Friday, July 27, 2007

Around Minsk

Belarusians love flowers, monuments and street sculpture. When the weather warms up they're all in evidence.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jewish Minsk

Our tour of "Jewish Minsk" unfortunately left no time for examining all the positive artifacts of a rich cultural history that included a thriving Yiddish theatre scene even in the early Soviet years, during which, for a short period, Yiddish was one of Belarus' official languages.

After the pit at Yama, where 5000 Jews were murdered in one night and the trip to the site of the Maly Trostenetz concentration camp, as well as assorted other stops, we ended an emotional day.
The photos, from bottom right going clockwise show (1) detail from monument to German Jews brought to Minsk to be killed; (2) Yama; (3) sign at site of Maly Trostenetz, where 206,000(!) were killed by Nazis; (4) Yama; (5)Alla, the guide, explaining the monument at Yama, which includes a tribute to ordinary Belarusians who risked their lives to save Jews on that awful day; (6) Winding down at the Lido cafeteria afterwards with Lisa and Yvonne, the two Fulbrights, Yvonne's husband Mike, and Erica, an American volunteer at the Minsk Jewish Community Center.

US Embassy Film Fest

The Pubic Affairs Section of the embassy sponsored a showing of American films in the original language in a large cinema in Minsk - not an easy thing in Eastern Europe where everything gets dubbed in the local language. When they asked me to do the introduction to "Annie Hall," I expected a handful of people. What I found was a packed house of several hundred people! I'd like to think it was for me, but somehow I think it was for Woody Allen.

I gave a short address in English after handing out a transcript in English and Russian, which, much to my surprise, generated several requests for my autograph. Quite an ego trip for an English teacher, but just another example of the generosity and graciousness of the Belarusians.

The pictures show us back in the audience with Rena having a good laugh about something and me speaking. The gentleman next to me is a film critic from a local publication.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Vitebsk and Chagall

We visited Vitebsk, a four hour drive, home to Marc Chagall and Yuri Pen, Chagall's first teacher, on a cold rainy day in April. Chagall's childhood and teenage home has been converted to a museum with a knowledgeable guide and several preserved artifacts. Yuri Pen founded a painting academy in this small city, an unlikely setting for such an array of talent.

Khorujai Street

The streets are full of surprises; the vivid warmth of a flower kiosk on a cold winter night; a lottery prize ceremony on a Spring day complete with a cowgirl hoedown and a samba with two half dead snakes.


Our landlady Zena and her husband Valentin, who, in spite of their dour expressions for the camera, laugh a lot and are charming, lovely and generous people. In spite of their meager ten word English vocabulary, our fifteen in Russian, and four or five shared German words, we managed to communicate quite well and shared a pleasant afternoon thanks partly to Rena's wonderful and creative pasta and Zena's magnificent home made cake.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Metro

Crowded, clean, safe and aesthetically graceful describes the Minsk subway system. Trains are frequent, every three minutes, and zip you uncomplicatedly through the city without adventure. At the end of each station a digital clock shows current time and the time elapsed since the last train left. It is cheap (25 cents a ride, 12 for pensioners and students) and relatively short, with two lines crossing and going to different parts of the city. It is augmented by suburban railroad lines and an amazingly comprehensive above ground system of busses, electric busses and trolleys that cover the entire city safely (if not always comfortably), cheaply and reliably.