Monday, October 18, 2010

Koktebel with the Krymchaks

The coast at Koktebel.
Gathering for lunch.

Nina and Natalya (on right), two of the Krymchak Ladies.
With the Krymchak group in front of a statue of Voloshin.
Starting to get behind in my blog posts. This is my third start on a post about a day trip I did with the people from the Krymchak Museum a couple of Saturdays ago. It is sort of a slow afternoon here at the library, so maybe I will rally and actually finish it (or rewrite it, as the case may be, as I see I have left the original draft on my computer at home).
Anyhow, here’s the story:
The “Krymchak Ladies,” as I call them, are three women in their 60’s who have been coming to my little English class at the library ever since Nadjie invited them when we went on a tour of the museum earlier in the summer. I did a blog post about who the Krymchaks are, but for those of you who don’t read ALL of my posts, the Krymchaks are the Crimean Jews, a group of people who have lived here for centuries and who very much resemble the Crimean Tatars in language, dress, and customs. However, because they are indeed Jews, almost the entire population (86%) was wiped out in the Holocaust. Today, there are less than 1000 Krymchaks left and only one fully fluent speaker. They have a small museum in Simferopol and a pretty active preservation society. I love the fact that my little English class has brought together people from these two groups whose history is so intertwined but who seem to now have little contact with each other.
Their organization had arranged a day excursion to Koktebel, a small town on the Black Sea coast, famous as being the home of 20th century Russian poet Maximilian Voloshin and also the location of the Kara Dag Nature Preserve, which I have always wanted to visit. The ladies invited me to accompany them, and I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t have high hopes that we would make it to the preserve (touring the preserve is a four-hour hike apparently), and we didn’t, but what fun it was to go with a busload of people from the organization to Voloshin’s house and museum and to stroll around the beautiful sea coast of Koktebel. But what was really the biggest surprise was watching the transformation of Natalya, one of the Krymchak Ladies, from a brusque, very stereotypical Russian woman, to a fun loving free spirit, beating on her chest and extolling the virtues of being Russian. Of course, a little (?) vodka at lunch seemed to help. I have learned that when people go on excursions here they all bring enough food to feed everyone for a week. So when we finally found a place to picnic out of the blasting wind (the weather left a bit to be desired that day), out came loaves of bread, whole chickens, pickles, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, salads, and all kinds of other treats, along with at least two bottles of vodka. I managed to keep my imbibing to a couple of small shots—enough to participate in the toasts—but others weren’t so reluctant. So we had quite the gay afternoon, as we continued to walk around and then later stopped in the old village of Stary Krim to visit the Crimean Tatar museum there.
Back to Russian poet Voloshin, our reason for the visit to Koktebel. He was quite the interesting character, and his house was filled with photos of people who visited him there—many famous Russian literati of the time, along with mystics and painters, apparently including the famous Mexican painter Diego de Rivera because there were two portraits of Voloshin by de Rivera hanging in the museum. Serdar told me later that Voloshin often wrote about nature in his poetry, and his house was filled with watercolors he painted of the surrounding dramatic landscape. I tried to imagine what his life was like there 90 years ago, living in that small Crimean Tatar village in a sun filled house facing the sea, surrounded by the vineyards of the valley and the dramatic mountains of Kara Dag. It is hard to imagine a better place to live. Now the town has become a resort, and the waterfront is packed with stalls selling all kinds of food and souvenirs. They were empty when we were there, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene in the warmer months, as I so often have experienced the crowds that throng the coastal towns in the summer. Like everywhere in the world where tourism has given local people a means for a livelihood, it is difficult to wish for a former time, and yet it is hard not to long for the peaceful beauty and way of life that is no longer there for anyone, tourists and locals alike.
It is late evening now. Just came back from the Seitaptiev’s, where I made my first batch of chocolate cookies here in Ukraine. They were pretty yummy, but lacking a few of the essentials—like chocolate chips. They don’t exist here so I improvised with chopped up chocolate bars. Also, you can’t find brown sugar—well, you can find it, but it is very expensive, about $5 a pound. So given that I only get about $200 a month to live on, I resorted to white sugar for my cookies. They did not turn out quite up to my standards, but my neighbors loved them anyhow. I decided I am going to start doing some cooking over there. It is a fun way to spend time at their house, and especially with Lenura, and it is a way I can give something back to them. I think I will make chili next because I have some chili spices from America a Fulbrighter left me.
Love to all.

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