Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Joan and Sylvia come to Crimea!

So much in my head, so much to tell. Will try to break it up into a few posts, I think. My dear friends from America, Joan and Sylvia, arrived in Simferopol on a Monday, after a long journey from San Francisco to New York to Kiev to Simferopol. Serdar and his cousin came with me to pick them up at the airport, but then the cousin’s car wouldn’t start. So there we were, the four of us pushing the car in the parking lot to jump start it. Wish I had a picture. Kak Ameriki (like America), as we say here. Or I guess like my earlier old car days in America.

Despite this questionable beginning, the three of us had a great time exploring a bit of Crimea. They were good sports about my humble accommodations—a toilet with only a curtain for privacy, no water after 1pm (and sometimes earlier), a windowless room—and some pretty hot weather, though compared to how it is now (consistently high 90’s), it wasn’t that bad. For their first night here, Lenura prepared a truly sumptuous vegan meal, after much consulting with me in the previous weeks. As Sylvia said at the end of the trip, it was the best vegan fare we had the whole time.

The next day we explored Simferopol—my library, a museum on the history of Simferopol (which much to my dismay once again disregarded the history of the Crimean Tatar people), a walk along the river and around the center, trying to locate the Jewish library which turned out to be closed and which no one on the street seemed to know much about (or else they didn’t understand my Russian—highly likely!). The following day, Wednesday, we headed out to Bakcheseray, my favorite place to take visitors as it is the location of both the Crimean Tatar Khan Palace and the ancient cave city of Chufat Kale, home to the early Sumerians, then the Crimean Tatars, and eventually the Karaite Jews, thus the name which translates to Jewish fortress in Crimean Tatar. It was late afternoon by the time we were heading back down from the cave city, and we ended up getting caught in a terrific rain storm, one of the worst I have been in in Crimea. The narrow winding one lane road between the entrance to Chufat Kale and the Khan Palace became a torrential river that the bus and then we on foot had a hard time navigating. But we were determined to get to the Palace before it closed and made it with time to spare, though lightning had blown out the electricity, so the museum part was a bit gloomy. Afterwards, we went to the Crimean Tatar crafts cooperative located behind the Palace, though the wonderful old master jewelry maker had gone home for the day. But the little store, established with the help of a PCV a few years back, was open so that was a delight.

Thursday we decided to head down to Yalta and stay overnight, thanks to Joan paying for a great apartment in the center. But first we really wanted to get to the Jewish center and library when it was open and decided to give it another try on the way to the bus station. Turned out that there was someone there this time, a wonderful young rabbi who spoke fluent English and told us so much about the Jewish history of Ukraine and Crimea. The center is the synagogue of Reform Judaism and is very progressive. I was especially interested in what Misha (the rabbi) had to say about the Karaite and Krymchak Jews of Crimea. The Krymchaks speak a Turkic language that is very similar to Crimean Tatar, had the same traditions and dress as the Crimean Tatars, and extensively intermingled with the Crimean Tatars, to the point that some of the few who were left after the Nazi slaughter of the Jews in Crimea were deported along with the Tatars to Uzbekistan. But, of course, they are Jews and the Crimean Tatars are Muslims, and that never changed and they never intermarried. The Karaite Jews for the most part escaped the Nazi slaughter because they convinced the Nazis that they weren’t really Jews because of their difference in beliefs from traditional Judaism. I don’t think there are many left of either the Karaites or the Krymchaks, but there is a museum about the Krymchaks that Misha offered to take me to (which I am doing this week). One of Nadjie’s ideas for a future project is to have a training center for Crimean Tatar, Karaite, and Krymchak languages, as they are all very endangered and are quite similar.

We made it down to Yalta later in the evening via bus, found our lovely apartment, strolled along the crazily crowded (Yalta in the summer) seaside boardwalk, and ended up having a pretty good dinner (by our vegan seeking standards) on a restaurant built on a pier over the sea. The next day we went to Lavidia Palace where the famous World War II Yalta Conference took place. I had been there a couple of times before but never made it inside for various reasons, but this time got to go into the historic palace, the summer home of the last czar of Russia. We also went to Chekov’s home and beautiful garden. We got back to Simferopol late and missed the tomato and cheese chebureks Lenura had cooked up for us, much to my dismay. But we managed to get up fairly early the next morning, and with Serdar in tow, took off for the nearby seaside resort of Evpatoria, where we had an English guided tour of the huge mosque there (us women in head to toe coverings) and then a dip in the Black Sea, something Sylvia wanted to do before she left. And than night when we got home, Lenura had chebureks waiting for us, this time with potatoes so Sylvia could eat them. The next day was Sunday with our train departure in the afternoon after a brief hike around Ak Mechet and coffee and treats with Maia next door.

So that was the Crimean tour of Joan, Sylvia, and Barb. What a treat to share this beautiful and historic land with two of my oldest friends. I have realized that Crimea is not at her best in the summer because how overrun she is with tourists from the rest of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, but despite the crowds, the beauty of the landscape comes through. And also the beauty of the people—how important it was for me, I realize now, to meld the two parts of my life—my past and present—if even for a brief and incomplete time. I feel my heart expanding more and more to encompass all those people I love back in America and now here in Crimea. What a priceless gift.

On to the next post and our adventures in Belarus.


  1. Can't wait to hear more! Sounds great so far, and gives me more exhibit ideas about Crimean identity!

  2. It's been a long time since I've checked in with you, Barb, and I so enjoyed reading "the Crimean tour of Joan, Sylvia, and Barb". I will look back to see what you've been up to. I've had the summer off and have been gardening and beekeeping up a storm. Today is so hot, the air so heavy, it cannot move. I'll spend the day inside, getting caught up on paperwork and your blog and reading. Our book group is reading Last Child in the Woods. I think it will be my last book with them, as I am connecting more with the bookstore in Cambridge. I will still be working in the cities, but hopefully not for much longer. I'm trying to find work in a school with special kids up here...budget cuts are deep in education, as, of course, you must know. Jacqui retired in June!! Keep in touch.