Lured by the view of onion domes from across the Lehigh, we drove to Palmerton, a Russian town in America built and ravaged (ravished) by zinc mining. The locals never catch colds. In our zombie economy, money lurches on, taking the form of new cars and even new homes, but we found the more fantastical onion dome church to be leafy with neglect, sliding into eclipse at the end of a residential neighborhood build into a hillside. A less picturesque but still operative Russian Catholic church stood stalwart on the main road, its Pantocrator glaring virilely down at Pennsylvanian purgatory.
From afar, my younger son had voiced the essence of the situation last month: “It is Russia. It just is.” Up close, his words proved truer and stranger. I had that thrumming sense of being in Tarkovsky’s Zona, inside the icon. Overgrown boughs seemed to suggest schematic layers, and vision had a tactile quality. It was a summer weekend and noisy bikes and hot rods sped up the main road toward the recesses of the town, which had a definite orientation toward the valley and the opposite slope, eerily stripped of large vegetation.
I know I’ll be back. I can’t quite grasp it, a welcome parenthetical in America, Amerika. Most mysterious, both churches visible from across the valley seem to be Catholic rather than Orthodox. Uniates. Minerals coming out of the ground by the sweat of man’s brow–it’s not over, people, no matter how green the economy. Maybe that was the source of my disorientation: one of the two zinc mines had closed; still, I couldn’t tell whether I was looking at the past, or the future.