Gastarbajter Volume 2

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VOLUME 2 2020

A Note to the Reader Gastarbajter serves as a platform for Slavic-identified people in the diaspora to share their work, whether directly related to cultural identity or engaging with ideas beyond the self. The writers, artists, and photographers in this issue all have something to say about their history, inherited or experienced, and present what life in the diaspora has been like for them. With great excitement, we present volume two of Gastarbajter.

Slavic Student Alliance Mission Statement Slavic Student Alliance exists to provide a space for Slavic-identified individuals and others to meet and discuss pertinent cultural, political, and historical topics related to the Slavic experience. The organization’s goals include spreading awareness of the Slavic cultures and languages of Eastern, Southern, and Central Europe; holding panels/discussions and miscellaneous events informing people of Slavic issues; and emphasizing the growing role of Slavic people in the diaspora as well as Slavs’ growing role on the international stage in an increasingly globalized world.

Editorial Team Senior Editor..........................................................................Ajla Dizdarević Design Editor............................................................... Genevieve Cleverley Assistant Editor..................................................................... Dejvid Hušidić Poetry Editor.............................................................................. Taylor Lopez Nonfiction Editor..................................................................... Amela Musić Art Editor......................................................................... Donavan Oberheu Cover art designed and illustrated by Ivan Kostovski (

Want to submit? Contact

Sponsored by the University of Iowa Student Government

Writing Az Shte Nosya Vashiya Dom (Аз ще нося вашия дом) Haley Yordanoff. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Dom Means Home in Polish Antoinette Goodrich. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Pun-Theism Basil Lvoff. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Borders Milica Veselinović . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Nervous Briante Najev . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 How Ana Pauše From Croatia Became Annie Pause From Austria Became Anna Novak From Moravia Samantha Novak Murray. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Beets: A Love Letter Miriam Wojtas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

Artwork Edge of Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia Photo by Miljan Simonović. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Dissemblance Leila Arnaut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Sombor Photograph Milica Veselinović . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Про Волка Речь Natasha Andersen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Amphitheater in Ohrid, North Macedonia Couple at Lake Ohrid Photos by Miljan Simonović. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18-19

Az Shte Nosya Vashiya Dom Аз Ще Нося Вашия Дом Haley Yordanoff For the longest time, I was afraid to tell others what I called her

She is my баба, coming here from Bulgaria when she was only nineteen

It sounded different odd almost childish

Born with the name Yordanka, she grew up speaking български and still does

She wasn’t the person I saw on television or in movies, so I was afraid others would make fun of me if I told them about her I wanted her to be like the others, the ones who cooked traditional Christmas dinners and watched our favorite movies with us But how can I make her forget the traditions from her home? As the years have climbed and life becomes more precious, I have realized how special my roots are


When loved ones abroad called, they always talked for so long, and everything was добре добре добре She loved to spoil us with the latest toys, but along with them came rose perfumes and red and white crochets Although we were драки, she couldn’t help but give us the world Now that I know why she is not like the others, she is teaching me her stories her holidays

And I’m learning how she met grandpa, the right way to make баница, and the meaning of name days She has carried her home with her for so long, and now that I truly know these special roots, I’ll be there to carry this home when she no longer can

Bulgarian—English Translations Аз ще нося вашия дом, Az shte nosya vashiya dom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I’ll carry your home баба, baba . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . grandma български, Bulgarski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bulgarian добре, dobre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . good or well драки, draki . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . troublemakers баница, banitsa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bulgarian cheese pie; a layering of thin dough (filo pastry), olive oil, eggs, and cheese

Edge of Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia


Photo by Miljan Simonović


Dom Means Home in Polish Antoinette Goodrich

Generations ago, my prababcia and pradziadek crossed Ellis Island into the United States, eyes blown wide from streets of gold and the thick scent of fresh dreams floating in the air. Those first few steps on American soil, I doubt they could distinguish dreams from reality. The world had no limitations—lush, green land and towering cities were the lifeblood of the universe, the only things that existed and stretched on forever. Atoms weren’t the makeup of all things; it was hope and opportunity. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Tak, tak, that’s us. I wonder when the dream withered up and died, a hollowed-out and faded skeleton slumped on the floor. Maybe it was when my young babka barreled into their dumbbell tenement and buried her tearstained cheeks into my prababcia’s raggedy, threadbare skirt. When she cried “Mamusia” and tearfully confessed that the schoolteachers sneered at her thick accent and demanded she speak English. Maybe it was when Polski became a foreign language to my babka and her sisters. When my pradziadek asked them the simple question “Jak się masz?” and their eyes were empty of any recognition of their mother tongue. When my prababcia had to bumble, flounder, and lurch her way through English to be able to speak to her own children. Maybe it was when my pradziadek worked eighteen-hour days doing backbreaking work and my prababcia slaved away at a sewing machine for longer. When they both started shrinking inward, inward, inward. When all that mattered was that their kids were growing up, up, up. Frankly, I don’t know. All I remember is reading books in high school that documented the death of the American dream. It was always the big theme. The dream had been long dead before my pradziadkowie crossed the border. I just wonder how long it took them to realize.


