brief overview of modern Palanga and the history and the fate of the Jewish Community of Palanga, please see: