Friday, August 24, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Today is Ukraine's Independence Day holiday. Erik returned on the overnight train from L'viv and arrived before 7 a.m. permeated by the odors that one can only acquire on a long-haul East European train. His cabin-mates were rather pleasant (a young couple and a young man with whom he chatted at length about L'viv, the U.S., mobile phones, computers, and sports). Sergey even offered to accompany him and Carter to a soccer match with his three-year old son (Erik met Sergey's whole family on the platform in L'viv). Erik may take him up on this offer.

Lea made plans with Phil, Jani, and Thomas for a picnic in a local park. We packed lunch and toys, and went for a tram ride. The park was small, but had a nice playground and small lake with ducks. Above, you can see Jani, Thomas, Carter, and Lea offering bread. The ducks are far more discriminating than the pigeons, and did not eat too much.

After a lovely morning and early afternoon, with a few bumps and bruises typical of playground fun, we returned to the center. Carter was already asleep in his stroller and Lea and Erik were hot, thirsty, and exhausted. But, as we walked toward the center of town, we saw a large group gathering. Several clerics, a youth choir, and throngs of Ukrainians decked out in traditional clothing had gathered for a prayer service. As we paused to participate, Lea struck up a conversation with a young American who had just arrived to do work with Habitat for Humanity. She encountered alot of bad luck - missing luggage, a botched hotel reservation - but her spirits were high. We gave her some advice about what to do in L'viv before heading off to her building site in Romania, and also gave her our phone numbers in case she needed something (she had a place to stay and seemed to be doing fine, despite the inconveniences). She has a good perspective - doing volunteer work in Romania has to give you the right attitude about these things.

The Independence Day celebration was subdued, especially in comparison to what was being prepared in Kyiv. Erik saw massive stages being erected on the main square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) and Ukrainian flags flying everywhere. A parade, concert, and speeches by notable politicians (including President Yushchenko) were planned. L'viv has not publicized its plans. In fact, Sergey from the train told Erik that in L'viv the people celebrate religious holidays and tend to downplay government ones; it is the opposite in Kyiv. Given the prominence of Apple Spas last week, the observation may be right.

In the evening, we decided to go out for a stroll to see if any celebrations were underway. The central part of the city was packed with revelers, dressed in anything from t-shirts and shorts to evening gowns to traditional Ukrainian costumes. As we walked around town, we came upon several groups of people spontaneously breaking into patriotic song. We encountered a couple of large amateur choirs by the Taras Shevchenko monument, and another in Market Square. We are not too familiar with Ukrainian national songs, but Erik recognized one: a very old birthday song (from the Tsarist era). When he studied the Russian language in Vermont twenty years ago, students and teachers sung this tune in the cafeteria to mark birthdays. At the time, he asked about the song and was told it was very old - not surprising given that many of the Russian School's organizers were emigres from the early part of the 20th century. Of course, the version on the streets of L'viv was in Ukrainian, but it was the same song. Although we came upon a stage in Market Square, we began to realize that there was no real plan to the wanderings of the locals. They were just out for the night, looking for different ways to celebrate. We did not see or hear evidence of fireworks, though we could have missed them. It began to rain for a short period - we took that as a sign to call it a night.

No comments: