Theater of Cruelty

Time is a pond that fills up again and again

Kirstine Reffstrup
Kirstine Reffstrup
Reffstrup is an author. Her latest book is "I, Unica". See also Gyldendal.
TRAVEL ESSAY / To southern Lithuania, to Poland and back. What does it mean for Reffstrup's 80-year-old mother-in-law at such a late age that time has turned a knot – that the threat from Russia has returned? What does it mean to live in a time without living in its progress?


We arrive in Druskininkai in southeastern Lithuania on the day when daffodils are celebrated. We can see the flowers as we approach in the warm car, they are a vast meadow, thousands of plants, now sprung up and drawn carefully across the landscape like a bright glaze or a lid of poisonous green, soft asphalt. People have come from all over Lithuania to see the green-yellow blaze, the sidewalks are full of people walking, sitting in the sun in the cafes, a low hum, more than when we were here last August. Now we are circling the car looking for our hotel and a parking space. Our little daughter has been car sick and has thrown up several times on the trip from Janowa [Janów Lubelski] in Poland, where we stayed overnight with my boyfriend's brother. The landscape has changed while we've been driving. The soft hilly soils, the sprouting grain, have been replaced by long, slender pines and birches. The darkness has become denser between the trunks, the iridescent grass shimmers from the forest floor. And for us, who can now see the light green sea that is the blooming of the daffodil on this last Sunday in April, today's spring beauty is almost perfect.


Druskininkai is located on the banks of the river Nemunas, close to the border with Belarus and Poland. The city was named after its salt (salt in Lithuanian) – here salt was steamed from the water already in the 1300th century, and people who worked to extract the precious crystals were called salt workers (salt shakers). At the beginning of the 1800th century, Ignacy Fonberger, a professor at the University of Vilnius, analyzed the chemical composition of Druskininkai's water and showed that it contains large amounts of calcium, sodium, potassium, iodine, bromine, iron and magnesium, and the town has also been a popular health resort, for both Polish kings, the population from Vilnius and the Russian Tsar.

The 80 years have washed through her like water, so fast and so slow, the memories steaming off her skin like crystal flakes.

It is said that the first patient to recover in Druskininkai thanks to the salty water was a horse. The owner had banished the poor crippled animal to the banks of the Nemunas to live out its last days. The horse, forgotten by all and only half alive, staggered through the uninhabited salt marshes. When the horse's owner came to Nemunas a few months later, he met his horse again, and it was completely healed.

My mother-in-law

Our daughter falls asleep in the pram and I am alone with her. I walk down to the two big, shiny lakes, which are in the middle of the city, and when she wakes up again, she is warm and asks for an ice cream. We buy it in a cafe, saffron ice cream in a waffle heart, which she throws back on the ground in anger. On the eve of the afternoon, the sun is burning, we lose ourselves in the crowd, the city has organized a festival in the name of daffodils, there is karaoke, a woman dancing in high heels on the big lawn, a heavy bass, giant soap bubbles that children spin from buckets of soapy water, and long strings that they swing in the air. The air is saturated here, the light saturated, enveloping us. A gentleness that cannot be found at home, where spring is still sharp and angular and cold, and when she is back, my lover says: Do you now know why I miss spring in Lithuania? Do you know why I think spring is different here, the smells are different?

When this family was deported to a labor camp in Siberia because they owned a small farm of land, it was so cold there that the dirty water they threw froze in the air before it reached the ground

Father, youčiutė, our daughter runs between her feet, my mother-in-law, my boyfriend's mother, grandmother. She shakes her hands, reaching for the child, who has way too much energy, a ball of power shooting off, barefoot down the streets, every time we look away and baba shakes her head at us, at her, that we're not raising her enough, just let her run. Baba. She is turning 80, and that is why we are here – to celebrate her. The 80 years have washed through her like water, so fast and so slow, the memories evaporated from her skin like flakes of crystal – she was born during the Second World War. And then the early Soviet era, when the family was deported to a labor camp in Siberia because they owned a small farm of land – it was so cold there that the dirty water they threw froze in the air before it reached the ground, and they only survived because her father could sew, and because they could exchange the clothes he sewed for food. After four years, they were able to return to the family farm in northwestern Lithuania, in Babrungėnai, and baba continued to live here, and later in Kaunas, during the Baltic Way and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We eat cold beetroot soup and drink kvass, the light brown fermented drink that is so popular here; she looks at us over the glass with a clear look. What is 80 years of a person's life? In the big and the small story?