Years ago, maybe four or five, my dad called me a “ski”. We were at a random rest stop on a road trip whose destination escapes me now. I was inhaling garlic knots from some pizzeria place. “What does that even mean? I don’t know how to ski.” My dad laughed, a belly laugh that expanded like a bubble but didn’t pop. “No, it means you’re Polish. A lot of Polish last names end with -ski.” I didn’t quite get it until a girl in my homeroom that year had the last name Granduski.


I really only know my father’s side of the family. This means I have one living grandparent, a singular aunt and uncle, and two cousins. Family’s complicated is really the only answer I’ve gotten as to why my extended family is so small. Although maybe that’s not altogether true.

Left: Dissemblance by Leila Arnaut


As I’ve gotten older, my mom has dug up some familial tidbits for me, redacted explanations. Besides, it’s not like everything is that hazy, childhood remembrance of unicorns, rainbows, and sweet dreams with my dad’s side of the family anyway. But I think it’s why I’m fixated on my Polski heritage. It’s not like that’s all I am. Apparently, I’ve got some Italian and German in my veins, too, all from mom’s side. Dad’s is full-blooded Polski. It feels like a bigger part of myself. I’m proud of a place I’ve never been to. People I’ve never met. A culture I barely know. But that’s better than denying my heritage. Choking it out, depriving it of oxygen until it slumps into the Earth’s crust, defeated, trying to gather enough strength to crawl its way back home. But once you leave home, it’s a lot harder to get back. I imagine my prababcia and pradziadek knew that.

*** Years ago, my grandma taught me and my siblings how to say “kiss me” in Polski. She used it to demand a kiss on the cheek before we stumbled off to bed at night. Grandma lost Polski years ago. I wonder how this word hung on. Did she remember it herself? Or did someone have to shake it loose from her? I can still say the word now. Probably not the way it’s supposed to be said. If I saw it written down, I don’t think I’d be able to recognize it. I was proud of how the word sounded, spoken in the language of ancestors I’ll never meet. Almost like I’ve gotten part of my heritage back. But there’s something tragic in the way it stills feels foreign.

*** I hope to visit Poland one day. It’s a dream of mine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to catch it and perform the magic spell to bring it to life in order to keep it safe from reality. But when I think of Poland, there’s a part of my heart that whispers, “Ojczyzna. Dom.” I’ve been to Spain before. A school trip. Junior year. When I was there, there was a sort of disbelief buried in my tendons. That if I just kept walking westward, I’d eventually hit home. Not a gigantic ocean looking to swallow me whole. Maybe if I visit Poland, that disbelief will dissipate. My feet wouldn’t call walking westward heading home. Maybe I would be home. Dom. If I ever do make it there, I doubt that my bones will quiver. My blood won’t suddenly start flowing the other way as if it were pumping in the wrong direction my entire life. My tongue won’t tenderly curl and caress the Polski syllables that have been lying dormant and discarded in my blood. It will be a place. Just a place. Once familiar, but now a stranger that I’ve only just encountered. Perhaps that was the real price my ancestors paid when they crossed over to Ellis Island. Their homeland became just a place. Not home. Not to us. Not to me.


Pun-theism Basil Lvoff

In bird conversant, Of sloth freed, I wake with verse and I’m Siegfried! Из-за замызганных кулис Сияя, как пшеницы сноп, Выходит к вам на бенефис Мой круглый, как арена, лоб!

Пантомимизм Василий Львов



To shy away from paradise Vested in shabby verse— Art is a pavonine disguise— Thus Shklovsky spake: Art is device— For coaxing your remorse.

