ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2010 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 56, No.1 - Spring 2010
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

A Dash of Juozas Erlickas


ELIZABETH NOVICKAS graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago with a MA in Lithuanian language and literature. Her translation of Kazys Boruta’s Whitehorn’s Windmill (Baltaragio Malūnas) is to be published in June by Central European Press.

Juozas Erlickas, known in Lithuania as Gvyvasis Klasikas, “The Living Classic,” is a prolific Samogitian writer, satirist, political commentator, and musician; he brings to mind a weird mixture of America’s Will Rogers, Mad Magazine, and Idries Shah’s Sufi tales. Very little of his work, however, has been translated, partly due to the difficulties inherent in his use of puns and word play, but more likely due to the fact that his writing doesn’t fit neatly into any of the ordinary genres: it’s really neither prose nor poesy – neither fish nor fowl. 

In Erlickas’s universe, the protagonist is frequently a country bumpkin buffeted from all sides, caught between a humdrum existence barely removed from the peasantry and the political realities of a former Soviet state making the transition to a modern European nation. 

Of all his work, my personal favorites are the epigrams he writes for the front page of the Sunday edition of Lietuvos Rytas, the most popular newspaper in Lithuania. They are frequently comments on events of the day. I’ve tried my hand at a few of them here: the reader will excuse me for taking the liberty of including some commentary on the context and some of the subtler nuances of his language.

Pats kaltas
Rudenį visados padaugėja politinių nusikaltimų. Rinkėjas verkšlena, kad jį suviliojo, ištratino ir išmetė dilgėse.
O nereikėjo sėst į nepažįstamo pono vežėčias!
Atrodė padorus... O kaip tu atrodei?
Stovėjai nuogu užpakaliu gyvenimo nuošalėj... Kas nesusigundys?

Nov. 23, 2008
It’s Your Own Fault
There’re always more political crimes in the fall. The voter whines that he’s been seduced, screwed, and thrown out in the ditch.
Well, you didn’t need to get on a strange gentleman’s wagon!
He looked decent... and what did you look like?
You were standing there butt-naked in life’s backwater... Who wouldn’t be tempted?
In the original, the voter isn’t thrown into the ditch, but into a patch of nettles (dilgėse). The wagon referred to is an ordinary farm cart frequently used for carting dung (vežėčios). Because the word for gentleman (ponas) is a loan word from Polish, it brings numerous class associations missing from the English equivalent. Perhaps the Irish had a word for their English masters? The “you” here is in the informal tu.
Dvejopi standartai
Kas jau tas vienas reaktorius Ignalinoj! Bet uždarys...
O kiek Vilniuj yra partinių reaktorių! Kaip tie gadina orą, kelia grėsmę žmonėms!
Bet kaip retai kurį pavyksta uždaryt.
Double Standards
So what’s that one reactor in Ignalina? But they’ll close it...
And how many party reactors are there in Vilnius!? The way they break wind, the danger they cause people!
But it’s a rare thing to succeed in shutting one of them down.
Ignalina is a nuclear reactor in Lithuania built by the Soviets, of the same type as the one in Chernobyl. It provided up to 70 percent of Lithuania’s electrical needs, but a controversial agreement to shut it down was one of the conditions of Lithuania’s acceptance into the European Union. The plant shut down on New Year’s Day of 2010.
Visiems neįtiksi
Naujųjų rytą parsivedu į namus naują moterį.
Bet žmona surūgusi, vaikai nusigandę, šeimos draugas, net ir tas, nepatenkintas burba kertėj.
O dar vakar visi taip laukė kažko naujo!..

Jan. 3, 2009
You Can’t Please Everyone
On New Year’s Day I brought a new woman home.
But the wife is cranky, the children frightened, and even the family friend is discontentedly mumbling in a corner.
And yesterday everyone was so looking forward to something new!

Tik dabar man prašvito galvoj: ogi valstybės veikėjai taip dažnai meluoja todėl, kad taupo tiesą.
Kai kurie, panašu, jau prieš dešimtmečius suvokė taupymo naudą.
Šiais labiausiai turėtume pasitikėt.

Jan. 24, 2009
A light bulb went off in my head the other day: the reason why government officials lie so often is because they’re saving the truth.
Some of them probably understood the benefit of saving decades ago.
Those are the ones we should trust the most.
The reference here, of course, is to former Communist Party members.

Nenaudinga nauda
Sako, net keletą metų mes gyvenę gerai.
O juk daugelis nė nepastebėjom.
Užtat ir piktumas. Apie tokius dalykus valdžia privalėtų laiku informuot gyventojus, o ne tada, kai po viskam.

Feb. 7, 2009
Useless Use
They say we lived well for at least a couple of years.
But a lot of us didn’t even notice.
That’s why there’s anger. The government should inform people about things like that in time, not when it’s all over and done with.
The financial crisis came to Lithuania a few months after the meltdown in the United States. At the same time, statistics revealed that Lithuania had undergone a record-setting growth in the previous year.

