Monday, January 25, 2010

The beauty of the cold

The beauty of the cold is that by wearing all the clothes I possess, I have a light load to carry. My load is very light these days - I'm wearing everything except my pajama tee-shirt and my clean pair of socks and undies. The wind sure whistles 'cross these steppes. While I walk, I stay warm and dry, but the minute I stop, the cold begins to get to me. Brrrrr. The villages are too small to have any kind of cafe and the small shops are by and large unheated, and no place to try to get warm. The cold snap must be nearly over, though, because the sun's been shining for a few days now and the snow is only the blowing kind, not the falling kind. (In Russian, there are two different words for this.) Now I'm left with a 'balaclava burn', perhaps the goofiest sunburn I've ever had - a perfect oval enclosing my eyes, nose, and upper lip...the inverse of the ski-goggle markings. >sigh< yes, Mom, I do use sunscreen, but...

Here's a warm winter's tale:
I came through a village yesterday, Sunday, and sought a place to sit and rest out of the wind. No cafe, no shop, nothing except a bus-stop lacking walls, so to the church I went. It was around 10 in the morning. Cold and silent, but unlocked... the smallest noise I made entering and stomping the snow off my boots aroused the attention of a candle-lady. She emerged from a door off the vestibule. I explained in my polished Russian who I am and that I only wanted to sit by a fire and maybe have a cup of tea. She invited me into a tiny room where I was surprised to find the occupants - a rotund priest (batyushku), his wife (matyusku), and another candle-lady crammed around a small table - crammed in so tightly that no one could move independent of another. Nonetheless, the table was equally crammed with plates and plates of typical Ukrainian food: pickles, of course, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, herring... they'll pickle anything here; salted fish, whole, unscaled, ungutted; gelatenous patties of pig's feet meat in aspic; roasted chicken on the bone; cabbage, beet, and onion salad in mayonaise; a plate of raw onions, garlic, and pigfat, all sliced and ready to eat as fingerfood; fried crepes filled with goat cheese; bread, black and white; and a big plate of assorted cookies and bonbons. There were no personal plates or forks... everything is eaten cold with fingers, passed around person to person, a fair portion hanging on the priest's great grey scraggly beard. Instead of the typical hot black tea, there was a pot full of hot sugared red wine. There was no source of heat in this side room of the stone church, other than the presence of the four people squeezed in. I made five, yet hardly contributed to the body warmth of the room. 'Koosh-it, koosh-it', I was told frequently by each of the women and of the priest. The wine tried to warm me up. I wondered why they would spend their Sunday morning brunch this way, in a small, unheated closet of a room I found way too cold to be comfortable - the bucket of water under the table was frozen solid. Then it occurred to me that the smallest of these farm village women has 15 cm (6 inches) and at least 20 kilos (50 lbs) over me, the priest double and triple those numbers... could it be that they don't even feel the cold? But before I left, each of them gave me a great bear hug to wish me well on my continued journey and that warmed me more than the wine. Winter weather...

3 comments:

Sylvia said...

Ann, the hospitality of the people in Ukraine is outstanding! Now you see why we keep returning to Ukraine!

Hope you find this hospitality on the rest of your journey.

Sylvia

Anonymous said...

Wishing you lots of luck and warmth on your mad, brave journey. And I thought the Camino Frances was pushing it.

Jan

LDahl said...

The Ukraine people sound hardy and winsome.