In Tribute to Lviv: Lonely Mozart in Lemberg and Reflections on Solitude

On Thursday, Russia launched a missile attack on Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, about 60 km from the Polish border. A jewel of Renaissance art, Lviv has a long history. Today it stands in mourning, grieving over the lives lost in the bombardment. Some of its beautiful buildings are in ruin. A few years ago, I spent a memorable time in Lviv with my mother and fell in love with the city. Below is my tribute to its fin-de-siècle allure–and the nostalgic beauty that unities Lviv with another gorgeous city on the other side of the border, Kraków.

In 1808 Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, the youngest son of the famous composer, traveled to Lemberg. Today it’s Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, but when the eighteen year old pianist was packing his sheet music and books and setting off on his journey, it was located in Galicia, an entity created by Joseph II after the partition of Poland in 1772. (It was the same Joseph that commented about the Marriage of Figaro, “too many notes, Mozart.”) While young Mozart was aware that he was trading Vienna for the provinces, he was in dire straits. Lemberg seemed like a promising place for a pianist to build his career and return to the capital. Mozart ended up staying for more than two decades.

Young Mozart’s early letters to his family were filled with mentions of his “loneliness [Einsamkeit].” He acutely felt the Galician isolation and complained that his inspiration was deserting him. He envisioned all of the brilliant conversations he could have experienced in Vienna society, the music, the books, the arts, and despaired of finding anything similar in Lemberg. Franz Mozart’s output over his lifetime was indeed small, yet, what becomes obvious is how much he drew on the local surroundings and how creatively he interpreted them.

In 1810 Mozart composed a song entitled “Die Einsamkeit (Loneliness),” but as Larry Wolff indicated when writing about Mozart’s experience in his book The Idea of Galicia (public library), “it was unexpectedly cheerful in musical spirit, and the words seemed to welcome solitude.”

My wish and my joy are you, solitude
[bist Einsamkeit du], and domestic peace
and country calm [und landliche Ruh].

Mozart’s Galician sojourn imprinted his music and resulted in a number of original compositions such as Variations on a Ukrainian folk song, for piano, Six Polonaises mélancoliques for piano, Op. 17 and Four Polonaises mélancoliques for piano, Op. 22. In the 19th century Lemberg was a city blending Polish and Ruthenian (as the Ukrainians were called then) traditions, and Mozart responded to its melodies. The polonaise, the Polish national dance, would be remade by Fryderyk Chopin in the 1830s into a dramatic form infused with Romantic spirit and sorrow for the failed Polish cause, and yet, in his Galician loneliness Mozart had already tapped into the same emotion of melancholy and loss.

Mozart is one of many artists who channeled loneliness into creative pursuits. In her book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (public library), Olivia Laing explores the lives of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger, along with mentions of the actress Greta Garbo, the new-wave singer Klaus Nomi and the science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany. The book with its poetic reflections and rigorous biographical research contains many insights, but its main value is in stating the idea that while loneliness is a condition most people would rather avoid, its effect can be galvanizing and creative. In order to forge a connection with others, one seeks ways to convey one’s thoughts and emotions through less conventional means.

My first potent experience of loneliness also took place in Galicia, albeit on the western side. If eastern Ukrainian Galicia had Lemberg, the jewel of Polish Galicia was Kraków. By the time I set my sights on it, Galicia had long ceased to exist, except as a sentimental, nostalgic idea, but my decision was not unlike that of Mozart. While my cohort competed for grants to do research in Rio de Janeiro, Washington or Cairo, I was sure that a political scientist could make a name on the terrains of post-communist Poland.

If I found Warsaw grim and yet dynamic and alluring, Kraków with its magnificent Gothic architecture, Baroque churches and medieval castles left me with an acute sense of displacement. For all of its beauty the city had a tense air of a place in transition, and I couldn’t find my footing in it. I had a few interesting encounters with local politicians, but mostly I was left to wander the same streets as Nicolaus Copernicus once did and copy archival materials in the basement of the library that smelled of dust and unfulfilled five year plans. Outside, everyone seemed to be enjoying life over beer and coffee at the self-consciously titled Cafe Europejska, but nobody sought my company, and I felt too morose in my isolation to seek it. It was as Laing observed in The Lonely City, “Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.” As anyone who has experienced this state knows, the lonelier one feels, the less one is able to judge social cues and interact naturally. I retreated further into the archives and my own world.