Vardininkas atsako į klausimą: kas? Naudininkas: kam?..
Bet pats svarbiausias yra valdininkas. Jis atsako į klausimą: kiek?
O jei tujen neturi tiek ir žiopteli: kąą?..
Esi galininkas ir liksi gale per amžius.

May 3, 2009
The nominative case answers the question: who? The dative case: for whom?
But the ruling caste is paramount. He answers the question: how much?
And if you don’t have that much and gape: what!?
You’re a sorry case and will remain so through the ages.
Erlickas makes use here of the suffix -ininkas – used to signify a worker of some sort, but also used for grammatical cases – first to make a play on vardininkas, nominative case, and valdininkas, official or party functionary (well-known for a willingness to line their pockets) and then a second on galininkas, which translates as “accusative case”, but could also be read as “the one acted upon.” Typically, for “you” Erlickas uses the nonstandard tujen instead of the modern tu.
Jei koks asmuo pareiškia: aš nuolat galvoju apie tave...
Išsiaiškinkite, ar ne iš specialiųjų tarnybų. Gal esate ko prikrėtęs?
O jei tai jaunas, naivus žmogus, įspėkite, kad tučtuojau liautųsi.
Jūs juk pats nuolat galvojate apie save. O kas iš to? Tuščias laiko leidimas.

Sept. 19, 2009
If some person declares: I think about you constantly...
Find out if he’s not from the special service. Maybe you’ve been up to no good?
But if it’s a young, naive person, warn him to stop it immediately.
After all, you think of yourself constantly. And what of it? It’s a waste of time.
A deep distrust of any sort of security service is probably ingrained in the Lithuanian soul.
Gerybiniai trūkumai
Nėra sveikatos? Nesielvartaukite dėl to, ko neturite. Turėdami bene vertinote?
Jūsų prasta sveikata – brangiausias turtas daktarams. Džiaukitės darydami gera kitiems.
Bet jei galite įrodyt, kad tėvai ar seneliai turėjo sveikatos, valdžia privalo ją grąžint.

Sept. 12, 2009
A Shortage of Benignancies
You’ve lost your health? Don’t torment yourself over things you don’t have. When you had it, did you value it?
Your poor health is a doctor’s most precious asset. Be happy you’re doing good for others.
But if you can prove that your parents or grandparents had good health, the government must return it.
Erlickas here pokes fun at the never-ending claims over land confiscated by various regimes in Lithuania at the same time that he plays with the Lithuanian obsession with health.

The following items are from Erlickas’s fan site,

Ar kas nors balsavote už Prisikėlimo partiją? Jeigu koks tipas jus gąsdina, kad prisikels ir padarys tą ir aną, tai aš duosiu patarimą, ką tokiam atsakyti: „Jeigu tu prisikelsi, tai gal tau ir bus geriau. Bet jeigu pagulėsi – geriau bus visiems.“
Did anyone vote for the Resurrection Party? If some guy
threatens you that he’ll come back from the dead and do this or that, I’ll give you this advice for what to say to him: “If you’ll come back from the dead, then maybe that’ll be good for you. But if you’ll stay dead – that’ll be good for us all.”

Aš taip pat būčiau ėjęs į Seimą, bet prisiminiau, kad baigiami statyti Valdovų rūmai. Turės kažkas ir ten sėdėti. I would have gone for a seat in the Seimas, but I remembered that the construction of the Royal Palace is almost finished. Someone’s going to have to sit there too.
The reconstruction of the Royal Palace has been highly criticized, both for the lack of historical documentation for an accurate reconstruction and the expense. A more literal translation of the name Valdovų rūmai would be “Palace of Rulers,” so Erlickas is here at least suggesting a useful purpose.

Kyla kainos. Mums tai nepatinka. Bet kainos juk nekyla savaime, jas kelia kažkokie žmonės. Mūsų pareiga patykoti tokių žmonių ir tol kulti lazdomis, kol jie tas kainas nukrės atgal. Jau iki ko yra prieita, – net maisto perdirbėjai kelia kainas, nors mes visi mokam maistą perdirbti. Skirtumas tas, kad padorus žmogus nesiūlo savo galutinio produkto aukšta kaina. Prices are rising. We don’t care for it. But after all, prices don’t rise on their own; they’re raised by somebody. Our duty is to watch out for those somebodies and beat them with a stick until they make the prices go down. What have things come to – even the food processors raise prices, although we all know how to process food. The difference is that a decent person doesn’t offer his final product at a high price.

Galėtumėt pasimokyti iš paukščių. Rudenį jie skrenda į pietus ir mes jų nepravardžiuojam išdavikais. Tai aš galvoju, kodėl mes negalime rudenį prisijungt prie Rusijos, o pavasarį vėl grįžt į Europos Sąjungą? We could learn from the birds. In the fall they fly south, and we don’t call them traitors. So, I was thinking, why don’t we join Russia in the fall, and in the spring return to the European Union?
Russia’s control of gas supplies in Lithuania has been, to say the least, troublesome. Here are more pearls from Erlickas on the economic crisis:
Papročių krizė:
Duok durniui kelią.
Davėm ir jie nuėjo Seiman. Mes gi - durniu vietoj likom.
O kelio niekas neduoda.
A Crisis of Custom:
Yield the road to a fool.
We yielded, and they went to the Seimas. We were left in the fool’s place.
And no one yields the road to us.

