L’viv Journal

I think it was sunny for my first two days in L’viv, just over a month ago, but since then L’viv’s narrow cobblestone streets have been perpetually wet or frozen. We had snow then rain then snow again and an overcast sky ever since with occasional flurries.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with various distant relatives. On Sunday, I spent the night in Konopnytsia. I watched UFC fights with my 15-year-old nephew who trains in kickboxing thrice a week.

His grandfather recalled asking his mother why she is crying and why she won’t stop hugging the stranger who just arrived by foot. “This is my brother,” she said. My grandfather jad just returned from Bereza Kartushka . The Polish guards abandoned it when Poland was invaded, and the remaining prisoners walked home.

I didn’t understand what my nephew meant when he told me his grandfather had made him a pear in the garage. “Pear” is what they call a punching bag. It was a potato sack stuffed with rags and taped.

I’m very impressed with the young man for his entrepreneurship. He sells flowers, raspberries from the garden (which is hauntingly similar to the garden my own grandfather tended in New York’s Catskill Mountains), homemade soap (he showed me a glossy catalog with a soap making machine he wants to buy), and pagan Ukrainian rain callers / chasers away called “doshchevitsias” — imagine a long hollowed out stick filled sealed at both end, filled with small, hard seeds. He gave me one as a gift.

He asked me (not vice versa) whether I’d heard of Robert Kiosaki and his book “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” As you might imagine, we had a lot to talk about: tariffs, taxes, paper money, gold, silver manipulation.

Despite my rain dances with the doshchevitsia, the cloudy weather continues. It penetrated my windows, chich I’ve begun sealing with masking tape, but not my morale. Every day is an endless parade of challenges, adventures and curiosities. I struggle (and fail miserably) to keep up with my ambitions. You may have notice I have yet to begin those book reviews I promised.

One lady told me L’viv is in a depression and has lower atmospheric pressure, which is why people need to drink coffee — hence L’viv’s coffee culture. There is indeed a coffee culture here. Not so sure about the theory though.

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More about the weather: One older man I recently visited with said that during his excile to a Japanese Island, almost all the Russian prisoners died while hea nd his fellow seminary students accustomed to L’viv’s dampness lived on.

He said that in 45 when their “liberators” arrived they immediately ruined (his word) all the priests, but were utterly perplexed as to what to do with the students. Eventually they wrote to Stalin who himself had once been a seminary student. The man described in detail how Stalin lit his pipe and deliberated, which made me think his story is partly the imagined events surrounding the facts of his life.

Apparently they decided to send them to a Japanese Island in the hopes the American’s atomic bomb would kill them, but first they were put in soldier uniforms and sent to Iran because, he said, Stalin wanted to show the Iranians how cultured the Soviets were. He said that from the time the Iranians learned his group consisted of Ukrainians from L’viv, they treated them very warmly, unlike the other Soviet soldiers.

He actually opened with Iran upon meeting me. “I heard you’ve been to Iraq. I was in Iran, you know.” And I thought I was in for a confused, endless recollection of his half-forgotten life, but he was lucid enough and interesting enough that I enjoyed the visit and will likely seek another to test some opinions I’ve heard on various Ukrainian historical figures.

After several months in Iran, they were taken about a dozen timezones eastward. The young and old died along the road, he said. Six years after that, an extremely fat Soviet General or Admiral who tested the tires of any car he sat in, and whose name my host was astonished that I did not recognize, apparently told them they’d only be released if their wives had three children in their absence. That hung over their heads for a while, then they were released anyway. He returned to L’viv. “So many had vanished,” he said, shaking his head.

He is a professor and a writer and claimed so many titles on such a variety of subjects that I can’t help but feel suspicious. He said there are two big organizations of Ukrainian writers. The National Union of Writers of Ukraine, which is claims is runs by former communists and whose Taras Shevchenko Award is fixed and corrupt and already planned out ten years in advance, and the Association of Writers of Ukraine, which used to give not literary awards but general ones to distinguished individuals. If I understood correctly, they grew disillusioned after giving an award to former Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko and haven’t given one since.

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Still more about weather:

After the first snow, it wasn’t uncommon to see parents pulling children along the sidewalk on tethered sleds, made possible by the almost non-existent snow removal. On one street, I did see a half-dozen people in reflective vests shoveling snow onto the back of a truck which drove forward several meters at a time, but for the most part, snow gets trampled down by thousands of feet and car tires, sprinkled here and there with a little sand (most of which seems to find its way up four stories and onto the floor of my apartment), and left to the forces of nature.

After much searching, I bought a pair of boots for 600 UAH ($75). They’re rather uncomfortable.

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I joined a gym, thinking I wouldn’t be doing any grappling here, but I’ve since gotten a lead about some guys who either practice or are interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Nevertheless, so far, I’ve been going regularly to Euro-sport, a very well-mainted gym full of expensive looking people with a pool and a “zone relax” which I think is a spa.

Contrary to her claims, the nice young lady who gave the tour during my initial visit did not speak very good English, but after several frustrating obfuscations, I joined. They take their “zone relax” seriously. A six-month restricted hours membership costs about $490. If instead of unlimited visits to the “zone relax” I restrict myself to a meager 4 per month, the cost is $300. I went for the latter.

On my first swim I was told three times by three different people that swim trunks are forbidden. Either they take this policy very seriously, or a lot of old, hairy Ukrainian men want to see me in Speedo-like bikini bottoms.

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