Across the street…
The boys and I have returned from a lovely dinner at a colleague’s house where she had hoped to celebrate Bill’s “name day” along with that of her husband. While our Bill/Vasili wasn’t there, there were lots of toasts to him. In fact, the toasts were made with both “buffalo grass” vodka (a special brand already introduced to our Bill/Vasili by a friend from Warsaw) and wine made by the mother of our host, Vasili. My stomach reminded me right away of my experience with Mischa’s wine in Svalyava, I was measured in my celebration. And, you see? I am still on my feet to tell the tale.
Our hostess told us of a New Year’s tradition in Ukraine according to which anyone can drop in on anyone else unannounced. Our hostess’s dear great-uncle took this opportunity to surprise her, so we had an inside view to another family celebration and enjoyed every moment. Our hosts were surprised we were familiar with many of the dishes and even with the congratulatory song they sang for all Vasilis, present and not present – “God grant you may years,” we sing at appropriate gatherings. The tune was different, as it is whenever you change communities, but the lyrics and sentiment are the same.
We walked through the three inches of snow that fell last night to get to our hosts’ house. We were late – so what is new? And our progress was impeded by revelers out for New Year’s. It’s New Year’s night, not New Year’s Eve, when the parties crank up here. At the same time, families are still enjoying the Christmas Market. Fathers buy balloons and young bucks elbow up to the mulled wine and mead bars. Moms take photos and place snow-suited kids on the merry-go-round. It makes progress to the agreed-upon time and place difficult to achieve.
Still, there she was, our hostess, in the door of the Opera House waiting to walk us to her house. We slipped and slid along the streets behind the market into one of the old Jewish neighborhoods. As we climbed up the stairs to the fourth floor, our hostess told us that by the time her grandparents moved into the building in 1942, there were only three families left. She told us the apartment block was like a little village where everyone knew their neighbors. At the top of the stairs, we walked through an open door and followed her around a balcony that skirted at least three buildings before we got to her door, which opened off the balcony. This was where my hostess grew up.
The people who live in L’viv all live with ghosts. So many ghosts.
But the New Year’s dinner was genial and warm, heated by company of good people as much as by the ceramic furnace in the corner. (Zachary night argue. He was sitting beside the ceramic heating stove.)
The wind had picked up and the snow had started again. The electricity is off as I write this. Another silent night.