Dienstag, 26. Juni 2012

last post from Kiev

Datcha calmed.
Yesterday, Tobi and Patricia arrived in Kiev from Moscow. Their journey began in Latvia a while ago. After stopping over in St. Petersburg to stay with our friend Danilla, they then took the train to Moscow. I must say that it’s lovely to have another lady around and they’re such agreeable holiday mates. After giving them a quick breakfast, we headed to Larissa and Vladi’s datcha for a relaxing day. The datcha is about 12 km away from the city. The harrowing drive (I can not imagine any tourist renting a car and giving the unwritten rules of post-soviet roads a go) led us past elegant looking high-rises and massive supermarkets. As we got nearer the holiday home, however, the streets got shabbier and the houses were one-family constructions. Vladi and Larissa’s datcha is large and covered in siding. Bars on the window and doors and an alarm system keep it safe in their absence. The security features aren’t as harsh-looking as the description may imply. Behing the garden is a quite large shed; about the size of what I’d been expecting. When Tobi suggested that this was their shed, I said that I thought it may be someone else’s datcha. Larissa soon opened it’s doors however and revealed a number of lounge chairs and plastic garden chairs. Vladi was meanwhile unzipping a tent which covered a large table with benches, surrounded by mosquito netting. There was an outdoor toilet with a lino floor that wasn’t too bad at all. Hands could be washed from a spigot where hand soap lay next to the bucket, which collected our grey water, which was then used to water Larissa’s incredible garden.
The temperature was chillier than it had been and the sky was alternatively cloudy and sunny. The others had a quick swim in the Nieper, which is meant to be cleaner away from the city, but I found the air to be too cool for that. The river was reached by a 10 minute walk along the road-side and the adrenaline rush of crossing said road was as invigorating as a dip in cold water, I suspect. The fellas got draft beers at a stand along the way and other than the large billboard for a tiling company (picturing a woman wearing over-alls with no shirt and a hard-hat) the way was quite rustic.
We had an insanely massive lunch, a lovely nap in the garden and some really stimulating conversation around the outdoor dining table. I tried to help Larissa as best I could in preparing and washing up. My first attempt at offering help was met with her turning her head and shouting to Vladi “Vlad, Jessica is trying to tall me something and I don’t understand it.” (Or so it had sounded to me.) The rest of our interactions were done with small attempts at using words that were common in our languages or that we’d already learned (Larissa took a German course years ago, but the knowledge has lapsed without practice. My Russian knowledge is based, of course, on 2 weeks of holidays in Russian-speaking countries.) Things like “Sol” and “Paprika” being offered while I was preparing vegetables for grilling were easy. Compliments like “schön” while drying a lovely tea cup were appreciated. Otherwise we worked silently and with a number or gestures to denote what we wanted or needed.
Larissa is an amazing orator. When she speaks, it’s always with passionate inflection and an amazing cadence. One can often follow the general meaning of what she’s saying if a few words can be caught. You only need to hang on, as her speech arches and drops, to understand what she’s talking about. Then you need Ivo to clarify that she’s referring to the “singing underpants” that were apparently featured in Eurovision. She’s already let you know what she thought of them. In other pronouncements, Vladi’s response of “let’s not talk about politics” (indicated by tone and the Ukrainian word for politics’ similarity to English) and Ivo’s lack of translation let’s one know that the soliloquy was likely something anti-american or mildly conspiracy-based. (I discovered that after pressing for translation a few times.) At lunch, she said that Ukraine was falling apart before it’d ever really become a true nation. When I answered that many countries are falling apart at the moment, she said that America would never fall apart because there are too many truly patriotic people there. This didn’t feel like a compliment.
Last night, we went to the nearby bar “Nirvana”. The wait-staff all wear T-shirts from the band Nirvana and the walls are papered with posters of American groups. The football was only shown in the basement (above ground a TV was showing America’s Funniest Home Videos.) We had an assortment of Ukrainian snacks and were pleased when the surrounding viewers all showed themselves to be Spain supporters. Patricia is particularly passionate about Spanish football, being half Spanish, but did not loudly sing her version of the anthem. When I’d asked her earlier in the afternoon how she feels about the lyricless anthem (there hasn’t been any agreed-upon text since the 1950s and the text up to then was a temporary post-Franco solution) she said that different regions have different word, but that they are often quite rude.
Today we will finally make an attempt at seeing the Lavra. It’s a Sunday so wait times may be long, but I’m confident that we can keep one another entertained. I must say, the more time I spend with Patricia and the more I get to know her the more I like her. I’m quite excited that she and Tobi will be our downstairs neighbors this fall.