The Radiant Charioteer *

Drizzle—mizzle—mizzle—drizzle—drip. Boiling coffee—gray newspaper—sip. Boring neighbors upstairs stomp and cough. In New York, no one’s a theosoph. Drip—drop—drizzle—drip—drop—drizzle—splash. Puddles—hurdles—honking—loonies—trash. And “Excuse me! Sorry! Getting off?!” The sky is dull and gray like a damp cloth. But lo! And don’t go blind! Midst shouts of fear And joyful cries, With cherubs at his side, Light’ning the skies, Dazzling to sight Westwards he dashes, the radiant charioteer.

*Inspired by Nicholas Roerich’s Elijah the Prophet

Poème hystérique je hais jouer sans sang de ma Russie au bas des sennes de sens rassis sans scènes obscènes sans sang et jam je n’aime jamais jouer


Historia! Magistra est!

Historia! Magistra est!

Вчерашних истин палимпсест),

Old truths show through her palimpsest.)

Ее закон — несчастный случай.

Her law is mishaps and destructions.

То сильных льстивый секретарь,

Sometimes, a fawner of the strong,

То диссидентка и бунтарь,

Then leader of the rebel throng,

То верный раб у провиденья,

An abject serf of Providence

То всем провидцам посрамленье,

Who wrecks the prophets’ evidence,

Бессмыслиц, чепухи клубок,

A web of nonsense and delusions,

То редкий смысла островок,

The only isle of sane conclusions,

Друг философских размышлений,

A bosom friend with whom you brood,

Но враг условных наклонений,

But foe of the conditional mood,

Ошибок памятник великий,

A lasting monument to blunders,

Губитель сект, творец религий,

Slayer of creeds and their founder,

Поклепов свод — судеб реестр,

A book of fate and calumny,

Сумбур вселенский и оркестр.

World’s music and cacophony.

(Хоть ничему она не учит,

(Though there is zilch in her instructions,


Ne mashi kulakami, ne trebui drak, govoria: “чеloveк чеloveку drug” — ili “drug i vrag on za prosto tak, feierverk neironov, a posle — prakh...” Nu k chemu lilipuchii etot zamakh? Nu otkuda takaia poshlost’? Chto obidy — prostaia posh zlost’. Vidno, pravda, chto gore da glory — v umakh.


A Man Bee

sunned, bee crowded, “Whither, whither, whither a man?” man with a lantern quoth, to sentry-centuries pledging troth; centenary-centurions later the purple-mantled procurator his fingers dipped in bloody froth, responding, “Ecce homo! Here’s a man!” As epochs slither and as creeds wither, man is and isn’t, neither— both: man is a cavern— and man is a lantern— man is subaltern, man is a pattern— и царь он и раб он и червь и Бог!* Amen!


* Translation from Russian: “He is tsar and a slave, a worm and God.” Phonetic transliteration: ee tsar’ on ee rahp on ee cherrf ee Bawkh.


The mind arose by minding simple duties, Civilization dawned when, knocking stones, It dawned on me that I may knock it off, That doing anything is not a must, But whimsy, hence the triumph of my will. The mind is self-aware autocracy, The godlike will to make the fateful choice: To eat or not to eat, to roast or boil, Whether ‘tis nobler to turn right or left— Although it took a while before we saw That we are pulled and nailed to this earth, Which causes the most horrible conjectures: What if the mind’s the son of plain alternative, The space ‘twixt 1 and 0, plus and minus— The freedom of a fish behind the glass, And that which is declared to have no limits, Is just a nicer jail with hidden walls? Natura naturans, and mother nature Nurtures herself, by natural selection. The mind’s her bastard son; the mind is dough That’s always running over; just like yeast, Nature is spreading out across the Earth, And when she’s done, trying to reach the stars, Nature leaps at the chance of mindful man. What, then, is man? Leaven of categories: Kept warm by the Promethean flame, Feeding on love and pride’s ambrosia, The chthonic goo of yore is growing tall, Attempting avidly to pierce the gluten, And at that moment in a funeral pie The sufferer hardens in saecula saeculorum.

Подражание Волошину

Сознание нача́ лось с осознанья, что можно б мне совсем того не делать, что делаю, долбя об камень камнем; что деланье не все необходимость, а прихоть, значит воли торжество.

