Saturday, July 9, 2011

post 9 july

Greetings from the lovely world that is Ukraine in summer! [It’s a lovely world in other seasons, too, of course, but with somewhat different features. :)]

I spent most of the past two weeks away from the computer and close to the sea—a pretty good trade, I’d say. Intercamp, a summer camp run by a woman who served as a national judge for the International Writing Olympics, turned out to be an excellent time. I had the idea that it would be pretty nice to be in Crimea and to work with Maryna, but my vague expectations were happily exceeded.

As a bonus, my friend Kate was also chosen to be on the staff for this shift of Intercamp, and so we took the long trip to Crimea [about 24 train hours to Simferopol, then about 2 bus hours to Zaozernoe, on the western coast] together. Kate and I will spend most of the rest of the summer on different adventures, so it was nice to be able to hang out and work together at this camp.

We were met at the bus stop by several campers who immediately picked up our bags and started chatting with us. “Kate, how is the weather in Lutsk?” one asked. Entering our camp, Edelweis [unexpected name, eh?], I had the idea that we were on a small and pleasant island. Apricot trees and flowers filled a large courtyard, each room had its own porch, and everything was open and airy. When a bus full of campers arrived from Kryvyi Rih [the city where Maryna’s language school is located], Kate and I found ourselves with two excellent roommates: Caroline and Polina.

Although the weather was warm on the first day, drizzle and clouds arrived the next day. Too cool for a swim, we decided to play beach games instead. “What a big, dark cloud!” we each commented at least once. “Oh, it’s raining a little!” we all noticed. And we played on anyway. “Let me see your funky chicken! What’s that you say?” Suddenly, the rain arrived in an impressively intense form. No time to be impressed, though, as all of us were huddled under the few big beach canopies set up, alternately laughing and screaming wildly as the wind and rain came harder and faster. Finally, as there was no sign that conditions were likely to change, it was decided that we’d run for it! And away we went—wet, muddy, laughing, shoeless, whatever! We all made it back successfully, though, so no worries. The rest of the afternoon was spent snug in our rooms watching movies in small discussion groups. No one got sick, and we all had an exciting story to tell. Plus, we had the hope that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Don’t let that dramatic pause fool you. It didn’t get any worse. It got much, much better. Although it was a little cool for the first few days, no more major storms interrupted our days. We spent plenty of time at the beach—swimming, playing volleyball [or having a meeting of the “We’re Not Good At Volleyball Club”], making friendship bracelets, and, one night, having a dramatic Olympics-style competition, complete with a toga-clad deity presiding.

Another benefit of the cool weather was the opportunity it offered for early morning running. Yes, once again, I decided to make an effort. The perfect situation presented itself: an outside neighborhood full of people I would never see again, a variety of new routes to explore, and a group of friends to whom I could force myself to be accountable. The result: eight successful runs on eight successive days along eight different routes! Maybe if there were more seaside routes in Lutsk I could be more successful running here… Only one spill on a rocky route, but otherwise I was pretty proud that I was able to follow through. Coincidentally, they’ve just announced a new Kyiv Marathon/ 10K event in September. Can it be done? One thing at a time! :)

The theme of the camp was cinema, and we worked in small groups to study various aspects of film and to create our own films. Each group chose and studied an existing film as a starting point, then branched off and made changes for our own adaptations. My team, Chicken Productions, produced Crazy Eddie: The Remix, in connection with Edward Scissorhands. Our version featured Edward Spoonfork Hands, excellent music (MIA, Peter, Bjorn & John, and Tom Tom Club, among others), and a dramatic surprise ending. Hopefully I’ll be able to post this film online soon so you can appreciate it, too. I really enjoyed working with this group, from developing our screenplay together, blocking out the scenes, filming, creating original sound effects… Молодці, Chicken Productions!

The youngest group, the Bossy Sharks, made Over the Gate, an adaptation of Over the Hedge, Kate’s group made Camp Alone: Return of the Robbers, Emily’s group did a version of The Goonies [the original of which I still haven’t seen], and the Spanish group, working with Nicolas, made Voluntario del Amor [Volunteer of Love]. On the last night, we had the InterFest film festival, with a red carpet and everything. Very cool.

Other happenings at camp included a day trip to nearby Yevpatoria, home of lovely buildings and a busy boardwalk, plus an unexpected dance show by our campers, much to the entertainment of tourists and costumed performers alike. Emily taught the kids three different dances throughout camp, and Thriller was the perfect show for a downtown showoff. Another feature of camp was a daily morning newspaper, and I was happy to have the chance to work as the editor. With a few fine staff members and an assortment of contributors, we chose pictures and put together interviews, film reviews, reports on events, puzzles, announcements, horoscopes, weather forecasts, and even the dollar/ hryvnia exchange rate. Even though this project involved mostly late-night and early-morning compilation, working with such a lovely staff and a benevolent production manager made it worth the effort. Each morning, after my run and shower, I’d share our materials with Maryna on our front-porch office, we’d put the paper together, and head off to breakfast. Such a lovely way to start the day!

So, leaving was sad. The fact that it took me 34 hours of by-myself travel to get back didn’t really help. Still, now I have lots more friends on VKontakte [“in contact”—the Russian/ Ukrainian Facebook], and I have hopes of visiting Kryvyi Rih sometime this fall to do some workshops at Maryna’s university and some lessons or other events at the language school, Interclas. In the meantime, I have some excellent new friends, memories, and penpals. :)

The rest of the week saw a visit by Terry’s son and daughter-in-law, another visit by two of Kate’s friends, and a special visit by Doug Teschner, Peace Corps Ukraine’s director. He only had two hours, so we had pizza at Felichita’s and saw the castle. That’s a pretty small nutshell to put Lutsk into, but so it went. Afterward, Kate and I showed her guests the artist’s house, and we were lucky enough to meet the artist himself, as well as his friend and self-appointed promoter. The artist, Kolya [short for Mykola, or Nicholas], is a sculptor, and his house and yard are filled with his hand-made works. The story, and apparently the truth, as we were informed, is that personal tragedy—the death of his son [and the death of his wife?]—broke his heart and led him to create countless original works, in memorial and otherwise. Kolya turned out to be a really nice guy, and his friend took our picture together.

In just a few days, I’m off to another camp—this time, as a camper. This is the only camp this summer at which my English language skills won’t be prized. How much Ukrainian can I muster after weeks of speaking almost only English, and listening to mostly English and some Russian? Tune in next time to find out!

In the meantime, eat a melon. I just had half of one this morning—диня, almost like honeydew, and super tasty. Other fruits are available, of course, but this is my top pick of the moment. Apples and cherries are growing around my building, and apricot trees lined the streets in Crimea [each time the train stopped, the platform was flooded with vendors raising high their buckets of apricots and strings of smoked fish]. It’s still early for watermelon, I’m told by cautious eat-only-what’s-natural friends, but there are plenty of other treats to enjoy for now.

Enjoy now! :)

PS- having some trouble with adding pictures today-- check FB album here: Actually, I'm wondering-- how many of you look at the pictures on my Picasa albums? I'm trying to decide if posting pictures in three different places is really that useful. Please let me know! :)