• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

TRAVELOGUE: VILNIUS, Part 2 – Diplomacy in Action

Andrius, the nice Almalittera publicist who organized my appearance at the Vilnius Book Fair, met me at the airport and drove me into the city to my hotel, the Radisson in the Old City (there’s a New City, too, but I saw very little of this). Vilnius is an old (founded in 1527) Eastern European city, only twenty years free of Soviet occupation; it’s a little worn around the edges. At the same time, there’s a lot of evidence of vitality; a lot of new shops, and a large number of Extremely Well-kept churches. Vilnius has a lot of churches—at least fifty, Andrius told me—and a number of these are Russian Orthodox, some with onion domes. We passed one of these on the way in from the airport—with about a dozen large domes, all newly upholstered in brilliant kelly-green weather-proofed panels; it looked like a patch of Irish toadstools.

The Soviets had closed down all the churches during the occupation, I was told, using them for storage, stabling, and other purposes. Most of the churches had been re-opened and restored, with one exception: we passed a huge building on the crest of a hill, surrounded by a tall fence topped with barbed wire, and a big central dome protruding above this. I asked what this was, thinking that perhaps it was a church still being restored, but was told it was a prison. That is, it was originally a church, but the Soviets had used it as a prison, and it was still used for that purpose—until a new prison could be built elsewhere.

Having just about survived the trip to Vilnius, I got to my hotel and had about four hours before the first official event—dinner at the residence of the US Ambassador to Lithuania!

OK. So far I’ve been in a lot of interesting situations, but a diplomatic dinner has not been among them. What the heck does one wear to dine with an ambassador?

I applied logic to the situation and deduced that I was probably not the only guest; the Ambassador must be hosting whatever other American authors were coming to the Book Festival—all of whom had the same limitations of luggage that I had. Also, the dinner was at her residence, not at the embassy…ergo, probably a more casual affair. Aha. Black pants should meet the case, with my good boots (yes, I still have the German bondage boots with the chains, but hadn’t brought them on this trip) and something dressy on top. That was a lovely hand-painted, fringed velvet jacket, given me by a group of fans some years before. (When he first saw it, my husband paused for a moment, then said, “Why have they given you a jacket covered with sperms?” [ahem] It is, of course, covered with peacock feathers, but I will admit a passing resemblance to multicolored spermatozoa. Luckily, if the ambassador noticed this, she was too diplomatic to mention it.)

Andrius picked me up, along with the other two American authors, Ruta and Ina, Ruta’s editor, and another person named Ruta who was from the publishing company (Ruta is a very popular Lithuanian name; it means “Ruth”), and delivered us to the Ambassador’s residence on the banks of the Neris River. Two weeks before my arrival, temperatures had been thirty degrees below zero, and there was a fair amount of snow on the ground. Now the weather had warmed up considerably, and the evening was punctuated by frequent thundering crashes as mini-avalanches cascaded off the roof.

The US Ambassador to Lithuania is the charming and impressively competent Ann Derse, who—with her husband and her dog (a black Lab retired drug-sniffer from Customs named Tracy)–made us all welcome. “Us all” included the three American writers (me, Ruta Sepetys, who is the elegant blond lady in the photo above, and another woman whose last name I unfortunately didn’t catch, but her first name was Ina, which I’m sure helps a lot), several hosting publishers, and several members of the local intelligentsia (really, they were introduced that way, which caused me to wonder if a single one is an intelligentsium or merely an intelligentsi, and what people would think if you put that on your business card…), including a very nice journalist from a Lithuanian magazine on current affairs, a Swedish film-maker (who lives in Vilnius part-time), a writer with several nonfiction books about the Holocaust to his credit, and a gentleman with the impressive title of Executive Director for the Commission on Nazi/Soviet War Crimes. Obviously, this was going to be a Serious-minded Occasion.

It was, too. After wandering around a bit with wine-glasses in hand, introducing ourselves to each other (several guests came up to me and began talking in Lithuanian—something that happened throughout my visit. Evidently I look like a Lithuanian; who knew?), we all processed in to dinner—very elegant, with diplomatic white and gold china, stamped with the US shield-and-eagle logo, and little menu cards explaining what the food was going to be. (Explanation not really needed; salad with brie and sliced almonds, roasted salmon with capers and kalamata olives (in a divine butter sauce—this was Utterly Delicious—and quite fortunate, as it was Ash Wednesday and I couldn’t have eaten meat (had slight trouble with deciding when to start fasting for Ash Wednesday, owing to the air travel crossing time zones, but I was pretty hungry by the time we got to dinner)—and fruit salad (which nobody ate) for dessert).

