Saturday, September 8, 2007

Chicken Kiev (i.e. Kiev, part II)

The next day I started out a lot later. The breakfast buffet wasn't included and was a fairly steep $7, and I could see that it was not worth that at all, so I instead went to a cafe. I took a random bus randomly somewhere, and it was so bumpy it could have been a theme park ride: it was a semi-trailer bus, and I was all the way in the back, so the effect was like a catapult vaulting me into the air with every bump. I found my way to the metro and took it to somewhere near the Botanical Gardens, to which I made my way. As I had exited the metro, I saw a police officer, who was guarding the exit, glance down at my bag (my Stony Brook shoulder bag), and was unsurprised when a moment later he asked to check my documents. I didn't know whether they did that, so I was glad I'd been keeping my passport on me.

The bus conductor had been friendly, yelling at length at 2 young girls when they didn't have enough for the fare (but letting them stay on) and also friendly was the attendant at a food stand, literally yelling at me to stand in line when I inquired about a refrigerated Snickers. I decided she could take the Snickers and shove it. The garden was a gigantic park, with a small monastery in it, and I walked around the complex for a long time. While there I saw a strange hummingbird-like insect hanging around the flowers. I tried to take some pictures, and got about one decent one before what looked like a giant yellowjacket (a cicada killer, I think) swooped in on it, and they fell into the brush; I heard some struggling (i.e. lots of buzzing) and needless to say the overgrown bee was the one that emerged. I saw another hummingbird bug and hung around to see if it would be taken down, but no such luck. After the park I made my way to the city center where I hung around for a while before returning to the hotel. As I was going to sleep there were fireworks going off outside (shrug) so I watched that for a while.

While walking through the city the next day, I had seen young military cadets walking through the streets (as had been the case in Russia of course), reminding e of my Russian professor from Kiev, who recounted his schoolchildren days from time to time. He had also had military training growing up, as it was compulsory, and by 8th grade he could disassemble a Kalishnikov in 8 seconds, with reassembly bringing the total up to 25. At one point I stopped in a park, where people were playing chess, backgammon, dominoes, etc at the tables. A backgammon game ended not far from me, and as he collected the kopeeks I was unsurprised when the man sitting there invited me to play. I said I didn't know how, and was further unsurprised when he said that was fine, and named the sum of 15 hrvina. He grew impatient as I hesitated, and as his phone rang, discretion got the best of me as I decided that, although it'd be another cool story about how I learned backgammon from a stranger, in Russian, in a park in Kiev, I decided it wasn't going to be worth the frustration, and when he answered the phone I skedaddled. Later on in another park (well, not quite a park) there was a man practicing with a whip while another looked on. Shrug. I continued on down a hill and, due to reconstruction, a long dirt road which also reminded me of the Wild West (similar to Arkhangelsk). Back on Khreschatik, there were some impressive break dancers (as opposed to in the atrium of Benedict at Stony Brook), and I watched that for a while before taking the metro home, just missing the marshrutka back to the hotel. One might naively expect that the remainder of the day's events involved taking the next one and calling it a night.

Nope. Another old man who also didn't make it on the bus started talking to me. He was, I think, another shoe salesman, but not as well off as the Land Rover-driving Oleg in St. Petersburg, complaining that he'd read in magazines that some sort of shoes were "in" but was having difficulty selling. He showed me a woman's show which he had hanging around his neck, a sort of strange, ogromnoe (huge) necklace, as well as two others in his shoulder bag. He asked me what I thought of them. I said I didn't really have too many opinions on women's shoes, and so he asked the girl standing next to me what she thought; she said she didn't like them all that much. He said that at home, he had thousands of shoes, and that he was trying to open a shoe museum. The girl marveled (nichego cebe!) and asked how long he'd been collecting and he said since the war. He had earlier complained about how much money the USSR had spent in Cuba, Indonesia (or maybe it was Thailand), I think complaining that there was enough need for it in the Soyuz itself. He said he'd written Yuschenko (and others) about his museum but there seemed to be little interest in the idea. He then asked if I had a videocamera, and invited me to film his collection and try to get some news coverage in the US. I explained that I had one more day and said I would try. I wanted to help this 70-year old pensioner at least partially fulfill his dream, but he wasn't home when I called the next morning, so that was that.

So after calling, I went out and ambled around, not knowing what else to see, and at night took a river cruise on the Dnepr. While I waited for launch, another boat passed by, Verka Serdjuchka's "tuk tuk tuk" playing loudly, which made me laugh. Ah, Verka Serdjuchka - a Ukranian singer, who sings in Russian as he cross-dresses as a comical woman. He was going to run for parliament in Ukraine, I heard, pledging not to come to work in costume. I was hooked when I heard "vsyo budyet khorosho (everything will be fine)" and saw its video, and hooked my suitemates at Stony Brook as well. Enjoy:

The boat ride was all right; I'd hoped for more of a "tour" as opposed to a party boat, for for 25 hrvina ($5) it was good enough. I got acquainted with a young couple; the girl asked why I was by myself, and I said I was just a tourist and explained a bit of the story. I wasn't sure whether she, or one of her friends, was getting married imminently, because she was talking about said friend, and then a wedding, and then some imminent travels that she was going on, so I wondered if that meant she was getting married and that was the honeymoon, or what. Oh well. She asked what I thought of Kiev, Ukraine, Ukranians; I said I hadn't had enough time or contact to make much of an opinion, but that owing to the Soviets, probably, I didn't see that much of a difference. I remarked that it was interesting if unfortunate that Russian had become the de facto language, but at the same time, if it hadn't, we'd not be able to talk to each other. She assented, but said she didn't really care, and that language was just communication, a sentiment I'd heard in previous conversations from time to time (often to protest the Russian-only rule during our program). She said even amongst her friends she spoke Russian, as it was just easier. After the Soviet Union's breakup, Ukranian became the official language again. An example I found amusing was at the "Площа Льва Толстого" metro station, where the дь (in Russian it's "Площадь") had simply been removed, its dirty silhouette remaining as evidence.

A different Verka song came on (the infamous "Russia Goodbye" - another "controversy"), and I remarked on that and told the story of how I'd heard on the radio and got hooked, and then hooked my non-Russian-speaking suitemates. I said my Russian professor didn't really like Verka, as he considers that it makes a mockery of Ukraine - much to his chagrin, when he had a project translating songs and showing their videos in class, I had half the class doing various Verka Serdjuchka songs - but she said she didn't mind, and that it was all in fun. The trip ended; we said goodbye and good luck, and I returned to the hotel. The next day was my flight to Rome!

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