In spite of having internet in every hotel we have stayed at, it has not been consistent enough to post to this blog every day, so my postings are sporadic. To my delight though, my phone has a data signal almost all the time while we are traveling so I have been able to text and respond to emails. Emails on the phone are for me, not the greatest – it’s difficult to see the complete message to which I’m responding, and opening attachments, probably because of the signal is almost impossible. I hope all my emails have been (mostly) comprehensible, although my responses have been pretty short for the most part, since typing on a small screen….
We arrived in Khmelnitsky Monday evening. I really need to start there. We arrived late Monday afternoon, and our wonderful GPS, after guiding us through parking lots and very narrow streets in Kiev, finally got us on our way. Our reservations at the hotel in Khmelnitsky had been made and confirmed months earlier. We arrived at the hotel and they claimed that our reservation was for the following night (it was not – we had confirmations) – when you are traveling and need 5 or 6 rooms each night, you are pretty careful with how you are booking. The hotel found sufficient rooms for us.
To our surprise, each room was completely different from every other room, and I do mean completely. The only thing all the rooms had in common was giant mirrors and chandeliers. The hotel was apparently part of an entertainment complex. The rooms themselves were very entertaining. So much so in fact that after dinner we took a tour of each other’s rooms. My room had a mirrored bar and a fireplace. I wanted to put some photos of this here but for some reason I couldn’t save any to the blog – if they disappear before this gets published, when we get back to the US next week, I will go back and edit and add photos. I noticed on some other days that I added photos and they disappeared. Some days it feels like we are in a time warp or a Harry Potter story.
Tuesday morning we set out for the archive. It’s most important to be prepared prior to visiting an archive anywhere, to make an appointment to meet the archivist and the director of the archives, or their second in command, if at all possible. Every one of the archives we have visited and will be visiting was expecting us. Part of the scheduling difficulties we had was getting to cities in plenty of time – some days because of traffic and border crossings, this had been a challenge, but every one of the archives was open and gracious even when we were late. They all understood the issues with traffic, roads and borders.
We walked from the hotel to the archives on a beautiful summer morning. A few minutes into our walk, we encountered the most whimsical park benches!
After this, we arrived at the archives in a very cheery mood.
I think that no matter how many different archives we visit I will never cease to be amazed at the size of the holdings, at the fragility of the documents, and the age of them.
Can you imagine the millions of files, the billions of pages of information stored in these facilities?
We were privileged to not only be given a tour of the archive, but to be shown nobility books, vital records, and revision lists from the collections. The colors in the books are phenomenal. It’s hard to believe that they are hundreds of years old, that the plant based inks not only survived but their colors are possibly as vibrant and brilliant as they were the day they were written.
We had an opportunity to spend some time doing client research and acquainting ourselves with the methods necessary to do research in the indexes and digital holdings. Each archive has their own specific methodology and although many of the archives have been digitizing their holdings, these are not available online – they are on servers which cannot be accessed off premises. Of course, the Khmelnitsky archives are home to a very special collection of records.
In 2003, a terrible fire decimated the Jewish and civil holdings in the Kamenets-Podolsky archives. For years it was thought that nothing had survived, but more than a third of the documents did and restoration of them is on-going. We got a glimpse of some of the documents. It’s astonishing that so much was saved and they are stored in Khmelnitsky. The Director of the Archives spent quite a long time with us and told us about the restoration of those records as well as about the archive’s on-going efforts to digitize their holdings.
Ella had a bus to catch that left at noon, and we needed to check out of the hotel and get on the road. Marek, Anna and I drove Ella to the bus station. I was sad to see her go back home. We haven’t seen each other except on Skype since 2011. I know we will spend more time together some day, but I don’t know when. Our fathers were first cousins, but they never met. Ella’s parents and grandparents lived their lives in Ukraine, and never traveled far from home. During the war, her parents and grandparents were in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. My dad was stationed overseas during the war, in the Philippines. There was never any opportunity for them to meet. I don’t know if they even knew about each other until we connected with them in the mid-1980’s. My paternal grandmother and Ella’s paternal grandfather were siblings. My grandmother came to the US in 1920. After the war, in spite of receiving letters from Ella’s grandfather, he never received her responses – he was in the Soviet sector. My grandmother died in 1956, and our family in Ukraine never heard from any of the family in the US after the war.
The bus was nothing like I thought it would be – it was a van with no air-conditioning. Think of it – a 6 hour ride on bumpy roads during the heat of the summer with no a/c! The driver was pretty rude, too, and gave Ella an argument about purchasing her ticket on-line – he was hoping to be able to sell seats himself and pocket the money. Since Ella did not have an assigned seat, he made a not too subtle threat that if someone came along and wanted to purchase a seat for cash, even though she had a ticket, he would displace her. Anna and Marek, who were with Ella while this was happening told her firmly that she needed to get a seat and stay in it. Ella emailed me later and said she arrived home after a very uncomfortable trip, but she was safe.
The rest of us had lunch at a nearby pizza place and then got on the road. Our first stop would be to drop Anna off at home – she lives between Khmelnitsky and our destination for the night – Mogilev-Podolsky. Anna encouraged us to take some time to see some sights there, especially the Jewish cemetery which is in wonderful condition. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in M-P we were exhausted and it was too late to do anything. Until this part of the journey, we thought that the roads were greatly improved from the potholes connected with narrow strips of asphalt that I remembered. I suppose that they are somewhat – the potholes are no longer visible, but the road although paved, felt like a dirt and gravel road.
I have yet to be able to take a photo of a stork or a nest. It’s amazing that the pictures I am taking during our long drives are clear at all, since they are being taken from a moving car! Some of the sights along the way are breathtaking and stand in sharp contrast to other sights.
Our hotel for the night was interesting – it was in a heavily wooded place, and looked like it might be a fun family-type resort. There was an old historic building and a newer building. Lina and I had rooms in the older building, everyone else had rooms in the newer section. My room lasted just a few minutes. The rooms were all air conditioned. Mine didn’t turn on. It wasn’t plugged in! In fact, there was no where to plug it in. When I went to the front desk to ask about it, with a lot of sighing and frowning, the woman at the desk found an extension cord and came to the room and plugged it in. It still didn’t work. Lina’s room was in beautiful shape. This room had cracked furniture, and as it turned out, also had some uninvited occupants. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased with either the lack of cool air or sharing my room. It wound up being changed to the other building.
I was completely exhausted (I suspect we all were) and although I thought the barking dogs next door would keep me awake, they did not.