Without anyone to dispel my loneliness–and after I broke the copier at the library, my reception even there turned frosty, I began to seek solace in Kraków itself. The city with its traces of history became my companion. I sat through the services at St. Mary’s Basilica hypnotized by the scent of incense and the carved altarpiece by Viet Stoss. I imagined what the Wawel Castle would look like had its priceless Belgian tapestries and silver decorations not been stolen by the Soviet army. I returned so often to The National Museum to see the rouged faces of the 19th century Polish aristocracy that sometimes the guards would let me in for free. I left Kraków with few regrets, but its idea of an ancient, historical city flavored with the melancholy of Romanticism stayed.

For all of the unpleasant aspects of my Kraków experiences, it became a remarkably productive time. No, I didn’t write a brilliant paper on the linkages between the federal and local government and didn’t parlay my interviews with Polish politicians into a work of great insights. If that were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be writing this today. Instead, I developed a lifelong fascination with East European arts and literature, learned Polish and fell in love with the polonaise, especially the young Mozart’s melancholic variations. I also discovered that loneliness, Mozart’s Einsamkeit, is sometimes a place of refuge, an antidote to the constant pressure to be social, successful and ebullient. I no longer fear it, and sometimes I even welcome it.

Lviv Mélancolique

In conceiving of this etude on loneliness, solitude and melancholy, I collaborated with the photographer Alena Muravska, who perfectly captured the Einsamkeit of Lviv/Lwów/Lemberg. Of course, the city has many layers, and Muravska’s work explores them all. In her book of photography titled Lviv, she shares her impressions. “Lviv was not meant to be my final destination,” Muravska observes, “but once there I could not resist the temptation to linger, to wander its winding cobblestone streets, and to reflect on what makes this place cast such a spell on its visitors.” Perhaps, Mozart would feel an affinity with this sentiment.

Photography of Lviv by Alena Muravska, used with permission, all rights reserved.



  • Gabriela: Loneliness… your article made me think about the concept. What is loneliness nowadays? Is it the same a before?

    Yesterday I watched a documentary on virtual relationships in Japan. Shocking. People have virtual partners and take their machine to the park and even get married to them. They say that its good because they know that its endless love and their virtual partner will never leave them.

    Being alone is different to being alone surrounded by people, maybe thats the difference now. June 12, 2017 at 8:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that this is the difference between loneliness and solitude, although something I agreed with Laing is that loneliness, as oddly as it sounds, forms as part of an interaction. There is so much pressure in our society to be out there, to be popular, to be admired, and even more so in the world of social media where everyone seems to be leading picture perfect lifestyles that admitting to being lonely can be hard.

      Some of my creative periods happened during times when I felt lonely, sad, downcast, so I found ways to express myself. For this reason when I do experience bouts of melancholy for no apparent reason, I don’t immediately rush to find a company to dispel them. Sometimes the opposite works even better. Although of course, the main thing is to remember that it’s fine to ask people for help. June 12, 2017 at 11:21am Reply

  • Karen 5.0: I loved this post – thank you! Laing’s The Lonely City book you mentioned is wonderful. Another one you might enjoy is an older one by Jonathan Franzen (I am not a fan of his novels, but truly enjoy his essays): How to Be Alone: Essays ( In a slightly different vein, there is Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful Wanderlust ( Here’s another one, just out this year: FLÂNEUSE: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London, by Lauren Elkin. Finally – and if you can stand another recommendation – there is How to be Alone, by Sara Maitland in Alain de Botton’s School of Life series.

    My ancestors were from all over Poland, especially Galicia, and Krakow is one of my favorite cities in the world. I lived in Poland for two years, learned Polish there, and have been back often, most recently in August to give a travel talk at a conference ( I know exactly what you mean about the melancholy mingled with the beauty of Krakow, though…and I think that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. I felt much the same way when I lived in Berlin, learned German, wrote, walked around, and generally felt haunted by the many ghosts there.

    I believe cities are as distinct as people – some repel us and others attract. Often, it takes one or two (or more!) visits, if one is so inclined, to get a real sense of the place, and I think doing it solo is the best way to go about this.

