The Village of the Babushky

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Somewhere in northern Slovakia – May 2009

In the shadow of Orava Castle lies a small village. It is a Sunday afternoon and the streets are deserted as my husband and I pass through on our way from Krakow to Budapest.

“Wow, this place is dead.” I say to my husband. “I wonder –.” But then a babushka appears. She stands in an empty parking lot in front of a closed shop. Her expression is one of amusement.

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And then another appears, carrying a rosary and walking with surprising swiftness towards the church. She also wears a calm, almost beatific smile.

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More elderly ladies emerge from behind hedges or disappear around corners. We drive back and forth a couple of times down the one main street, looking for signs of young people or men of any age. None can be found.

I remember something that my Polish/Slovak cousin, who lives in this region, once told me. “The babushky in these mountains lived through war and communism. They survived when many others didn’t. They were the strongest of their generation.”

As we drive away from the village, and the solitary souls recede in the rearview mirror, I wonder what it would be like to be one of the last people alive in the only place you’ve ever known.

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47 thoughts on “The Village of the Babushky

    • I think you can find this in most villages of this size. Any young people/men of working age have moved to larger towns/cities/overseas to find work. And the elderly men have passed away.

  1. You were probably about a two or three hour drive from where my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother grew up (Lietavská Lúčka). Your pictures reminded me of their town, less Oravsky Hrad, which is known as one of the most beautiful in Slovakia.

    Anyway, your cousin has it quite right — those babushky have been through more than most people ever will.

    • You’re of Slovak origin, too! 😀 My maternal grandmother’s parents were from Lipnica Wielka and Jabłonka which is now in Poland. Her cousins still live there and the border with Slovakia is just behind their house. They consider themselves Polish, even though ethnically they’re Slovak. My 88 year old grandmother definitely has those survivor genes.

      Slovakia is an amazing country – a little eerie and still off the beaten tourist path. It’s my favorite country in Europe. Have you been there?

  2. 🙂 I lived in Bratislava for a year. It’s my favorite in Europe too, though I am biased in that regard. I’d imagine it can be a difficult place to navigate for the non-Slovak speaker, though not impossible. A small amount of street smarts goes a long with in Slovensko.

    I’m always intrigued by the various ethnic mixes / identity questions that occur on Slovakia’s borders. For example, eastern Slovakia’s border with Ukraine has a heavy influence on the dialect there. Poland and Hungary are the other interesting examples (taking Czech as a given).

    • Let me guess: EFL teacher? We’ve almost moved to Bratislava a few times, but the rent is double of what we pay in Budapest. I speak some Polish (lived there 2 years), so I can get by in Slovensko because it’s a similar and less difficult language. Streets smarts are necessary in every country in this part of Europe. That was disappointing to discover.

  3. This is the most powerful, honest and insightful post I’ve read in a very long time, Riso. It is, what do they say, evocative? It’s an emotional, testimonial, historical kind of clear-eyed snapshot of a century of life. I was touched by the photographs and your description.

  4. Pingback: Just Another Castle | Wish I Were Here

  5. Strength in the Babushka..doesn’t surprise me a bit. ☺ Thanks for re-posting, Julie. I would have missed this one. Maybe one day when I make my way over there, I can meet you on the train ! ❤️

    • I knew it wouldn’t surprise you, Van. 😉 I’m going to reblog some of my oldest posts from time to time. Thanks, as always, for reading. If you ever make it over this way while I’m still in the area, we’ll have to find a way for our paths to converge. 🚂 (By the way, I’m moving to Prague.)

        • I remember you mentioning that’s where your grandmother was from. You surely still have family around. Prague is a magical city. So excited to be moving there.

          • I have a lovely, brilliantly-colored photo of Karlovy Vary, said to be the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s movie..The Grand Budapest Hotel. That whole area..fascinating to me. Excited for you.❤️

  6. Such strong looking women.
    As to your last question, it’s an interesting thought, to be “the last one”. I’m not sure I would want to one of the last.

  7. I imagine they are good company for each other. One of the greatest gifts in old age is to be happy regardless of the circumstances. I would hope that they have contact with family who are far away.

  8. What I always like about your travel reports is the very sympathetic point of view. That makes your experiences so authentic.
    Wonderful report, brilliant photos 🙂
    Greetings,
    Ulli

  9. Dear deer Julie…I’m thankful you didn’t write a goodbye post per say …but how you wrote ” The village of the Babushky ” with such a compassionate and transforming heart will linger like the shadow you write of , of the Orava Castle …you’ve known places so intimately , you are a wanderlust of great charm and creativity and it expands across the mighty ocean …and I am so grateful , so very much ! May your coming journeys be filled with love and blessings ( I can almost see you ) ….your friend , megxxx

  10. A photographic tale, Julie. Breathing in social shifts, painting what is happening in many places around the world, how communities change and can eventually disappear.

    • Hi Sean – yes, this story isn’t unique to Slovakia. It’s easy to think that the world is overcrowded when you live in a city, but there there is so much empty space when you venture out to the country. Villages all but abandoned.

      • Hi, Julie. Food is a big one they (governments and corporations) seem to talk about a lot today in terms of over crowding, with more and more controls being placed on what and who can grow or produce what we eat.

        • Nice to know you are one of the few who is paying attention to what’s going on. Soon you won’t be able to plant any food on your own property without a permit, which, of course, will be too expensive for the average person. Only corporations like Monsanto will be able to afford it. But it’s for our own good. Sure it is.

          • Certainly there is no chivalry to such companies as they seek to become our new lords and masters, in a world bent on the repression of people and society via fear and money.

  11. The pic of the castle, popping out monumentally from the surrounding greenery is truly fascinating, Julie. My marine engineer son just returned from a tour of Europe, and Prague was part of the itinerary. Is this a permanent relocation, or is it just another place where from you will again be moving after a tenure? Anyway, you are specially fortunate to be moving around so many countries…

    • Yes, I am very grateful to be able to experience life in so many fascinating places. I’m not sure any move will ever be permanent for us. But you never know.

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