I sit on a balcony overlooking the shore of the Black Sea, warm sun mixing with the sounds of birds and crickets. Soon cars will start driving on the steep winding roads that circle around this hillside home near Yalta in the Crimea. Music will play from speakers. Voices will ring out.
Two weeks have flown by since I set foot in Russia on a voyage that melds the past with the present, reaching parts of me I didn’t know existed. My mind is stretched with the challenge of communicating in a language I last used regularly over fifty years ago, and I finally understand that seventy would not be a good age at which to learn a new language.
My emotions tumble over each other like stones in a rushing mountain stream whose waters gently bathe yet unsettle them, as we roam the country—letting chance dictate our path—in seemingly random patterns that evolve moment by moment. What else could drive a trip that so improbably originated from a minor typing error made a year ago by a young engineer in a Moscow suburb?
Now my current location could be described as just what it is: a house on a hill overlooking the sea. But yesterday I visited ancient Greek ruins, followed by the spot where Prince Vladimir, who brought Christianity to Russia, was first baptized into the Greek orthodox faith.
The last three millennia have included wars over possession involving Persians and Scythians, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Khazars and Arabs, Ottomans and Russians, with Great Britain and France thrown in.
In the early 20th century my grandparents and parents were driven from this land, their final departure point on this very peninsula.
In 1945 Roosevelt Stalin and Churchill defined the framework of the world I grew up in at a meeting in the town at the bottom of the hill—Yalta. And of course the conflict over possession continues to this day.
Just weeks ago I was still concerned about the safety of traveling here, reading dire warnings on my own country’s state department website. Today I wander freely, roaming alone on my morning walks, with no Internet access and no way to contact my friends and family should I get lost.
I start each day wanting to memorialize all my impressions before their intensity dissolves, and then sit staring into space as those same thoughts circle endlessly, floating higher into an unreachable space, intertwining and dissolving, then leaving me spent.
My new family in Russian has welcomed me so warmly that I could write volumes, and will have to save that story for another writing.
Suffice it to say that leaving will be heartbreaking.
We found the house where our fathers were born, and these are the before and after pictures. I took the first one in 1977 and, after laborious exploration and consultation, we understood that this house wrapped in new cement bricks was the same place.