    I hope my comments were not “too many notes,” a quote that I love and use often with friends and family – it always makes me laugh 🙂 June 12, 2017 at 8:42am Reply

    • Gabriela: Wonderful tips, will buy Wanderlust for sure. June 12, 2017 at 9:11am Reply

      • Karen 5.0: I really loved this book – I hope you do, too! June 12, 2017 at 11:16am Reply

    • Phyllis Iervello: Karen, it sounds like you have had a very interesting life. It’s great that you were able to live in different cities and countries and learn the language. June 12, 2017 at 10:20am Reply

      • Karen 5.0: Thank you, Phyllis! It has not been without its challenges, but interesting and eye-opening, yes! 🙂 Travel becomes an addiction sooner than you think~ June 12, 2017 at 11:18am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, isn’t it? I like this comment about travel by a Swiss travel writer, Nicolas Bouvier, “Travelling outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you—or unmaking you.” June 12, 2017 at 11:28am Reply

          • Karen 5.0: I love this thought – so very true! I must read this Swiss writer~ June 12, 2017 at 4:30pm Reply

            • Tara C: I love Nicolas Bouvier’s writing, especially L’Usage du Monde (not sure of the English title, I read it in French). June 13, 2017 at 7:46am Reply

              • Victoria: The Way of the World. It’s excellent. June 15, 2017 at 1:39am Reply

            • Victoria: I’ve read The Way of the World by him. June 15, 2017 at 1:30am Reply

    • Kathleen: Solnit’s book is a marvel. Victoria, I think you might enjoy it. June 12, 2017 at 10:51am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you, Kathleen. I’ve just downloaded a Kindle sample, since I haven’t read it yet. June 12, 2017 at 11:26am Reply

    • Victoria: I know the Ukrainian Galicia much better than the Polish one, but the reason that I do is because of Krakow. It inspired me to travel, to search. Strange, Galicia is gone, but its idea persists and even now propels me to travel to Lviv and find traces of its past.

      Your recommendations–any recommendations–are more than welcome. Ever since all of you have started sharing your book lists, I’ve started reading more. Out of the books I’ve read last year at least 20 were from various recommendations posted here. So, thank you and please keep on sharing.

      Going to read your article right now! Thank you. June 12, 2017 at 11:25am Reply

      • Karen 5.0: It is a paradox that when we feel alone (and perhaps not wanting company), that we write with the goal of connecting with others who share our sensibilities. June 12, 2017 at 4:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: For me, it’s less about writing specifically than all creative pursuits in general. Or just making for different connections with my surroundings. June 15, 2017 at 1:31am Reply

          • Karen 5.0: Well said – I agree 🙂 Writing – and other creative pursuits – allows you to interact with your inner and outer worlds- June 15, 2017 at 6:37am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Maybe you are interested in this recommendation as well:
        Matthew P. Canepa ”The Two Eyes of the Earth–Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran”. University of Californian Press 2009.

        Interesting review : Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews.
        Every time I see the name of Shapur I or II, I think: Hey, Shapur, there you are again! as always quarreling with the Romans.

        As for solitude: I love it. June 15, 2017 at 7:25am Reply

        • Victoria: Another great book recommendation from you. You know exactly the topics that would catch my interest. 🙂 That period of history is fascinating. June 15, 2017 at 8:43am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: Your sentence „Galicia is gone, but its idea persists …“, your comparison Lviv—Krakow, this sort of rings a bell when we visited Latvia and Estonia a week ago. So many impressions of bygone days (perhaps, probably it is to the best that there are no self-important Baltic Germans bossing others around any more), yet all the time there were shadows of past times flickering. Not that I in any way know what used to be—but there was this unknown „idea“, this phantasma of something one knows. Take the university town of Tartu: it could be Göttingen and yet at the same time (40km from Russia) it couldn’t ever be Göttingen! I can hardly find words, but I felt slightly melancholy …
        Of course, both countries are fantastic and vibrant and so well worth visiting! July 11, 2023 at 1:31pm Reply

