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.)