Сознанье - уясненье самовластья, божественнейшей воли выбирать, съесть иль не съесть, зажарить иль сварить, направо ли, налево ли пойти, хотя еще не скоро мы смекнули, что пригвождённы тягою к земле а это мысли страшные рождает: пускай сознанье - сын альтернативы, зазор меж единицей и нулем, меж минусом и плюсом - но как вдруг оно - свобода рыбки застекленной и то, что объявляется простором лишь более вольготная тюрьма? Природа прирастает до прерода себя самой же в самоё себя. Сознание - ее побочный сын, сознанье - убегающее тесто; как дрожжи, разрастается природа вначале ширясь просто по земле, затем до звезд пытаясь дотянуться и для того прибегши к человеку. Что человек? Квашня из категорий от жара прометеева огня, любви питаясь мёдом и гордыни, растёт доисторическая хтонь, прорвать пытаясь тело клейковины от жадности, но тут затвердевает страдалец поминальным пирогом.

Сознанье по себе само не диво Indeed, the mind’s no wonder by itself: не диво то, что тесто дрожжевое It is no wonder that yeast dough must spread— само собою лезет через край, а диво, что дивимся на него; But it is wondrous that at it we wonder; пусть хтонь - существования причина, The chthonic goo may have caused our existence, но бытия причина - это Бог, But that which causes being, we call God— всещедрый произвол из ниоткуда, Out of the blue, this omni-generous tyrant синоним остранняющего чуда, Cast marvelous light on yeasty pagan goo языческую дрожжевую хтонь And transubstantiated it into пресуществивший в хлеб наш днесь сверхсущный, Our daily bread and thus alleviated и столь же глад чудесный утолив не сытости, но радости воздушной. Our hunger, for the food more elevated.


Происхождение искусства

(Опыт каламбурной критики) «Он был увлечен ходом пьесы». «Ход режиссера был изящен». «Пьеса дала новый ход его мыслям». «Этот прием режиссера – настоящая находка». «Также не по-спортивному велик ход педали сцепления» – это из газеты. А вот из Льва Толстого: «Во всем, почти во всем, что я писал, мною руководила потребность собрания мыслей, сцепленных между собой для выражения себя; но каждая мысль, выраженная словами особо, теряет свой смысл, страшно понижается, когда берется одна и без того сцепления, в котором она находится». Довольно. Что есть ход? Ход есть рисунок фуги. Стиха. Ход есть ритм. Алгоритм. Схема Канта. Схема смеха. Ход коня. Стратагема. Пресловутая «многоходовочка». Геометрия нью-йоркских пожарных лестниц. Инструкция по эвакуации здания во время пожара. Древнегреческое «ὁδίτης» (странник) того же индоевропейского корня, что и наше слово. Слово «ὁδός» (путь) встречается в «Одиссее». Художники – ходоки, странники; они уходят от близких, чтобы, как с аленьким цветочком, вернуться домой с остранением. Гениальные же художники – это всегда первопроходцы.



Who could have told me then at my naive beginnings why borders were there and why I couldn’t go over them?

I grew up in a country where the days are long and the sky is wide, where the fields are dry and warm

Who could have explained to me that the world is made in parts and that borders represent beginnings and ends of groups of people?

Milica Veselinović

and the groves are calm and harmless. I grew up in a town where two borders meet, where we said hvala and köszönöm with the same excitement of being thankful. I grew up in a town where your border met mine, not knowing that borders exist, not knowing that our ends can meet.

Above: Sombor Photograph by Milica Veselinović

I grew up thinking and still think that no border can separate me from being human, because we all are, and we all have the right to live and share the world. I still dream of no borders.


My dad still mixes up the words “nervous” and “frustrated.” He’s usually carefree and friendly, being blunt at times. Similar to most Croatians, he can be emotional, and he shows it; he’s never afraid to laugh or cry in front of family and friends. He always uses the word “nervous” to describe feeling frustrated. His openness is something I hope to emulate, a trait I hope I got from him, not his trait that confuses “nervous” with “frustrated.” My dad immigrated from Croatia (still Yugoslavia at the time) in the late 80s. Some people ask, “Was he searching for a better opportunity?” No, I say. Others, more attuned to ex-Yugoslavian politics, ask, “Was he escaping the impending war?” I still respond with no. He left because of his overbearing mother, searching for a great diaspora in the USA. I had the opportunity to visit Croatia many times. My country has a beautiful culture and great natural beauty, although there is an ugliness found right in my family’s kitchens. My aunt holds on to days-old bread and rarely turns on the AC during hot Mediterranean summers, while my grandma has it the worst—she won’t plug in her fridge. This habit could be a personal insecurity or quirk that she had since childhood, but the more likely explanation is that she developed this self-preserving behavior by living through the fascistic Ustaša regime. My grandma went through World War II and watched as her country struggled for sovereignty. These cultural differences didn’t become evident to me until I was a young adult, didn’t hit me until after I found molding bread in my aunt’s apartment and tried to convince my grandma to turn on her fridge. While applying for a diversity scholarship, I wrote a few introductory sentences about my different cultures, their difficulties and advantages. When I gave my potential advisor a copy, she said, “But your father’s culture hasn’t been discriminated against.” I know that I shouldn’t have been shocked—Croatians have white skin and are from Europe. Only some people would know what turmoil they went through, including a recent bloody war. Many Americans haven’t even heard of the country. I don’t know if my father would believe that his Slavic identity has given him a hard path. I don’t know if he would consider learning English and going through a foreign residency more difficult than others would. Maybe the fact that he couldn’t find a large, stable Croatian diaspora made migrating harder. I do know that even with the fascism, corruption, and terrible war his homeland experienced, he still is proud to be Croatian. And so am I.

