I had a big decision this morning.
Option 1: Wake up early, climb in a sub-compact car with four other adults, and drive 2 hours to get to Sanok, a town where the regional birth, death, and marriage archives are located. Option 2: Lounge around all day, with the apartment to myself, eating, drinking, and napping the day away.
Tempting as Option 2 was, I didn’t let inertia win this round. So off we went, Stephen, his parents, and Jim, a genealogist (genealoger?), who is here doing research for himself, the Ewashkiws, and other assorted clients.
Family, Food, and a Few Icons
The car ride was about as bad as I expected it to be.
I’ve never had any great love for road trips, and in 35 degree heat in an overcrowded vehicle, it’s definitely not my favourite mode of transport. The speed, combined with the bumps and rolling motion of a car leave us feeling a little seasick now that we’re used to going slowly by bike. We drove further in two hours than we’d normally cycle in a whole day!
On escaping from the car, we slowly unfolded our creaky legs, and were released into a non-climate-controlled, highly humid, European summer heatwave.
While Malcolm and Jim waded through the archives for any sign of Stephen’s past, the rest of us waded through the hot, thick air to a milk bar for second breakfast. I had a plate of pierogi z spinakiem (meaning with spinach) which were green on the inside, green on the outside. Tasty.
A plate of 10 pierogies cost 7 zloty, which is less than $2. I knew there was a reason Stephen and I could never bring ourselves to pay $18 for a plate at Polka Polish Restaurant in LA.
After eating, the three of us visited The Icon Museum. Religious icons (um, and religion in general) are really not my thing, but the art was actually pretty interesting.
Icon painting, which we believe Stephen’s great-grandfather did for a living, is part folk art, part fine art. Painters used lots of different styles and techniques to convey the same stories for an illiterate congregation.
There was plenty of beauty in the museum, and also lots of pieces which were kind of hilarious to our modern, irreverent eyes.
There was even a little modern art for us to enjoy.
We whiled away the rest of the afternoon eating potato pancakes and chocolate crepes in an outdoor cafe in the town square. As you probably know, eating, drinking, and whiling away the afternoon are three of my favourite things to do, so despite the oppressive heat, I was happy.
We are back in the car now, driving along a lovely flat country road.
Man, I wish I was riding a bike!
Under Electric Skies
Later, after we were taken to see a couple of hundred-years-old houses where distant relations of Stephen’s may have lived, we ate a quick dinner of pierogies and amazingly delicious french fries at a little fishing restaurant.
I say “fishing” because here customers are welcome to throw a line in the pond and catch their own dinner. This late in the evening, the only fishers were a couple of feral cats. The only people dining were Stephen and I.
We walked home under a gathering electrical storm, but the oppressive heat still pressed down on us, like too many blankets on a warm night.
At home, we opened our balcony doors wide and sat in silence as Mother Nature began to display her power. Vast swathes of white light flashed across the valley below us, reflecting off of the thick cloud cover. The view strobed from tranquil darkness to vibrant acid daylight every few seconds. Our pupils contracted and expanded wildly with every flash. Thunder boomed somewhere in the near distance.
Soon, fork lightning started to crack the sky in front of us. The bolts were so perfect we could barely believe a team of Hollywood CGI gurus were not involved.
The storm crashed through the hills on all sides of us, but still, we were blanketed in the stagnant mix of high pressure, humidity, and heat, longing for the rain to come.
We couldn’t take our eyes off of the spectacle, the drama, of the storm. Every time we made a move to go inside, a bigger, brighter, more powerful bolt of lightning would strike. We spent the better part of an hour just watching, involuntarily exclaiming every time another bolt connected ground to sky.
In this world of man-made things, we rarely feel reverence, but tonight we were dumbfounded, overwhelmed with awe and humility.
After all the searching of records, connecting lines on charts, visiting old houses, and wandering through museums that we have done in the past week, this storm is the only thing that made me feel connected to the people who lived here a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years ago.
It’s easy to picture them, sitting on their porches, or in whatever shelter they’d found, and watching as the skies raged above them.
I can see them involuntarily exclaiming every time a bolt of lightning connects ground to sky.
I can see them sitting under electric skies, silently revelling in the awe and mystery of the universe. ♥