        • Victoria: I can imagine exactly what you are describing, having been to the Baltics. I also found the whole region fascinating. By the way, I recently met an Estonian writer Ilmar Taska and started reading his book, Pobeda 1946. Much recommended. July 11, 2023 at 1:51pm Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: I shall read that book for sure!
            My somewhat rambling words were written sitting in a train. At home, I found a better way to describe my melancholy: the German word „ Fernweh“ ( yearning for a far-away place) is usually meant spacial. But what if we understand Fernweh in a temporal mode: yearning for a place past (or future?)—a place we‘ll never visit. That‘s where the „Wehmut“, the twang of pain is felt. July 11, 2023 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Eudora: Yesterday’s “quote of the day” from my husband -who happens to be a solitary wolf who enjoys being surrounded for us…
    “The cure for loneliness is solitude” Marianne Moore.
    Thanks Victoria. Loneliness is a place of refuge, an antidote to distractions. I no longer fear it, and very often I welcome it.
    Yours is a poet soul. June 12, 2017 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: A quote I agree with completely. Thank you so much, Eudora! June 12, 2017 at 11:26am Reply

    • Bregje: I love that quote!
      I am a bit of lone wolf myself. I immensely enjoy solitude. It recharges me July 7, 2023 at 9:07pm Reply

  • Kathleen: I enjoyed everything about this post. So thought provoking. The photography is beautiful in its dark, lyrical melancholy. June 12, 2017 at 10:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your nice words. Alena will appreciate them too. June 12, 2017 at 11:26am Reply

  • Peggy: What a wonderful post, Victoria. I am not well traveled and this was evocative. Now I have to find the younger Mozart’s music! June 12, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: It must have been tough to make his name in the shadow of his father’s fame, but I do enjoy his work on its own forms. June 12, 2017 at 2:43pm Reply

  • Lindaloo: “…smelled of dust and unfulfilled five year plans.” A poetic pearl that instantly tells me more than any essay would. I am glad we did not lose your writing to the dry analysis of political science. June 12, 2017 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! 🙂 June 12, 2017 at 2:46pm Reply

    • Bregje: I liked that one too! July 7, 2023 at 9:08pm Reply

  • behemot: As a person born and raised in Krakow, I probably should be surprised that someone felt so lonely there. After all, I know so many people in Krakow and every corner of Market Square seems familiar. Yet I am not surprised by your impressions and feeling of loneliness you experienced there. Even now, Krakow still is very conservative and many times one can have feeling of being in a small, provincial town. “Regular” people there do not start conversation with the strangers, because, in their opinion, it would be intrusive. (On the other hand, I am surprised nobody talked to you in Cafe Europejska, but at least, it saved you the experience of not-so-great conversation with unsavory men who like to occupy the tables there) I can understand your feelings about unhelpful university employees, and yes, I know and hate this dusty library you are writing about. The secret to Krakow is to know the insiders, and then the city magically opens up for you, and you are not lonely there anymore. A lot of my friends from the US (where I live now) and other countries told me they experienced Krakow this way. After all, Krakow can have some magic to it, two Nobel laureates used to live here until recently, and it still has an art scene. The new Museum of Contemporary Art, Schindler’s Museum and Underground under the Market Square are the nice addition to old, historic sites. Maybe you should revisit Krakow? Please, let me know when you decide 🙂 If any of the readers would like some information, you welcome to ask! June 12, 2017 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: In a way, it could have happened anywhere. I’ve been back to Krakow since then, and I do enjoy the city. I did enjoy it back then too, probably even more so, because of the state I was in. But I will gladly take up your offer for more information. It would be nice to travel there again. June 15, 2017 at 1:30am Reply

      • behemot: Going there on Monday:) June 16, 2017 at 3:21pm Reply

  • Jacquie: Loneliness….that I know so well all my life..
    Perfumes for loneliness? June 12, 2017 at 4:45pm Reply

    • spe: Perfumes for loneliness? Those with endurance and a strong character. Those that eschew bland or of-the-moment influences. Any of the classics, but the one that seems most fitting, perhaps counterintuitively, is Joy. L’ Heure Bleue and Mitsouko would be too stereotypical. Shalimar too sensual. Chanel No. 5 maybe too detached and aloof. Another option possibly Chanel Chance EDT. What are your fragrance choices? Interesting question! June 12, 2017 at 8:28pm Reply

      • Jacquie: Thank you, I would check out your suggestions.
        I have JP Joy edt.
        My signature is Rive Gauche, its a cold beautiful perfume… June 12, 2017 at 9:35pm Reply

        • spe: Oh, I love RG – a fabulous scent! Definitive, optimistic, and yes – aloof at first. But also playful and full of surprises as it dries down.
          They say Joy EDT has jasmine, Joy EDP has rose, but I get a green floral bouquet from both that lasts all day. June 12, 2017 at 10:24pm Reply

      • ninuchka: Splendiris feels beautiful and lonely to me. July 10, 2023 at 2:42pm Reply

    • behemot: Old Guerlain fragrances June 13, 2017 at 12:34am Reply

    • Becky K.: To Jacquie: I would recommend a perfume that brings fond memories of childhood. For me, it would be something Fougere-inspired, because I enjoyed playing outside (by myself) when I was little.

