I had a TON of FUN on Saturday going out to the Ukrainian Festival here in Minneapolis. It’s a festival that’s held annually in downtown Minneapolis at the Ukrainian American Community Center on Main St NW in Minneapolis. To answer your first question, no, I am not Ukrainian. I’m a Norwegian. That’s a big shock, right? A Norwegian in Minnesota!? Say it’s not so. Yep, it’s true, I’m a Norskie. But my good friend Olga Dovgopola is a Ukrainian. She and her husband, Johnny Hoy, have very generously introduced me to Ukrainian culture and it was amazingly fun.
Olga is an amazing pysanky artist. So she had a table where she was demonstrating her art, and was creating pysanky eggs live on the spot! Pysanky is the art of creating designs on eggs. Essentially it works like this: you dye an egg, and then create a design on it using melted wax to draw the lines of the design. Then you dye it again and the wax protects the original dye underneath to create a pattern against the new dye color. Draw more wax lines on it, then dye it a third color – and so on. The results are some incredibly stunning designs. It’s a true art and it was great to watch people flock to Olga’s table. I arrived about 3pm, and from then until approximately 6pm she didn’t have a single break – it was a constant stream of people interested in what she was doing. Olga was quite literally holding court! If there is such a thing as a pysanky rock star, then surly Olga qualifies!
What do you think of when you think of Ukrainians? How many people have any idea at all of what it means to be Ukrainian? I admit that I don’t know. But the overwhelming impression that I was left with was that to Ukrainians it is very important to participate in cultural activities and celebrate being who they are. I saw so many people wearing traditional Ukrainian clothing that it became quite clear it was important for these people to identify as Ukrainian. Traditional folk music was being played all day long. There was dancing – perhaps the most Ukrainian of customs. There was classical music and opera, there were artisans and craftsmen, as well as artists like Olga.
I have to admit, to be a Scandi in the midst of so much joy, and celebration of all things Ukrainian, it made me wonder what it would be like if my own culture were celebrated in the same way? Well ….let’s see …we’d have folk songs and singing and everything would be done on the 1 and 3 beats! For musicians out there, you know what I mean. I saw some amazing Ukrainian folk music performed by a local artist who had a gypsy flair that was amazing. It had a wonderful beat and flowed beautifully (on and 2 and 4, for my musician friends!). Norwegian classical music might be hauntingly beautiful – or it might make us all feel cold. But I can’t see it having the same kind of revelry as Ukrainian folk music – ever the celebratory fixture.
Now, I will say that my Norwegian craftsmen stack to up to anyone in the world. When it comes to making high quality anything – my people are just great! But despite our obvious shortcomings in the world of gregarious art, there’s something calming, introspective and beautiful about Norwegian culture. That’s where the comparisons stop. Norwegians are not Ukrainians nor ever will be, and vice versa. I’m blessed to live in a place where I can have access to both worlds and celebrate who I am along with celebrating next to my good friends as they embrace their culture. It’s a great and fun event!
Now lest I be remiss in noting some of the great Ukrainian achievements – let’s talk about food. Let me say this right up front: I love eastern European cuisine. Cabbage rolls, borscht, sausages, varenyky …I’m there! So this day was no exception. In order to broaden my cultural horizons, Olga sent me on a mission to find a great delicacy called nalysnyky. It’s essentially crepes with a sweet cheese in the center. The cheese in a consistency somewhat like fresh mozzarella and cottage cheese combined. It’s absolutely delicious. I wasn’t prepared for the deliciousness of the vaguely sweet taste, but it was amazing!
My culinary adventures didn’t stop there! I also tried a crepe recipe with meat in the center, some classic varenyky (which I absolutely adore!!) and a holubeti – which is a small cabbage roll! I even tried some Kvas! This is a Ukrainian soft drink of sorts. I’m not sure how traditional it is – but I thoroughly enjoyed it. To my taste buds, it felt like a curious blend of coffee and root beer. Honestly though, it was quite good!! My calories for the day weren’t terribly bad, but yes, just a bit overboard at 1710. I don’t feel bad about it in the least as I was on my feet for a long time, walking around and it was absolutely a great time. I wouldn’t hesitate to attend again!