Freitag, 22. Juni 2012

more adventures in Kiev

My previous Maschrutka voyage in Petersburg had been over-filled and stinky and scary. The two Mashrotka rides today, however, had seats enough for everybody and were pretty darned pleasant. On out first ride, a woman entered and then rode two stops without paying. Payment is 3 Grivna, no matter how far you’re going. One either pays the driver directly or hands the money forward, person to person, it the bus is full. The driver stayed at the stop and told the woman had to pay. She had a heated exchange with the driver and then left the bus without paying. Ivo then explained that she’d said “what about the foreigners?” (referring to us.) The driver answered “They’ve paid; 1-2-3.” I think that she was assuming that he’d charged us a foreigner’s price and so she should be able to ride free on his profits.
Here there are often different prices for foreigners. If prices are written somewhere, they’ll often have a lower price advertised in Cyrilic and a higher price advertised in English. Failing that, the price quoted verbally will vary with language. When Ivo and I first went to St. Petersburg, an effort to buy a SIM card for his handy was met with a flat refusal. When Ivo told his local friends, they said that this was just because he was a foreigner and needed to be more assertive. Sure enough, another visit to the Handy shop yielded a card, likely more pricey than any one sold to a Russian.
Last night, we met with Ivo’s hosts from 5 years ago. Pacha has been promoted to a chief engineer and edits and corrects other engineer’s plans. Natascha (Pacha’s cousin) was recently married to the man who accompanied herself and Ivo to that same outdoor museum we visited, lo those five years ago. She works in imports customs for a private company in Kiev and told us about a colleague who took a job at customs in the airport shortly before the Eurocup. He has since complained that there is no possibility of receiving bribes and that the job is far worse for it. Natascha explained that bribes, in her job, are simply an expected part of the system. Similarly, the expectation to refute accusations of taking bribes is equally part of the system.
The two cousin’s English has apparently improved a lot in the past 5 years. Either that or they refused to speak to Ivo in English before so that he could practice his Russian. Whatever it may be, they were able to express themselves very well in English at an increasing rate as the beer and vodka was poured. We watched the Portugal Czec game while having long and intense conversations about everything under the sun (philosophy, biology, anthropology,...) in which every long-winded exchange ended in someone calling someone else a “botanist” (Ukranian for nerd.) Natascha shared a homemade “aphorismus”: women fake orgasms and interest in football. She seemed more interested in talking about pop-culture and personal lives than evolution and prejudices. The evening ended with promises to see one another again. This is made more likely by the fact that Natascha is hooking us up with an apartment for Tobi and Patricia, who are coming tomorrow. I’ll head with Vladi to pick them up at the train station at 8am while Steff and Ivo head to the datcha before us, earlier in the morning. We’ll all meet up at the datcha and grill and swim, we’ve been told. Today is another sweltering day and we’ll head downtown to pick up souveniers.
And we did.
One of my favorite things to do with Ivo when travelling is “guess the person”. We’ll be sat somewhere and see someone and guess where they’re from and why they are here. In Kiev at the moment, most people’s nationalities are either presented in large letters on their chests or with flags painted on to their faces. Nevertheless, we still find occasions to guess at more subtle citizens.
While sitting outside the café after our Chernobyl museum visit, Ivo spotted a woman and began: “She’s an American art student.” Apparently she resembled many different American art history students he’d known in the past. As I was still clearing my brain after the museum, I didn’t truly play along, but as I stood up to go find the restroom, I ducked my head down and told Ivo quietly, “her fork is in her left hand;” thus not contributing to, but crushing the game.
Yesterday we took the metro from its farthest western point (though it appears that construction is leading the way to further Metro stations.) As we headed into the cars, a young woman opposite us considered standing and then decided to sit. As she transferred her backpack onto her lap I observed that she had a Futurama t-shit, with red collar and short sleeve hems. Her hair was frizzy and to her shoulders, nothing held it back except her massive headphones. She closed her eyes as she sat and listened. She did not tap her feet, which were in some sort of rafting sandal.
“American:” I began, “Shoes.”
“Canadian:” Says Ivo “backpack. Or German?”
“Nope, American: Futurama Tshirt.”
“Hmmm,” says Ivo
“Canadian,” I say “eyes closed on a rush hour train?”
“Canadian sophomore on a trip alone. Her grandparents are Ukrainian.” Ivo contributes.
“She’ll be a sophomore in the fall. She’s not sure if she wants to transfer schools because no one at college seemed to get her.” I continue.
This woman remained a mystery to us. Her eyes remained closed and she sat in her seat as the train became more and more full. Eventually we were at our stop and departed the train and will never know where the hell that lady was from or where she was going.
This reminds me of my obsession with an old pedestrian overpass n Providence. I would sit on the foot-bridge over to India Point park and watch all of the people driving places and try to imagine where they were going and why. Now and again a truck would speed under and the old bridge would sway slightly and I’d love feeling moved by the movement of these vehicles. I think that the initial motivation to hang out there came from my summer in the hospital. I’d been encouraged to walk around, but didn’t really like to. It wasn’t just the movement (it was partially the movement) but that not many people want to walk around wearing a johnny while pushing a massive IV tree around swinging their daily nutrition. I never knew where I was supposed to be going because pacing the halls didn’t seem that great but leaving the wing seemed like it would disturb the hospital employees and visitors. The nurses also didn’t really like me to go by myself, as I had a habit of feeling woozy.
So I’d push my IV tree just outside the wing to the large windows that overlooked the large street that ran between the two wings of the building. People emerged from the Orange line and if I leaned my head against the window I could see foot and car traffic on Washington St. I would watch the people and try to judge how hot it was outside from their clothing and pace. Where I was it was the same temperature the entire month: mildly chilly. But out there, those people had temperature fluctuation; they had places to go. Some people had lunches in bags that were solid, not bags of foods in intravaeneous form. These people had important, annoying, envigorating, gauling, pleasant lives. Maybe their visiting someone or just going for noodles. Maybe they work around here or are tourists in search of Chinatown. Maybe their med-students or are heading in for a colonoscopy. Maybe they just want a coffee at one of the city’s 3,000 Au Bon Pains and the New England Medical Center location is most convenient.
Now the footbridge to India Point has been newly built and wouldn’t sway if a herd of elephants were racing beneath it. Sure, there are still families, employees, employers and young couples speeding underneath it, but I don’t get to feel a part of it anymore. Not if the bridge doesn’t shake from their momentum. 

