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не дуже цікаво 28/10/2010

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
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Modern Retro

Traffic was a sea of idling cars, exhaust distorting the air as it poured from their shuddering frames. Someone had found an olive green tanker truck from the Soviet era, brushed off hay and stray chickens, then abandoned it in the intersection. Fresh-faced conscripts had vanished along with the mystery driver, offering no assistance or guidance to the growing number of fuming motorists suffering multi-block gridlock.

Row after row, three lanes thick, people sat silently behind their steering wheels, inured to snarled messes beyond the point of pounding horns. Parisians own French cars but in Kyiv it’s German, Japanese or American, and I suspect unless you’re working a cab owning a sedan is belonging to the upper-classes. Pedestrians sharing the sidewalk with Janice and me took no note of this spectacle, but I like to think they were quietly pleased by this turn of events.

Cops swarmed the plaza in front of the Taras Shevchenko National Opera House. Steeplechasers had unfurled the world’s largest Ukrainian flag to mask yesterday’s cheap plastic banners. Red cheeked boys hidden under their father’s hats scampered at the heels of grim soldiers while plainclothes agents tried to fade into suits, reflective sunglasses, and ear-buds. The streets here were empty of traffic other than military and police vehicles. No one stopped us from walking straight across the brickwork.

Kyiv was flustered by the arrival of Hillary Clinton, on a handshaking tour of former Soviet states. Once the Orange Revolution had collapsed and Viktor Yanukovych returned to power Ukraine crawled back beneath Russia’s thumb. Clinton sat the oligarchs on her knee and told them it was perfectly okay to be a non-aligned state. They could cease courting NATO and development funding would continue, just please don’t stifle the free press.

To imagine Clinton’s reception let’s examine some video of parliament during debates over extending Russia’s Black Sea fleet port access:

We passed the humorless office tower that is Germany’s embassy. An eight-foot-tall piece of the Berlin Wall sits on the front lawn, a sign informing potential investors the relic is not for sale. Sweden’s embassy shares a flat with several airlines and can only be accessed by keypad. Boisterous Australian conversation filtered across the street, blanketing the somber Poles queued silently before the Polish airline office. According to my notes our destination lay down this broad passageway, through the door currently blocked by a delivery truck.

I attempted to impersonate a whispered hello at the guy unloading boxes and two tattoos shy of belonging in Odessa. Reception would require more than slurred Polish with fingers crossed because we had an appointment.

It looked like the sales suite for a particularly bland hotel chain. Seated at a rattling glass conference table Marina detailed how she founded the tour company and began offering trips into the thirty kilometer exclusion zone surrounding Chornobyl. When Janice squeezed off a practice frame Marina paused to say,” Later I will show you the offices. This room is just for meetings– not very interesting.”

Marina

The meeting was not very interesting. Oversized sunglasses breezed into the room astride a stream of Russian, the executive director late and apologetic. An attractive girl was summoned to offer us drinks, which we both declined. Eyes rolling as she exited betrayed the ruse– it was not her job to fetch people coffee and had been degraded in an effort to impress the guests. Promotional material began piling up, glossy magazines extolling the virtues of Ukraine’s far-flung regions, historical and cultural centers, the balmy Black Sea Coast. Marina handed me a CD promising Eastern Orthodox choral music and information on churches which I’ve not been able to play on any computer.

Between the nervousness and imperfect English we danced. When I had first contacted this tour agency Marina quoted me rates. When I explained I would be making the trip with a local journalist and wished to interview her she asked me when I wanted to book a trip. It had finally dawned on her that I was not writing a travel magazine puff piece when the executive director excused herself from the room. Questions about radiation and safety, political favor and business left her shaking her head, claiming not to know anything. I would have to slacken the line, ask how large the tour groups could be, then slowly reel her back into focus.

After being escorted through the main office and shown the marketing department who refused to make eye-contact we thanked Marina for her time. Across the street a multi-domed cathedral in mustard and white trim. Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral celebrates the man who brought Christ to the Rus, and the Rus repaid the favor by shuttering the doors after overthrowing the monarchy. War between the Soviets and the Poles, then WWII, caused structural damage while authorities skewered the people’s spirit by using the church as a museum of atheism. Priests were eventually able to hold mass on special occasions cleared by local overseers; regular services did not resume until after the iron curtain fell and once two warring Eastern Orthodox factions battled for possession.

St. Volodymyr's Cathedral

Saint Varvara, beheaded by her father for refusing to renounce Christ, and Saint Makariy, slaughtered after failed negotiations with Tartar raiders, lay in state. Italians left mosaics and frescoes were painted by Mikhail Nesterov, Viktor Vasnetsov and other Russians. Marina’s tourist agency would probably say that if you’ve not seen Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral then you’ve not seen Kyiv.

An old woman sat in the entryway selling headscarves. Women must dress appropriately in this house of God, heads covered and calves bare. We gazed up at gold-leafed icons, mustard walls and intricate trim-work before heading back to the hotel. I wrote Marina an e-mail to thank her but all of my messages bounced back.

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