Monday, April 4, 2011

On a Very Bad Road to Kamenetz-Podolsk

Yesterday morning we met our guide, Alex Dunai, and began our journey to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine.  Kamenetz is the ancestral home of my maternal grandparents and the last ancestral town I needed to visit.  Previously I’ve traveled to my other towns in Belarus and Poland.  I had met Alex at the International Jewish Genealogy Conference and heard him speak, but this was our first opportunity to have an extended interaction.  Alex arrived at our hotel with his new vehicle with a “strong engine” which I would come to appreciate as we navigated roads filled with deep potholes by moving rapidly between lanes while avoiding oncoming traffic. I was grateful to have Alex at the wheel as well as serving as our linguistic aide.  This was clearly not a journey we would have wanted to attempt ourselves.

Once out of Lviv we came to small towns where houses lined the road behind low fences, much as I had seen in Lithuania and Belarus, but the homes were less homogenous in color and style.  Some sported tile work that seemed to mimic Ukrainian needlework.  Farm land surrounds the towns and tall trees have spheres high in their boughs which gives it a very ornamental feel.  Alex told us the spheres were mistletoe.  It was a warm, sunny day and landscape formed interesting silhouettes against the sun. We passed a cemetery of crosses set amongst the trees with their mistletoe ornaments.  Across the road, truncated trees mimicked the form of the crosses. Storks nested high above the houses having just returned from Africa.  As we drove, people walked along the side of the road, many were older women with babushkas on their heads and canes in hand.  Roosters and chickens and the occasional turkey wandered by the roadside.   

After a four and a half hour drive we arrived in Kamenetz Podolsk, clearly the most visually striking town of my ancestral heritage.
An enormous castle/fortress stands in the city like something out of Disneyland, but this is the real

deal. I had seen pictures of it, but one soon realizes that a picture does not do justice to this town.  Below the castle is the area of Karvasary, where the Jews lived in earlier times. 

The  Smotrich River surrounds the city on three sides and flows into the Dinster River.       Two bridges cross the river.  Below are high bluffs and a canyon-like topography which was clearly visible as greenery had not yet filled in the trees.  The bare trees were quite beautiful in their starkness.  We walked across both bridges taking countless pictures as each vantage point offered a new vista.  As we crossed one of the bridges we noticed something we had seen in Lithuania, locks attached to the bridge with names of young couples and a date engraved.  In Lithuania it is a tradition to attach the lock and throw away the key upon marriage.  Apparently this is also done in the Ukraine.

I had the name of the street on which my grandfather lived with his family at the time of the 1897 census.  Alex had determined that the name had changed, but found the location.  The street ended at a large park and the area closest to the park was the older section.  I walked along the first few blocks and took photos of the older buildings, imagining how the family lived in the homes in this area.

In the course of our day we tried a few Ukrainian foods that were new to us.  As my husband is a ‘pescetarian” ( a vegetarian who eats seafood) we had to think about foods that might work in a country of meat eaters.  I was introduced to “green borscht” which is made of sorrel leaves with rice and potatoes.  At dinner we tried “mamaleyga” which is like polenta with cheese with some meat atop.  My pescetarian husband found potato pancakes and mushroom soup to be good meatless alternatives.  He'll be eating a lot of that.

1 comment:

  1. What beautiful pictures! I am following along on your journey vicariously.