essay

57827 coffee on sand

Ľviv is a tear, one of joy tinged with sorrow, on the face of the earth. The problem for the visitor becomes how to do justice — in the few short hours or days at one’s disposal — to the rich involutions of its past, taking into account what the city celebrates and over what it grieves; how and why it has changed hands and the depredations it has undergone in the process.

Ľviv’s sights, sounds, and streets repeatedly give the exquisite sensation of wanting to laugh and cry at the same time, much like certain of the varied and highly inventive folk musics of the wider region. We are torn in two directions. Here lay something that no longer exists; over there, something wonderful to behold rises in all its glory. Such-and-such marks the spot of some important and wide-reaching historical event; while just a little farther on, certain more private catastrophes are revealed.

If we were to draw a hermetic diagram in response to Ľviv — the Ľviv of our perceptions and imagination, mind you — it might take the form of a cup of coffee, prepared in the Armenian manner. There are layers, there are subtleties. There are concrete facts, as well as ineffabilities. A line joins a concept to the ink-like surface of the liquid: it is black as Ľviv’s history profound; as bitter as its tears. Further down, more: it has a flavor as complex and Ľviv’s miraculously tolerant past — energetic peoples of the earth concentrating their bounteous attentions in one place. Making space for one another, their inevitable interactions lead to innumerable surprising results. The heart of the matter: the coffee’s heat is the warmth of the city’s soul as the visitor is wrapt and wrapped in its essences. Even further down: the grounds at the bottom of the cup are the auspicious foundation of a city destined for singularity in the world. Empires rise, take over, and fall, but there is a continuity of spirit that is singularly leopolitan. The cup holds it together as the spoon agitates the substance: swirling vortices merged in an irreducible unity.

We miss the parts that we are told are lost with an ache that belies that we have never in fact experienced them. We want them back. We pine for the Ľviv of our imaginations with a disproportionate intensity. Our hearts are broken and can be never be mended.