Nervous Briante Najev


Про Волка Речь by Natasha Andersen


In a land not yet its own, with a people not yet their own, she had the curtains of life drawn open for her. Samobor, region of Croatia, kingdom of Hungary, empire of Austria-Hungary, a name that had tied tightly around the land, strangling what could have been a home, appeared to her as the only place in the world for a few short years of her life. She didn’t know that the city of Zagreb sitting practically at her doorstep fit so many people into its old and narrow streets, the world cramming many more people onto its overflowing surface.

How Ana Pauše From Croatia Became Annie Pause From Austria Became Anna Novak from Moravia

She didn’t know that her mother, once Josipa Lah, currently Josipa Pauše, would in just a few years become Josephine Pause, a much different woman than the one she knew. She didn’t know that the day she was baptized, her father, who had once been Vjekoslav Pauše, currently Alojz Pauše, was on the verge of becoming Alois Pause. He would start to become him within two months, and one day, she would hate him for it. She couldn’t have known that he was trying his hardest when all she could hear was her mother’s mouth forming her father’s words from a letter that spoke of nothing she cared for, escaping what she would one day realize was inescapable.

Samantha Novak Murray

When she left what is now Croatia, then an Austro-Hungarian Empire ready to be cut into Yugoslavia, she would one day look back and realize that was the last place where she ever felt like she was Ana Pauše, the last time people pronounced her name the way her mom did. That long ah that emanated from the breath, escaping the back of the throat, smashed with an oo to form an ow sound, then a sheh to bind it all together, forming what was once her. She was swallowing the grey of Chicago one day, now as Annie Pause, pretending to be Austrian—the more respectable people, according to her father, who explained in such colorless detail and in all ways but legally a lie—as her parents so often told her to do even though none of them could speak any German. And the English they spoke cracked and tumbled around their mouths in such a way that convinced other people on the street that it was a poor Russian excuse for the shattering of a language. She wasn’t there long. Maybe a year. But as she lie awake at night for years to come, she saw flashes of people glaring with blurry faces as she babbled on in her sharp language. She remembered most vividly the way her parents looked at her when she cried in Croatian instead of English, the tears she would one day see in her own eyes. Another time, she ended up in Oklahoma, trudging through the land, rust-red and dry. She found ruby red scarves and blue-white echoes lingering throughout the house. Her father leaned down and spoke, but it was not him she heard; it was the quiet voice of her mother reading a letter from an ocean away, dripping with sorrow as the words became frayed, cut into something they were not. “This is home now.”


