було тихо і порожньо 02/05/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: academic puppet theatre, khreschaty park, kiev, kyiv, travel, ukraine, urban, walks, wandering, water museum
Brick paths gave birth to lonely benches gazing out over the river. Meticulously spaced trees offered shelter from the brilliant sunshine interrupted by brief bursts of rain. It was quiet and empty as we wound around, until we came across a horse lost in thought.
You quickly get the impression that Kyiv is a city unburdened by law and order, but being blocked by a white steed wearing red leg-warmers seems extreme. It took a moment before Janice and I could associate this equestrian anomaly with the man seated further down the path, his kid’s cowboy hat probably borrowed from the black pony he was ignoring.
Approaching a strange horse conjures visions of grievous bodily harm, not nuzzling and apples and pets along the flank. While we crawled forward trying to hide behind each other salvation appeared from an unlikely corner. A middle-aged couple had been sobering up on a bench until the ruddy-faced fellow suffering a perpetual grin found himself inspired. Body lowered into a crouch he shuffled towards the horse, waving in its general direction and whispering soothing grunts. The man began to experiment with his camera, craning his neck as he grew closer and checking the results. No shot was good enough, so it was another couple of steps, another pause, another picture, until the man was close enough to grasp the bridle. The horse stared into space, the wife was too embarrassed to intervene, and we seized the opportunity to slip past before ambulances had to be called.
Khreshchaty Park is a 19th century extension of the famous Mariinsky Park. I think that the separate name is intended to help tourists find the People’s Friendship Arch or the Water Museum, a bustling attraction in an otherwise isolated patch of tranquility.
Teenage girls in sequin prom dresses queued for entry outside an old water tower. Once inside guests descend 350m underground to learn about water’s role in nature, the history of cultivation and purification, and the extent of modern usage. There’s fish crammed in aquariums, giant toilets, information of consumption and waste; considering that not even locals will drink the tap water you would think politicians might pay a visit.
The perfect field-trip destination attracted an enterprising man but not the hoards of hyperactive schoolchildren. In a ramshackle plywood and tarp tank filled with pale-green bilge water two little girls twisted and fell inside clear plastic bubbles. Laughter rang out over the smacking sound of kid hitting plastic and the foaming wake of passage. In a nearby spot of shade two moms wearing designer dresses chain-smoked and ignored their prodigies.
Time was running short and we needed to return to our hotel. Instead of facing Coca-Cola’s World Cup circus again we followed a set of stairs leading down towards Maydan Nezalezhnosti. Spires from a faerie-tale castle climbed from a sunken plaza, a Candyland creation looking like an overgrown debutante’s childhood fantasy set in bricks and mortar. We carefully picked past a triumphant dragon slayer, mace ready to deliver its death blow. An old monkey grinder stood frozen, hand on the crank and hat out in welcome. A pixie sat astride the stigma of a stained-glass flower, arms raised to summon jets of water from the fountain’s depths.
The Academic Puppet Theatre was built in 2007, finally giving Kyiv’s performance troupe a permanent home after 80 years of wandering. During Soviet times they operated out of a repossessed synagogue which was returned to the Jewish community after the empire’s collapse. Each weekend the doors are flung open to this world of fantasy, and perhaps on other days students of the craft hone their skills.
The haze of exhaust and baking concrete tore apart the peace we had found. It would have been easy to continue wandering the parks but we had work to do.