      To Victoria: Thank you for another lovely article. I will remember this when I’m experiencing solitude, knowing that it’s perfectly all right! June 13, 2017 at 10:58am Reply

      • Jacquie: Thank you, Becky, I really like that suggestion!
        Now to find… June 13, 2017 at 4:41pm Reply

      • Victoria: It is! It’s also good to have an arsenal of things that makes solitude, especially the unavoidable kind, more bearable. It can include anything that inspires you–books, movies, perfumes, taking walks. June 15, 2017 at 1:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Anything that makes you feel good and perhaps that offers a window into another world. In that I’m the oppose of Spe, who finds Guerlain classics not quite right. To me, Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue are the perfect perfumes for solitude, because they make me dream. June 15, 2017 at 1:33am Reply

  • Carla: What a lovely piece and interesting photography collaboration. I have rarely been lonely, even when I would travel alone for six weeks straight for work. I once drew the confused conclusion this made me an introvert but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extroverted through and through. I relished my first travels alone through Europe while in college. I remember my best friend said the most important thing she learned studying abroad was that she didn’t like being alone. This sounded so strange to me. I do maintain that in fact just because you are fine alone doesn’t mean you’re an introvert; in fact it may be introverts who have a harder time being alone since they don’t connect so easily or quickly with others. There is no hard and fast rule June 12, 2017 at 8:46pm Reply

    • Mariann: Ive read the key difference is not whether you are comfortable alone but where you draw your energy from. Do you recharge by being in company or do you need some alone time. Basedon this I am an introvert though I enjoy company plenty. Susan Cains Quiet was a eyeopener. June 13, 2017 at 8:53am Reply

      • Carla: Yes this is true about where you get your energy but since I do relish my alone time this explanation didn’t make it clear to me. Maybe I lacked self awareness but the fact that I was energized with others was lost to me for years. It was amazing to realize I’m an extrovert after years of claiming I was an introvert, perhaps because my extroverted mother also wrongly claimed to be an introvert for some reason. Once I realized I’m extroverted I enjoyed my time with people even more. It was like being with others was a source of pleasure – and energy – I hadn’t identified and therefore hadn’t appreciated before. This fine line is why I like the Myers Briggs personality test because it allows for more nuance. I am highly Intuitive as per Myers Briggs and I think that is why I also love being alone with my thoughts and interests. I think it is those who are Extroverted and Sensors who don’t like being alone very much. I could go on and on! Now that I’m almost 40 I feel I finally have attained the stipulation to “know thyself” June 13, 2017 at 10:16am Reply

        • Victoria: I’ve been told all of my life by my family and at the Soviet school that I’m an introvert (it was not used as a compliment), mostly because I liked reading and painting more than playing ball with kids. But I also love being around people–and as a ballet dancer, I thrived on being on stage, and interacting with others stimulates and inspires me. Even if you take this blog, you can see it through the amount of time I devote to answering comments. This part really is the best part of blogging for me.

          In the end, we’re all rarely one type or another, and we do change over time. I’m far more outgoing now than I was in my early 20s, when I first reached Krakow. I’m sure I would have had a different experience there now, much less solitary, but perhaps much less nuanced. June 15, 2017 at 1:47am Reply

          • Carla: Collaborating in a stage production is such a special experience, no matter what your “personality type”. People make the mistaken assumption that one or other is better (introvert/extrovert) or that it’s best to be a bit of both or in between. Actually the world is a better place with all types! My mother seemed to believe extrovert meant a vacuous party animal and introvert meant intelligent. Not true! June 16, 2017 at 3:14pm Reply

            • Victoria: Even within those two types there are plenty of variations and lots of nuances. June 19, 2017 at 2:59am Reply

            • Frances: It’s been a long time since I posted here but I am still a faithfull reader. I’ve been enjoying this entry very much even when the verb “enjoy” seems perhaps a little trivial regarding the depth of the subject. And then, just as I am writing this I realize it’s quite the contrary and that “enjoying” is in fact fitting since there’s joy to be found in solitude. Sometimes it’s a quiet joy and sometimes a melancholic one. Does that sound strange? I am a firm believer in the concept of an ambiguous joy, embracing both longing and contentment.