Day 6 in Kiev

The heat is wilting us like so many flowers. It – is – hot. This isn’t that spectacular a fact, but after the cold and rain that we’ve been having in Zürich for the past two months, it’s a shock to the system. (Die Friseur helt nicht.) Monday we were determined to go swimming. As our guide book said that the river water was a bit sketchy and I am on immunosuppresants, we decided to check out one of the pools on the island of Hydropark. Our belongings would be safe, our persons would be safe, and as we would come to find out, our ears would be assaulted by house music.
The pool was refreshing and not over used. It seemed that most of the insanely gorgeous (and mostly ematiated) Ukrainian women prefer to bake in the sun and then use the outdoor shower to cool off and maintain their hairstyles. (Hydropark; 13:00 die Friseur helt.) While Ivo and I were swimming, a man came and taped off a section of the deep end. When Ivo asked if we could still swim, the man answered in Ukrainian and neither of us knew what he was saying. It turns out that they were using the pool to film something. Bored looking scantily clad women waited and waited in the hot sun until “Action” was called and then strode the 2 feet to the pool, only to the hear cut, and return to their boredom two feet away. 
We understood the desire to film at this pool. It was pretty schi-schi (despite the relatively low cost.) Pool boys rushed around getting towels and umbrellas and servers took your plastic card that you loaded at admission for drink and snack orders. Bare chested women in g-strings daintily covered their nipples to cool off under the shower and then made a show of how cold it was in a rehearsed-looking way and two women who donned a series of revealing costumes, danced on blocks in stiletto heels to the house music that banged along at an increasing volume throughout the day. We’re told that these pools become popular night-clubs in the evenings, but we didn’t stick around to find out. We tottered home past the outdoor weight gym made of truck parts and hit the metro and went home for a quick dinner before heading to Vladi and Larissa’s to watch the game.
During the game there was a surprising exchange of jokes. (Our poor interpreter had to continually repeat each joke in the appropriate language each time, all while enjoying the game and a cold beer.) I say surprising because if the cultural differences wouldn’t get in the way, one would imagine the age difference might. Vladi is in his 50s and Larissa in her 70s and it was the latter who was telling some ribald jokes. We also somehow got on to the topic of dance (I believe that watching Ireland reminded our hosts of their love of Michael Flattley.) I asked Larissa if she had to take dance in school and if Ukrainian children still do today. We then discussed the previous practice of learning folk dances in Switzerland and the US which are now defunct (I of course meant square dancing.) Larissa then said that there is no culture in America, because it is too young. For the second time in two days, Ivo found himself vehemently defending America in response to this very statement. Whereas his first defence was to point out that Steff (the initial accuser of American culturelessness) was a consummate consumer of American pop-culture: the music, the books, the movies, the TV programs. Steff’s pop-culture consumption is nearly purely Yankee. Larissa, however, does not consume American media. She also belongs to a culture that Ivo loves so much he’s devoted his adult life to it. It was pretty pleasing to see my husband defend my land so stridently. In the end, however, we suspect that Larissa does not know that I am American and likely would not have said anything had she known. Steff, however….

