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ми знайшли віконницями кіоск 20/02/2012

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
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Boredom and Anxiety

A dead cat lay in front of the entrance. Not in the parking lot where a careless driver could have sent the poor thing hurtling to its demise. Not tucked behind trash bags near a side door, nor hidden beneath shrubs running along the walkway. A dead cat lay directly in front of the entrance to Ukraine’s premiere international transportation hub.

Future travelers lining the terminal wall blew a constant haze of smoke over the corpse. Restless teenagers chattered on cell phones while pacing around the body. Defeated arrivals dragged squirming children and cheap luggage past the sad display.

Life was equally grim inside the dim interior of Boryspil International Airport. Once nothing more than a military airstrip converted into a limited weigh-station for visiting comrades from Moscow or Leningrad, decades of development and expansion couldn’t scrub the bus station fingerprints from the flickering departures board or endless rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs. Desperate officials lusting after 2012 Euro Cup dollars are bankrolling new buildings but for now the locals are left to fend for themselves.

Official Boryspil Mascot

The locals clustered in groups of multigenerational excess and stared through us as we sought the Wizz Air counter. We found a shuttered kiosk and convinced each other that, as our flight was not scheduled for several hours, there was no need to panic. The fact that the kiosk didn’t have the capacity to handle luggage checking or that our tickets were from a company that didn’t have business enough to maintain staff throughout the morning gnawed at our bellies and caused painful grumbling.

Or maybe that was just Janice needing to eat again, never satisfied with one daily meal bolstered by frequent injections of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. After wandering back and forth through miles of contiguous waiting room filled with rheumatic babushkas but no food-court inspired cardiac shacks we fell in with a troupe of youngsters dressed in hyperbolic period costumes. One babbled Ukrainian and offered us a cartoon pamphlet. One babbled Russian and offered us a cartoon pamphlet. They finally found the one among them who spoke English, and he handed us a cartoon pamphlet saying, “This is your ticket.”

The cartoon pamphlet depicted a table ladened with food and happy tourists, one of whom carried a surfboard.

Traditional Ukrainian

Our guide led us upstairs past airport employees, stewardesses and pilots into what usually constitutes a secure area. There were no machine gun toting soldiers, German shepherds or even slumbering rent-a-cops to question us until we reached the restaurant. A very large man took our bags, added them to the neat pile at his feet, then he stood watching them.

Service did not smile when we ordered off the appetizer menu and refused drinks. Sure, we could have easily bought five courses and shots for the staff but our stash of hryvnia was dwindling and the idea of being caught without cash, or finding an ATM and being caught with too much cash, had brought the penny-pinching poverty beast out of its cage. Janice had a couple potato dumplings with cheese and mushroom, I had a slice of bread with garlic oil, the waiter negotiated for change through the narrow opening of a secured money-room door and the very large man returned our bags without any suggestion we might like to offer him a tip.

And People Sat

Near the still shuttered Wizz Air kiosk lies a modern addition to the Soviet nostalgia of Boryspil’s cattle car charm. Sleek lines, recessed lighting and chrome said hello and gave us both a bear hug. The bartender sent drinks to our table where we sat watching a shifting row of stragglers rent time on computers. A girl updated her Ukrainian Facebook page. One of us checked to see if they had opened the kiosk yet. A business man browsed local escort services. One of us checked to see if they had opened the kiosk yet. A couple teenaged girls sat next to the business man who nearly had a fit trying to make all of the wonton nudity disappear. One of us checked to see if they had opened the kiosk yet. A girl video conferenced with a cat.

Someone had the brilliant idea of looking past the shuttered Wizz Air kiosk, but it wasn’t me. Just around the corner we found the entire corridor clogged with Wizz Air passengers climbing on one another to check their bags. Collared priests scrabbled at scarred gangsters while hysterical mothers beat their fists on the counter. Janice noticed a confused Pole near the edge of the melée who kept checking the ticket clenched in his wavering hand. Follow him. We surged forward, we fell back, we fought to keep our feet and slowly we gained ground.

Mob Rule

Beyond lay a different world. This looked like an airport with arching ceilings and girders and carpeting and security guards. We wandered through the metal detectors and looked for the humorless men who would interrogate us in foreign, shine flashlights in our faces, take our passports and leave us alone for hours. But no one gave a shit. I could have smuggled a dwarf through if I’d thought to bring a dwarf.