"The time is out of joint; O curs'd spite / That ever I was born to set it right!» says Hamlet when he meets his father's ghost. The dead king has come to tell Hamlet that he has been killed by Claudius, Hamlet's uncle – a shocking, supernatural event that fundamentally changes the way Hamlet perceives the universe and time. Time is running out – as the philosopher Karen Barad points out in a lecture I watch on YouTube – it is a bodily metaphor. In Hamlet's outburst, the understanding of time is strongly linked to the body.

I pull the child close to me, those long limbs, slender limbs, she's grown so much in the last few months, all her pants are way too small. The wrinkles on Baba's face: The face floats under the sharp rays, alternating between gentle and stern. I think: What stories and memories have evaporated in the brain, what is the salt of time? What does it mean to her that time has struck a knot, at such a late age, that the threat from Russia has returned – a specter that walks again, all too close to the border?

Add Baraitser

In his book on time, Enduring time (2017), psychologist Lisa Baraitser describes the evolution of our way of understanding time – from the standardization of time that began in the 1500th century, with the rise of wage labor and early capitalism, which produced a concept of time that was neutral, constant and measurable. The thermodynamics of physics and the evolutionary theories of biology in the 1700th and 1800th centuries meant that time was perceived as infinite, linear and irreversible. But as Baraitser writes, this has changed: Global late capitalism and the climate and eco-diversity crisis have turned the future upside down. The future is already here as a disaster, time can no longer be seen as a progressing curve, an optimistic narrative with the future as a gift. Now we are here waiting, and time is rather a pond that fills up again and again, a great circle without banks.

One of the big questions that Lisa Baraitser asks is: What does it mean to live in a time without living in its progress, in its flow? How do we take care of time? Baraitser believes that we should see time as something we have and share, rather than something we are running out of.

I think of the salt workers in Druskininkai, they dip their hands in the water pond, where they stand bent over the pots and clay bowls. The water evaporates, they collect the sparkling salt crystals between their fingers, turn them under the sun. Look here, is it not the finest, most precious treasure? They hold their hands out.

The child sleeps – time is a thief

Now we are back home in Oslo, and May, June and July float by so carelessly, disappearing in a whirlwind of work, dizziness, restlessness and bright, forgotten evenings that slip by outside the window and the roller blind when the child sleeps – time is a thief. The summer that has washed in on us – finally after a long dry period in May and June – like yesterday, when the rain fell so softly on the asphalt. Summer is over, almost before it has begun, soon we will be past St. Hans and midsummer, and the light and darkness turn their folds.

In Hamlet's outburst, the understanding of time is strongly linked to the body.

My boyfriend talks to baba on the phone once a week. They talk about the close things, about what she eats, about the weather, about who is coming to visit, about my boyfriend's sister, about when she will have her daughter visit again. I sit at the desk and scroll through the news on the screen. As I write this, the NATO countries are meeting in Vilnius and have just decided that Sweden will gain NATO membership. I think of my boyfriend's friend in Vilnius, who already has an escape plan ready.

I think of the visit to the hairdresser before we left Vilnius and returned to Oslo: He stayed in a trendy salon with soft lounge music in the old artist republic of Užupis. My girlfriend has known him since she was twenty and had her hair cut in his living room.

Our tresses fall to the polished concrete floor, our daughter runs around collecting hair and forming it into a big, soft pile with her hands. The hairdresser tells us that the tourists don't come here in such large groups as before, that someone he knows has moved, that people are scared, although everything here on this day at the end of April is peaceful, almost idyllic, and Vilnius shines in its clearest pastels. He'll let us out, he says, soon. He says "come back soon". He locks the door behind us. We stand on the other side and see him through the tinted panes. He slowly raises his hand to wave to us before we leave.