Tuesday was equally hot and we had a rough start getting into the city and getting money changed at midday. We’d planned to go the Chernobyl museum on Tuesday, thinking that the Sweden:France football game would lift our spirits if anything could. First, though, we had a gorgeous (sweaty) walk through the old town, past amazing cathedrals and through a park and strolled down to the Nikolai Bulgakov museum through “Artist’s Alley” and down an ancient road with stalls of arts and crafts for sale. When we got to the museum, we said that we’d like to go through alone, as the tours were only in Russian and Ukrainian. When we began, however, the nice lady who took us to the starting room of the author’s childhood home tour began describing how the house was set up. As Ivo translated that the furnishing that were natural wood color were originals and that the furniture painted white were made to represent the furnishings in Bulgakov’s semi-autobiographical work The White Guard, the guide realized that we spoke German and continued the tour in her best high German. The tour was whimsical and sweet and ends with you leaving the heroine of one of his book’s bedrooms through a wardrobe and re-entering Bulgakov’s bedroom, where the tour began. It was so lovely that even Steff, who’s not read a Bulgakov book thoroughly enjoyed it
Afterwards, we passed the stalls and stands and headed for lunch at popular buffet restaurant chain. There was a suprising array of vegetarian options and a not so surprising amount of Swedes with bedrolls (They’ve been camping-out on an island south of Hydropark) and we had a lovely lunch (at 4pm) and then headed off to the Chernobyl museum. On our way, we employed our puppy Penny’s tactic: keeping to the shady sides of the street. (If one of strays into the sun, the other will inevitably call out “here Penny!”) The museum, like the World War 2 museum, was amazingly setup and very dramatic. We chose to take the audio tour and Ivo and I shared a recording in German while Steff listened to an English description of the artifacts that were on display behind glass cases. Where the barbed wire had twisted through the air at the WW2 museum, here there were air-hoses leading to fire and haz-mat suits like those used in the 80’s not so far from where we are now. As anticipated, the museum was daunting and left us feeling a little deflated. We grabbed an espresso at a café around the corner and made our plan for the rest of the evening.
We headed to a park that is described in our guidebook under the heading “4 days in Kiev” apparently, this park and it’s blini stand are not to be missed. When we got to the stand, we saw that there was a restaurant attached to it and decided to sit in it’s garden and have a beer and vodka. As we sat at our table (with copies of both Kiev ex-pat newspapers) pipes along the tented roof misted us with water to help keep us cool. It was crazy and lovely and refreshing. We wound up having plates of pickled things and bread and the fellas shared a plate of lard slices (very popular here) and after a rousing discussion of American Imperialism, realized that time had flown and that we’d best be heading off to the stadium.
Sweden was still very well represented at the game, despite their position in the ranking. The stands were a sea of yellow and light-blue, but we soon figured out that these were not merely Sverige fans. As loud as the chants and songs were for Sweden (we continued to sing Zwerge instead of Sverige) the louder chants were when someone would sing “U-krai-ina” and we clap and sing a “U-krai-ina” response. This call and response was peppered through the game as Sweden soundly beat France and Ukraine lost to England, revealing that our match on Sunday will be in the audience of Italy and England. We’re totally thrilled!
The singing of our host country continued on the walk to the metro, on the escalator to the metro and in the metro all the way to our stop. It was exciting. I’m definitely glad that we’re here and not in Poland (especially with my Russia-loving spouse!) (PS the only significant crimes to be reported during this Eurocup have been those that happened after the Poland and Russia game – 183 reports of assault and other crimes.)