Before the food, we each introduced ourselves, and told a bit about what we did. Ruta Sepetys has written a wonderful book (BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY), a YA novel based on the experiences of her relatives during the Soviet occupation. (When the soldiers came round to arrest her grandfather and found him gone, they promptly arrested the rest of the family and deported them to Siberia, where a good many of them died), Ina is a journalist who’d written up a collection of Holocaust accounts from Lithuanian survivors, the rotund gentleman across the table (whose name I didn’t catch) had also done both books and movies dealing with genocide and related subjects (“I couldn’t sleep more than one night in three while working on [a particular book],” he told us), the Swedish film-maker had done a film called “The Forest Brothers,” about Lithuanian fugitives hiding in the woods during the occupation, and the Executive Director of the Commission on Nazi/Soviet War Crimes didn’t really require a whole lot of explanation. It was an Extremely Interesting dinner, and I learned more about the recent history of Lithuania in a couple of hours than I would have in several years of independent study. Emerged _very_ impressed at the determination and resilience of the Lithuanian people.

Oh, me? I was the comic relief. Not that I was _trying_ to be funny, but when I explained what I wrote and how I began writing—i.e., about “Dr. Who” and the man in the kilt, they rolled on the floor. (N.B.: I did _not_ tell the companion anecdote about the German journalist and the appeal of a man in a kilt; didn’t seem the time or place [delicate cough].)

And the evening was still the (Very Long) first day. I don’t usually have bad jet-lag, partly because I sleep at the drop of a hat, so snooze on and off through the flights, but also because I just keep my normal rhythm upon landing—I may collapse in a heap come bedtime, but I’ll feel fine the next day. So that’s what I did. And in Part 3, we’ll hear about Vilnius University, being made up in a foreign language, Vilma the interpreter, Lithuanian shopping malls, the Book Fair, basketball mania, and more amber than you could shake a stick at. Also, if I can figure out how to get it out of my Flip-it, a grossly inept video travelogue of Piliesas Street, main drag of the Old City of Vilnius.

• The photo above was _not_ taken in Vilnius, but in a hotel room in Tucson, Arizona, during the Tucson Festival of Books, earlier this month. I included it because it has both me and Ruta Sepetys in it, she having also come to the TFOB. The other ladies present are (from left to right) Kristina McMorris, Sarah McCoy, and Jenna Blum, and we were gathered together in order to do a Skype appearance for a church book-club, because we all had written things having to do with WWII (my modest claim to this historical period being a (more or less) short story titled “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows,” which is to do with Roger MacKenzie’s parents, Jerry and Dolly.

• I did tell the church-people the anecdote about the German interviewer and the appeal of a man in a kilt—but only because they asked.

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42 Responses »

  1. Dear Diana,

    My close friend and her family relocated to Bangkok. Her daughters attended “The American School” in classes resembling United Nation’s forums (foria?). One teacher maximizing on the wealth of material, asked students to report about their ‘roots’. My friend’s daughter (10 years old at the time), with a delicate Hebrew accent, described her Israeli/British/Czech background…closing with how her father’s mother’s entire family were killed “on the HOLOCAUST”. One young Vietnamese boy was extremely moved by her declaration. He jumped up shaking and asked how her grandmother’s entire family got killed “on a Roller Coaster”

    Thank goodness for all the perspective we have in this world!

    PLEASE post a picture of the sperm jacket.

    Thanks,
    Eileen

    • Thank you, I have been waiting to hear more about this trip! So, have you figured out how to include “intelligentsia” into MOHB yet? It just begs to used, doesn’t it?

    • I realized…that while I think the “Roller Coaster” story is a sign of hope, it may be offensive to others. I grew up under the spectre of the holocaust, seeing the tatoos on the arms of friends parents, and knowing that many in my own family perished. When I heard the story related by my friend’s daughter after school, it gave me a sense of relief to know that in some places, the pain of that period is not an aspect of their essence today…(unfortunately they have their own nighmares).

      If I offended anyone, I am truly sorry.

    • How exciting that the first “lost” English settlement has just been found at Salmon Creek (where they had moved from Roanoke)- based on the conference held at UNC this weekend. You must be prescient!

  2. OK, where can I find the Dr. Who/man in kilt/ German journalist anecdote?? I am now dying of curiosity.

    • Dearest Diana, Thank you for your marvelous books; they peak my imagination, and I am wanting more. Last year at a Celtic Festival I found that my last name is Scottish and that we are related to some Highland Scots- I was thrilled. I enjoy the History you incorporate in the story line it adds so much depth and color. I am a retired Hairdresser and know first hand about the attraction men have to other men and was surprised when a female worker made a pass at me but I realized what was good for the gander was good for the goose, to turn a phrase. I like how you express how Lord John feels and somehow the old descriptive words makes it more digestible for me. I intend to read every book you write, please keep up your strength so you can get all those books inside of your creative brain out on paper. Cheers

    • I second this. I want to read the anecdote too!