  1. The Stig Sæterbakken memorial prize 2023 at Cappelen Damm recently went to author Kirstine Reffstrup for her two novelsI, Unica(2016) and The iron lung (2023). The jury justified the award with Reffstrup's ability to "embrace the entire spectrum of sensory impressions and put the reader to the test". (Vignette photo: Sofie Amalie Klougart / Forlaget Oktober)
- self-advertisement -

Recent Comments:

Siste artikler

We need a propaganda filter

RUSSOPHOBIA: The reason for ORIENTERING this time is propaganda and Russophobia

Femicide as a fairy tale

VIOLENCE: If 'feminicide' has not yet established itself as a term in Norway, it is on its way into our language. It simply means femicide, but is often linked to the spouse, partner or a family member. Last year, 90 women were victims of femminicide in Italy, which places the country in third place in Europe.

Citizen journalists

GAZA: Sheikh Jarrah describes how the Israeli authorities subsequently sought to silence the journalists. Here is a current book – in connection with the murdered journalists in Gaza. The democratic function of the media is not always so democratic.

Therefore, the Middle East became a powder keg

50 YEARS AGO: Why has the Middle East been a powder keg for 25 years? What is the background for the irreconcilable attitude between Israel and the Arab states? And what happened to the Palestinian Arabs when the state of Israel was established?

A future without armies

PEACE WORK: There is something vaguely medieval in the narrative of the media, politicians and gun fetishists today. That is why it is refreshing to read the chapter "NATO – out of date" in the book Fredskultur. Or how about Costa Rica: "We have no enemies and we don't need an army!"

The military ambitions of the oil states

ARMS: There are a number of developments in the three oil states of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, which Jean-Loup Samaan researches in his latest book. These are the three oil states that account for 17 percent of all arms purchases worldwide. Saudi Arabia's desire to become a nuclear power in order to stand up to Iran.

To risk his life in the attempt

REFUGEES: Every single day, people set out from Turkey to Greece, from Lebanon to Italy, from Morocco to Spain, from Libya to Malta and from Tunisia to Lampedusa. Never before have there been so many people on the run as there are right now. Journalist Sally Hayden gives testimony about the people the world has turned its back on.

The power of water

HISTORY: Terje Tvedt breaks some research norms by seeing the water wheel to a greater degree than the steam engine as the real driving force behind the industrial revolution. It's about water, not cultural superiority.

I was completely out of the world

Essay: The author Hanne Ramsdal tells here what it means to be put out of action – and come back again. A concussion leads, among other things, to the brain not being able to dampen impressions and emotions.

Silently disciplining research

PRIORITIES: Many who question the legitimacy of the US wars seem to be pressured by research and media institutions. An example here is the Institute for Peace Research (PRIO), which has had researchers who have historically been critical of any war of aggression – who have hardly belonged to the close friends of nuclear weapons.

Is Spain a terrorist state?

SPAIN: The country receives sharp international criticism for the police and the Civil Guard's extensive use of torture, which is never prosecuted. Regime rebels are imprisoned for trifles. European accusations and objections are ignored.

Is there any reason to rejoice over the coronary vaccine?

COVID-19: There is no real skepticism from the public sector about the coronary vaccine – vaccination is recommended, and the people are positive about the vaccine. But is the embrace of the vaccine based on an informed decision or a blind hope for a normal everyday life?

The military commanders wanted to annihilate the Soviet Union and China, but Kennedy stood in the way

Military: We focus on American Strategic Military Thinking (SAC) from 1950 to the present. Will the economic war be supplemented by a biological war?


Bjørnboe: In this essay, Jens Bjørneboe's eldest daughter reflects on a lesser – known psychological side of her father.

Arrested and put on smooth cell for Y block

Y-Block: Five protesters were led away yesterday, including Ellen de Vibe, former director of the Oslo Planning and Building Agency. At the same time, the Y interior ended up in containers.

A forgiven, refined and anointed basket boy

Pliers: The financial industry takes control of the Norwegian public.

Michael Moore's new film: Critical to alternative energy

EnvironmentFor many, green energy solutions are just a new way to make money, says director Jeff Gibbs.

The pandemic will create a new world order

Mike Davis: According to activist and historian Mike Davis, wild reservoirs, like bats, contain up to 400 types of coronavirus that are just waiting to spread to other animals and humans.

The shaman and the Norwegian engineer

cohesion: The expectation of a paradise free of modern progress became the opposite, but most of all, Newtopia is about two very different men who support and help each other when life is at its most brutal.

Skinless exposure

Anorexia: shameless uses Lene Marie Fossen's own tortured body as a canvas for grief, pain and longing in her series of self portraits – relevant both in the documentary self Portrait and in the exhibition Gatekeeper.