Mishak, Oklahoma, her home for the time being, was filled with Czechs, a people that she had known to be part of Austria-Hungary. Their words filled her ears gently, like a soft lullaby she couldn’t quite remember the words to. It wove around her broken memories that reached the orange roofs and green mountains still seen in her dreams. And so, for a little while, she thought of the Czechs as a tiny mirror, addressing them as such in her mind. She learned more English and figured out some Czech, holding on to her own language in secret, sweeping up the dusty bits of childhood stories and overheard parental conversations and pressing them against her ears. As the sun shone upon the rust soil and Anna’s brown hair, a tall blonde man seemed to block Anna’s view of the endless horizon. She thought back to this moment often and wondered if it was when the most protected part of her died. Or was it when she married him barely a year later at the glowing age of 16? She married the Moravian man who was and always would be Fabian Novak, changing her name one last time to the adult and staccato Anna Novak. A few months later, Anna entered her old house alone for the first time and quietly faced her parents. She stood in the middle of the room, muscles tensing her to take up as little space as possible. In the corner of the room, her tear-stained eyes saw the white and red lining peering out from behind the closet door. She unfolded and grabbed her mom’s old head scarf, pressing it against her face and drowning herself into the conversation of days that faded from her memory with each passing moment. Finally relieving herself of the new truth, she spoke harshly through a cracked pink throat in Croatian: “I’m pregnant.” Her father died the next day. At his funeral, she refused to say anything besides in that same harsh Croatian, “He died of happiness because he thought I forgot.” Fifteen children later, the last of which she named after her own husband, Anna laughed hollowly at the sounds of English-speaking children and the baking of Czech kolačkys. On a day of overwhelming sunshine much like the one they met on, Fabian told her he no longer wanted to be with her. She looked up, and with the shade blocking his face, thought for a moment that she had gone back in time. A smile, then standing straight up into the rust-tinted sky. Anna trusted her legs to carry her into a run, but when they didn’t and she was standing there staring at the face of her husband of over three decades, fire filled her voice. She screamed longer and harder than she had since she was a child, filling her own silences with her father’s old words fitting perfectly into the puzzle of her own. Slamming the doors of the little house that had until that very moment been her home, Anna took her son Fabian and left for California. Together, they struggled to experience sweet moments uninterrupted by the past. Those moments came and went in the summer before Fabian went to college. Anna then had only moments filled with concern for her son’s future and began her journey to track down a wife for him. As a testament to her father, she stopped at the doors of Croatian families until she had cultivated her own hoard of young immigrant women. This new world filled with suitable suitors shattered when her son brought home a young Irish girl, an engagement ring already choking her finger. If she hadn’t already expelled all the fire from her throat and lungs long ago, Anna imagined the very earth would have shook from her screams. Anna came to her son’s wedding in black lace, commanding the church’s gaze onto her, at least until the bride showed up. When Patricia Hail became Patricia Novak, she looked at her son, and he looked back at her. Through her parents’ tear-stained eyes and his joyful ones that dampened into what she thought she used to see in the mirror as a child, they silently agreed to never see each other again.



Left: Amphitheater in Ohrid, North Macedonia Above: Couple at Lake Ohrid Photos by Miljan Simonović


Beets: A Love Letter Miriam Wojtas

I love to think of how many things have to align so perfectly as to give us the gift of life. Lately, I’ve had fermented beets on my mind. I grew up eating them; I still eat them. I have a few jars of them hard at work in my kitchen, actively festering in the tradition of an inherited recipe that my grandparents got from their grandparents. A multigenerational gift of sustenance made possible through the particularities of fermentation sciences that create new life all on their own. I think I might have had an ancestor once who had a little help from some microbial friends. Food historians believe that people came to practice fermentation, for lack of a better understanding, on accident, thousands of years ago. Picture this: the right single-celled organism in the right place at the right time, hurtling through space towards some poorly contained milk, juice, or wheatmeal. The right temperature, the right amount of light and moisture, everything just right. The right person to have the courage to consume the food they had left smelling, looking, and tasting very different than it had just days before. Whoever that was, it’s thanks to their singular impulse to experiment with fermentation that I’m here today. It was just another perfect day in the history of life, in the legend of creation that continues to unfurl itself before us more and more every day. I’m compelled by the process by which such an incredible gift of life can be turned into something even more fascinating than its raw form. A beet on her own is very weird; for such a bright red, bulbous creature to pop out of the ground, equally resistant to the frost of winter and the heatwaves of summer, seems almost too good to be true. She’s dirty, sexy, stinky. She looks like an organ or a small lump of flesh that fell off of somebody and remained forgotten in the mud.


The taste of earth that lingers on her skin long after I scrub and scrape her clean comes from her own pet microbe, a harmless bacteria that emits a compound called geosmin. Though you may not know it, the beet is usually not the first one to introduce us to geosmin; you may know him from the smell of rain as it saturates dry soil. Geosmin lives alongside beetroots in the earth, produced by amoebic life forms similar to those that make possible the miracle of fermentation. In the food traditions of Poland, as in many Eastern European countries, the beet is the star of the show. Recognized as an edible food for hundreds of years, beetroot was taken in most fervently across Eastern Europe in the sixteenth century. She was beloved for her hardiness in cold weather conditions and inhospitable soil. It only took a couple generations before beets became a staple food, and in the very same instant, they became part of what it means to be Polish or Ukrainian or Russian or any other type of person whose life was supported by beets. Local experiments with beet-based dishes led to an eventual flirtation with pickled beets. The basic formula, as determined by those ancestors who believed in the controlled spoiling of their food, is water, salt, chopped beets, and then an optional combination of seasonings, like garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. The longer she sits, the more sour she gets, brimming with healthful bacteria cultures that keep the food fresh for longer and make it easier to digest. The beet pieces on their own can be repurposed for anything, perhaps shredded into a salad, thrown into a soup, or just eaten raw. The leftover liquid is a divine, medicinal tonic, known throughout the region as kvass. It is one of the most iconic comestibles to have ever come from Eastern Europe.