              Anyway, I agree that it is important to welcome loneliness and explore it. Since I like being by
              myself, I guess I’m kind of biased but I am truely convinced it is essential to take the time to think and above all to day dream as you said, whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in between, especially in today crazy world. The constant need for interaction that is basically “sold” to us as the end all be all of a fullfilled life seems not only weird but damaging to both the inner peace and the imagination. Being alone when needed or wanted is the water that feeds the m’indiquer to keep it green and flourishing.

              So many books and poets and music to check I will need a second read of both your post and the comments section. I share your views when it comes to old Guerlain perfumed jewels. These fragrances are ships to sail a sea of memories and inspiring visions. July 7, 2023 at 11:49am Reply

              • Frances: I think I posted in the wrong part of the comment section, it seems I just posted a reply in the middle of a conversation sorry! It happens to me alot. July 7, 2023 at 11:53am Reply

      • Carla: Also I read Quiet thinking it was describing me which I now find funny. The realization I’m not an introvert was truly revelatory! My husband helped open my eyes by saying, if you’re an introvert, what on earth am I?! (He’s quite introverted.) June 13, 2017 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I realized through my Krakow experience that loneliness has many layers, which is why in the end I look back on that time with fondness. I don’t have difficulty being alone, but I make friends easily (again, the vestige of the Krakow trip is to learn how to overcome my natural reserve). This helps, since I travel a lot for work, and as a researcher and journalist, I have to connect with people, some of whom may not care about being interviewed. June 15, 2017 at 1:37am Reply

  • Inma: Dear Victoria,

    I find this is a beautiful article.
    I need solitude from time to time in my life.
    And, as you say with the company of Krakov, I choose being alone or to be accompanied by music, books, the air, or whatever. These days I choose, part of my time, being in solitude and, the rest, with people who are as nutritive as the best of the meals.
    Best dishes take time, good ingredients, knowledge and wisdom to be cooked, I think. That is my choice for creating personal bonds.
    Alena Muravska´s photographs are so beautiful.
    Thank you, as always, June 13, 2017 at 11:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for this beautiful observation. It’s important to leave time to yourself to dream, to be alone–in the amount that is right for you, of course. It’s remarkable how much one comes up with when one is not “productive” and just dreaming. June 15, 2017 at 1:53am Reply

  • Elisa: I love those photos.

    Every so often I like to binge on solitude to the point that I get lonely. Since I work from home, if my husband leaves town I can arrange my life so I don’t really see anyone for four or five days in a row. I eat every meal alone, etc. This is delicious in its way but then of course by the fourth or fifth day I am dying for company. In any case, though loneliness is a negative emotion I think of it as one that I like feeling from time to time, like melancholy, nostalgia, and even physical pain. June 13, 2017 at 6:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Very true. The willingness to surrender to the negative emotions–bittersweet longings, melancholy, etc.–seems strange in the context of the contemporary pop culture, but it’s also something that’s part of the Slavic worldview in which I grew up. The extreme on both ends are dysfunctional, of course.

      There was a great essay by Tim Parks in the NYRB about our love for the pessimist literature, and he concludes that it’s about freedom to stop looking for the ultimate happiness. As if such a thing even exists. June 15, 2017 at 1:58am Reply

  • Kate: What a beautiful essay. It resonated particularly with me because I have moved to a city where I know few people and have experienced a lot of loneliness over the past few years. I’m an introvert who needs solitude, but there are limits! And yet, these times of great loneliness, especially in foreign cities, are the times we remember with eidetic intensity. To experience a place most fully perhaps one has to be alone.

    Thank you also for the reading recommendations – I have encountered so many marvellous books because of recommendations from you and your readers, Victoria! June 14, 2017 at 6:33am Reply

    • Victoria: When I first moved to Brussels, I also felt this sense of isolation, being in a foreign places and not knowing the basic things about living there. But I have discovered it more fully than I would have in a company, or by being shown around as a tourist. I’m sure that the reason I enjoy Brussels as much as I do owes a lot to this period.

