I continued to make aggressive,
unflinching eye contact with her
while she described her mother's
passion for cooking the traditional Lithuanian dishes
By Paul Cataldo
American Songwriter in Lithuania
It was the biggest musical tour of my life. Over 42 thousand kilometers and 175 performances ranging from Boston, MA ,South to North Carolina, West to L.A. California and straight North to Alaska. I towed along with me my (13ft) fiberglass camper which I have named Maybelle. The layout of the camper is very efficient and comes equipped with a two burner gas stove, sink, toilet, shower, and bed. On April 1st, 2015 the tour began. I recall feeling bright eyed, sprightly and vigorous...light even, ready for the wind.
My shows from Boston to Carolina and then West to Arizona were decent at best. I snuck some original material in between the bar room songs. The clients were less than half interested. Usually I was competing with a television that was broadcasting some sporting event, though some shows were surprisingly rewarding and artistically gratifying. My bass player Lucas and I managed to find some outrageously stunning scenery as expected in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. We hiked deep into the pine capped mountains, the allure of fresh wild flowers bewildered us, as did the wild life springing up at every turn of the trails. I wondered if the beauty of North America's Rocky Mountains could be matched by any other wilderness on planet Earth.
Before the shows I would cook elaborate meals in the camper from world inspired cuisine. I am vegan and I have to cook my own meals regularly on the road if I want to eat anything beyond the standard offering of french fries and salad. Chipotle Kale tacos with fried plantains in coconut oil covered in home made pico de gallo, pad thai with marinated tempeh, chana masala (Indian chic pea dish), sauteed summer squash and garlic over angel hair pasta, wakame soba noodles smothered in ginger peanut sauce with sauteed bok choi and shitake mushrooms. I wondered to myself on this tour if maybe opening a restaurant would be more fulfilling than a career of singing in noisy bar rooms across America.
I made my way North up the beautiful cliffs of Highway 1 in California. Avocados at roadside farm stands were selling for ten cents a piece and were impeccably ripe. I recall eating several of them sitting on a dead redwood tree surrounded by the towering ancient giants of Humboldt county, truly feeling like a spec amidst eternity. I carried on farther North past the beautiful rain forested shores of Oregon, the wind at my back and the frosted peaks of Alaska on my mind. I had fully underestimated once again the brilliance...the elegance and breadth of Canada. For days on end I drove sun up to sun down North through British Columbia, onto the great Alaska-Canada Highway into the Yukon territory. For hours on end I would drive without seeing any signs of human life...the serenity was both gratifying and maddening at the same time. I found myself at night sleeping in my camper alone in bear infested wildernesses night after night, drifting off to sleep half eavesdropping on owls romancing each other through the spruce trees.
Alaska at last, the zenith of planet earth. Thousands and thousands of kilometers behind me. So many bar rooms, so many new friends, so many feasts, so many songs, bottles of wine, gallons and gallons of craft beer, rivers, roads, mountains...the pilgrimage had finally reached its summit. I sat in a local's bar in a small ski village called “Girdwood,” the white and yellow lines of the highways and and potholes that speckled the dirt packed Alaska-Canada highway reflecting in my mind. I felt just short of victorious but couldn't quite place my finger on what was missing. In that same moment three europeans walked in the door, two girls and one guy. They were laughing and talking in a language I had never heard before. I immediately started conversation with them. They were extremely friendly and happy to chat, like most Europeans I've met in my travels. One of them particularly caught my attention. Her name was Ieva. As she spoke I felt a trembling in my hands and in my stomach. I was almost certain in that moment that I was in love with her.
They went on to explain that they were from Lithuania, the Southernmost Baltic state. I politely nodded and pretended that I knew what they were talking about while I scanned the map of planet Earth in my head ferociously, searching for this mysterious “Lithuania.” Nothing. I had no idea, but I assumed it was near Russia.