Day 3 in Kiev

Day 3 in Kiev
Yesterday started with rain and cold during the trip to the market but the sun shone all afternoon and gave us comfortable temperatures. We took the metro to the square where the Orang Revolution took place. Now, however, it is the FanZone. We couldn’t enter because we had a freshly purchased expensive bottle of mineral water and no such dangerous products are allowed within the fan limits.
We walked along the FanZone and ducked around the corner of a building to call a restaurant that we’d found in lonely planet; Pervak. While Ivo called to reserve an out door table within the next half hour, Steff and I watched a drunken Swede strip to the waist and roll around on the ground in front of 4 young guards. When he tried to stand (a valiant effort, considering how drunk he was) the nearest guard gently pushed him down. He was making quite a racket and his colleagues were sat about 3 feet away on a step, laughing at him.
We continued down the FanZone, walking down the middle of the street as soon as we were away from the protected and Coke sponsored inner area. Large trailers with banners in Ukrainian and English proclaimed their allegiance with their “beloved Julia” and their hatred of the current government. Me thinks that participants of the Orange Revolution would prefer these banners to those advertising Carlsburg beer within the Zone. Then again, not merely the ads, but the masses of vomiting and drunken foreigners may have also given the revolutionaries pause.
Pervak had been described in Lonely Planet as an authentic Ukrainian restaurant with modern takes on classic dishes and very little kitch. The waitresses were dressed in corsets, two large carved figures are at either side of the host’s stand and are dressed as a sailor and farmer. The downstairs bar’s stools are made to look like horse’s rear ends, tails and all. Yup, not kitchy at all. We drank smoked apple and berry juice and had some super great food and then headed across the street to the Lucky Pub. This place was described in Lonely Planet as being likely to be a popular spot during the Euro Cup 2012 (it was written in 2010.) It has 13 TV screens and was filled with locals and foreigners alike. I ordered a milkshake and asked what flavors they had “only milkshake flavor” was the answer. Ivo said, “like, vailla, or….?” and she admitted that vanilla was the milkshake flavor, yes. The actual milkshake seemed to be milk with powder mix and a banana, poured in a glass with marachinno syrup and topped with whipped cream. This - - interesting – milkshake reminded me of the insane milkshake flavors (27?) at Pearl’s burgers in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, including Nutella and other craziness. I never had a milkshake there and sucking some banana through a straw made me think that I should try to have less regrets in my travels and that none of it has to do with milkshakes.
After Russia’s victory we walked back through the FanZone. We found a busker singing Kino songs. Ivo discovered Kino when we were in Petersburg and went to his friends’ for dinner. After we ate, Ivo and Igor took turns playing the guitar (Ivo playing it like a bass) while each fella’s partner sang along to a classic song from our youth. Igor and Sveta sang mostly Kino songs and we later learned that Igor’s personal style was very much taken from Kino. They both come from the Caucuses. But on this night in Kiev, a large group of young Russians and Ukrainians sang loudly and passionately as a busker played and sang the songs of a revolutionary musician who became popular decades ago. It was lovely.
Today we headed to the Mother Homeland statue. The large steely lady holds a disproportionately short sword in one hand and a shield in the other. Apparently nothing can be higher than the nearby monostary and thus it is shorter than it should be. After a walk down the river, we saw the mother looming above the trees. We walked under the highway and bought entry into a garden with lovely floral designs of EM host countries past and present. There’s something so touching about seeing a football made of shrubbery.
After that we walked past stalls selling wares and on to a veritable candy shop for the boys.  The candy shop today was gardens of military vehicles that line the way to the monument. We popped into a museum of wars in foreign lands to buy Steff entry into a pen where a Soviet helicopter from the war in Afghanistan stood. He and Ivo climbed inside the machine and photographed one another while I sat and people watched. The day had involve much sun and walking so far, so I was glad to sit in the shade and glad that I was not wearing the 5-6 inch heels that many of the other visitors were wearing.
We then walked through a tunnel with amazing 3d carvings in the walls representing the soldiers and home-front of the great patriotic war. We then went to a second museum that connects to the statue. We decided to only purchase a ticket that would take us to the middle platform below the statue’s feet. A ticket to climb the ladder through the mother’s arm to her shield would involve a 3 hour wait. Despite the large and interesting and well displayed museum, we couldn’t possibly spend 3 hours walking around there and claustrophobia pushed the camel over while making the decision.
The Ukrainian accounts of the Great Patriotic War are apparently far more balanced than those Ivo has found in Russia. It was very effecting, however; very emotionally draining. After visiting the platform and taking photos and taking in what we could see of this big huge city, we tried to find our way to another Metro stop. Along the way, we got to see young boys with doves who offered to perch them on visitors’ arms, as well as a british man getting short with a stall attendant for not understanding “TWO ICED TEAS!” quickly enough and a man in an SUV driving quickly onto the pedestrian way, blasting music, we got to eat lemon-chocolate swirled soft-serve ice cream. We made our way home and had a rest and then I cooked us up some Pelmyeni and Vereniky (vegetable dumplings and meat dumplings) and spinach with pickles and now we’re just eagerly awaiting the next Euro match.
If tonight is as hot as today was, we’ll likely make our way to the Hydropark and go swimming in the river. We’re still trying to figure out how to do that without getting robbed, so it’s a real adventure. After all, if Ivo’s camera could be so well lifted from a backpack he was wearing (a big, heavy camera, that is), we’ll need to be clever about our belongings.

