Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A date with Yulia

Even after two and a half years of marriage, it is still hard for me to get a date with Yulia! Can you believe it? I thought I would have caught the attention of the most beautiful woman in Ukraine by now!

But persistence pays off, and we finally went out for dinner and a stroll in downtown Lviv. For dinner, we went to a place called Галицько-жидівська кнайпа "Під Золотою Розою" (Galician-Jewish restaurant "Under the Golden Rose"). As its name suggests, it is a Jewish restaurant. We went there because we wanted to see something different--there are not many Jewish restaurants in Lviv. We also got the impression that there were lots of healthy things to eat on the menu.

However, our impression about the food was wrong. We didn't find much in terms of vegetarian or vegan food. We had our hearts set on a hummus plate, but they were all out of it. We had to settle for green salads. Not that there is anything wrong with green salads. We eat as many of them as we can on a regular basis. But we came hungry and expected to gobble up lots of different good foods there.

The restaurant's atmosphere made up for the lack of food. Upon arrival, for example, we were greeted by our favorite kind of hostess--a cat! She had dreamy yellow eyes and a luxurious fut coat to match.

She must have known that we are cat people because she decided to join us for dinner!

It's a good thing that it is a Jewish custom to wash your hands before eating because the kitty settled on Yulia's lap. Kitty got lots of attention from Yulia and me.

The restaurant is very clever too. Their menus, though not in Hebrew, are bound on the right side and read back to front (or what we are used to seeing as back to front).

The menu is also curious because it does not list prices. As it says in the above photo, "It is the only restaurant in Ukraine that does not have prices. One can negotiate here! We'll find a common language." The message is only half true. When it came time for our bill, the waiter kindly asked us if we wanted to negotiate a price or if we just wanted the check. We just got the check. We were still hungry, after all!

It's nice to see a Jewish restaurant in Lviv for a number of reasons. Firstly, it serves as a reminder that there was once a synagogue where the restaurant now stands. It shows that there was once a sizable Jewish population here. It also is a reminder of the multicultural history of the city. The brief Nazi occupation of Lviv obviously had something to do with reducing the number of Jews in the city. The subsequent Soviet occupation of the area took care of what the Nazis didn't complete. They transformed Lviv and western Ukraine into a territory occupied mostly by ethnic Ukrainians.

Halychyna (or Galicia) is a territory that encompasses parts of present day western Ukraine and eastern Poland. Like most of Europe before World War Two, it was ethnically mixed.

What Yulia and I liked so much about the Golden Rose restaurant is that it embraces multiculturalism while featuring one group of people. It shows that the restaurant is not exclusive, but inclusive. As their menu states, "Rusyns, Poles, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Armenians, Roma people, Greeks and Tartars collectively created Halychyna over the centuries." This statement focuses on culture rather than the more arbitrary nationality. If you didn't notice, Ukrainians are not listed there, but Rusyns are. That is because Ukrainian is a term that slowly took the place of Rusyn during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as nationalism and nation-states grew in importance.

Admittedly, there are some aspects of this restaurant that may be a bit stereotypical or misplaced. I don't know much about Jewish restaurants, but I'm not sure if negotiating a price is traditional. I expect this is a vestige of the stereotypical Jewish merchant. I could be wrong, of course. The hummus plate is also something I don't expect is authentic among northern European Jews. Still, I'm willing to overlook these possible inaccuracies because of what I perceive as a sincere interest in promoting Jewish history. It means a lot that a restaurant (and not, say, a museum) of all places is taking on the role of an educational setting.

But back to our date. Yulia and I left the Golden Rose hungry, but were delighted to see an old hippy bus selling vegan cookies and sweets a few steps from the restaurant.

We strolled over to Lviv's main square by city hall and ate our cookies while enjoying the ambient aroma of coffee wafting through the air. We people watched.

We liked the funky types with dreadlocks...

But our favorites were classic: the old man chess players...

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