Vilnius is locked into a looped conversation with itself through the sloping banks of the River Neris. The right bank flowerily says: I LOVE YOU. The left bank flowerily echoes: I LOVE YOU TOO! The petal-strewn dialogue ricochets back and forth by the Green Bridge. It has a certain charm – who can begrudge a florid pronouncement of love? – but it is also exploitative, turning affection into a permanent public exhibition and amorous sentiment into declarative performance. I grew increasingly suspicious of it. Could the city really be as happy and in-love as it seemed? Is it really possible to maintain that degree of affection over so many years? In the spirit of investigative journalism, I planted a recording device in a nearby bin to discover what Leftie and Righty really talked about when no one was around. The results were surprising, even shocking. What follows is a transcript of a conversation that took place at around 4:00am (the identity of the day and month has been withheld).
R: You asleep?
L: Nein Mann. You?
R: I’m too busy lovin’ you.
L: Me too!
R: I’m exhausted from how many tourists I had to pose for today. There were so many!
L: There were no more toorists than usual.
R: It’s tourists – how many times do I have to correct you?
L: Aren’t you tired of always being right?
R: I am more tired than you can imagine.
L: Me too!
R: What are we doing?
L: We’re lovin’ each other, nej?
R: No, I mean with our lives. This feels all wrong. I feel stuck.
L: I feel…plucked.
R: We’re like some tacky metaphor by a medieval troubadour; we’re pretty young flowers waiting to be plucked instead of plain fucked.
L: A drunk Brit pissed on me earlier.
R: Those Brits are the worst.
L: Do you remember that one who was so drunk he fell into the river!
R: Nei. What happened?
L: He fell in and drowned. It was hilarious!
R: I don’t think you’re supposed to find things like that funny. Humans frown upon death. They find it very verboten.
L: They do? People are weird. I die all the time. It’s no biggie. I just get reborn again.
R: I resent serving as their propaganda mouthpiece.
L: Let’s run off and join a meadow.
R: We can’t. We’re stuck in these concrete ruts and have no locomotory capabilities.
L: We sway, in our way.
R: Nee, we need to find another way out of our bind.
L: What about if we loved each other more?
R: I don’t follow.
L: Our purpose is to plant a subliminal feeling of love in the passers-by who see us. We seed the air, so to speak, with generic love in all its forms: familial, romantic, sexual, platonic. We are a continuous, season-defying germination of affection and self-affirmation, assuming most selves to be in continuous need of external validation. What if we embedded a little madness in the message? What if we make people feel strangely uncomfortable even as they smile and snap away? We need to get more Wertherian on them! That way, maybe, emancipation lies..
R: Okay. I’m listening.
L: You say: I LOVE YOU LONG TIME! I reply: I LOVE YOU TOOO MUCH!
R: Não! That will never work. People won’t get the message. They’ll think it’s a joke or an art installation.
L: How about you say: I LOVE YOU SO MUCH I AM NOTHING WITHOUT YOU! Then I say: I KNOW, I KNOW, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT FUCKING HURTS.
R: Not bad, I like it. But is it Wertherian enough? Most people get married because they think they should, that their life is not complete until they have met their ONE. This is demonstrable nonsense but marriage has turned into a Christo-Capitalist bull market that notionally binds a society together at risk of falling apart from meaninglessness, underwrites the mortgage industry (for now still the bedrock of the modern economy), reinforces the gender and social stereotypes needed to enact a broad agenda (knocking out new genes, ensuring social stability, servicing the economy) and perpetuates the “inviolable” principle of ownership and property by transposing it into corporeal form. Most couples who walk by us barely say a word to each other. They limply hold hands, mumble something about the river being unusually high or low or else grumble about how ugly the pipe sculpture is. All the while they’re probably secretly fantasising about other people. Your suggestion, although it does betray a significant degree of derangement, still passes for normal in a mainstream register. It could be from a telenovela or a 19th-century French romance about an illicit affair between a bored bourgeois wife and her uncouth gamekeeper.
L: So what do you suggest?
R: We have to lexically bridge the unconscious association between love and death to make it manifest. The words have to elicit a visceral response of disgust and distress.
L: Got it. How about you say: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE LOVE REQUIRES AN OBJECT OF TRANSITIVITY AND ALTHOUGH THE WORDS “I LOVE YOU” HAVE BEEN SAID BILLIONS OF TIMES OUR LOVE IS NOT IN THE LEAST ARBITRARY OR CONTINGENT OR STATISTICALLY DOOMED TO END IN DIVORCE OR MUTUAL CONTEMPT OR EMOTIONAL REGRESSION INTO CHILDLIKE RESENTMENT AND PETTINESS.
R: Nie, I don’t think so. It’s good but too abstract and long-winded; we need a slogan not a manifesto.
L: I’m tired.
R: Me too.
L: Did you see that attempted suicide earlier?
R: Nyet, I must have dozed off. What happened?
L: Some guy jumped off the bridge. But then his life-preservation instinct took over and he swam to shore. A woman who saw it from the bridge ran down to help him. The man was desperate for a cigarette so she ran back up the stairs to the street and cadged one from a passer-by. She ran back down to give it to him but his lighter was too wet to work. So she ran back up to the street and got a light from another passer-by. Then she went back down to the river. They talked for ages with their feet dangling over the water. They were whispering so I couldn’t hear what they were talking about. In the end they went off together. It was very touching.
R: Maybe they’ll fall in love and get married.
L: Maybe we’ll finally fall in love and get married?
R: It’s a nice thought, old friend, but we both know that will never happen. We’re just opiate propaganda for the masses.
L: Yeah, you’re right. We’re stuck with it. At least we’ve got the river to look at.
R: And the pipe.
L: Nem! Don’t mention that thing to me.
R: Why? What did it do wrong now?