I'm pretty good at taking on a new city. I know how to walk the streets with a cheap map until I get the feel of a place and the taste of its smell on my tongue.
When I was 18 I spent a month doing just that. It was my Gap year, though nobody called it that in those days. It was called Taking-a-Year-Off-Between-School-and-University, and you didn't have to consider good causes or save the world or anything like you do now (though I have to admit this would have appealed mightily to the Do-Gooder in me). No, in those days you needed an Inter-rail pass, a copy of Thomson's European Railway Timetable and enough hutzpah to go off and actually do it.
I was supposed to do my month round Europe with a horsey-looking girl whom I didn't know very well called Victoria, but luckily for me she broke a leg at the last minute. I remember stomping downstairs as only a hormonal 18-year-old desperate to have a few more Experiences can stomp, bursting in on my mother and declaring with bravado that if Vicky couldn't go then I was jolly well going to go on my own. To my astonishment, without a flicker, Esme said I think that's a very good idea, darling, and then I had to go.
So it was that one summer in the 80s I was waved off at King's Cross station with my Inter-rail pass in my pocket and a very large, unwieldy back-pack on my back. In the course of the next month I managed to see a great many European cities, stay in lots and lots of hostels, whack alot of people with the back-pack and have some truly unforgettable Experiences.
And now here I am in Vilnius, Lithuania having another one, and I am reminded on this first morning in the city of those younger days. The Old Town is a surprise of beautiful, baroque streets and cafe culture. This is a country which is finding out how it feels about itself. It's like a new-born colt trying to get up, I think, succeeding for the most part, with the occasional whimsical fall. It's an interesting place for me to be with my first allowed time alone for ages. Memories assail me, flittering like moths, one moment nowhere, the next everywhere, coming at me, my face, my hair. I can't shake them; stop, in fact, trying.
I take a seat on a pretty, flower-laden terrace belonging to an up-market hotel on Pilies gatve. I feel awkward that I don't know the language. I know in fact only one word - the word for 'Thank you' - which sounds exactly how Anna-mouse would say a sneeze - 'Aatchoo!' - so I sprinkle it everywhere, in the vain hope that smiles and sneezes will buy me and my country a good name.
My morning's perambulations have been marked by a curious phonomenon: brides and their bridal parties all over the city. When I first left the hotel and saw my first bride I thought aah, how nice, a Lithuanian wedding. A few moments later I saw my next bride, waiting to go into the Cathedral as the first one came out. Then I saw the third couple, married a good ten minutes before, doing their bridal pics on the Cathedral steps - and then, well, it went on. I became obsessed with them. I started photographing them. I'm thinking of doing a photographic medley of Lithuanian brides in my next post. Even when I left Cathedral Square and took to the side streets I came across wedding party after wedding party. Leaving church. Going to church. Clearly, Saturday is bridal day.
I eat my feta salad on the hotel terrace and listen to a boy busking by the market stalls further down the street. Elvis isn't at his glorious best played on a recorder.
Oddly, towards the end of my meal, as the Second Assistant for the shoot calls me on the Lithuanian mobile I've been given to check that all is well, a tiny moth lands on the tablecloth. It is the colour of parchment, archaic, as old as the hills. I stare at it for a long time. It's as if it holds the meaning of my morning, if only I knew what it was. The next moment, before I know it, it's gone.