Black Sea armchair traveler

Last day working at the library before my vacation a couple requested travel guidebooks for the Black Sea, Odessa, and Yalta. Our library is proud of its heavily-used, up-to-date travel collection. Alas, we had nothing to meet the request. * "Nobody goes there!," the husband muttered.  "WE ARE going there!," the wife answered. "We are going to Odessa and Yalta."

Why?  My online search for guidebooks to purchase yielded only Lonely Planet and Badt titles. What was behind the wife's insistence?

Today I found National Geographic had named the Crimea/Black Sea one of its Best Trips for 2013.  Ah, hmmm.  Until now all I knew about the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea came from Flashman At the Charge, and Anne Perry's historical mysteries with Hester Latterly, a Crimean War nurse learning from Florence Nightingale. 

We should all be able to scroll our high school history class mental notes and find the Yalta Conference. We might know Odessa from the famous steps scene in the 1925 movie "Battleship Potemkin".  You've probably seen it. It still blows me away. My youngest broke his arm in Odessa/Midland, Texas, but that is not the mental reel we are rolling, and he was not in a descending baby carriage.

So Saturday evening my grown-up youngest asked me some questions about our family origin, something I've been meaning to put into writing for years. I called up the family legend of our earliest-but-not-named ancestor, "The Unknown Liska" and how he walked from the Ukraine to Prague pushing his dear old toothless mama in a wheelbarrow all the way.  Any oral tradition includes layers of embellishing!

Wider than an airplane seat.

At that particular juncture, we were at a supra feast catered by a woman from Georgia.  Seven of the ten diners had been in the Peace Corps in the Ukraine.  They had all been to the Black Sea coast, Georgia, and all around the area.  Odd coincidence! *See "Nobody goes there," above.

supra is a Georgian celebration involving a series of toasts, wine, food, and song.  My son's friend took the role of tamada (ritual toastmaster), and taught us to clink glasses and say, "Gaumarjos! Victory!"  There are poems to recite with each toast. The first toast is to love, and the second is to parents.  There were supposed to be about twenty toasts, but we got side-tracked.  

I thought the order of the toasts was set, but I learn now they are tailored by the tamada for the occasion. Our tamada was honoring my presence, and I was honored indeed. One toast was

 "To what you do with love."  

Georgian cooks use walnuts to season and thicken sauces. The dishes were spiced with tarragon, coriander, fennelgreek, mint, and garlic. We had beans stewed with walnuts, khinkali dumplings stuffed with pork, and khachapuri, a cheese-filled flatbread.  Then we had katmis satsivi chicken in a walnut sauce. My favorite was a an eggplant dish with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and peppers.  Somehow thin slices of eggplant were cooked, stuffed, and rolled up like little pigs in a blanket. 

All in all, it was a very exotic evening for this old gal.  I'm grateful to have my teeth, and to travel by a taxi instead of wheelbarrow.

In the continuing education spirit of clarification, I pulled up a Google map and a deck of Authors cards.  

  • Relevant vs. Pertinent on Pay-Per-View
  • Relevant + opportune = 2ap·ro·pos  adjective \ˌa-prə-ˈpō, ˈa-prə-ˌ
  • Into the valley of death rode the six hundred
  • Baklava is prepared with different ingredients throughout the region.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder

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