At her teacher’s request, a little girl sits at the front of her class regaling the six to eight year-olds with tales of seemingly faraway places – Czechoslovakia, East Germany, of herself blowing giant bubblegum orbs at the base of the Berlin Tower, a child’s-eye attempt to make sense of the historical landmark. A young Juli Zäll (née Shepetsky) tours with her family courtesy of her father’s status as a provincial diplomat. She sees what her classmates and her teacher might never see for themselves.
Zäll’s good fortune to explore Eastern Europe during her childhood ignited her passion for travel, at a time when the Ukraine and, more broadly, the USSR restricted citizens’ movements. Among her many formative expeditions, she has journeyed through Thailand on her way to Vietnam and met her Danish future husband (a romantic story best told by Zäll herself), camped in Sicily for their honeymoon, and celebrated five years of marriage in Denmark with those who couldn’t come to Toronto for their small wedding. Her sense of adventure and love of travel has even extended to working towards her private aviation license at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto.
She is the consummate observer and collector: Zäll captures and freezes moments throughout her travels, eavesdrops on conversations to catch out-of-context phrases for her “that’s a funny thing to say” list she has maintained since childhood, and seeks out visually stunning books to inspire her. She has been known to pick up a poetry book in a language she does not speak, due to its beauty.
Zäll returns to Lviv, Ukraine every few years since she immigrated to Canada. Three different emotions twist her face into a crooked smile as she notes that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the town where she told tales to her class no longer exists but for the moment in time she has frozen in her memory.