A Visit to Lanovtsy - June 28, 2003 by Katherine Sylvan

Flying over Denmark -- there isn't one square inch of vacant land. It looks like long green strips of fabric have been cut apart and resewn higgledy-piggledy. The same thing over Poland and Ukraine, except in these two countries, the plots or fields are long, thin ribbons laid out in back of the houses -- sometimes extending hundreds of feet but only as wide as the house. Who owns the forests?

The time from our house until we reached our hotel in Lviv was 23 hours.

Lots of pretty women in Lviv -- slim hips, wearing tight pants and tops and stiletto heels or mules with pointy toes. Don't know how they manage to walk on the cobblestones. Old women beg. Also accosted by a group of three gypsy children. I feel sorry for the old women. They have lived through a lot. I thought maybe they were old enough to have lived through
the Stalin-enforced famine in the 30's, but Sol says they are younger than they appear. If they've lived through WWII and the Russian aftermath, they've still lived through a lot. Most of the older women have hard faces and eyes. There are no. fat people here. Lots of men with beer bellies, but no obese people like we would see in the States. One drunk man (today is Constitution Celebration Day) said something to Sol about machine gunners in WWII being like the American role in Iraq. Some of the older men I saw on the street seem emotionally castrated. It has been 12 years since Ukraine became free of Russia, but the effects will last generations. Sol's straw hat draws a lot of attention. And my straw hat and sensible shoes do, too.

We ropped off our luggage at the George Hotel. Alex took us on a tour of the opera house, reputed to be one of the two or three best in all of Europe. Was recently renovated. It has an intimate feel with all the boxes in a circle and three or four tiers. Each box of four or six chairs has its own little doorway to the circular outside hallway surounding the theater; just like in the movies. There was also a long hall of mirrors where the opera goers sipped champagne during the intermission. I was inspired to waltz the length of the room. I could imagine the opera house at the turn of the century filled with beautiful women in long dresses accompanied by men with their mustaches and in full military uniform. Little did they all know what horror lay ahead for all of them.

We then walked to another part of the old section where Alex wanted us to see an equally opulent casino which had been used as a stable by the Nazis---also full of mirrors, tall ceilings, parquet floors, intricately-carved staircase railings and moldings. Before going in, we were told by the caretakers that there was a function going on inside and that we would have to wait a half hour. After waiting for five minutes in the beautiful courtyard, Alex presented an additional offering to the price of admission and we were admitted straightaway to the empty building.

We had dinner at Amadeus where we were first serenaded by a recorded female vocalist singing American songs from the 50's and then by a live jazz band. Delicious food. Although I was totally exhausted from the long flights and very little sleep and I found myself stumbling, Sol wanted to wander around the old Jewish section where some of the buildings are four hundred years old.

June 29, 2003

We explored Lviv all day. Lviv feels like a miniature Paris. Alex is very proud of his city. Medieval Jewish Ghetto.St. Andrew's Cathedral and City walls. A Ukrainian Greenfield Village. To add to the atmosphere, one man was playing a bandura and another man was playing a cymbalom.

Pharmacy Museum

Another museum which had been a private home where one of the Polish kings (yet another name ending in "ski") Couldn't keep track of all the skis) would stay when he came to Lviv. We had to place felt slippers over our' shoes to protect the parquet floors. We walked through a flea market. People selling mostly old books. One of the vendors had the American children's book, "Peter and The Rocket Ship. The week before our trip when the Maxberrys were here and we all spent some time with Elliot(Sol's grandson), we were talking about what we thought we wanted to be when we grew up and what had been some of the influences on those childhood decisions. Richard talked about this book and I had never heard of it before. Now I had heard about the book twice in one week.

Dinner at Alex's home where we met Natalia(his wife), Andrew, and little Natalia. What a special evening and delicious food. Natalia made Knlchenyki, something like Rolladen. There were three courses -- first gefilte fish and numerous other tasty appetizers. Then soup. Then Kruchenyki. I couldn't finish each course because I was becoming so full and felt uncomfortable about wasting food. Thankfully, she didn't provide a dessert. Alex and Natalia had purchased two apartments and combined them into a three bedroom, one and 3/4 bath apartment.

A digression on some Soviet nonsense:

On our first day, we changed planes in Warsaw for our flight to Lviv. We were only in the airport for two hours, but during those two hours and in such a small place as the airport, I could see that Poland has thrown off much of the yoke of Soviet beauracracy. Airport employees had specific jobs and were doing these jobs. Employees were available to answer questions or to give guidance about what line to stand in or in what direction to go to board our plane. Going through the next step. There was no making me wait for a half hour while the employee officiously waited' for me to decide how much baksheesh to offer to release the logjam. Employees and visitors alike looked healthy and purposeful. However, the smog of Soviet beauracracy still hangs over Ukraine. As our plane was taxiing from the runway to the little terminal, we passed by abandoned and rusty Soviet era factory buildings. Between the taxiway and the buildings was a little shack with a man in it. We sped by the shack, but I caught a glimpse of him---he looked bored. He was stuck way out there in that little shack and was probably a guard for all the empty Buildings. I thought about what a boring job that must be his lifetime job is guarding a bunch of rusty buildings that no one will use again and no one has enough cash to tear down and he probably looks forward to landings and takeoffs as a welcome distraction from his "job." Or maybe his job was counting landings and takeoffs. Or. ... ? The flash of that man became a metaphor for the dreariness of the Ukrainian economy and for life. During our eight-hour car ride from Lviv to Krakow, when I was sitting in the front seat because Sol (thankfully) said he wanted to nap (but never did and continued his conversations from the back seat) I talked with Alex about how he sees the Ukrainian future. I didn't use the word "dreary" with Alex because I didn't want to insult him or his country, but I asked him what he thought the first step should be in improving Ukraine's future. His answer was it should start with education. This conversation then moved on to the Ukrainian constitution. Alex said that all the laws and provisions are in place for Ukraine to become a republic, but that some of the same Soviet era politicians have changed their spots and are still in power and that the "man on the street" is too afraid to take any action against them.


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