Kai klausomės kandidatų, tai suprantam: šūdą mala!
Net keleriems metams užsisakom šio produkto.
Vadinas, trūksta.
In Addition:
When we listen to the candidates, we know: it’s shit on a stick!
But we’ve ordered this product for several years in advance.
Obviously there must be a shortage.
A common Lithuanian idiom is liežuvį mala, literally, “grind the tongue,” which describes a chatterbox. Erlickas uses the less proper and more picturesque variant.
Adrenalino šaltiniai:
Rinkėjai neturi už ką į tolimas šalis keliaut, su beždžionėm ir smaugliais pabendraut.
Bet egzotikos tai kiekvienam norisi!
Užtat ir išrenkam tokius, kurie vaiposi ir smaugia.
Sources of Adrenaline:
The voters don’t have the means to travel to distant countries and visit with monkeys and boa constrictors.
But everyone yearns for the exotic!
That’s why we’ve elected people who grimace a lot and strangle us.

Jie net ketverius metus taip intensyviai treniravosi! O paaiškėjo: kyšių imtynės neįtrauktos į olimpinę programą. Nuplaukė auksas.
Bet mūsiškiai ir sklypais ima.
A Consolation:
They trained so hard, for four whole years! But it turned out that wrestling bribes won’t be approved as an Olympic sport. The gold has escaped us.
But our folks take real estate, too.
A number of Lithuanian officials have been involved in land scandals.

Sakau: tik džiaugtis reiktų, kad kainos kyla.
Valgom vis brangesni maistą, brangesni mūsų rūbai, daiktai.
Argi tai ne gyvenimo kokybės ženklai?
I say: one must rejoice that prices are rising.
We’re eating more expensive food. Our clothes, our things are more expensive.
Aren’t these markers of the quality of life?

Seniai seniai Dievas sutvėrė žmogų. Per milijonus metų iš žmogaus išsivystė žvėrys, gyvuliai, bestuburiai, parazitai.
Dabar jau pastarieji viešpatauja.
God created man a long time ago. Through millions of years humans developed into animals, beasts, spineless animals, and parasites.
Now the latter are in charge.

Anava mažas senelis kad strykčioja didelėj parduotuvėj: kainos per aukštai!
Aš gėdinu: pasiekėm Europą! NATO pasiekėm! Pasieksim ir varškę!
See that little old man in a big store; isn’t he hopping mad? The prices are too high!
I chasten him: we’ve reached Europe! We’ve reached NATO! We’ll reach the cottage cheese, too!

Jeigu jūs daug dirbate, o uždirbate mažai.
Pabandykite dirbti mažai.
Gal uždirbsite daug.
Jeigu ne, vadinas, darbas - ne jūsų sritis.
If you work a lot, but earn a little,
Try working less.
Maybe you’ll earn a lot.
If not, then apparently work isn’t your thing.

Kada tik tą moteriškę sutinku, visuomet pasiteirauju:
-Ar jūsų Faustas dar gyvas?
-Visi bilietai parduoti, - atsako jinai.
Linktelim ir išsiskiriam. Aišku, aš nežinau, nei kas tas Faustas, nei kokie ten bilietai. Bet kai pagalvoji, kiek žmonių abejingai praeina vienas pro kitą nė nestabtelėję!..
Whenever I run into that woman, I always ask:
“Is your Faust still going?”
“All the tickets are sold out,” she answers.
We nod, and then we part. Of course, I don’t know who
Faust is, nor what tickets those are. But when you think of
how many people carelessly pass one another without even

Tikriausiai ir jūs esat gavęs pasiūlymą: “Papūsk man į rūrą!”
Ir nė sykio nepūtėt? Netraukė nauja išbandyt?
Užtat niekas ir nesikeičia jūsų gyvenime.
You’ve surely received this offer too: “Kiss my ass!”
And you haven’t tried it at least once? You’re not
interested in trying out new things?
That’s why nothing changes in your life.
The literal Lithuanian is, amusingly, “blow in my ass.”

The Samogitians of northwest Lithuania are known for their stubbornness in single-handedly holding off the Teutonic Knights, their claim to speak a distinct language (many standard Lithuanian speakers would agree), and also for their proclaimed objective of seceding from Lithuania. Here Erlickas comments on his Samogitian heritage:
Taip, kitados ir aš buvau žemaitis. Bet išgirdęs, kad ne tik Lietuva, bet ir rimta, padori Žemaitija išėjo Europon, tautybę užkasiau po beržu, tą vietą pašventinau ir kas vakarą meldžiuos: sugrįšk, Tėvyne! Yes, I used to be a Samogitian. But when I heard that it wasn’t just Lithuania, but sober, decent Samogitia that was Europe-bound, I buried my nationality under the birches, blessed the spot, and pray every evening: O Motherland, return to us!