Saturday, September 30, 2006

remembering harvest season in ukraine

i have been in the u.s. for the past three weeks, doing some contract jobs. yesterday i was driving along one of those shopping-mall-strip-mall-fast-food-starbucks-coffee-shop-novelty- store oases that dot the american landscape when i caught a whiff of something that took me back to fall harvest in pidhajtsi. i have spent most or all of september and october the last two years in pidhajtsi, helping family bring in the fall harvest. it must have been the smoke from the hood and ventilation system of some restaurant cooking with a mesquite fire that triggered this memory. this time of the year, in pidhajtsi and all over ukraine, people burn some of the biomass left over in the fields from the harvest. western ukraine is hilly--pre-carpathian foothills--and the smoke from hundreds of fires burning in fields on valley floors and hilltops tends to settle and hover above the valleys, and thus over pidhajtsi and the surrounding villages (of sil'tse, stare misto, and halych). it smells delicious, a bit like mesquite, but it can be a challenging time for anyone who suffers from respiratory ailments. i have asthma and needed to use my albuterol inhaler more often than normal while in pidhajtsi during harvest season.*

nonetheless, i have really missed being there for the fall harvest this year.

here are some of the posts i did last year during and after the fall harvest season with pictures: here; here; and here (this last link begins with a lot of rambling about things unrelated to harvest time; scroll down to the second picture for some really interesting images from the fall harvest).

also take a look at the videoclip and text here.

unforuntaly i don't have pictures or videoclips of the fires burning in the fields. the small fires look really cool at night, with the valley floors and hillsides dotted with hundreds of still-burning or smoldering piles of biomass that look like they are just out there, floating in the darkness (especially when the moon is new).

*important note for any american with asthma who is planning to live/travel outside the us: albuterol is known as salbutemol in the rest of the world, just like most of the rest of the world uses the metric system. american exceptionalism once again had me panick stricken when, during my first harvest season in pidhajtsi, i lost my albuterol inhaler and started a desperate search for a new one. i encountered many confused looks from pharmacists in pidhajtsi and then ternopil as i searched for the right medicine by the wrong name: "albuterol? we don't have that here. i've never heard of such a medicine. but we have salbutemol. that's the typical medicine for asthma." i started wondering whether salbutemol was another name for albuterol because of how often pharmacists insisted that it was the regular drug for asthma. so i finally went to the post office in pidhajtsi and called up my doc in the us. yup, they're the same, he said. what a relief. but why do american doctors and pharmacists have to use a different name from that used by the rest of the world?

update: just read that the WHO (world health organization) recommends use of the name salbutemol.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Babyn Yar

now that i have broken my month-long leave from the ukrainian blogosphere with the clip of my daugher below, i feel like continuing. . .

but first: the left-hand shift-key was recently ripped from my laptop by one curious little girl and i haven't yet fixed it; it is not my regular style to write without capitalization. . .

at the end of september, 1941 began the massacre at babyn yar, which continued throughout the nazi occupation of kyiv--you can read more about it
here at wikipedia, just to scratch the surface. i finally made it to the site of this massacre last month. as usual, when it comes to seeing how tragic and traumatic events of the past are handled/commemorated/memorialized-in-monuments in ukraine, i was quite disappointed. what does it say about a nation's relationship to its past when people are allowed to make campfires, hang-out, party, etc., on the very grounds of a mass murder? there was no solemn feeling to the site--for example, there was nothing like the heaviness and spirituality of visiting a former concentration camp site. whatever of that feeling was there i brought with me, and thus it was present at the site mostly just from within. externally. . .well, there were the monuments, but when i approached the monument specifically to commemorate kyiv's jews that died there (a large menorah), i saw a bunch of young, kyivan punk rockers hanging out on a bench, drinking and laughing within a few meters of the monument. right behind the jewish monument was a christian one (a large cross) to which the kids having a nice afternoon were in equal range. i then walked down the ravine along a path that i think was the one told to me by a local friend--a history buff--who had said that if i went that way, i would walk right on top of the very earth where the massacre occured. there, on what should be regarded as hallowed ground, i discovered a campfire and shashlyk being cooked by other locals. it was a saturday, indeed, a day to relax with friends. such campsites were scattered all over the ravine. as i stood there thinking or just feeling about the massacre, a jogger ran by.

because of all this, all the memorials/monuments felt to me superficial at best.

of course, there are lots of reasons for all of this. the soviet government downplayed the significance of the massacre and of the site, and people got used to it just being there without much or any specific relevance. without government support in maintaining the site as a hallowed place, and in the context of poverty/shortages and authoritarianism that breeds indifference/apathy, it is very easy to understand how such a site--truly a beautiful area perfect for how locals do indeed make use of it today--would come to be used as it now is.

but i would favor efforts to engineer a change in orientation/attitude toward the site.

see similar thoughts as per the holodomyr

see my photos of the babyn yar site here.

update: just noticed that veronika at neeka's backlog has also published yesterday similar thoughts about the babyn yar site here and some fotos of her own here. she mentions how it was a pain to find the menorah memorial that is closer than the main soviet-era monument to where the actual killing took place, mentioning that it is "well hidden." also read here her piece about the 65th commemoration of the massacre.

Dyki Tantsi Juliji--Julija's Wild Dances

Watch the video

My daughter Julija is becoming evermore agile on her feet and is well into the start of her career as a folklorist! She is 15 months in this short clip that was recently filmed by her vecmama (Latvian for "grandmother;" Julka also has a baba) and assembled by her mama, Zinta, who is also in the clip, playing the accordion.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fotos of Chornovil Monument

Go here to see the rest of the fotos from the opening of the new memorial in Kyiv to Vyacheslav Chornovil that took place on Aug. 23, 2006.

Read the post below for info about it, if you haven't already. . .