Friday, December 26, 2014

Day 34 ... a Second Crossing of the Bug

... and still no proper time in front of a computer (and a very slow connection yet again)... a quick note:

Days of slogging rain, I arrived in the silent streets of Chelm for Christmas Eve.  In the pattern of history, where there is a hill of note among flat surroundings, it was sure to be of pagan significance.  Where there was a site of pagan significance, there followed a Christian church.  Being close to cultural borders, the church flip-flopped from Orthodox to Catholic to Uniate to Orthodox to Catholic again,   Once it was in Poland, then Lithuania, once in Austria, then in Russia, and again in Poland - the town might have its own passport.

A kind priest in the convent of Carmelite nuns I had stay in in Siemiatcytze arranged for me to be at this church on the hill for Christmas Eve, so the Benedictine nuns were expecting me.  After passing through many family homes in the cold and rainy days leading up to it, I had small snitches of the annual delicacies with unpronounceable names.  I was told daily of the rich tradition of leaving an extra placesetting for an unexpected guest.  In my hours of slogging through the wet forests alone, I built up the anticipation of a grand feast with the nuns, despite it's being an order I know from experience to be otherwise gastronomically frugal, and generally vegetarian.  But, to my utter deflation, Mother Superior, with whom I conversed in Italian, showed me a room in the spacious - nay - cavernous Pilgrim House and left me to my own.  Later in the evening, she offered a small plate of cold foot, typical of the holiday table, it seems, but meager all the same.  Midnight Mass - actually beginning at midnight - was packed and formal, with an unusal (to my eye) military escort of the Baby Jesus in his crib from the altar to the forecourt, just as the rain changed to snow.  I went to sleep and rejoined my pilgrim trail at dawn, as is my routine.

Christmas Day was quiet - too quiet - on the road to the border town.  There was no respite at all from the damp cold.  At least it wasn't raining.  I found a roof and warmth, and a hot cup of coffee, only at the police station, the only place I found where I could sit, after nearly 30 kilometers.  There I got the required help finding my host for the night.  Being Christmas, the second of the three day national holiday break, I phoned a friend who helped with the pre-arrangement, and found myself in a wonderful farmhouse with four generations of a Ukrainian-Polish family, who had hot soup waiting, and began a feast of various kinds of fish, roast pork and a Christmas goose.  Coffee and cakes and cookies followed, all the fare of the season in front of the roaring fire.  Christmas turned warm and friendly after all, re-learning a few Ukrainian words, speaking in German and English, laughing and hugging all.  No points off for the perfunctory Benedictines...

I made the border crossing easily enough, though they don't permit foot travelers either to leave Poland or to enter Ukraine, so I hopped in the car of an understanding businessman and he guided me through the process with ease.  I practiced my new vocabulary.  He bought me a map of Ukraine.  All's well.  I'm off the Schengen clock after 34 days.  I expect to travel through the west of Ukraine for a few weeks, ringing in the New Year in some small farm village, passing through L'viv a few days later, and then celebrating Eastern Christmas in some other small village as I enter the snowy Transcarpathian Mountains.  Because L'viv is the only city I anticipate, finding a computer may be a bit iffy coming up...
   ,,,so Happy New Year! in advance, to all my friends and family, and in particular to my friends the students and teachers at Legacy Preparatory Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA whom I met in September and hope to see again one of these days.

4 comments:

Michèle Dextras & Jean-Claude Barre said...

Nice to read that you were able to share a Christmas meal with good cheer.

Anonymous said...

Ann, thank you for sharing the absolutely heart-warming story of your Christmas. I don't know if I'm spelling this right, but it gets these lines running through my mind ~ "Entren, santos peregrinos - reciban este rincon. No de esta pobre morada, si no de mi corazon!"
Agnes, Denver

Kym said...

Merry Christmas and haapy New Year. Thank you for sharing your stories. You inspire me so much to think about how I travel in my life and on my next pilgrimage.. Love Kym

Sheila Phelan Wright said...


So glad to finally catch up with your posts. I don't know about all the cold and rain; my recent days in FL reminded me what a fair-weather woman I am. Glad you made it Christmas Eve and that you are on the time track. Cold and snow back here, but no-one out on a journey like yours. May 2015 bring you more of whatyou want and need. lots of love, Sheila and Roscoe