      I hope that you will find your footing soon! June 15, 2017 at 2:00am Reply

  • Alicia: Your post made me think of a short poem by the great Lope de Vega (XVII century). I’ll leave you the original and my rough translation:

    A mis soledades voy,
    de mis soledades vengo, .
    porque para estar conmigo
    me bastan mis pensamientos.

    I go towards my solitudes,
    from my solitudes I come back,
    Because to be with myself
    my thoughts are more than enough.

    Solitude, in my experience, is the sine qua non of creation. Thoughts, and their expression in any of the arts or sciences, may be inspired by many exterior experiences, but are given form in solitude. Newton’s apple became the law of gravity in solitude, Beatrice’s smile enlighten in solitude the creation of the Divine Comedy. I don’t remember any longer who was the English poet who said that poetry is strong emotions recollected in tranquility. That is in contemplation. And contemplation, be it religious, philosophical, scientific or artistic, always requires contemplation. June 16, 2017 at 6:07am Reply

    • Victoria: Beautiful! Thank you very much sharing this poem, Alicia. Another gem from you. June 19, 2017 at 2:53am Reply

    • Alicia: Excuse me; the last line should read: “And contemplation, be it religious, philosophical, scientific or artistic, always requires solitude.”
      Thank you for liking Lope de Vega’s poem. I love it , and -as you do- it is a joy to share what we love. June 19, 2017 at 6:59am Reply

      • Victoria: It makes me want to read more of his poetry. June 20, 2017 at 8:34am Reply

        • Alicia: I know of very few translations of his poetry, except for one, quite decent, in Italian. There is good reason for this, Lope wrote thousands of lyric poems, several epic ones, including a charming burlesque epic on cats, 1300 comedies and tragedies (of which 300 are extant). Cervantes called him the Monster of Nature because of such fecundity, and the Phoenix of Wits. Here is a witty poem :
          Sonnet on a Sonnet
          Violante sends to me to make a sonnet.
          I never suffered such distress or pain;
          A sonnet numbers fourteen lines, that’s plain,
          And three are gone while I begin upon it,
          To shape a rhyme one needs to ponder on it,
          Yet here I’m midway in the last quatrain,
          And if the foremost tercet I attain
          The quatrain’s done ere I myself can con it.
          In the first tercet I arrive at last
          And travel through it with such grace and ease
          That with this line it is already past.
          I’m in the second now and if you please
          The thirteenth verse comes full-grown, tripping fast.
          Count if there be fourteen and end with these.
          (From The Silver Girl) June 23, 2017 at 11:08am Reply

  • Aurora: It looks like such a romantic city in your prose and the beautiful photos. I am sure the music is melancholy and sad (I had no idea Mozart’s son was a musician). Thank you for sharing your experience of solitude in the midst of a city, it is a paradox of course and make the experience harder to endure while solitude in a forest or anywhere in nature is something different again. That said, there is also excitement in arriving in a place where you don’t know a soul, I have felt it often.

    But I’ve never felt more alone than in London when I first came there. Like you with Bruxelles I have learned to love it and call it home. June 18, 2017 at 4:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Mozart’s other son Karl Thomas was also a musician, but Franz Xavier had true talent. Constance was so skeptical of his decision to go to Galicia that when he asked for his father’s piano, she refused to give it to him and instead bequeathed it to Karl Thomas.

      London does have this effect too, doesn’t it? Any city can feel like a lonely place when one is a stranger there, especially when one is trying to make a connection. As a tourist I rarely felt lonely anywhere, by the way, mostly because the experience of the places has been so different. June 19, 2017 at 3:10am Reply

      • Bregje: Oh, i agree
        I never feel lonely traveling. Somehow i always meet interesting people
        But in my current little village i feel like an outsider
        I have not yet met anyone i truly connect with.
        And there’s a sense of community that i am slightly uncomfortable with. Like you have to participate in all sorts of activities and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you July 7, 2023 at 9:32pm Reply

  • Catherine: My late father was born in Lemberg in 1901. I think it was in Roumania at that time. June 30, 2017 at 10:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: In 1901, Lviv was still part of the Hapsburg empire. It never belonged to Romania. July 1, 2017 at 6:12am Reply

      • Catherine: Hmm, his death certificate said he was Roumanian and I know he was born in Lemberg. Isn’t that interesting. I wonder what that means?
        He spoke German, as well as Polish and English. The certificate should have said he was born in Austria, I guess. Perhaps he was ashamed to be Austrian, because of the war. I do not know. July 2, 2017 at 9:32am Reply