Найбільш розумний курс дій 28/01/2012

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Last Morning

Double espresso! Double espresso! But there was no coffee jerk chasing crumbs on this morning. In the category Not Waking Up Sans Kidneys in a Bathtub Filled with Ice Hostel Yaroslav wins a gold star. In the category Not Returning to Find Expensive Electronics Stolen they take the cake. In the competition for Best Breakfast Buffet Deal someone entered a double-burner hotplate before passing out backstage. Janice hoisted me from the tangled remains of my bed and hauled me through the early morning sounds of Podil to the nearest cafe.


Some voluntary vagabond had taken residence in the shower stall, leaving us to wring the sweat from our clothes before packing. Through the darkened hallway then down flights of concrete stairs to pass the key to a different receptionist than we’d met the day before. Janice found a corner in the barren kitchen where the meager complimentary wifi could be harnessed and double-checked that we knew what we were doing.

What we were doing was leaving Kyiv. (more…)

більше не горить, але вже не дихає 11/01/2012

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Urban Renewal

Fate had sunk us deep within the roots of Kyiv to end our trip. Primordial Slavs crawled forth from the mighty Dnieper to claim this narrow strip of riverfront as the center of their civilization. Janice and I wandered through Podil towards that azure gash, a natural fortification protecting the annals of history from encroaching concrete communist blocks laying siege to the far shore.

The merry magic of trade and commerce conjured dockyards, warehouses, tenements and offices. Cobblestones sprang forth from the fertile soil and horses hauled foreign delights to the burgeoning gentry of Uppertown. Roughnecks, stewards, butchers and their squalling families slapped together timber slums and worked anchoring ships. A city was being born and Podil was the heart, a densely packed and infested engine pumping life through the fetid gutters. (more…)

розпливчасті уявлення про час і місце 27/11/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
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On Further Assignment

Tourist trap but I don’t care. Stella Artois on umbrellas and English on menus are comforting when you’re far from home, battered by logistics and suffering humiliating defeats. The waitress running this high-rent cafe smiled through our mangled ordering and let us stew on the terrace in peace.

In celebration of our nation’s birth the American ambassador was hosting a backyard weenie roast somewhere in the surrounding blocks. I suppose that banal banter and sacrificial animal innards in the name of freedom isn’t much worse than our foiled dancing through the poisoned landscape of Chornobyl. No ethical dilemma, dietary or political, was faced. As quickly as I learned of this BBQ I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to attend.

Not that Our Man in Kyiv had issued a direct decree. A project manager with Bechtel, in-country to oversee work on the multimillion dollar effort to contain, conceal and dismantle the crumbling remains of Chornobyl, had. Using sketchy and possibly illegal information we had positioned ourselves near the official diplomatic residence to receive a post-soiree phone call. (more…)

Багатство і престиж 15/11/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
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What the Hell is Wrong with You?

Come see The Montmartre of Kyiv! Whichever enterprising copywriter conceived that golden gem must have a monument raised in their honor. What else but brilliant advertising could convince the touring masses of the world to slip and stumble along cracked cobblestones down a street of dust and unsavory characters?

Politicians responded with a funicular to spare the overfed any exercise climbing Andriyivskyy Descent. Public works of yesterday which civilized this sharp slope with a winding road cannot keep up with the growing monied masses, and Kyiv would like more monied masses please. Buildings which have been sagging since the neighborhood began in the 17th century are swaddled in scaffolding. Plans have been made to install glistening concrete sidewalks. Soon the small cafes will expand and add neon to their windows, the boutiques will hire English-speaking students and death squads will cart dog carcasses to the incinerators. (more…)

проникли самозванці 16/10/2011

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Mihaylivskiy Zolotoverhiy

Rag pickers held the gates, their eyes prowling a majestic expanse of flagstones. Hardened professionals with no affectations of serving the unprepared or groveling for sympathy. City-wide, lurking near the entrances of hallowed ground, scarf hawking women demurely proffered their ways in silent desperation that heedless tourists would find themselves blasphemously naked under the gaze of God. Banshees had spawned these sentinels clustered at every gateway, eager for confrontation.

Reconnaissance made contact while we watched hidden within the anonymity of a milling crowd. Savage jabbering assailed the ears and arms flailed with violent spasms. The skirmish was on the verge of the physical when suddenly the din subsided. Tourists slipped through and enraged beggars regrouped, digging in for the next assault.

No one outside the third world can ignore a man drowning in his own shit on the sidewalk like a born and bred San Franciscan. Our home has been corrupted by outsiders, our ranks infiltrated by impostors, our lives a ceaseless torrent of imposed bullshit. Yet this firestorm tempers the soul, wrapping our hearts in chainmail in which we walk impervious to the parade of lunatics, wannabes, con artists and yuppie scum.

