I once asked a student from Uzbekistan if her country was known for any particular fruits or vegetables. I will never forget the look of shock on her face at being asked such an obvious question. “Well, you know about Uzbek watermelon!” When I said I did not, and asked her to tell me more about it, I think I lost her respect forever. What kind of ignorant person could I be, not to know about that?
That incident has always stayed in my mind as an example of how our worlds are, well, the whole world to us. We can hardly imagine that people in other parts of the world have their own worlds, and that the things ‘everyone knows’ may pertain just to our sphere. Last week in my Discussion Club I stunned the girls there by not knowing some of their favorite musicians and writers. They admitted that they had always believed that everyone knew about them, and here I was, a seemingly educated person…
So, last week I was in Lviv. You know, Lviv! The crown jewel of Ukraine, the beautiful and ancient city that has passed from Poland to Austria-Hungary to Poland to Germany to Russia to Ukraine…the westernmost and the most Western city of this land. I love to visit places I have heard about, of course, but there is something captivating about visiting a place that you never knew was on the planet. It reminds me how vast our world is, how small my knowledge of it is; it’s invigorating in a contra-Ecclesiastes kind of way. Maybe Solomon needed to get out of Jerusalem a bit more to see that there were some things new under the sun.
Lviv. It is often described as something akin to pre-tourist Prague or Krakow. Not having been to Prague or Krakow before they became tourist destinations, I can’t corroborate that, but I can vouch for the fact that it has a European look yet cries out for more loving care. I can imagine that when the economy improves, and the buildings get some paint and patching up, it will really look the part it wants to play. I enjoyed walking the cobbled streets of the old city and the main square,
climbing the 400+ steps of the city hall tower with my co-Fellows, and eating out with colleagues from my university, and from my English Language Fellow program.
Lviv is known for its way with beans: coffee and cocoa, that is. We visited production shops and cafes for each specialty. We are fortunate in Cherkasy to have a branch of the Lviv Coffee and Chocolate Cafe, and let’s just say that a number of the waitresses there know me now. While at the location in Lviv I picked up a palette of chocolate with cinnamon. It’s worth the calories.
Lviv is a very nationalistic city, where little Russian is spoken, and there is great pride in the motherland. One of the coolest experiences I had was going to a “secret” restaurant where you knock on a plain wooden door to have a man open a peekhole and ask for the password. After you say the Ukrainian for “Long live Ukraine!” the man (in full military garb) allows you in. You are offered a shot of Vodka (which I declined) before descending stone stairs into a series of cave-like rooms covered in nationalistic pictures, banners, and signs.
Despite being a secret, it was plenty crowded! There were men walking around playing traditional instruments, especially for the uniformed militiamen.
Another nationalistic site I took in was the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, which consists of traditional buildings from different periods and regions, dotted across a large area of hills and ravines. My colleague-friend Olga told me the landscape was very typical of the Carpathian Mountains (which Lviv borders). There are demonstrations of folk arts that take place, although we didn’t see them going on while we were there. Still, it was interesting to visit, and good exercise traipsing around.
And why were we here? March 24-25 was TESOL-Ukraine, a conference for teachers of English as a Second Language. It was held at Ivan-Franco National University, in a building whose interior resembled a castle with its old stone stairs, high ceilings, and grand ballroom staircase inside the main entrance. These pictures come from stock photos:
The classrooms themselves were not so awesome, and the bathrooms — well, they made ours in Cherkasy astoundingly nice in comparison. The assembly hall, though, was lovely.
I gave two workshops, both of which seemed to be well-received (despite the woman in the photo with her head on her colleague’s shoulder).
Lviv is far from Cherkasy — a 15-hour train ride going, and a 13-hour train ride returning. Both were overnight trains, and I discovered that I much prefer the slower train. I had a lovely sleep on the way there, enjoying the gentle rock and clickety-clack. On the way back, I felt like the train was going to jump the tracks at any moment, and that we must surely be trying to escape from somewhere. It screeched and rumbled as you might expect an old train to do before taking flight, which of course trains are not supposed to do, so I found it quite hard to sleep. I could write a whole post on the train trip itself. The old trains definitely have a charm to them,
which would have been even more pleasant if the view had not been obscured by all the dirt on the double-paned windows. On the way there, I shared a compartment with a colleague, Alla, and her husband. The conductor came around with bed linens so that the benches could be converted into berths.
There is no dining car on the train, but you can buy tea and cookies from the conductor when he/she comes around. I loved the glass cups of tea in metal holders; somehow I think tea and cookies taste especially good when on a train. Olga and I made sure to enjoy some on the way back as well.
Lviv. Now you know about it. Or maybe you already did. It’s worth being known, as are so many places on our planet. So many places known within their own worlds, that we may yet discover to broaden our own.