Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Old Country 2


Cousin Arsen painted this sign, which stands at the edge of the village. It claims that tiny, insignificant, miniscule Peremyliv is 441 years old - older even than Jamestown. Man, that Cousin Arsen can do it all: carve wood, build bathrooms, play saxophone at weddings, make sons who stare and paint signs that make true but hard-to-believe claims.

I got up and walked around this morning. Peremyliv has changed very little since I was here last. OK, maybe people have slightly better cars. That's about it. I mean, Peremyliv is 441 years old. It's pretty much obligated not to change. For example, here is the main drag:

It's exactly the same. The only difference is that some genius has filled in the really deep ruts with tile scraps. Otherwise, it looks exactly the same as the first time I visited with Cousin Igor 17 years ago. Here's the WWII memorial:

Every town has one, but this one is unique in that it bears the name of my Cousin Grigori on it. He was killed at the Oder River crossing in 1945. Cousin Arsen said that he was gonna slap a fresh coat of paint on it before Victory Day, which all relatives say that nobody celebrates.

Here's the church:

OK, not a great picture.. The sun was totally in the wrong place, lousy minor-class star. When I first visited, the church was being used as a seed warehouse by the local collective farm. Since then, they've restored it (thanks in no small part to Cousin Arsen, who did much of the carving and painting) and now it's once again in the Jesus business. The regional religion is Uniate. They also call it Greek Catholic. From my casual contact with it, I can say that it seems exactly like Orthodox rite, except that the Uniate Church pays allegiance to the pope. Wrap your heads around that, sweet people. There may be other technical differences, but it's way more Orthodox than it is Catholic.

Oh, and by the way, all around Peremyliv, the cherry trees are in bloom thusly:


And here's the soccer "stadium:"

It's just an open field with collapsing goal posts. Chickens seem to favor it. It's always been in terrible shape. I can't imagine anybody playing on it, but I don't have much of an imagination.

So much for the assessment of Peremyliv. I never expect it to change. I feel the same way about Ukraine. Anyhow, soon after I finished my tour, my Cousin Ivas, Cousin Ivan's son, showed up in the family's classic Lada and whisked us away to Khorostkiv, the nearby market town. What's there to do at a market town? Go to the market. Here's Kathy, Tim and Ivas in the middle of it:

As you can see, Ivas is a handsome customer. It runs in the family. Here's an unobstructed view of the market:

They're selling washing machines and shoes and seeds and power tools. Oh, and ducklings:

What's better than a box of ducklings? Another box of ducklings!

After that, we visited this really cool overgrown/neglected park on the edge of Khorostkiv and this earthen dam where Ivas claims the fishing is exceptional.

We stopped at Khorostkiv's only pizzeria following this jaunt around town. The pizza actually looked edible, but I didn't have any. I drank beer instead. When we got back to Cousin Arsen's, there was all kinds of food waiting for us. We also drank a fair amount of vodka. That evening, we were heading over to neighboring Karashintsy to Cousin Ivan's house. He had come all the way from Kiev to see us. He works there in construction, building this very exclusive residential community 30km outside of town. The starting price for the least expensive house is $400,000. They go up way past $1,000,000. Does Ivan see any of that loot? He does not. He's just a framer who can't support his family working the land. He's been at this job for three years now. It really helps that he's such a jolly soul, otherwise, being away from his family for sometimes several months at a go would probably really get to him.

It seemed that we had finished all this food and booze when Ivas showed up once again to take us to the family khata in Karashinsty. By the time we got there, I was feeling positively green around the gills. Of course, as soon as we got out of the car, they were upon us. I had to translate about five different conversations at once and say hello myself. Here's the cast of characters:


From left, we have Cousin Ivan, Cousin Olya (Ivan's hilarious wife), Cousin Tim, Cousin Olya's mom, Cousin Kathy, Cousin Ivas, Ivas' finacee, Oksana, Cousin Marika and her husband Roman. I swear to the Jesus himself that Roman looks exactly like the guy who plays Mr Wolf on CSI: Miami. What's his name? Ah yes, Jonathan Togo. Looks just like him. Exact. Ly. Anyhow, so the conversations are swirling around me and I'm feeling awful, but trying to hold my own and be a good guest. We sat at the table (pictured above), start eating and making toasts. Marika, who is six months pregnant, only has a shot of vodka and a glass of champagne. Hey, we've come all the way from America! Na zdorovye, unborn cousin!

