Thursday, March 4, 2010
Cousin Sara comes to Crimea
It’s Thursday at the Gasprinsky Library, the only day I am working here this week—took Monday and Tuesday off because Sara was here. A slow day, so I think I will try to get my blog post written. Many times at night I am too tired to do anything except to read fiction and go to bed.
So cousin Sara (Sara Paretsky) has come and gone. My first visitor from America. It was wonderful, challenging, and sometimes surprising to see how the two parts of my life came together. Sara was only here three full days, but of course, I wanted her to see everything, meet everyone. I’m afraid I exhausted her, especially since she came from an already exhausting book tour in England. Hopefully, she is now getting some much needed rest.
To say her visit had an impact on my teenage neighbor, Serdar, would be an understatement. Serdar was so excited to meet her that he wanted to come to the airport with me to pick her up. There was also the fact that he had never actually been to the airport, so it was a thrilling event for him to go there and meet someone coming off a plane. He really wanted to see the plane come in, but the airport is set up in such a way that is impossible. We had to wait almost an hour after the plane landed before Sara finally made it through customs, but then through the door she came, my cousin Sara, in Ukraine!! At the suggestion of Serdar’s father Neshet, I had hired a local man to pick us up at the airport, so we got back to Ak Mechet without braving the crowds on the buses, which I did not think would be a good choice for Sara’s first experience in Ukraine.
But what was a good choice, of course, was dinner that night at Neshet and Lenura’s house. Sara was her usual charming self, and they just loved her. She especially paid attention to Serdar as his love of poetry piqued her interest. By the end of that evening and subsequent encounters throughout the weekend, Serdar found a true soul mate in Sara. He was so taken with her, and I think she got him thinking about all kinds of things. Like feminism! He apparently had heard of it, but after she left, he started asking me about feminism and what it meant.
On Sara’s first full day, we went on my favorite walk from my house up into the forests and bluffs, encountering cows and goats along the way. Later we went into the center of the city and walked around. I showed her the Gasprinsky Library, and then took her to the huge new library in the city, the Franco Library, where we ended up encountering a librarian in the foreign language department who was so delighted to meet Sara. She had heard of her, and eventually found that the library has two of her books in Russian. She showed us around the library, took many photos of us together, and I got a library card (with the usual fee waived because I am a “pensioner “—retired person), something I have been meaning to do ever since I toured the library when I first came here. And now, thanks to Sara’s visit, I have an English-speaking contact there.
On Sunday we took the bus to Bakchiseray, home of the Khan’s Palace and the cave city of Chufat Kale. I knew we wouldn’t have time to explore both, so we decided for the cave city since it was a lovely warm day, and Sara had seen so many pictures of them on my blog. It was a good choice—there were few people there, unlike the hordes during tourist season, and we got to explore the caves to our hearts’ content. I had been there before, but I saw so much more this time. However, I really need to bring a history book with me if I am going to continue to be a tour guide. Though I have read the history of Chufat Kale more than once, in my usual fashion I couldn’t remember much of it. No wonder I am having such a hard time with the language—in one ear and out the other.
On Sara’s last full day here, we decided to take the bus down to Yalta and go to Livadia Palace. As a lover of history, Sara wanted to see where the Yalta Conference with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin took place at the end of World War II, the meeting that decided the country borders of contemporary Europe. My trusty information aids—internet weather forecast and two Ukraine guide books—really let me down this time. Despite a forecast of clear and sunny weather, we were surrounded by low hanging clouds the whole day, never lifting to reveal the beauty of the setting with the snow capped mountains and the Black Sea. Both guidebooks said nothing about the Palace being closed on Mondays—other days, but not Mondays—but sure enough, once we got there (which took some wrong turns in the bus navigation department), it was closed. Disappointed, we walked around the grounds, but then realized we were looking at the balcony where the famous photo of the three leaders was taken, and that seemed to satisfy Sara’s desire to be in the place where such a momentous piece of modern history took place.
The following day Sara was leaving, but she had agreed to do a book presentation at the library that morning. I wasn’t sure exactly how it was all going to happen, as I am always a little unclear of the going ons at the library, but it turned out to be a nice event. Arzy, the director’s daughter who is a very good English speaker translated along with help from Elizabeth, my Fulbright friend here. The audience was mostly the library staff, but some outside people including the woman we had met at the Franco Library (who brought Sara flowers and chocolate) also came, along with the local television station. Sara talked about her writing life in America and answered questions. I found it very interesting to hear what questions the library staff asked her—about her life in America, her family, what authors she likes. Sara also talked some about Russian poets she admires, particularly the 20th century poet Anna Akhmatova, much to the delight of the Gasprinsky staff. She took a short tour of the library, we had coffee and cookies in my office, and then Neshet came and got us and off we went to the airport. Simferopol to Istanbul to London, and then home to Chicago. A long journey—I am so grateful that Sara came so far to see me in my new home.
It was a wonderful experience, showing Sara Crimea. And though it increased my stress level, trying to speak Russian not only for myself, but for someone else (though Sara’s Russian background helped), the experience greatly increased my confidence in my language abilities, at least for the tasks of traveling and limited translation. And also, I felt so strongly how Crimea has become my home, how, despite all its problems, I love it so.