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A farmer in Iceland

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  May 16, 2008 03:53 PM

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It is possible to live four decades of American life and not really hear about or know of Jonas Mekas.

I can say this because it happened to me, until yesterday evening, when I sat down to dinner with Jonas, his son, and a young collaborator for dinner in Reykjavik.

Jonas wanted soup, and ordered it. Like many things in and around the Reykjavik Arts Festival, the soup was avant-garde: liquid in a carafe, fish in an asian-style, elongated tureen. When his Icelandic sushi arrived, Jonas ordered saki.

A 22-year-old Lithuanian woman named Svetlana joined us. Svetlana, a photographer who also works in a Reykjavik kitchen, had never met Jonas. She had come to shake his hand. She and Jonas, who is 83, spoke in Russian and Lithuanian and English. Later, when we moved to a larger table, Svetlana was sitting next to me.

"You know Dali?", she said to me. "Jonas was shooting Dali. And Lennon. They were friends."

She talked about the poetry Jonas has written in the Lithuanian language.

"Jonas is a genius," Svetlana said.

But back to the beginning, two hours before.

I first saw Jonas's stooped but strong frame near the front of a crowd of hundreds at the opening of the festival. When a speaker mentioned a wish that every day should have so much creativity as those of an art festival, Jonas shouted out: "Let's keep the dream going, as impossible as it may be!"

A few minutes afterward, I was standing and drinking a glass of white wine when I turned to find the dream-shouter who I did not know was Jonas Mekas standing next to me.

"I like your style," I told him. "Where are you from?"

"Lithuania," Jonas told me.

"What do you do?" I asked.

"I am a farmer," he said.

"What do you farm?"

"Things that feed humans," Jonas said.

"And what are the crops?"

Jonas: "Poetry ... film. I make films."

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