As Ieva and her friend Gintare continued to explain the wonders of Lithuania to me I slipped into a trance. “I will move to this “Lithuania” and marry Ieva,” I thought to myself. I should probably mention that amidst all this new born romance in my heart Ieva's boyfriend was standing right next to her. Love is blind. I continued to make aggressive and unflinching eye contact with her while she described her mother's passion for cooking traditional Lithuanian dishes such as “kugelis” and “balandeliai.” She is a Saggitarius, so am I...she is left handed...so am I. I think she started feeling what I was feeling...at least I hoped. Her boyfriend stepped outdoors to smoke and I immediately asked her if that was her husband. She held her hand up and said “do you see a ring?” It was my green light, I had no doubt. I exchanged information with them before they left the bar and Ieva invited me back to “Whittier,” a small fishing village where they were working as part of the ASMUS program as servers in a seafood cafe.
I would visit Whittier dozens of times over the coming weeks, falling hopelessly in love with Ieva. The three of us would travel to various parts of the Kenai peninsula with my camper every time they had a day off or two from work. We were hiking into the Alaskan wilderness during the day foraging for berries and cooking feasts at night, dining beside huge camp fires with the ocean to our backs. Red wine, full moons rising behind snow frosted mountains, sea birds clamoring in the distance, willow twigs breaking beneath the hooves of behemoth moose...magic was everywhere and life had become enchantingly dreamlike.
Ieva and I stood on a muddy, low-tide point on the bay in the beautiful ghostly town of Hope. It was my last night in Alaska. Ieva would stay behind another three weeks with Gintare, hitchhiking around the state as tourists. A light storm rolled over the water to the West and to the East a perfect rainbow. Sea birds and ducks flew in circles all around us and time had seemingly come to a complete halt. I looked into her eyes and in that moment knew for a fact that everything was perfect, that I had finally aligned with my destiny. “Will you marry me?” It just came out of my mouth, almost as if someone else had said it. It was completely unplanned. She looked bewildered for a second. A single tear rolled down her cheek, she looked down and nodded yes...then looked up at me and said yes a second time.
Three weeks later the girls flew to Missoula, Montana to meet me. I would drive over 4 thousand kilometers to the South East along the spine of the Rocky Mountains trekking through snow, unpaved roads and cold, breathtaking wilderness. Foliage was at its peak through the Yukon and the Aspen trees shimmered gold in the early October wind. The rivers cut through pristine valleys, rushing veins of turquoise and sapphire.
When the girls finally arrived in Missoula we went straight for the heart of Montana's natural beauty...Glacier National Park. It was on the night of a full Harvest Moon in September that I asked Ieva to marry me, this time with a ring in my hand and she said “yes” one more time.
The girls' visa was up and they had to return to Vilnius. With little consideration I bought a flight to Vilnius, canceled the rest of my tour and met Ieva at Vilnius airport shortly after she left the US. Ieva and her family were very concerned about my arrival in late October. “You are coming at the worst time of year, it will be so dark and depressing...we just want to warn you. Don't expect much.” It has been grey since living here but I have been so busy I have hardly noticed.
Since arriving in Lithuania I have played shows in several Vilnius venues including Liverpool Bar, Busi Trecias, Snekutis and Paviljonas. Ieva's mother has so kindly changed all of her traditional recipes to be vegan which means I get to enjoy the taste and traditions of Lithuania without compromising my own diet/lifestyle. The rye bread, kugelis, mushrooms in sleeping bag, balandeliai...Lithuania truly is the tastiest country I have ever visited. The beer is some of the finest I have ever savored in all my travels as well. I have never seen so many caraway seeds or mushrooms. I had no idea beats could be prepared in so many ways. My tongue is permanently stained purple.
I have started to learn the language but have found the resources and teachers to be few and far between. Making my own flashcards and incessantly asking Gintare and Ieva for help has been really my only method of learning. I do find myself watching Gustav's Encyclopedia, which I thoroughly enjoy...the cooking segment is especially amusing. Andrius Mamontovas is of course my favorite Lithuanian musician and I hope to play some guitar with him some day.
From the sandy beaches of Neringa to the ancient cobblestone streets of Vilnius to the birch tree and bolete rich forests that cover this beautiful land, I feel that I have found a second home. I hope Lithuania will be half as fond of me and my music as I am of Ieva and this enchanting, charming and pristine country.
I hope to see many potential new friends at an upcoming performance near Vilnius. My calendar can be seen at the website below.