On our drive down, out of the Carpathian Mountains to Ivano-Frankivsk, we were greeted with the first signs of Spring. The ground was brown, you could smell the Earth and our 50degree Fahrenheit dashboard thermometer reading gave us the confidence to open our windows a crack. It's just the first week of February and we didn't want to get too comfortable with what could have been a false alarm, but on our second day in "Ivano" the signs continued to show that we may just be done with our (former) Soviet winter.
We woke up, both feeling a little ill. We've been very good at avoiding the water, but were not as good at avoiding the gin the night before. We went out to walk it off, heading to a large man-made lake across town. The air had that electric chill that usually precedes a thunderstorm and it instantly rejuvenated us. Then, through the trees we saw this rusted high-dive sticking up. I mentioned something about Dirty Dancing and had to explain the setting, plot and relevance of the movie to one of the only people born in the 80s who has never seen it. But, back to the matter at hand. The lake was a time warp.
All around the perimeter there were retro signs like these, communicating safety rules and instructions on how to swim, sail, etc. A man in some serious biking gear rode passed us at least three times as we blurrily made our way around. It was quiet and crisp and the lighting was magnificent.
At least ten ice fishermen were out. You could see the water flow beneath the ice they sat on, which scared me a little. I wondered how many of them were sad that their season was coming to an end and how different it must be to go from sitting right there in the center of the world your fishing, to propping your stool up to the edge and casting your line in from afar.
Just a few feet past this boathouse, the only thing that had been blessed with a fresh coat of paint, there was an oval cut out in the ice. Standing on the edge of the freezing pool was a young man in a black and white striped sweater, stretching. He had already taken off his hat and jacket and was most likely waiting for his ice swimming companions to arrive before completely disrobing. There's really no point in doing something like that without an audience or accomplice. Unless, of course, it was simply his own hangover remedy.
In so many ways, it really felt like a forgotten playground or an abandoned town. So much of it had been left to fall into disrepair and on so many other days, it would have been bleak and depressing. But one has to stay positive when nursing a hangover. I saw this rundown truck and hole-y canoe parked in mud behind a twisted fence and saw green. (green!!!)
It was so much easier to see this bandstand and the futbol field across from it, the playground around the bend and the gymnastics training field with row upon row of balance beams and uneven bars and imagine it all full of people. In just a few months, we read, joggers wearing only speedos will circumvent the lake filled with swans. For the first time in a while, being somewhere 'summery' on the off-season didn't feel depressing. It felt hopeful and exciting and almost completely cured our nausea (helped in large part by the chinese food lunch we miraculously stumbled upon on the lake's edge).