ukraine: 25 posts

Postcard from Ukraine : Gogol’s Nights

Few writers have described the Ukrainian nights better than Nikolai Gogol. He was born near Poltava, and its sights and smells never lost their hold on him.

“Do you know a Ukrainian night? No, you do not know a night in Ukraine. Fill your eyes with it. The moon shines in the midst of the sky; the immeasurable vault of heaven seems to have expanded to infinity; the earth is bathed in silver light; the air is warm, voluptuous, and redolent of innumerable sweet scents. Divine night! Magical night! Motionless, but inspired with divine breath, the forests stand, casting enormous shadows and wrapped in complete darkness. Calmly and placidly sleep the lakes surrounded by dark green thickets. The virginal groves of the hawthorns and cherry-trees stretch their roots timidly into the cool water; only now and then their leaves rustle unwillingly when that freebooter, the night-wind, steals up to kiss them.

ukrainian nights

The whole landscape is hushed in slumber; but there is a mysterious breath upon the heights. One falls into a weird and unearthly mood, and silvery apparitions rise from the depths. Divine night! Magical night! Suddenly the woods, lakes, and steppes become alive. The nightingales of Ukraine are singing, and it seems as though the moon itself were listening to their song. The village sleeps as though under a magic spell; the cottages shine in the moonlight against the darkness of the woods behind them. The songs grow silent, and all is still. Only here and there is a glimmer of light in some small window. Some families, sitting up late, are finishing their supper at the thresholds of their houses.” Nikolai Gogol, A May Night.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine: My Reading Corner

When a friend asked me about my reading corner, I was momentarily at a loss for an answer. I can easily zone out my surroundings, and I read anywhere–waiting for a bus or on the bus, at the metro station or squeezed among other passengers on a subway car. Various means of transportation are where I get most of my reading done. But of course, the best reading spot is quiet and comfortable, and these days it’s a little nook under a cherry tree in our Poltava garden. During our grey Belgian winters I dream of this overgrown orchard, of reading in the grass or simply stretching on a blanket and absorbing all the details around me–the pattern of veins on cherry leaves, the sweet almond scent of crushed grass, the shade of yellow of buttercup petals. These are the best souvenirs I bring back. So, when the weather cooperates, this is where I can be found with a book and a cup of tea (and less romantically, mosquito repellent).

reading spot

What’s your favorite reading spot? What are you reading these days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine : L’Heure Bleue

In Sufi poetry the nightingale represents the yearning of the soul for the divine, while the scent of the rose to which it sings is the essence of perfection. We don’t have roses yet in our Poltava garden, but we have lilacs. On many evenings here as dusk begins to fall and every nightingale starts to pour its heart out to the moon, I stand in the darkness that smells of marzipan and wet petals and listen. Overhead the stars are so bright and dazzling that they appear alive. I make out the Big Dipper about to catch itself in the craggy branches of old lindens. Perhaps, like the nightingale I too am yearning for something.

blue evening

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine : Pysanky

Khristos Voskres! Христос воскрес! Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Happy Easter to all who celebrated over the weekend.

This year was the first time that I tried my hand at making pysanky, decorated eggs that are an essential element of the Ukrainian holiday. This tradition is much older than Christianity, attested by the fact that painted eggs are part of the Persian vernal equinox celebration, Nowrouz. Pysanky is one of the most distinctive Ukrainian arts, and every region has its own design and technique. The motifs can be religious–angels, Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus, a cross, or more commonly, flowers, leaves, birds nesting in tree branches and geometrical motifs. The design is first made with beeswax and then the egg is colored.
pysankycherry blossoms 2016-1

As you can see, I first colored my egg yellow and then added more wax on the parts I wished to remain yellow. After this was done, I colored the egg red.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine : Willow Sunday

It took me a moment to connect the green fragrance reminiscent of jasmine buds and apples with the bunch of willow branches I held in my arms. I bought it at the entrance to the Mgarsky Monastery in Lubny, and I now stood in line to have my willow branches blessed by the priest who walked around the church courtyard, sprinkling people and their willow bouquets with holy water. Since palm trees don’t grow in Ukraine but willows do, the Sunday before Easter is called Willow Sunday. Mine smelled of sweet incense and willow blossoms.

willow treewillow sunday1

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