When we were last in eastern Europe, we almost made a sidetrack to Vilnius. We were enticed by Lithuania's fascinating history and rich cultural heritage. But mostly we just wanted to see their statue of Frank Zappa's head.
Now, at last, Baltimore is taking a page from Vilnius' book.
Thirteen years ago, a band of plucky Lithuanian intellectuals pooled their funds, solicited their friends, and built a bronze bust of the musical iconoclast. Saulius Paukstys, longtime president of a Zappa fanclub, even convinced authorities that the statue should be erected in downtown Vilnius, in front of the Belgian embassy.
Zappa had died of cancer just two years before, in 1993, but Lithuania's capital city was an odd place for a tribute. Zappa was not, after all, Lithuanian (or Belgian, for that matter). He had never even visited the place. But his music was dearly loved by the avant-garde hipsters in the Lithuanian independence movement - and these same intellectuals were the ones running the show after the Baltic state declared independence from Russia in 1990.
"The opportunity for this Zappa statue was also like a trial for the new system and the newly established democracy," Paukstys explained to the Associated Press this week.
Before long the Zappa bust had become Vilnius' second-most popular tourist attraction (behind the rather-less-quirky Museum of Genocide Victims).
This week, Paukstys journeyed to Baltimore, USA, to make an offer to Frank Zappa's hometown: would Baltimore like a bronze Zappa-head of its own? Baltimore's Public Art Commission voted unanimously to accept the gift. "I think it's incredibly generous," said commissioner Steve Ziger. "I find the piece a good piece of art that I think we would be honoured to have here. We just need to find an appropriate placement."
Paukstys and his comrades had already arranged for the casting of a replica, and were just awaiting the OK from Baltimore authorities before shipping it across the ocean. The cost of creating and shipping the bust is estimated at $50,000 (£25,000), but the city will be responsible only for installation and maintenance.
Vilnius's mayor, Juozas Imbrasas, said he approved heartily of the project. "I hope that replication of the original statue of Frank Zappa in Vilnius and bringing it to Baltimore will perpetuate the memory of one of the greatest artists of the [20th] century," he wrote. Frank Zappa's widow, Gail, is also understood to have given her blessing.All that Baltimore needs now is a better source of Lithuanian dumplings