The Fault Line: Traveling the Other Europe, From Finland to Ukraine
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An award-winning writer travels the eastern front of Europe, where the push/pull between old empires and new possibilities has never been more evident. Paolo Rumiz traces the path that has twice cut Europe in two—first by the Iron Curtain and then by the artificial scaffolding of the EU—moving through vibrant cities and abandoned villages, some places still gloomy under the ghost of these imposing borders, some that have sought to erase all memory of it and jump with both feet into the West (if only the West would have them). In The Fault Line, he is a sublime and lively guide through these unfamiliar landscapes, piecing together an atlas that has been erased by modern states, delighting in the discovery of communities that were once engulfed by geopolitics then all but forgotten, until now.The farther south he goes, the more he feels he is traveling not along some abandoned Eastern frontier, but right in the middle of things: Mitteleuropa wasn’t to be found in Viennese cafés but much farther east, beyond even Budapest and Warsaw. As in Ukraine, these remain places in flux, where the political and cultural values of the East and West have stared each other down for centuries. Rumiz gives a human face not just to what the Cold War left behind but to the ancient ties of empire and ethnicity that are still at the root of modern politics in flash-point areas such as this.
harvest in November by roasting a pig, the Jews, on the feast of Saint Martin, November 11, sacrificed a goose. Today goose has become a dish of fine restaurants, and it is said that those who don’t eat it on Saint Martin’s Day won’t earn the “beak of a penny.”5 Vala: “Look, Petrovich, look at the wonder of our Onega. Here there’s no need for cinema or TV. You just enjoy the lake. Look at how the old wooden houses turn red at sunset. Architects from all over the world come here to study them.”
Sea, an Italian friend of mine named Marina was invited to come up to the microphone and sing. When she started to sing the Italian Communist resistance anthem, “Bella ciao,” she could see the chill come over the faces of her Muscovite dinner companions and the total indifference of the Americans who were eating with them. When she protested against the waste of food by the newly rich passengers, who at breakfast threw handfuls of whipped cream and chocolate at one another, overturning trays of
Greek Catholic Jan Pogrzelski, comes another story of martyrdom: the story of Count Valentin Potocki, burned alive for having converted to Judaism. “The gaon of Vilnius wanted to save him,” the American tells us, “but the count said no, because he wanted his death to be his testimony of his discovery of the true faith.” Rabbi Pfeffer gestures to us and takes us to see what’s left of the Vilnius of the Jews. He looks like a great nocturnal bird, and he does nothing to fit in. “The atmosphere is
and terrible destiny of his city. But K is also for Kristina, a twenty-year-old woman who invites us to stay at her house and picks us up at the station with a friend. She studies international relations (her friend, design), has an apartment with a bay window in the “good” part of the city, dreams of the great wide world, and flies to Berlin for weekends. She has a father who sails, a mother who works in the finance industry, a sister who lives with her and passes the time playing video games.
America: boom-boom music, giant screens with soccer games, a vacuous horror dripping even from the hyperdecorated walls of the restrooms, vocal communication absolutely impossible without shouting. A friend of Kristina’s explains that the punitive system of the Lithuanian visas discriminates against the poor, who cannot afford to fly. “And if we go from Moscow to Kaliningrad carrying Russian medicines, the Lithuanians seize them because, they say, they’re not in conformity with the regulations.