Arriving in Kiev

Kiev, Ukraine 16.06 (Die Frisseur helt) (that’s a joke that the boys kept telling yesterday ever since we had to go onto the tarmac in Zürich to catch our AirFrance flight. It’s apparently from an ad for hairspray.)
We met Stef at the bus stop at 5:39 and were all relatively fit, despite the early hour. At the airport things went smoothly and we had a coffee and snack and I was far calmer than I usually am pre-travel.  The calm held while we arrived in Paris and discovered that the time we needed to get from one terminal to the next meant that we would miss our connecting flight. Luckily, as we learned this, we also learned that there was another flight 3 hours later, which would get us there in time to have dinner with our hosts and get to the game on time. (Die Ruhe helt.) We went to customer service and got our new tickets, called Vladi, who’d wanted to pick us up, to tell him we were delayed and I ran to the bathroom. When I exited the bathroom, I couldn’t find the boys and began to freak out. I reached them on our cell phone and the decision was made to eat some food. (Most likely the reason for the freak-out. It was already 10 am and I’d not yet eaten.)
After a harrowing flight with dips and dives and crazy turbulence, we arrived safely in Kiev and began our Cyrilic alphabet lessons with Ivo while waiting for passport control. We then nabbed our luggage and discovered that Steff’s bag had not arrived. (As I write this, it still hasn’t arrived) Ivo took the opportunity to show us that we needn’t worry because he knew the language and was unafraid to go from one line to the next, getting a form stamped and then going back again.
Vladi was waiting for us with bottles of water and a large station wagon to accommodate our luggage (Steff’s bag was the smallest of our travel gear.) He has such a large car because he is an RC model plane flyer. It’s been a hobby since his days in the Air force as a youth. We eaked out of the parking lot and then zoomed crazily around highways. Despite using a Vladi’s clever detour, we hit traffic next to some gorgeous fields with vegetables and cows. In the breakdown lane, a line of Ukrainians who had no time for such traffic reversed back to the rotary in an orderely line. Another car simply drove over the field to bypass the traffic. Vladi spotted the origin of traffic, where cars were driving normally, about 100 meters or so ahead.  “Good news! It’s just an accident” (the accident was gnarly – a Zhiguli had been destroyed.) While waiting in the traffic, a spotty young man appeared out of nowhere and began making inquiries of Vladi. Vladi responded monosyllabically and I began to imagine that the fellow was begging, until he began to smile widely, thanked Vladi and ran back to a car which he’d left (and I hadn’t seen before) to drive slowly forward with the last of the traffic. Apparently the young man had just ordered the same car that Vladi was driving and wanted to know if he was satisfied with it.
We were not only gifted the useful water on that trip. Vladi had also bought us a SIM card. He had to explain it a bit, as it was written in Ukranian and not Russian. We got to their house and instantly were greeted with wonderful smells from the kitchen. Larissa had been cooking. We were worried about being late to the match once the food began to be served and after the third time standing to toast something else with our vodka or beer. Luckily, the France Ukraine game had a rain delay and our game was thus also delayed. We ate and drank and gave our wonderful hosts their gifts, were shown our amazing apartment and then Vladi sweetly drove us to the Metro station.
Our Metro station is above ground. At 9:30 pm it was still light enough that the interior lights weren’t yet in use. They would simply blink before a stop. When they went on and stayed on, we knew that we were headed underground. Many metro stations in the post-soviet space are hundreds of meters underground (700-800 in some places.) They are meant to double as nuclear bomb shelters. This makes me wonder about the extreme depth of the Metro stations in Washington DC. Announcements along our trip were helpfully broadcast in Ukrainian and English; a lovely effort by the Eurocup host country. Upon arrival at our first transfer, purple (the color of this Eurocup) signs with football flowers showed us the way to the train that would take us to the FanZone and finally the Stadium. Really, all we needed to do was follow the loud Brits and Swedes. At this point, we began to see the sweet baby-faced guards who were watching the crowds. They are young police academy students and look like spotty pre-teens with their tall hats perched on the backs of their buzzed heads.
