“go to Lvov, after all/it exists” (Adam Zagajewski)

Yesterday John took this photograph at the lake while I was still swimming (imagine me off to the left). The weather these days is very unsettled but if it’s not actually stormy in the morning, we head down for a swim, because who knows what the rest of the day will allow. Who knows.

This morning we swam in very light rain. A family of loons was crossing the lake in the distance. At one point, after John was finished and I was still swimming, he tried to call to me because the loons had taken flight and landed just under the cedar you can see at the right of the photograph. I didn’t hear him because I was doing the backstroke and probably the reason I didn’t see the loons then was because I also had my eyes closed. I was thinking as I pushed myself backwards from the right of the photograph to the left. Thinking about Lviv, a city I’ve spent a few days in, and which has somehow become a locus in what I’m currently writing. I’m not calling it a novel, not yet; but I suspect that’s what it will be. Somehow a handful of pages, a few thousand words, characters who aren’t really themselves yet, and a lot of riddles to solve, well, it doesn’t deserve to be called a novel just yet. But Lviv is real, beautiful, and the character who lives there will convince the other character to come.

                       Which station
for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave
in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September
or in March.

Lviv–in Polish, Lwów, in German, Lemberg, in Russian, Lvov–has seen a lot of history in its 8 centuries. I’m reading as much as I can. We stayed in the historic centre when we were there and so much of what we saw spoke to that history. We stayed on Serbka Street, we explored the Armenian Cathedral, begun in 1363, we saw many plaques commemorating Jewish synagogues including the Golden Rose Synagogue built in the late 16th century and destroyed by the Nazis, and other significant buildings destroyed or repurposed for grain storage during the Soviet period. I’m surprised to recognize that my new writing is finding a place for itself in Lviv but maybe I shouldn’t be. I felt that particular shimmer as I walked through Lviv, the same shimmer I felt in the Nicola Valley when I realized I needed to write about it, in Walhachin, in Ireland, in Prague. It’s as though a curtain parts and I see a glimpse of something, a kind of light, that I need to understand. Writing helps me to do that.

So while the loons were flying over to where I was swimming and a little bit of light was catching the cedars, I didn’t see a thing because my eyes were closed and I was thinking about Lviv. I was peering through the iron gate into the courtyard of the Armenian Cathedral, waiting to hear the bells.

and now in a hurry just
pack, always, each day,
and go breathless, go to Lvov, after all
it exists, quiet and pure as
a peach. It is everywhere.

Note: the lines of poetry are from Adam Zagajewski’s wonderful “To Go To Lvov”, translated by Renata Gorczynski.

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