My sister Linda, who now lives and teaches in Albania, once explained to me that there are two types of people: small world people and big world people. The smalls are content to live and remain in a particular place (be it a locality, state, or perhaps region), while the bigs must go beyond and experience more of the world. One type isn’t superior to the other, and sometimes people move from one type to the other. Certainly, personality and personal context weigh heavily in the equation as do often uncontrollable factors like health, finances, and family. But Linda and I are big world people, who were raised by big world parents. We travel and explore the world not so much because we want to as because we must. We both have “wanderlust.”
I think it’s fair to say that I’m here on this second Fulbright for two reasons: one, I want to participate in the wonderful give-and-take experience of this particular country and its people; and, two, I want to use my location in central Europe as a launchpad to explore as many new places as I can in my off time. My personal goal is to have visited 60 countries by the time I turn 60…so I only have three more years. I’m nearing 50 countries now but am starting to lose some of the stamina and agility I had in my younger years. Such is life.
Since mid-term, I’ve taken two trips: a planned, long-weekender to Kyiv, Ukraine, and an unanticipated week-long trip to Portugal and Spain, made possible by the late discovery that I had time off due to national holidays. I could write pages about my Iberian journey and my specific interests in the Moors as well as the Sephardim, both of which were expelled after the Christians “conquered” the region, but there’d be little beyond what so many others have noted. (I loved all of my stops, but Granada was the highlight of the trip.) Instead, I’ll focus here on the Ukraine.
Having watched the documentary Winter on Fire and read Snyder’s Bloodlands earlier this fall, I knew that I had to visit the Ukraine sooner rather than later: the revolution was less than two years ago (February 2014); the annexation of the Crimea came the next month (March 2014); and the tensions with Russia have not abated. I fear that Putin—with little if any resistance from a Trump presidency—soon will over-reach again and that there will be another conflict or even war. Certainly, Ukraine has suffered a brutal history and remains in a precarious situation.
During my long (and cold) weekend in Kyiv, I spent an entire day in (or near) Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), the heart of the revolution and the place where so many of the “100 Martyrs” lost their lives. Although the square now is “tourist ready,” there remain so many reminders of what happened: photos, ribbons, shrines, and bullet marks. For better and worse, the site is a major tourist attraction, not that there appeared to be many tourists on my weekend, and anyone with a camera is quickly accosted by a local pleading for charity or hawking something.
While the Square may be the most memorable of my stops, the churches and monasteries must be noted: so much rich history to learn and such beautiful buildings to visit. I spent a half day at Pechersk Lavra, the “Monastery of the Caves,” both above ground and under. Fascinating.