As we ascended to the FanZone, an 8 year old England fan was blowing on an obnoxious horn. We all confirmed how grateful we were that vuvuzelas had been banned and I began to hope that this other form of horn (a canister with a handle, the boy blew into an opening and seemed to be able to control the volume with the intensity of his breathe – it sounded like an angry duck) would be banned next Cup. As I was beginning to get properly frustrated with this boy, we came upon another group of baby-officers and the boy demonstrated how quietly and politely he could make his horn sound. Soon we were in a pleasantly sized and spaced crowd of fans. The excitement was building but the stadium was not yet in sight. We were just a jolly group of football fans, walking in the middle of a closed 4-lane road.
A group of fans in crosses of Saint George began singing the national anthem and Ivo admitted sadly that we were likely missing the actual anthem at that very moment. (We did not yet know that our game would be politely delayed due to the first game’s delay.) Ivo has always cherished the National anthems at the International tournaments “it’s what makes them so special.” He’d told me before about the fact that his grandmother (the woman responsible for his football fandom) used to think that it was a shame when players didn’t sing along to their national anthem (I imagine that Spain is excluded from this criticism, as they have no words.)
As we approached the stadium and walked through a small barrier, I’m embarrassed to say that I felt like I was in the fourth Harry Potter movie. Those special effects used for the world quidditch cup stadium were the only thing near what I was seeing now. The stadium was out of this world.
We came in and then walked around half of the stadium to get to our section. Choosing to avoid the concourse, we walked around the exterior and tried to judge from fan sounds and announcer sounds if how far into the game they were (no one thought to check their watch, for fear of disappointment.) We saw blue and yellow uniforms playing against dark uniforms on the screens through the gate and thought that the game was already on. Little did we know that they were showing the France Ukraine match.
Our seats were crazy close. I’ve never been that close before. (FCZ’s stadium has a very large racing track around its pitch, which creates a good barrier for flaming garbage and crazy fans, so one could never be this close. The speed and intensity was so much more impressive at this distance. We were sat among Sweden fans and a smattering of England fans. My sense of self-preservation led me to cheer for Sweden, but Steff and Ivo stuck with England, despite the company it meant that they were keeping. A drunken English man with a mid-lands accent harassed his beloved team with a string of insults, from calling players “muppets” to “bastards” to “fockin’ eejits.”
Things that we saw that were not televised: Upon arrival, we saw a string of nattily dressed guards in black marching up a stairwell. At the half-time, a group of guards with green pinafores came to our section and removed racist banners that had been draped over the rail. The guards for the field had three levels, so far as I can tell: light yellow-green pinafores were the young and yawning guards, darker green pinafores were more beefy, older, more serious guards. Guards in orange pinafores were in charge of the others. In front of our section, in the second half, there was a light-green guard sat every 3 feet. In front of the more passionate Sweden sector (in the Northeast corner) were light green and dark-green guards every 1.5 feet. In front of the more passionate England fans in the Southeast, throughout the second half, the number of guards became uncountable. Dark-green and orange guards stood shoulder to shoulder against the railing. They picked up England fans who had jumped over the rail during their second goal and seemed to multiply. After England’s  3rd goal, a fan jumped the railing and the guards and began running on the track toward the pitch. An orange guard took the man down, with an arm around his throat and was joined by 4 other guards who then threw him into the crowd. During this time, more England fans jumped over the rail and were instantly…inspired…. To climb back to their seats.