  3. I love reading about your adventures in Lithuania. My maternal great grandparents emigrated from Lithuania. My grandma was born here in the U.S. and would give us little hits as to what her parents were like but not a lot. My mom said she remembers spending time with her grandma but never understood her because she only spoke lithuanian. It is just interesting to see the country through your pictures and eyes- thanks!

  4. Diana! Thank you for sharing your amazing/fab/fan/fun life adventures with all of us! You are often my highlight of the day … well, one, anyways! I was once in Shanghai, met another Anglo person, and spoke to him. Sadly, he spoke French at a rapide pace, and my high-school French classes were in a former century! Oh, well … next! Next turned out to be a delicious Chinese man, who invited me to hop on behind on his Great Big Motorcycle! Ha … if he only knew! … 60-year-old mom here! It was pretty sweet to be invited, though!
    Thanks again for today’s gift!
    Kitty, San Diego

  5. Diana, you do look somewhat Lithuanian, based on your similarity to a friend of mine. (More face shape than coloring.) She is 100% 1st generation Lithuanian, raised in Chicago, in the Lith. version of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, where she went to Lithuanian school every Saturday, and she was expected to marry a nice Lith. boy. (Yes, she did.)

    She was able to return after the Soviets left, to stay with family she knew, and meet family she didn’t. She brought back a wealth of family stories both sad and inspiring, and like you, I gained a deep respect for the people of this country, who have suffered so much. I would dearly love to visit someday.

    Thanks so much for sharing these experiences with us. Your blog is methadone to the long withdrawal between books…. ;)

    • Amen on the methadone! I’m enjoying your travelogues but hope you don’t decide to take up travel writing until you’ve finished Book 8. ;)

  6. That was so much fun to read! Somehow I know the same day told from any other writer’s perspective would be whiny and dull. Finding a new post on your blog is always a treat that leaves me smiling.

  7. Since I was introduced to the “Outlander” series a few years ago, I’ve reread them numerous times. I have 2 questions. Are you or have you given the reason Jonathan Wolverton Randall was buried in St.Kildare and not in England?
    I think a CD of the music mentioned in the books would be appreciated by your followers. I know it would by me. It’s hard to locate the songs to download.
    Just an enquiring mind wanting to know.

    • Dear Marcie–

      No, I haven’t mentioned anywhere why Jack Randall was buried at St. Kilda. Yet.

      –Diana

      • Looking forward to that — I’ve also wondered why Jack was buried there. I’m also wondering, though, why (how?) your reply is dated March 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm. I’m on the east coast and it’s only 7:25 pm as I write this. You traveling? Have I yet again missed something?

        • Joanne, don’t feel bad–I post something at a little after 9P in my TZ (Pacific), and it registers as a little after 4 A the next morning!

      • You are a wonderful tease!
        Now I have another thing to hypothesize about.

      • I can’t wait to find out why he was buried there. I’m sure it will be just as interesting as the convoluted route Jamie and Claire took to find Young Ian and eventually end up on the continent of North America in the colony of Georgia.

  8. Oh what fun it is to see the world through your eyes… thank you for the wonderful vision.
    And that will be a “Me Four!” on the above mentioned Who/Kilt/German anecdote.

  9. Hi all, for some fun reading on Diana’s Dr. Who connection, click on http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#idea and scroll down to the sixth question.

  10. LOL When you don’t know what to wear …. always go with the sperm jacket! :) I love reading your travel stories always so entertaining…… you always seem to find humor in all situations.

  11. I am loving these posts about your travels. Thank you!

  12. Thank you for the posting on Vilnius. Shame you can’t remember Ina’s full name. I’d love to know more about her project. Both my Mother in Law and my Father in laws’ parents came from Vilnius and any siblings who didn’t immigrate to the UK are in an unmarked grave in the woods somewhere outside of Vilnius – victims of the Holocaust.

