Cassocks and Pagans

Lviv is a beautiful city, full of soldiers on leave from the front. I can imagine soldiers from many past conflicts, enjoying their coffees and walks through the park. It would be harder for me to do this in Los Angeles, London, or New York. Cities like Lviv take us to a time before all spaces were smoothed out and made easy to maintain. Before each shop looked the same, regardless of your geographic location. Adorned with the same designer artifacts and polished plastic and granite surfaces. 

In places not yet assimilated, we see the edges falling apart and the concrete facades falling off the buildings. We see behind the curtain, into the past. There is graffiti on the bridge, the door handle is loose, and a hook is missing from the coat rack along the hallway. Here we had to decide for ourselves what to do. Once, only the truly rich could insulate themselves from entropy, from time. Now almost all of us can. 

We feel time here. We know things were once much more elegant than they are now. With this feeling comes the knowledge that we can, if we try hard enough, create our own reality. The makers of the new surface know about this potential. They endeavor to steal it from us by covering it with homogenous space where nothing is ours to change and we leave no trace behind.  

In Kiev we ate sushi across from Maidan Square. A short time ago, during the beginning of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, this square was full of makeshift blockades, fires in oil barrels, and people holding banners and rifles. Dozens were killed and wounded. Orthodox priests stood amidst the chaos, holding golden crucifixes, struggling to remind their people to remain peaceful, to not harm their countrymen.

We boarded our first long-distance overnight train in Kiev. The trains station smelled of diesel fuel. We travelled third class in a sleeping car here, with open sleeping bunks, alongside about 30 others.

In the dining car a woman stood behind a small wooden table. Carpets were strewn on the floor. She pulled back a patterned cloth and revealed a selection of meats, breads, and pickled vegetables. She prepared two sandwiches for us, which we took back to our beds. We passed by the coach seats, other passengers eating chunks of bread with what looked and smelled like smalec, something I had not seen since my grandparents ate it when I was a child. They washed it down with cognac.


We walked across a bridge that connected the center of town to a small island. There was a small beach on this island which sat in the middle of Dnipro river. People bungee-jumped off the bridge, each emitting a small gasp as they sprang. A group of teenagers climbed up into the structure of the bridge and ran across its blue arc from one side to the other. We sat on the beach for a while watching people play in the water. Two young lovers embraced between blankets on the sand, and another group of people listened to reggae and drank mixed drinks.

Further down the beach, we made a small detour into the forest and came upon a small military bivouac, nestled curiously in a clearing in the woods. There were three covered military tents, a small unattended fire, and a few vehicles. We were careful not to tread too far into the space. After a few moments, a young boy accompanied by a man in his 20s approached us. The boy asked us what our names were. We told him, and he talked with his older companion in a language we couldn’t identify. The man walked away and left us with the boy.

He told us his name was Igor. He was no older than 12. He spoke a little bit of English. When asked where he lived, he said here in the camp. They had been there for about a year. He said he learned English in a weekend school that he had to attend from time to time and from the little bit of TV that he was able to watch. He proudly told us he was a Cassock, here with his people to fight as part of the resistance. He insisted that he walk us back to the bridge. He asked as best he could about where we were from, and about our trip. Before we parted ways, he left us with his Facebook address. It was not clear what side the people in the camp were on.

A local curator took us to a scythe festival, sponsored by a local scythe manufacturer, located in the countryside about three hours outside of the city. The contestants came from hundreds of miles around, as far as Serbia and Poland, and represented many small ethnic groups that still practiced their own religions and spoke their own dialects. They hacked at the fields rhythmically, singing songs in the dialects of the villages. The rows of tall grass were marked off by long lines of string to measure the distance and depth that each person had hewn.

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