Republic of Užupis
I sit down to lunch at a breezy cafe table at the edge of the little Vilnelė river, just across the bridge from the Old City of Vilnius and the bed and breakfast where I am staying on a narrow cobbled street. There is a mermaid in a wall on the other side of the river. My companions are a Lithuanian therapist and Zen practitioner named Agne, who is a brilliant translator for my workshops here, and dreamers from the Netherlands and Sweden who will soon be traveling with us to Kernave for the depth adventure in dream archaeology I will be leading there over the weekend. Our conversation is lively, and turns (of course) on the play of dreams and synchronicity.
I pause to swallow a mouthful of an excellent local "live" (unpasteurized) beer, and a bright-eyed, bearded man with long hair leaps up from a neighboring table. "Your conversation is fascinating," he declares, "I invite myself to join it." He introduces himself as Tomas Čepaitis , the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Užupis. Is he joking? He doesn't look like any foreign minister I have ever encountered, and his republic sounds like something from a story book. Our Swedish friend has heard of it, though. She tells us she read a big feature article about Užupis in the Stockholm paper that same morning; she later showed me the article, which describes Užupis as "the coolest little republic in the world."
Tomas gives me a copy of the constitution of his republic, which includes such fundamental principles as "A dog has the right to be a dog" and "Everyone has the right to be unique." I learn that the word Užupis means "On the Other Side of the River" and has double meaning. The territory of the republic is about 150 acres of a once largely Jewish and then (post-Holocaust) notoriously seedy and dangerous neighborhood across the river from Old Vilnius. But "the other side" also means the other side of reality. "Our work is similar," Thomas tells me. "Like you, we are dedicated to bringing the dream world and the ordinary world closer together."
He introduces me to the President of Užupis and other government officials. The Republic On the Other Side of the River declared its independence in 1997, unfurling its own flag, currency and cabinet of ministers. This is essentially a republic of artists, and their work is everywhere on the cobbled streets, in luscious murals and voluptuous goddesses, in pagan symbols and Surrealist provocations. At one of the main art centers, the Gallera, a Belgian-Lithuanian exhibition is opening that weekend, Tomas tells our dreamer from Belgium.
We have our picture taken and Tomas informs me that he wants to appoint me Ambassador of Dreams for the Republic On the Other Side. I tell him, naturally, that I would be delighted to assist the Republic in growing its factory of dreams.
In a later email exchange, the web of synchronicity became tighter and stranger, Tomas told me that he had lived for several years in upstate New York, not far from my present home. Specifically, he had lived in the village of Ghent, N.Y. Ghent is about 10 miles from the farm where I used to live near Chatham, N.Y.; one of the people who worked on my house renovations after I purchased the farm lived in Ghent. The story gets better still. Tomas added that he had some "Mohawk drawings and dreams" from that period in his life that he was still trying to understand. It was in that same neighborhood on the edge of traditional Mohawk Indian country that I started dreaming of an ancient Mohawk woman shaman and entered the visionary adventures that persuaded me to give up my previous life and become a dream teacher.
I returned to Užupis on Monday, to admire the goddesses and have lunch at the same cafe on the river with a view of the mermaid in the wall. I discovered that the Republic also has a king, a splendidly fat and self-confident tiger cat named Nicas, who has his private entrance to the restaurant and is well-fed and well-petted by everyone, including the group at our table. Consulting the constitution of Užupis, I read that "Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat."
We were distracted by banging and wailing from the river below us. From the railing, we saw a couple who had lost control of a hired canoe, banging against the rocky bank. Agne sprang into rescue mode. She took fresh strawberries from a bag we had been carrying around and started tossing them to the inexpert boat people, who caught and ate them with gusto, calling up that these were the first strawberries they had tasted this season. However, they had now managed to tilt their craft so it was half-full of water and sinking fast. Agne rushed down to the river and pulled them up onto the bank. I congratulated her on her efforts and declared that I would use my high station as Dream Ambassador to recommend that she should be appointed Commandant of the Coast Guard of the Republic on the Other Side of the River. I wasted no time in penning Rules of Riverine Safety in Užupis:
1. Carry strawberries at all times.
2. When a boat is sinking, pelt the occupants with strawberries.
Note: Užupis declared its independence in 1997, unfurling its own flag and presenting its own president and cabinet of ministers. It has yet to be recognized by any government in ordinary reality, but it has a seat in the United Nations of Dreams.
UPDATE June 8
It's official. I have now received my formal credentials as Dream Ambassador of the Republic of Užupis. I solemnly undertake to execute all my rights and responsibilities, including the most important clause 5:
enjoy life and sustain in people the feeling of
life as Brazilian Jazz