  13. I truly love your books and anxiously await the next book in the series. A little story to tell about the neighboring country of Latvia and one of it’s daughters. Lili left there as a little child because her Daddy thought they would be safe from the Communists in “Germany”! So that is where she spent her childhood during the war. She came to America in the early 50′s and eventually moved across the alley from my house and we became best friends. We still are. Two years ago, her daughters decided it was way past time she went bach “home’ to Latvia to see if she could find any of her Mom’s sister’s children. She was not successful but enjoyed seeing the old town of Riga (probably a lot like Lithuania’s) and a few other sights. Upon returning home, she got an e-mail from a cousin there, the first time she had heard from anyone since the ’50′s. It seems Lili had even been in the little village where the cousin lived. So her daughter’s agreed it was imperative that she return and meet her long lost family, which she did a few months later. I was so thrilled for her, because my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins had been so much a part of her life, when she announced to me, “I’ve got cousins too”! I only wish I could have gone with her, but as an “Outlander”, it would have been difficult enough for her, without adding in a best friend. Keep on writing those books lady.

  14. “Why have they given you a jacket covered with sperms?”

    I so love the way your husband sounds like Jamie. Or… wait… I guess it’s the other way around, yes? :-)

  15. Thanks for taking the time to share and giving a glimpse. I keep hearing Claire when I read your explanation of things. Imagine that!

  16. Dear Diana, thankyou so much for sharing your travel stories with us. Lithuania is a very interesting country for people fond of past centuries history (like I am). Well, about the food “roasted salmon with capers and KALAMATA olives”, I appreciate that.. olives from Kalamata are the best !! Besides, I do like this Greek town very much. Looking forward to Part 3. Have a good day, greetings from Paris-France

  17. Diana – I live in Wilmington NC and just 15 minutes from Moores Creek Battlefield, and have been discussing with a friend who also loves your books, exactly where in the North Carolina mountains Frasers Ridge would be located today. I know that Cross Creek is inland from Fayetteville, (which is a good 90 miles from here), but it seems that Jamie and the gang would have had to travel several more hundred miles one way to get from the Ridge to Wilmington.

    • Kimbre-
      I live in the mountains of East Tennessee and have often wondered about the location of Fraser’s Ridge in proximity to my home. I have often thought that the area aroung Boone/Blowing Rock North Carolina would fit some of Diana’s descriptions. That area is very wild and beautiful. However, the travel to reach Cross Creek or Wilmington would be longer that the time it seems in the books….however, the books seem to fly by when I am reading them, so maybe the travel-time is longer than we think(g)!

      I wonder if Diana has ever visited the mountains of North Carolina. Her descriptions are vivid and at times very accurate about this area. But since she wrote about the Scottish Highlands without ever visiting there, she could certainly write about North Carolina without any trouble!

      • Penny – I assumed it had to be near Boone or Maggie Valley because of the Cherokee. That area of NC is breathtaking and so much of it is still undeveloped (thank goodness).

        • I too have searched the map in NC trying to figure out where Fraser’s Ridge might be…but then they are novels….right?!

        • I THINK I remember reading something Diana wrote that said Fraser’s Ridge was somewhere in a 10 mile radius of Boone, NC. I get so excited driving through that area, looking for “The Big House” out of the corner of my eye!

  18. Hello Everyone,
    Sorry to be ‘off topic’.
    I just want to remind all of Diana’s devotees that Audible is still running their tournament of audio books.
    Diana’s wonderful Fiery Cross, narrated by the brilliant Davina Porter is up against some stiff competition.
    The comment has been made that Gabaldon fan’s should not be underestimated….
    It would be great if we could all show Diana and Davina our support by voting. Just enter ‘Audible tournament’, and go from there.
    Kind regards
    Janet

  19. Diana:

    One of my friends forwarded this to me. I appreciate the posting. Just after Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union, I spent several weeks in Vilnius, working with the university and educators as they were trying to reconstruct their school curriculum and their training of teachers. I found Vilnius to be a beautiful city. My first trip was within a month of independence, then several more trips, then I returned about 15 month after independence and was warned about the Mafia in the city…it was not as safe as it was before. It was funny, really, as the “mafia” resembled the “mob” in the U.S. during prohibition…zuit zuits, huge American cars that could not navigate the streets of Vilnius, white hats….the whole bit. I also, during my trips to Vilnius, observe the actions of the “language” police….they would fine anyone who displayed the use of any language or symbols of the Soviet Union….they were determined to rid themselves of all things related to the Soviet Union…the biggest challenge, of course, was the language as their language was banned during the many years of occupation; consequently, they struggled to re-create their language and to introduce English as a second language….challenging times for sure.

    Marcy

  20. Dear Diana, Can not begin to tell you –how very much I love your books! I too have read them numerous times. Am patiently waiting for the “life Blood book”. I am anticipating that book so much— may just look at it for a couple of months–before I crack it open.NOT!!!Wish you well in all your projects.Barbara Jacobs

  21. Wah! Someone with my name. That is, I used to be Barbara Jacobs before I married. :-)

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