this story starts here. it takes place here:
october 29, 2011
the next morning was rough.
both mom and i had slept horribly, but i think i got a little bit more sleep, even though i was up from 3:30 on, with small amounts of napping occurring somewhere in there.
i think i finally got up a little after 8, though mom had been up for a while, having given up trying anymore. we were ostensibly cranky but possibly goofy. odds were on cranky.
still, we had a few things to eat, left over from the day before. strangely, we had a bunch of cheese, which seemed to keep well in our string of freezing rooms. we also had an apple, and a tomato, and bread. heaven.
so, breakfast without coffee, and no real idea about where to get any, but still we were heartened by the fact that there was food, and there was sun, and we were about to find out, one way or another, something about our family.
after breakfast, we packed everything up and went down to check out. we had no idea what to expect in the village, whether or not we would find any family members still there, or if we were going to be stuck there for the night one way or another, or what-have-you. we told the kind woman at reception, the same Polish-speaking one from the day before, that we had found the ukrainian name for the village, and her eyes lit up when she heard it. she knew exactly which village we were talking about. it was less than 5 kilometers away. awesome.
she excitedly and eagerly promised to watch our suitcase in case we couldn’t make it back. both of us had backpacks with the most important items in them, so we felt secure in leaving a suitcase full of clothes. we also asked about the possibility of getting one of the more expensive rooms if we did make it back, not wanting to take our chances with weird drafts and screaming/failing lights and dampness. no problem. she told us how to walk to the bus station, though we had a pretty good idea. she also told us to just head towards the market square to get coffee.
that last point was a little too vague for my liking, but we headed out, retracing our steps from the previous day, past the car where the seemingly-dead dog had lifted its head to sniff the air for any possibility of food. the dog was gone, but the car was still parked on the grass. vendors were still unpacking their goods for another day of outside sales. the cafe we found was right before the turn to the street that would lead us to the market square, more or less around a long corner from the hotel.
i was too shy to take a picture of the place that day, still awfully shy about stepping on cultural toes or drawing too much attention to us. two days later, i got a shot, before we left town. but still, to paint the scene:
a path cuts through what, in another place, may have been considered a park — green grass on either side, a few trees —snaking outwards from the plaza in front of our hotel. in drohobyć, the path is lined with tables loaded with merchandise. this “park” intersects an ascending cobblestone street; to the right, the rynek; to the left, downhill, more outdoor market. on the corner, doors swung outward invitingly, steep steps down to a cosy basement enclave — three booths to the left, a bar/counter to the right.
outside, by the door, was one table, no chairs. as we approached, two men greeted each other over beers, taking their places on either side of the table, laughing heartily.
it was just after 10 am, but we were the only ones ordering coffees. the place was full of men of varying ages, all of them eating herring in cream and throwing back vodka and beer. the only women there worked behind the counter.
we asked the woman who made our coffees for milk and she wrinkled her brow and shook her head. no, no milk. ok. no problem.
it felt like a victory, but also like the last calm moment before battle, as we sat at one of the booths immediately after it was vacated and stared at our coffees, which were sitting on plastic placemats graced with sunflowers. i had compartmentalized all steps of the trip the day before, but now that we had some semblance of a home base, or at least a hotel with nice people and the reassurance that there were people who would help us, i had stopped and now i had to start again. we were beginning to know our way around. we were safe, but we were also about to throw ourselves to the wolves again. i regretted, for a second, not letting oksana drag us to the bus station the night before. but then i got a flash of memory — fatigue, hunger, the inability to move — and i stopped myself.
we finished our coffees, and after a frantic moment of thinking that i had lost my hat, searching for it under the table and around the small cafe, and then giving up, we were on our way.
(i later found my hat in a completely obvious place in my bag — where i had looked. twice. obviously not closely enough. lack of sleep or stalling? who can say?)
we wheeled through the outdoor vendors and onto the main drag, passing tables and signs and bulletins, everything demanding my attention. my cyrillic was coming back to me, slowly, so i kept testing myself. now, months later, i look at these signs and i can’t figure out what they say. it comes and goes.
we had also asked the woman at the hotel where the grocery store was, and she told us it was on the way to the bus station. we stopped in for much-needed supplies, and i marveled, on the way out, at the international phenomenon that is the crane machine. i’ve had two ex-boyfriends who were obsessed with crane machines, and last summer, when i drove across the US in too short a time, i documented as many as i could find with a desire to compile them for the ex who is still my friend. now i had a ukrainian machine to add to the pile. my mom watched me taking multiple pictures and thought i must have surely lost my mind.
across the street were the ruins of a truly stunning building. we wondered about its history as we continued on our way.
the street to the bus station is lined with more outdoor vendors, but these unofficial. no tables with tarps and carefully-laid items here. shoes, clothes, bags, luggage, electronics, etc, placed on pieces of cloth on the ground, or directly on the dirt-rimmed edge of the grass, worn in by years of such activity taking place. we ogled the merchandise but kept walking. one woman stood, serene and official-looking, her coat of fine material, her hair styled like crazy, bracing a fluffy-white puppy in her hands, holding it out slightly, as an offering.
spongebob stuffed animals smiling maniacally from a toy store window. produce. shoes. old ladies sitting on crates. and then, there we were, back at the bus station that had been our first glimpse of drohobyć, from where we had taken the bus whose driver had been the only person to refuse us help.
that had only been the day before. not even 24 hours before. whoah.
i was hoping that this encounter would be more pleasant as we marched onto the grounds and then looked around, confused, wondering where the hell to go.