01 May 2006

walking with the dead

Still in Kyiv. Today is labor day, so the town--except for Khreshatik--is like a ghost town. In the words of my friend describing Poltava, "It's post-apocalyptic." Yeah, that.
Took the Funicular--a short tram that crawls up a hill near the river Dnipro--today. Thought it would be like a touristy view of the city. Walked up to the kaca to buy tickets for the journey. 50 kopeks each; the same as riding the Metro. Gave the lady a 1 and got two tokens in return. When I looked at them, I realized they were just 50 kopek pieces. Nothing special. Turned out to be just a way to get from the river, over the hill, and down to Khreshatik. Of course, we got a pretty nice view of the river and wound up in a beautiful park which leaned up against old church grounds--one of the churches had an onion-dome made out of wooden shingles. Lots of cool sites up there, and of course today's the day we leave the camera in the hotel.  Oh well.
Went to another ancient church ground the other day. The Kyiv Pechescka Lavra in downtown Kyiv. Part of one of the churches on the grounds dates back to 11th century AD.  We'd heard about the underground monastery. I wanted to see that.  When we finally found it, after winding around the epic churches which crawled above us and into the sky, Karen couldn't go it. She didn't have a head scarf and didn't want to buy one for 15 UAH. Neither did she have a long skirt. Orthodox up in here. So I entered alone. Well, I entered with a large group of Ukrainians. They all had candles and rosary looking devices. The journey into the first part of the cave was slow as everyone stopped to pray at every official looking prayer stop. The narrow, rounded path got narrower as we wound into the earth (really only about 20 meters down).
Then, the stops and the prays got more frequent. Women and men were throwing themselves on top of these box things that were lining the walkway, praying, and clicking their beads against the boxes. Then they'd kiss the boxes and move onto the next. The next of like 20 or 30. As I progressed, I discovered the boxes lining the narrow corridors were actually wooden framed coffins paned with glass. Inside, hermit priests from the 11th - 15th centuries, some replete with oil portraits of how that looked in life hanging above  their final resting places. From some of the dried, blackened hands poking out of the burial shrouds, I had a pretty good idea what they looked like in death. In some other rooms were ancient artifacts that we couldn't look at. Some famous holy relics. The tour wound further into the earth, but I a route out the first exit. Being a little claustrophobic and having a different relationship with the dead than most Ukrainians do, I decided to bail before I really let out the screams I'd been holding in.
Off to L in the west on Weds--so we hear.

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