Glasses of Agnon

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Eugenia Senik

Every one has his own Buchach. There are people who were born here and still live in the town. There are those who took their first steps on this land but upon learning to walk fast and efficient they went far beyond their native town. There are also those who were not born here but who were brought here by some unknown forces. I am one of the latter. Born in Luhansk, I find it difficult to find anything connecting me to Buchach. Except for the stories of my father about his military conscription in Chortkiv, 37 km away from Buchach. But it is not the reason I am here. I was not trying to trace the military roads of my father, but got interested in the twisting and mysterious road of Shmuel Yosef Agnon.

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Eugenia Senik

If we get back to those who are attracted by Buchach for different reasons, you can still easily track the motives of the travelers. There is old history, interesting architecture, botanic features uncommon for the area, the masterpieces and puzzles of Pinsel, and the encoded creativity of Agnon… Yet again, I was heading for the latter. For the one whose words used to take away the peace from my soul, and the night sleep from me. I knew I would not be able to see him in person but I wanted to at least walk by the streets he took, hoping to find the slightest evidence of his presence therein, or to touch the ground that gave birth to Agnon and gifted him with all the skills and talents helping him to create the unparalleled texts recognized to be worthy of the Nobel Prize. It is the name I keep mentioning in the discussions over the last several months. Agnon. Agnon liked to coin the words from Hebrew, the language that was being restored at the time and acquired new facets. His neologisms, though, can only be appreciated by those who were fortunate to read Agnon’s original texts. We cannot but take it for granted. There was one word I received as a generous gift brought from the Land of Israel. Those were the glasses. In Agnon’s language they are בתי עיניים (batei einaim), or houses, or rather dwellings for eyes. As soon as I arrived to Buchach, I put on the Agnon’s glasses. Instead of the Cyrillic script I seemed to see the Jewish square script, so I had to try hard to blink my eyes to see the right words. I was passing the sites that used to place a synagogue, a Beth Midrash, and a Jewish hospital. Although the buildings are no longer available, and some of the sites are occupied by the market counters or a shopping center, while some sites are barren, yet I saw them with the inner vision inspired by Agnon’s works. I had a guide on this trip.

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Eugenia Senik

Sir Mykola knows of all the nooks in the town. He is willing to attend to travelers on any day and time, and to accompany them as long as they need. He is merely in love with his land. On a walking tour, he must be putting the traveler’s glasses on, too. It helps him take a new fresh look on the town every time he is trying to see the place he knows by heart. Once in a while, I put the Agnon’s glasses off to see the places Sir Mykola suggested. We passed through the central part of the town and went up the hills. We headed for the site where the Jewish cemetery started. My tour guide decided to offer to me something I came for, and then to follow his road. The cemetery was all densely grown-over in weeds, as if the trees and bushes chose to protect the matsevot because they still remember how quite recently, some 75 years ago, the tombstones protecting the memory of the dead were used by the Nazi to pave the roads, and later by the Soviets to pave the sidewalks. However, Sir Mykola encouraged me and took me to the side that still had access to the graves. He took me to the grave of Agnon’s father.

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Eugenia Senik

Stepping aside from the cemetery, we saw the town down in front of us. It seemed to have rolled down from the nearby hills. I heard the locals compare Buchach with the hole or a pitch. To me, it looked like a cradle. It feels so cozy and serene in there, that it seems to be the only place for the soul to take a rest. It is the only place where winds can lull you deep and fast asleep. On the other side of the hill we stood on, there rose another mount Fedir, the burial place for Poles and Ukrainians. For a moment, it dawned on me that they agreed thereupon among themselves, as if there had never been any hostility between the three nations. They occupied the different hills on the opposite sides of the town deliberately, in order to guard the life and sleep of the living. It is why it feels so peaceful here, for the world of the dead protects the cradle of the living. At that point, I realized it was the serenity that brought me here, to the town so similar to my native Lutuhine, abandoned both by the living, and the dead. It is only in the childhood town that a person can fully relax the mind. When it was no longer possible for me, when Lutuhine was taken over by others, Buchach offered a warm welcome to me, making no difference between insiders and outsiders. It also lulled me into the deep sleep.

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Lyudmyla Kulievych

Sir Mykola and me, we went on. He was telling me about the unique Buchach townhall, the St Nicholas Church, the Basilian fathers monastery, the Assumption Cathedral, and the Intercession Church. They also seemed to take their repose along with the inhabitants and travelers in the cradle of the town. We walked past the roadside statues, by chapels, by wells and springs. The little town seemed to never be tired to amaze you and get out of the sleeve more and more of treats for the traveler. The town even knows where and on which part of the road the traveler might feel thirsty. We stopped by the well ‘Three Pipes’. In the night and day, the spring water flows out of it. In the August heat, it is especially healing. Getting a handful of water from both pipes, I started thinking again about the symbolic nature of the number of three for this land, as if each nation had a pipe in this well. While two of them were welling up, the third one had not a bit of any feeding water. I tried to explain the metaphor of the third empty pipe by no Jewish people left in the modern town. But upon putting the Agnon’s glasses on again, they immediately transferred me to the time when the Jewish life bustled along with the life of Ukrainians and Poles. They must have had their discrepancies, but it is difficult to claim the hostility among the neighbours was so big. Suffice to say that the distances between the Polish church, the Ukrainian church and the Jewish synagogue were small. The caring hands of a small town had enough room for everyone. Today, however, hardly anyone mentions the fact.

Glasses of Agnon
Photo by Eugenia Senik

Few locals really know every person originating from this land to go further. One must need to step aside at a distance and experience other lands to be able to better see your own. Hardly everyone would be able to tell you that the town and the area gave birth not only to Shmuel Yosef Agnon, but also to Solomiya Krushelnytska, Joseph Knebel, Osyp Nazaruk, Jan Franciszek Adamski, a grandfather of Vsevolod Nestayko and Sigmund Freud. The list could be extended further with more names. They challenge the present day residents of the town. The dead keep silence; it is time for the living to talk about the dead. Silent is the Buchach castle, older than the Potocki dynasty, or even than the Buczackis. Its ruins and the ruins of the Pidzamochok castle fortress peacefully look down from their mounts on the Strypa river that used to be a rapid and steady flow but now runs timidly through the town like fearing to disturb the night sleep and the day nap of the residents. The town also has a railway and a tunnel people used to go through still recently, that used to be and must still be an important strategic site. Now, the railway runs into nowhere. The Buchach station is a terminus, not even for people, but for industrial materials. I think you have to be born in Buchach or live for some time to be able to see all of the evident and hidden treasures, and to figure out old mysteries. Or not. You have to come from far away to be able to duly appreciate and fall in love with the small and cozy town. Whichever is true, it does not care. Due to the old age of castles and fortresses, they have no concerns about whether their history will be remembered or forgotten. The dead will stay in their graves even if an amusement park is built upon. However, it is time for the living to take their turn to put several glasses on, to put them on all together, or vice versa, to take them off. Do we really need glasses to see something that is obvious in any case?

 


Translated by Svitlana Bregman

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