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Off-season, a short story (from My Ukraine WU short story and essay contest)
WINNERS – 2007
The magazines Welcome to Ukraine and Mizhnarodny Turyzm gratefully thank all those who have taken part in our contest, Moya Ukrayina (My Ukraine) for Best Short Story or Essay about your travels and about Ukraine.
All of the stories and essays that we have received reflect their authors’ love of Ukraine and their desire to share with others impressions of their travels.
In the nomination Moya Ukrayina — My Ukraine, the winners of the year 2007 contest are:
Natalya Folyovchuk — 1st Prize for her story The Pasture Where the Clouds Graze (published in WU #4’2007)
Volodymyr Panchenko — 2nd Prize for his essay A Russian Poet with Ukrainian Roots (published in WU #3’2007).
Best Story Contest My Ukraine – 2008
The Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine announces the continuation of My Ukraine best story contest for the Year 2008. Travels, impressions, experiences, meetings and adventures as well as descriptions of historic incidents, of architectural landmarks and sights, or anything else that may be of interest, can be the subject of the materials which are sent in to take part in the contest.
• The materials should be up to 5,000 signs (about a thousand words) in length, and written in Ukrainian, English or Russian; they should be provided with photographs or illustrations (digital or printed, of a size no smaller than 10 x 15 centimeters).
• The best stories and essays will be published in the Mizhnarodny Turyzm magazine and in the Welcome to Ukraine magazine (in English translation); they will be put on the website www.intour.com.ua and www.wumag.kiev.ua.
• At the end of the year a final short list of the materials will be compiled and winners of the contest will be announced. The results will be published in the Mizhnarodny Turyzm and in the Welcome to Ukraine in the first issues of 2009, and will be broadcast in the Nedilna podorozh Radio Program at the 1st National Radio Station.
• Before publication, the materials which will be sent in can be edited; they will not be reviewed or returned; no royalties will be paid.
The authors of all the published materials will be awarded with annual subscriptions to the Mizhnarodny Turyzm or the Welcome to Ukraine magazines.
The winners will be awarded with:
1st place — a voucher for a week-long stay at a resort in Turkey or Egypt;
2nd place — participation in a tour organized for journalists by the Mizhnarodny Turyzm magazine;
3rd place — a valuable prize
Materials for the contest should be sent to:
Mizhnarodny Turyzm Publishing House,
15 Klovsky Uzviz Street, Kyiv 01021
For further details call (044) 254 5190/91/93
In this issue we publish one of the stories that have already been received from our readers.
“If God wanted to spend a vacation on earth, He would, no doubt, choose, Bukovyna to go to.” It’s an old saying that dates from the times when Bukovyna in Western Ukraine was under domination of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire — but I think it is still very much relevant today.
These days the Bukovyna section of the Carpathians offers tourists a whole lot of services — hotel complexes, rafting down the mountain rivers, mountain climbing, hang-gliding, horse riding, snowmobile rides, and whatever else you can take a ride on. There are mineral waters with medicinal properties to drink; there are art and music festivals to attend; there are fantastically delicious local dishes to taste.
Woe to me — I have too much work to do these days to avail myself of all these wonderful services and propositions. But on one of the recent weekends I did go to the Carpathians to spend a couple of days there.
At the hotel I chose to stay in, the receptionist said I could have any room I liked — “It’s an off-season, you know, and there are very few tourists around.”
I chose to stay in a room at the top floor of the three-story-hotel. I wanted to have good views from my windows — and I did have them. In the distance I saw the silver ribbon of the Cheremosh River running down the slope of the mountains. In the valley tiny houses of the Hutsuls could be made out; on the horizon, the Chornohora mountain range was outlined in all of its much-sung glory. I could see an astronomical observatory sitting on the top of one of the mountains through my binoculars. Incidentally, this observatory was built in the late 1930s, shortly before the Second World War.
It was drizzling. It felt so nice and cozy to be sitting in my room right under the roof and be listening to the patter of rain on the roof. But there were no other sounds that penetrated into my room from the outside world and I gave myself to the enjoyment of the sound of silence. Not to be disturbed, I turned off my cell phone. As somebody I know said, “Vacationing is the time when you do what you want to do without anyone telling you what to do.”
I ensconced myself in the armchair and took a good look around my room. Two wooden chairs, a wooden table, a wooden wardrobe, a wooden bed — the solid, reliable things that one may need in a room when all you have in mind are hikes in the forest, or mountain skiing, or just sitting on a stump at the forest edge and breathing the salubrious air. The bed was covered with a lizhnyk — a rug, local Hutsul style; smaller rugs covered the chairs. I knew there were rooms in that hotel that were much more luxurious, with satellite television, mini-bars, Internet connection and other things of that sort — but I really did not need any of that — I had everything I needed.
