The Journey, Part 3

3 November 2013

Medzilaborce…I had hubris enough to think that since I hadn’t heard of it way over in east Slovakia and since there were no towns on the map around it, it must be small and insignificant, the end of the line…a small settlement near the border…old world ways, donkey-drawn milk wagons, shepherds, weekly markets, where chickens were slaughtered and sold with feathers…simple peasants who eventually packed a valise with their yearning to breathe free and found ports hundreds of miles from home to board ships to come to America. How could they even know Antwerp or Rotterdam when they were so far off the grid?

I drove miles from Presov. The GPS, tracking the shortest way, took me first on two-lane roads, then one-lane roads, then unpaved roads through orchards and backyards, then back on two lanes for a triumphal entrance to Stropkov, a junction town, where the road to Medzilaborce begins. Stropkov…treeless apartment blocks in commissariat gray cement and a small cement factory from whence the gray cement came…has on the three or four blocks of downtown, hip hop blaring from rusty speakers on the corners. It’s bleak and depressing, but, hey, there’s hip hop to lighten the mood. America’s march to cultural domination continues. .After Stropkov there are no towns. But with the exhilaration of Bardejov, Presov and now Stropkov under my belt, who needed any more. There were just small roadside collections of houses; no towns, no stores, no gathering places…a church and a cemetery, but little evidence of life. There was electricity, but no street lights. (Note to myself to start back from Medzilaborce with enough daylight to get to Krakow.) A few logging trucks with fresh-cut trees passed…so they had at least one industry.

I count the kilometers to Medzilaborce, still on a two-lane paved road, but I’m sure the approach to the magical shtetl will be on a one-lane dirt road…the end of the line, going east or the start of the line, going west. Approaching, I cross a small bridge over…what’s this?…railroad tracks, then a longish road into town past a sign “Polizia” and a welcoming “Medzilaborce” sign. And OMG, was I ready for this, a train station, some freight cars and a few sets of parallel tracks that went through the town and out the other side…not the end of the line. There were a few warehouses, plopped down without apparent plan and weeds. But a little further the piece de resistance, a large iconic onion-domed church on the crest of a hill…a stern moralizer for all who’d enter the town without a pure heart. And then wonder of wonders, across from Piety-on-the Hill…The Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art. Is this a Hollywood set for an absurdly deep Bergman fantasy…,Priest Gregory Meets Campbell’s Tomato Soup?  You can’t, as they say, make this stuff up. (Warhol’s mother did, in fact,  come from Medzilaborce’ environs, so he gave a museum back to the community.)(Priest Gregory thanked him, then declared red soup off limits.) That last I can’t really vouch for, though religious voices reviled his lifestyle.

More to come.

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