Thursday, 8 August 2013

Walking the Neighborhood

Street in Kyiv in honor of Kyivan Rus' Sovereign,
King and Saint Volodymyr.
A couple of weeks ago or more I set out on a Black Sea Cruise. What drew me here? Am I on vacation to rest, am I tracing my ancestral roots, or is my inquiring mind thirsting for adventure?  I think it is more complicated than that.  Ancestral roots are one thing, but there is a context for my ancestors life choices, for leaving these lands and emigrating to Canada.  How better to understand at least some of that than to walk in their neighborhood.

The trip started in Constantinople, toured the Rock Church monastery in Sumela, visited Trabzon (the trading port through which many people from the now Ukrainian lands entered Turkey many centuries ago), Batumi Georgia, Feodosia, Sevastopol, Yalta, Balaklava, Odessa, Nessebur Bulgaria, Kyiv, Lviv, Sokal, Kaniv, and more.  History oozes out of every nook and cranny here.  Centuries old buildings, old stone babas, fortresses in ruins, castles and palaces, churches in every condition, those almost destroyed all the way through to beautifully new-built marble temples, and roads that have served the common folk for centuries. Rubbernecking like a tourist I have stood slack jawed, stunned and in awe of the swath of physical artifacts from this civilization, from the people in my ancestry.  Filled to the brim with thoughts bubbling and swirling, I am finding it hard to trim back my writing to a few paragraphs.

I may have initially thought the term "native/foreigner" was appropriate, but I have been a tourist, plain and simple.  Walking through museums, touring the sites, hearing lectures and listening to tour guide interpretations is an opportunity for serious learning. Nothing passive about it.  Watch an experienced traveler and you will see how they assume the "stance", ears perky, eyes wide and observant, and a mind swirling with connections. Notebook in one hand, camera in the other, crazy sunhat, water bottle, and sore feet are just the start. Soaking it all in means active processing.  One net of understanding laid upon another web, upon another grid, upon another......and the moment these nets cross an exhilarating jolt of recognition runs through the body.

The exponents in the display case could have been part of my life, these things could be part of my family's lifestyle, these could be the tools, the weapons, the products, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of my near and far ancestors.  Finding a quiet spot to tend for one's life, to live in peace and comfort, to provide for family has been the most important thing a person could do.  This could be my life, but for the adventurous streak in my ancestors.  The jobs,  groceries, children, homes, and survival were all part of living here.  It all speaks of industrious, resilient, ambitious people wanting to thrive, spending a lifetime in the pursuit.  But the winds here are powerful, so swaying and bending is part of living here.

Nobody here is passive, even though it may look like it on the surface. Paraphrasing an poster hanging in the Balaklava Museum, "don't say everything you know, nor know enough to say".  Tour guides and lecturers continue to be constantly aware of their audience, remembering to stay "on the script", concerned for the security of their jobs. History is everywhere, and people sometimes choose not to see what is right in front of them, for a good reason.  I feel like a detective on the trail of a treasure, finding bits of it here and there, excited for the parts I understand and puzzled by much.  But I get the feeling that some people living here feel the exact same way.  For answers to some of the puzzles, a serious treasure hunt, they might enjoy a "stay-cation" excursion to the intriguing museums here, too.  For that matter, maybe the Ukrainian museums here in Canada and the US might be an interesting start!  Fascinating stuff.

Check The Ukrainian Museum of Canada for more

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