When I felt I would not mind having something to eat, I called the room service and ordered myself a modest dinner — fried trout and home-made wine. The fish had been dipped into corn flour before it was fried and the golden crust looked very appetizing. The stronger smell of the fish mingled with a softer smell of the wine producing a great bouquet.
By the time I finished my dinner, the night had fallen and the darkness swallowed the mountains. I knew what I would see through my windows anyway and I drifted into reminiscences.
In my student days, I had spent a lot of time in the Carpathians, exploring the mountains by taking walks and hikes in all possible directions. Unfortunately, now, because of my work, there was no time to do it any longer. I recollected my visit to the Bukovyna Carpathians in early fall. We had a sort of a corporative picnic, cooking barbecue — used beet tree wood for making the fire. The ground was covered with a carpet of golden leaves. We looked for mushrooms and picked quite a lot of them. We even did some mountain climbing. Incidentally, collective mountain climbing helps establish very friendly relations — you rely on somebody else’s support and they rely on you, and you learn to trust them.
Back to my room. As I was sipping herb tea — I inhaled the fragrances of mint, linden leaves, thyme — I recollected a visit to the Carpathians in summer.
It was in the middle of July, when the slopes of the mountains are covered with tall grasses and wild flowers. Initially, we — my wife and I — had wanted to go to the sea, but then we had changed our minds and went to the Carpathians instead. We took swims — or rather dips — in the crystal-clear water of the mountain rivers, we breathed the air as though we were gulping down the most delicious drink! We ate strawberries, raspberries and blackberries that we collected ourselves — and they tasted like the most refined dish in the world! We bought freshly-milked milk and huslyanka (a sort of yogurt made from baked milk) from the local Hutsuls, we ate potatoes baked in the campfire with a piece of hard lard inside. I don’t think you can get a dish like that in a McDonald’s restaurant! We sat on the top of a hill and watched the glorious sunsets which were like symphonies of color played by nature for us. You can never see anything like that in town…
A gust of wind opened one of my windows which I did not close firmly enough. Cold air smelling of rain began pouring into the room. For some reason it made me think of spring — how gentle but also how rough the wind in spring can be in the Carpathians!
On one of my visits I was in the Carpathians in April. The spring had already come to the valleys, filling them with the riot of blossoms, but higher up in the mountains there was still a lot of snow. The higher I went the stronger the wind was — and at one point it began to feel as though I was being pushed around by some invisible but resilient substance. It seemed to me I could even touch or lean against it and be supported in mid-air…
I wrapped myself in the warm Hutsul rug and thought that I should buy one to take home. “It’s so warm,” was my last thought before I sank into sleep.
I woke at night and listened to the strange but not unpleasant sounds the hotel, made of wood, was producing — creaking, squeaking, grating, whimpering and groaning in the wind. Every log, every plank had come to life and now they were telling their stories. They had a great many stories to tell — there were horror stories and love stories, stories of the hidden treasures, stories of the evil and kind fairies, stories of people who were lured into the depths of the forest and were made, by magic, to dance until they dropped dead, stories of natural and magical wonders; there were songs sung too…
The Carpathians of the twenty-first century is a jumble of the mythological past and the sophisticated present — the Hutsuls maintain the age-old traditions but use mobile phones; they use medicinal herbs to treat diseases, they believe in evil spirits but watch television broadcasts beamed to their homes from the satellite… The wind subsided, the creaking and other sounds gradually died and I fell back into sleep.
On waking up the next morning, I was greeted by the bright sunshine enhanced by the blinding sparkle of snow that had fallen during the night. I was the first to wander out of the hotel and with every step I made I was leaving the deep footprints in the pristine snow. While I was taking my walk, I decided I wanted to do some skiing very much. It being the late fall, I didn’t expect any snow, and I had not brought my skis with me — but there were skis to rent from the hotel!
I heard an opinion that late fall is not a good time to go to the Carpathians — moody and not much to do. A very wrong opinion! Even just taking a walk in the forest with the ground covered in yellow, red and brownish leaves, a walk that brings serenity and quiet to your soul, makes your trip worth the trouble. And if you luck out, like I did, you’ll get a lot of snow — all to yourself. Off-season, you know.
By Ruslan Senchuk. Town of Vyzhnytsya, Chernivtsi Oblast
Photos by the author