My mother and grandparents left Poland in 1995 and came to California by way of a green card lottery. Much like a particle of yeast touching down on the surface of a jar of fresh beets sliced into water, the papers fell into my family’s hands incidentally; it could have been anyone, but that day, it was them. Following the Immigration Act of 1990, the United States government created the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which aims to attract people from countries with low numbers of immigrants to the United States with a green card lottery. It was therefore not uncommon following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 throughout Eastern Europe to see ordinary people participating in this maddening sprint to grab all they could carry, leap across the ocean, and strive to assimilate as ferociously as they could muster. Steeped in the uncertainty of the freshly post-Soviet condition and with dubious promises of bigger, better, and more of everything overseas, my grandmother played the lottery. She won visas for herself, her husband, and her daughter. As three of the first recipients of the grand prize of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, they boarded one of the last commercial flights to allow cigarettes in the cabin and arrived in San Francisco, reeling from both the smoke inhalation and the sudden confrontation with capitalist empire. I write this while on the job; I’m putting in overtime in the second generation, sloughing off the dense residue of the emotional upheaval of a transatlantic move, hoping to uncover underneath my responsibilities to my family, to the beet, and to myself. So far, I’ve found that my love affair with the beet was forged in the naive yet nonetheless avaricious motives behind my family’s immigration story. To my family, it was not much of a surprise when I came to expect beets as an ever-present part of my diet, even as they consciously decided to take up an American lifestyle over what they had known all their lives. Isn’t it true that we tend to pick partners who most resemble the people we already love? But in the broader picture of my life as the child of immigrants in the United States, a beet seemed too modest a choice when compared against the aisles and aisles of nothing

but choices—packaged in plastic, shimmering with preservatives, and relentlessly artificial. No geosmin about it. Yet something pulled me back to her. At first, I thought it was the familiarity of connecting with home traditions, but I felt that in so many other daily rituals of eating, speaking, and otherwise behaving Polish. This was different; something else in me stirred at the mere thought of consuming a beet and the kvass she brewed for us. I knew I could never tell anyone, at least not in the family. Nobody ever shared my excitement to the same degree, and even showing off too eagerly my interest in beets seemed better kept as a secret. I smelled, tasted, and touched all the things we had in common. I pictured cupping my hand around her, lightly dragging my fingers across the smooth, barely textured interior, always coming away with hands stained by her juice and perfumed by her flavor. Like me, she hid her full self in the darkness of the earth; cut into slices, her scent, color, and shape were more


saturated versions of certain parts of my own flesh, and most importantly, the accusations of filth she received reminded me of the shameful chastisement I heard about my own body. We were both dirty, disconcerting girls, contemptible for our impurity but essential to the maintenance of our culture. It was our secret. Ironically, my unknowing grandparents placed her right in front of me all of the time, even taught me how to bring her to life myself. They didn’t realize they were enabling the desires they had so carefully prayed would never surface in their bloodline. There is a common tendency for Americans to paint with broad strokes a picture of a monolithic Eastern Bloc. The many former Soviet Socialist Republics, along with the smattering of satellite states on their periphery, are often thought of as the miniatures of a caricatured Soviet Russia— cold weather, colder people; gray landscapes and architecture; stricken with famine and devoid of originality. There is usually no room in these generalizations for the little mysteries of the beet’s double life as an occasional paramour. Ultimately, these ideas deny the humanity of the people who lived under a system that still maintained a higher standard of basic rights to a larger number of people than what we see in the United States today. Through generations, people saw changes in leadership and experienced the challenges of governance in flux with a vested interest in their surroundings. People reacted to their circumstances as much as they also acted independently of them. They still made all sorts of art. They wrote books and sang songs and shot films and designed grandiose buildings in a style all their own. They prioritized entertainment, delivering everything from beloved programs for children and families to troublesome critiques of society to faithful interpretations of classic folk arts. And they cooked. Oh, how they cooked! And, of course, they loved, passionately, devotedly. In contrast to the overwhelming decadence of repetitive options so characteristic of the capitalist West, Soviet cooking presented a simplicity synthesized from dozens of foodways all crisscrossing over the shared proletarian