After the England win, we stayed through “We Will Rock You” and half of  “3 Lions” and then began to make our exit. As we left, the nattily dressed guards were back, marching over catwalks toward the stadium and down the stairs, herding fans out. The most upsetting guard situation was something that would appear banal: The OMON. The Omron stood in a straight line with weapons and helmets, not moving. Other guards we would later see, (blocking some metro entrances and lining others) included men and women, some who were smiling, and giving directions. The Omon need only stand there to scare me. These are the same soldiers whose actions in Chechneya give one nightmares. These are the soldiers that we saw in Petersberg on a lovely city ramble, who were in a courtyard behind a police building beating dummies with sticks and cheering wildly. Their blue camouflage gives me the shivers and I was glad to be leaving them behind. Our trip home was far less sardine-like than I imagined and our walk home from the metro was long and peaceful. People sat on benches in front of their buildings and chatted and smoked. The craggy, potholed sidewalks made me glad that all that vodka at dinner was through my system. We stopped at the 24 hour “magazin” near our place to pick up a toothbrush for Steff and some Kefir for the morning and headed to our apartment. I took a cold shower. I stupidly (or sleepily? – we had been up since 5am and it was now 1:30 am) hadn’t thought to move the faucet’s handle to the blue stripe when no hot water greeted the red stripe.
This morning we slept in. I was up at 10 and did some work and the men slept on until 11:30. At noon, Larissa (the other half of our incredible hosting team) had told us to call around breakfast time and called us herself to ask if we planned to sleep all day. We went down to meet her and she’d prepared an amazing breakfast for us. She took us to the market and then we went out to the farmer’s stalls to get fruit and veg and milk products (we’d bought something like 5 sacks of frozen Pelmeni dumplings in the supermarket) I waited in line for fruit and veg while Steff guarded the groceries and Ivo and Larissa went into the dairy trailer. The line was faster than expected and suddenly I was confronted with the prospect of ordering my own produce. I held up two fingers and a thumb and said “drei corgette? Gurke?” The young lady chuckled and grabbed three cucumbers. “Ist das alles?”, she asked in German. I was relieved and embarrassed and continued my order until Ivo came and began saying numbers of kilos for the fruit that we needed. I’m unsure what it would have come to if I’d needed to understand how many Grivna I owed.
Ivo just called the airline (at my insistence) to inquire about Steff’s luggage. A recording told him to pusk “1” for Ukrainian and “2” for English. Ivo speaks Russian, not Ukrainian, so he pushed “2” an was promptly hung up on. He called again an pushed the “1” key and was able to ascertain that the bag was in the airport and would be delivered in the next 48 hours. So that’s good.

Dienstag, 12. Juni 2012

from rain to Ukraine

There is a perpetual rainstorm here in Zürich. It's lasted the last few weeks. What makes it worse is the tease of sporadic gorgeous weather and sunshine that are erased by chilly temperatures and deluges. Meanwhile, at the start of every Euro Cup game in Ukraine, the announcers let us know, that it's boiling there. So, apparently we'll be trading our showers for baths of sweat by the end of the week.
Ukraine isn't so very exotic, but I've come to terms with the fact that many exotic destinations I'd like to visit are off-limits to the Auto-immune challenged. I'll never go to India or Bali. After all, a trip east as far as Ukraine or Russia means taking along doses of steroids and antibiotics and my husband's worry about how soon before our trip I take a my immunsuppresants.
After reading an article in Das Magazin, about drug-addled Metalist fans who follow their team religiuously despite knowing that every game is fixed and Panorama's "Stadiums of Hate", all about the neo nazi culture in Ukrainian and Polish Ultras, I feel properly ready. I'll take my drugs and my tank tops that cover my Hebrew tattoo and head off to watch some football. Hopefully the only parasite I come home with is the kind that gets delivered in 9 months.