No one except Ukrainians. (more…)

кульгава в протилежні напрямки 09/10/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
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A press liaison from the IAEA in Vienna forwarded contact information for a St. Petersburg radiologist. The radiologist in St. Petersburg put me in touch the Radiation Protection Institute in Kyiv. An expert in dosimetry and radiation protection spoke English and agreed to a mid-morning meeting.

Massachusetts native Janice and San Francisco-born me languished in purgatory between the green and blue lines.

Hallways led to exits. Elevators led to exits. Transliterated Cyrillic led nowhere. Clocks recorded the time which had elapsed since the previous train had left. We watched a steady stream of humanity spill into the platform from a stairwell before hastening towards escape. Angry red slashes forbid our entry, but when your soul is threatened with eternal damnation you don’t follow rules. So we learned watching two deviants throw themselves into the fray and begin swimming upstream. (more…)

багажу і беззмістовність 02/10/2011

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Hopelessness and despair had shattered my mind, leaving me unfit to lead our band onward. Janice, grizzled road warrior and freshly settled Eastern European that she is, saw our rattling wagon’s destiny with a chasm and ripped the reins from my lifeless hands. Hostel Yaroslav witnessed our plight and offered salvation, in English and with online booking. Elbows sent morning commuters scattering and saddlebags were heaped onto the blue line heading towards Podil.

Sunk beneath the tangled convergence of streets which comprise Kontraktova Ploscha is a subterranean warren of twisting corridors, fluorescent tubing and grim storefronts. Frequent excursions through the underground passages of Khreschatyk had not prepared us for the intensely claustrophobic rat-maze in which we had been deposited. A lower-class of street vendor populated this den already narrowed by walls. Directions to the hostel had been provided, but the piece of paper on which they had been copied proved useless. Exits to the land of sunshine and air lay in all directions, but which direction did they lead?

Métro stations in Paris can sprawl. They twist and turn. There are multiple points of entry. Conscious of the displacement caused by traveling beneath streets the RATP as chosen to number and identify each stairwell as well as to provide the essential Plan de Quartier.

Metro stations in Kyiv force you to crawl from the depths of hell into a frightening and unknowable realm of shysters, cops, cheap consumer crap and impatient masses. (more…)

в пошуках сильного сигналу 28/09/2011

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Plotting the Next Step

Contempt had risen in the throat, thick and acrid as bile. Receptionists lurked behind their granite counter, murdering us with their eyes. Thick-necked security goons had grown tired of watching momentum drag our corpses through the front door. The reservation with Hotel Khreschatyk had expired and with it the thin veneer of civility which had been plastered across the face of each poorly-paid servant.

After pacifying the peptic catastrophe which had left the previous evening floating face down in the fountains of Maidan Nezalezhnosti I issued an international appeal. Plans had changed and we would have to secure one last night’s lodging or face vagrancy. The overseas number of our virtual budget travel agency confounded the hotel’s phone; a connection was finally established by using Skype to ring the American 800 helpline. Ghosts fought through the static of Soviet satellites while I screamed into my computer’s pathetic microphone, storming around the room offering my laptop to the gods for a stronger signal. I lost the internet twice before being able to explain circumstances, only to be told I would have to negotiate an extension of our discounted rate directly with the hotel. The line went dead one last time and even today there are a women in some midwestern call-center convinced I’ve disappeared into the wilds of Eastern Europe.

Interchangeable blonde receptionist suggested that I could stay one last night if I paid full price. In cash. Now. (more…)

стук радіатора гастрономічних пригод 14/09/2011

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Table Service

Put on a dress– we’re going dancing! No, that’s not true at all, but we are going to step out into the bright lights of Kyiv’s night and succeed where we’d once failed.There will be no blunt knife scraping at a tired brick of cheese. No glasses of vodka, bottles of beer, a plastic jug of water and Russian TV tonight. The four walls of Hotel Khreschatyk shall quake and crumble into dust, leaving us free to waltz the streets and dine like royalty.

Earlier fits of desperation had driven us to the depths of dissonance. Although the fare provided by our friendly neighborhood sushi emporium had been surprisingly exquisite, by enjoying delights of The Orient we had succumbed to the despised tactics of tourists. Yes, pictures on the menu afforded us the simple pleasure of ordering food. Yes, expensive sports cars crashing through shantytown walls next to a poker club had lent an authentic air to the meal. Yes, we drank domestic beers instead of Japanese imports. But we are in Kyiv and we must dine as the locals do. (more…)