struggle. It was the coalescence of many labors of love that moved across millions of miles, from the western shores of the Pacific Ocean to the lush tides of the Mediterranean Sea, romancing each other, sometimes backstabbing and stealing from each other, other times sneaking around, hiding from shame, obfuscating the real stories and inventing new ones. To assume it was boring to rely on that which was locally available and culturally relevant is to erase the histories of food that run so much deeper than what the last century has shown us. After all, limits can guide culinary creativity to fascinating places. So I return, once more, to beets. More specifically, I return to my inheritance of the knowledge of how to prepare them using the spell-like recipe that I had only ever had told to me, never written down. The method for making kvass was given to me by my grandparents like a secret that came out of the beet herself. They taught me to taste, taste, then taste again as I cut the raw vegetables and mixed salt into water and tossed whatever else in the jar. Daily, my grandfather asked that I stand next to him as he lifted the top and tasted the progression of the fermentation, occasionally scraping little particles of yeast off the top that had gotten too excited in their growth. Five days to a week later, she was ready. Acidic and pungent, thicker than the plain water that had initially covered the whole mess, and a deep, dark fuchsia. Then, it was a shot glass every evening after dinner to encourage healthy circulation of the blood, a stronger immune system, seamless digestion, and many other benefits that would surely reveal themselves with time. It is, by all accounts, an inimitable elixir more powerful than all the drugstore name brands combined—unless you count the beets I buy as over the counter. My family gave me the gift of life. I do not say this as an uncritical, freeloading expression of gratitude for delivering me from the dismal scenery the United States would have me believe is so distinctive of our home. I say it as I feel indebted to the ways they taught me to feed myself, especially the lessons they taught me about the magic of making medicine from a root that hides underground. Without meaning

to, they taught me to not be afraid of the ugly, bubbling fumes of decay as they cloud the slowly growing delicacy underneath. The perfect bottle of kvass is not the one that tastes the best or sits the longest, but the one that heals all the way down, from mouth to throat to gut to groin. I need this healing now more than ever. The beet and I still meet, in plain sight but sharing plenty of secrets. Sometimes, we both sit underground, wrapped around each other in a bed of soil, reeking of geosmin and exchanging microflora. She’s used to being exposed, plucked out of her hiding spot and misinterpreted by people who don’t take the time to know her. I watch her through the cloudy glass of a jar, slowly fermenting, somehow becoming more like herself than she was before. I’m still learning how to follow her lead. Thankfully, she is a most patient teacher. She gave me the gift of life. And what a beautiful gift of life it is. Picture this: a crimson orb below the ground. Green leaves waving me towards her home in the dirt. Dense, as though she might contain many secrets. Determined to feed me through the winter, spring, summer, and

fall, and she does, every time. She feeds me, and my mother, and her parents, and their parents, as far back as the heart can feel, and even further still. How remarkable how much a beet looks like a human heart. How funny to say the phrase “heart beat, heart beet, heart beat” over and over. How strange to slice her and dice her, to set her in some water with salt and spices, to return her to darkness and warmth until she comes anew. It’s as close to turning water into wine as I have ever gotten. A nectar red as blood, sweet and sour as life itself. Sipping on her juice, how still I must stay as I feel myself thaw, first tepid, then flushed. I imagine her running through me, mimicking the blood that’s already there, working her way into the crowd of disk-shaped cells and microscopic oxygen molecules until no one would see her as any different than everything that belongs there. She belongs here; she tells me I do, too. I think about it for a moment too long. Even as it warms me from the inside out, it tugs a few tears out of the corners of my eyes. It’s a miracle of possibility; it’s love, I’m sure of it! It is nature tending towards perfection.

Basic Kvass Recipe • 1 tablespoon of salt • Handful of garlic cloves • 3-4 pounds of beets • A few bay leaves • Small handful of black peppercorns Stir to dissolve one tablespoon of salt in one liter of lukewarm water. Peel a handful of garlic cloves. Roughly chop beets into 1-2 inch-sized pieces. In one large jar, or spread across a few smaller ones, place garlic cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns on the bottom. Cover with chopped beets. Pour salted water into clean jar(s), ensuring everything is covered with water and nothing floats. Leave loosely covered in a space that stays moderately warm and receives indirect sunlight for 5-7 days, depending on desired flavor. Check daily for a dark film of yeast that may form on the surface; this is a harmless byproduct of the fermentation process that can be easily scooped away with a spoon.


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