        • Victoria: That was my guess. Or, could the officials have made a mistake and wrote Roumanian instead of Ruthenian? July 2, 2017 at 12:46pm Reply

          • Catherine: You know, a bureaucratic error I couldn’t address; I have no way of knowing. But, I was thinking that what must have happened was that some time after my father was born, the family picked up stakes and moved from Roumania to Lemberg. I never realized that Lemberg wasn’t in Roumania. I never even thought to look it up and see. But I think that Lemberg was a vibrant center of Judaism at the time (first Yiddish daily newspaper in the world came out in Lemberg about this time.) So I can understand they might have been drawn there. I made the assumption that Lemberg was in Roumania because his death certificate said he was born in Roumania and his USA entry papers said he was from Lemberg. I mistakenly connected the two locations. July 3, 2017 at 12:38am Reply

  • Amy McLaughlin: Everything you write has so much thoughtfulness and depth. Both your writing and the photographs are beautiful. I am so curious about this part of the world, which is where my father’s family was from. But while I know many Americans who still have ties to the countries their families are from, I sadly don’t, and I think lost connections are a singular kind of loneliness. I was often lonely when I was younger, even painfully so, but I rarely am now.

    Our culture seems to prefer the outgoing, extraverted type, and to eye introverts — and perhaps anyone who attains some detachment now and then — a bit distrustfully. I think the world needs its bookworms, its sometimes melancholy philosophes. It still bothers me, sometimes, to feel like a perennial outsider, but that still seems different from loneliness, which for me was largely a painful sense of rejection. Solitude is very different.

    And perfumes — oh, yes, the Guerlains! Lately I have had a craving for Chanel No 5, which I haven’t worn in years. It has felt reassuringly baroque. July 7, 2023 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Bregje: I have enjoyed this article and all the replies immensely!
    Such interesting thoughts on solitude and loneliness.
    Whenever i read this blog I’m always pleasantly surprised by the stories you and your readers tell. Often thought provoking and inspiring.
    Thank you! July 7, 2023 at 9:39pm Reply

  • Michele Brown: I hope it isn’t inappropriate to ask this question as it doesn’t pertain to the article, really. I would like to know if you, Victoria, have read Anna Reid’s bk “Borderland: A History of Ukraine. I want to read it’s history from the beginning, not just about what’s happening now. They have this at our Barnes&Noble. Unless you recommend another bk, I will order this one. Stay well 🌻 God Bless Ukraine 🙏 July 9, 2023 at 11:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a very good book. I’m not sure if it was updated recently, but I enjoyed reading it a few years ago. Sergiy Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe is another excellent book. July 10, 2023 at 5:14am Reply

  • Michele Brown: Oh, great. They have that bk as well. I may have to get both. Then I can donate one of them to my local Library.
    In college, my main major was Western Civilization, yet I don’t remember any lectures on Ukraine or its people. We did study Russia. Thank you Victoria for taking time to help me out.
    My next read will be “Miss Dior” by Justine Picardie. Catherine was a very courageous and daring woman of the French Resistance during WW11, the sister of Christian Dior and for whom the beautiful Miss Dior parfum is named after. 🙏 for Ukraine and it’s people. 🇺🇦 please take care of yourself, Victoria. July 10, 2023 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you like that book. I thought that Picardie captured the character of Miss Dior so well. July 11, 2023 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Shivawoman: I love this post! I am generally much alone in part because of where I live in California–of all places– in the rugged fire-prone Sierra Nevada. I’ve spent hours upon hours alone and value my time that way. I enjoy the company of people when that hapoens, truly enjoy a good party (for a few hours), and have oft noted that loneliness seems to hit more among a crowd than when alone. At holidays, I do feel the pinch of loneliness, but then hear about families’ difficulties, the expectations and dysfunctions. This post really spoke to me. I do find that loneliness can be galvanizing and creative, except when it enters a depressive state. On another note, and I hope it’s not inappropriate, I’m reading “The Rooster House.” You are so very talented. I’m thoroughly engrossed and am learning so much. What a gift to us, especially in the “West.” July 10, 2023 at 12:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed my book.

      And I agree on having time alone. It’s so essential for me. July 11, 2023 at 1:49pm Reply

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