An unplanned turn down E. 7th Street between Second and Third Avenues last Saturday threw me into the thick of what I believe to be the oddest street fair I have ever encountered in my many years in New York City. It was the Ukrainian Festival, an annual event now in its 32nd year, apparently, though I never ran across it during my East Village tenure. I'm well aware of the Ukrainian heritage of this section of the East Village, but did not imagine it still so strong that it couldn't support a yearly to-do.
Tired of not finding stuffed cabbage and borscht at your neighborhood street fair? This is the place for you. And you can get though happy delicacies for $2 or less. Need to send a Moneygram back to the Old Country right now? They've got ya covered. Your Ukrainian folk music CD collection running thin? Sonny boy need a new marionette? Need a brightly colored egg for the mantelpiece? Old Ukrainian flag worn out? Check, check, check, check.
There was a light rain falling over the festivities, but that didn't wholly account for the unmistakable air of melancholy and gloom that hung over the festival. A Ukrainian version of the Olson Twins, dressed in native costumes, twittered and cavorted on the main stage, big smiles plastered on their cherubic faces, but they did little to elevate the prevailing mood. It was not a smiley group.
It struck me as the kind of peculiar, ethnic, neighborhood event that used to blanket the City all weeks of the year in the decades before Manhattan was made safe and scrutable for bland rich folks.