OK, you know, I really like visiting my relatives. They're, for the most part, a kick in the drawers. But sometimes things happen that can present true challenges for the visiting foreign relative. I'm talking about traps. If you're in Ukraine and somebody says, "Hey, do you guys want to watch my wedding video?" IT'S A TRAP!! You absolutely can't say no, because that would be rude, but by saying yes, you open the door to hours of agony. This has happened in the past. When I was visiting with my mom and Cousins Kathy and Marianne in 1998, we were getting ready to go to bed one night when Cousin Arsen comes in and asks, "Hey, do you guys want to watch my wedding video?" (This, I should mention, was with his first wife, Zoriana.) Sure, we said, thinking it would be a 15-minute highlight reel. Instead, it was a four-and-a-half-hour slog through every stage of the ceremony in complete and utter detail, followed by long, long sequences of people dancing at the reception. Most of the time, Cousin Arsen and Zoriana looked completely bummed out. To top things off, at 2:30 in the morning when it ended, we had to commit to watching day two of the wedding. It was a two-day affair - day one, the reception's at the bride's house; day two, at the groom's. All in all, they had about 300 guests, which I'm told was a fairly small wedding. Anyhow, this day two video was three hours long and was featured people dancing almost the entire time. Once again, Cousin Arsen and Zoriana looked very grouchy.

All right, the choice was there in front of us. What could we do?? What indeed. We watched it. OK, it was under four hours long and it was much slicker than Arsen's, but still. There was just no escaping. Did I also mention that it was exceedingly corny? Yeah, at the beginning, they get to reenact their first date, so they fake-talk on cell phones, then meet and instantly fall in love. Like Arsen's, there was no highlight reel. There was all the bowing and kissing of hands and feet and parents tossing around water and salt and wedding crowns and such. Time passed. Luckily, they were wise enough to employ the fast forward button on occasion. It was weird watching the family watch this. In addition to participating in the ceremony, I'm pretty sure they've seen it at least a dozen times. But there was this friend of Marika's, a member of the bridal party (not a bridesmaid; they don't have them), who was very tall - at least 6'4". Every time they had a shot of her, somebody woud say "Wow, she's really tall." This happened many times. What could I say? The trap had been sprung. I was in it. I was powerless.

It was early in the wedding video that another difficult situation presented itself. Cousin Ivan had been talking about making wine. I thought he was joking, because, y'know, he basically lives outside of Kiev most of the year. The he asks, "Who wants some homemade wine?" Guess what? IT'S ALSO A TRAP!! Lord. I totally didn't want to hurt his feelings, but the stuff looked really vile. It was fermenting in this jumbo plastic water bottle. I said yes. He poured me a glass. It was pretty thick. "The recipe is so simple," he said. "It's just local grapes, some sugar, then mix it all together, then give it some time and you've got this great wine." I took a sip. It tasted like slightly boozy grape juice. If it contained more than one percent alcohol, I'd be surprised. It was completely harmless. I drank that for the rest of the night and it actually made me feel much better.

I don't want the evening to seem like a total wash. We all had a great time. Cousin Olya was as usual her wonderful sparkling self, despite the fact that she had a heart attack a year and a half ago. So the moral of the evening is that you can fall into at least two traps and still call the evening a success.

Ivas ferried us back to Peremyliv in the classic Lada at around 11:30. It had been a full day.

2 comments:

Kevin said...

"What's better than a box of ducklings? Another box of ducklings!"

So very true! Brilliant writing.

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