Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A picnic to celebrate the May holidays

Ukraine recently celebrated Labor Day. In America we celebrate this day on the first Monday in September but in Ukraine it falls on May 1st and is called International Labor Day. Decorations appeared all around the city, like these red flags along the highway.

And I saw these red flowers at Lenin's feet... but am not sure it's because of Labor Day or just because. Meanwhile, Victory Day happened on May 9th.  That photo of the billboard on the right? That's a Victory Day celebratory message from the communist party. Because these two holidays are so close on the calender, I hear people referring to the first week of May as the "May holidays" and accordingly taking a week of vacation.

Our friends Yulia, Timur, and Alina invited us to celebrate Labor Day with a picnic at their house. We started with plates and plates of beautiful закуски (appetizers). 
As we all know, one thing that will never happen at a Ukrainian picnic is someone going hungry :p
I even tried salo (salted pork fat) with mustard. The next challenge will be *gulp* the legendary chocolate-covered salo.
Next we began
preparing the шашлик (shish kebab).

Timur manned the gill while Yulia and her parents relaxed in the shade. Yulia and her mom are both incredible for being so graceful and so diplomatic. Yulia's dad was the mysterious type and went about quietly in a cowboy hat.

While the шашлик was cooking, I explored their yard. Although the cherry tree had already dropped its blossoms, the yard was still filled with other vibrant blooms of the season.

Other residents included a stoic three-legged cat named "Handsome" and a curious dog.

The first round of шашлик was a success. We made several vodka toasts to friendship, the future, and each other, and then put another round of шашлик on the grill.

Timur gave me a tour of the cellar, an essential part of any Ukrainian home.
The cellar is in a separate building. It's about 15 feet under the earth and the cool air down there felt so good on my skin. Meanwhile, look at this dead-looking branch on the wall. Do you know what that is? It's going to be GRAPES! I can't believe I'm in a place where grapes grow in people's yards! That's the definition of exotic for me.
There were dozens of jars of pickled vegetables down here, as well as many heads of cabbage for borsch and a giant wooden bin that will be filled up with potatoes come winter. Enough potatoes for an army!

Since everyone was happily stuffed after the second helping of шашлик, we headed off to explore the woods and countryside. 
A old woman getting ready to plant her garden. In Ukraine, you're never to old to grow veggies.
Alina and I ran because we're young at heart. These guys are slowpokes :p Check out the cityscape in the background.
We had a beautiful meandering walk through fields and forest. There was a touch of the country on the outskirts of the city. We saw a woman herding goats and skirted our way around a giant ant hill. Timur pointed out a plot of earth where watermelons (WATERMELONS!) had been planted. (Obviously, I grew up in a fruit-scarce area. There were only boring things like apples and blueberries to be had.) 

I dearly hope that we'll get to celebrate the May holidays again in Ukraine, surrounded by such warm friends.


  1. chocolate covered salo? are you serious? post a picture when you've had some please

    1. At first it was just a joke and now you can google some results of that joke.
      Try "сало в шоколаде" or even "сало в шоколаде" купить and look at photos :)

    2. Wow, it actually looks kind of tasty... Thanks for the tip!

  2. "Сало в шоколаде" was a synonim for something incredible and at the same time stupid. It was an exaggerated way to emphasize the dedication of the ukranians to "salo". And now it become true! Whatever who did it, it's a joke!
    Thank you for kind words! I hope we will celebrate many holidays in the future with you, my dear friends!