July 12, 2011
PART 1: Weekend in the countryside
Ulyana’s parents, Bohdan and Lyuba, live in the village of Batyatichi. Their house in the countryside is huge and beautiful and clean. You know, this really has been the perfect set up of this vacation for me. This is a luxury Ukrainian vacation which I feel, at this point in my life is very age appropriate. The older I get the more difficult it is for me to handle dirt. They seem to have a lot of money. And as you’ll read in this post, they are pretty brilliant little entrepreneurs. They own two stores in the village and also a bar. In Russia and in a lot of the former Soviet Union one concept that is greatly lacking is customer service. You’re beginning to see more and more people emerge now with an entrepreneurial spirit but they’re still pretty rare. Ulyana’s parents have never been to the West but they know how to run a business and how to treat their customers. So I’m going to take a few paragraphs and pictures to talk about how impressed I was with their businesses.
The village is small and quaint. They sell all different products in their stores, it’ like a Ukrainian countryside equivalent of Wal-Mart in a building of maybe aroun 1500 square feet. Everything you might possibly need: frozen meat, dried fish, beer, houseplants, toilet paper, shoes, rugs, clothes or frozen varenniki (dumplings) is all right there for your convenience. Moreover, outside their store they have a covered patio with tables and chairs and a little playground where the kids can play. The ladies in the shop were so nice and friendly and Lyuba said that they purposely hired very friendly people that would make customers feel welcome. HA! This is AMAZING!!! If any of you have been in a kiosk or a store in Moscow you know how rare it is to find a friendly cashier. Again, pretty genius business skills on their behalf.
But the coolest of their businesses was this little bar they opened. They decorated it in the traditional Ukrainian style. These decorations are all antiques that they bought from various people in the village. There are tools that the peasants used in the fields and traditional embroidered towels. The pictures in the frames are of Bohdan’s ancestors. A picture of his great grandfather in his uniform for when he served in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I. It’s so crazy to think that this land was part of the Austrian Hapsburg empire for a lot of its history.
The interesting thing about Ukrainian is that the literary version is sort of fabricated. People try to speak very properly with me but they still slip Russian words or formations here and there. Ulyana’s mom teaches Ukrainian grammar and so she speaks very properly and whenever Bohdan, Ulyana’s dad, would say a russism, Lyuba would correct him. In addition to the russisms (which Lyuba referred to as a parasite) there are also mistakes that come from the local dialect, which you hear everywhere. So if you’re going to learn Ukrainian be flexible and understand that the official language is still under construction.
One more thing that absolutely fascinated me was that Ulyana speaks to her parents on vy, the formal address. In my experience with Russian, kids speak to their parents in the informal ty. They said that it’s pretty common in Ukraine and especially in the countryside in Ukraine for children to speak to their parents formally. Sorry, I just shot I’d share this because it blew my mind.
PART II: Berries and Tvorog
As many of you may know I LOVE to cook! I love good food and I love it when it’s homemade and organic(but not in the trendy American sense of the word, I mean that there were only about three steps that had to take place to get that food to your table). Everything in Ukraine and especially in the villages is organic. For lunch we had tvorog which is kind of like a mix between cottage cheese and cream cheese and it’s a food that I’m obsessed with, but we don’t have it in America. This was made from milk from the neighbor’s cow. Three steps: squeeze the cow’s teets to get the milk (I’m sorry I couldn’t pass this one up, it’s not every day that you get to say the word ‘teet’), let the milk sit for a couple of days so that it thickens, and lastly boil it to separate the curds from the whey. Done.
For lunch we went out to the garden and picked all sorts of berries: raspberries, and cherna smorodina and chervona smorodina. One of these berries was the most unique flavor I have ever tasted. I really don’t think we have this berry in America. It almost registers as savory. Lyuba, Ulyana’s mom said that they’re super healthy and full of vitamins. We brought our berries inside and dished them on top of the tvorog. Then we gave it a drizzle of honey from the local beekeeper.
You know when you can only get a product if you have to bring your own mason jar, it’s going to be fresh. Which reminds me, at first I was a little weirded out by the fact that people reuse their jars or bring jars to the store to put their sour cream in or something, but I’ve come to be really inspired by how little trash it creates. Ulyana took out the trash the other day and it was this little dinky bag like the kind we put our produce in at the grocery store.
In addition to our berries and tvorog we had homemade varenniki with blueberries and smetana, which is pretty much just sour cream but a lot creamier here, again, which the neighbors made with their cow’s milk and honey. We drank tea made of berries from the Carpathian mountains and had delicious little cakes that local babusi (Grandmas) made, which they sell in their store.
The next morning we had fried cauliflower (Ulyana called it ‘color flower’ which was cute) and fried pork chops made from a local pig. The eggs came from the chickens in the backyard. They also have geese. I asked Ulyana if they were going to eat the geese. I did so jokingly not really think they would ever have the heart to eat their pet geese, but she answered, ‘Of course, but later’. It was funny.
Over our meals we talked about Ukrainian politics and the hope that was let down with Yushchenko after the Orange Revolution. Lyuba thinks that Timoshenko should run for president. This reminds me, the other day we went to buy flowers to take to Ulyana’s cousin for her birthday. I was speaking in Ukrainian. They were super impressed and said that I speak at about the same level that the current president, Yanukovich does. Politicians in Ukraine who make fools of themselves trying to claim that they’re patriots and all the while don’t even know how to speak Ukrainian are the butt of many jokes here in the West.