коло всередині квадрата 28/05/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: history, kiev, Kontraktova Ploscha, kyiv, podil, streetcars, tourism, tram, travel, ukraine, urban, walks, wandering
White knuckles through Rome or London attest to the conflict between centuries of architecture, urban design, and transportation. Haussmann’s geometric exuberance dragged Paris into broad roads and grids but drivers still face Place de la Concorde and Place de l’étoile. Kontraktova Ploscha is a circle inside a square, a tangled convergence of streets, rails and crosswalks bereft of lane markings or discernible right-of-way.
Beneath the buttes of Kyiv’s founding lies the ancient riverfront neighborhood of Podil. Merchants thrived along the ports and artists starved on the slopes of surrounding hills. The square, named for the administrative offices where civic contracts were formalized and signed, is besieged by history: monuments to Cossacks and poets sit amidst footpaths and trees of a park; Kyiv-Mohyla Acedemy and a children’s theatre watch through traffic; spires and steeples from several religions pierce the immediate skyline. Thousands of homes, government buildings, over a dozen churches and monasteries burned in 1811 during a severe drought. Bolsheviks razed much that had survived.
Yet the grit of centuries remain, carried aloft by summer heat and sent to smother us. Janice and I were still shaking off three hours of Chornobyl, creeping along side streets to avoid murderous traffic. We followed tracks through cracked asphalt, tripping on slipshod repairs that threatened to swallow the rails entirely. Two trams sat wheezing at the park’s edge, listing slightly on uneven ground beside kiosks proffering cigarettes and beer. End of the line for a dying breed, no passengers waiting to board.
Eastern Europeans love trams; the world’s most extensive system of St. Petersburg ferries almost a billion commuters annually. Along the Dnieper operations commenced in 1891 with a fleet of horse-drawn carriages, but Kyiv’s tectonic topography left them skidding and straining. Sensitive neighbors and hapless steeds were enraged by experiments with steam engines. Defeat spurred innovation, creating the Russian Empire’s first electric tram system.
Once the pride of a nation, streetcars have been supplanted by supposed progress. Although the metro system is comprised of only three lines it accommodates over a million people daily, almost half of the city’s public transit volume. Officials have been pushing for bus services to relieve congestion and the ubiquitous marshrutkas, shared mini-buses on specific routes operated by licensed drivers, are always packed. There are no historical societies holding fundraisers for the beleaguered streetcars. No city boosters are refurbishing the carriages and hawking them on tourist websites. Stops are devoid of churro vendors and t-shirt stands. So one day they will disappear entirely.
We cut through the park. Every bench was overwhelmed by locals basking in the afternoon sun. Kiosks were doing a brisk business and the footpaths were choked by people strolling aimlessly. A man in faux-fatiques was setting up a small metal counter, attaching a canister of Co2 to a pair of kegs sitting on the ground. Packs of cops under big hats passed without a glance, and a queue was quick to form.
A shimmering mirage appeared, visible through the sea of blood thirsty cars circling us like frenzied sharks. People had laid siege to a corner between traffic’s circuit and sidewalk, applauding a ceaseless stream of women courting heatstroke in bridal gowns. Pedestrians waded into the street and we burrowed in their midst with fingers crossed.
Complicated crosswalks kept us from cultural wonders until the matrimonial competition had ceased. We elbowed our way through a bemused clot of humanity, crying for the poor bastards clocking pennies an hour by donning bear costumes in the name of marketing. Generic Euro-pop assailed my ears as I watched the evolutionary inevitability of our train ride’s elf thrash about the stage berating a microphone.
Satiated with pomp and ceremony we crept through the Wizard’s curtain. Eternally aggrieved producers pleaded with dancers in peasant garb. Ladies in green gowns sought shade, nerves worrying their mascara and foundation, while a discarded clump of palm fronds withered under the pitiless sun. Around the side we found amateur photographers surrounding our brides, unified by thinly veiled contempt for one another. Janice joined the fray as I hung back, watching suited dweebs stressing over their Bluetooths and a couple bored rocker chicks oozing practiced attitude. The backpack wearing ponytail with a telescopic lens on my flank had become so deeply invested in photography that he failed to notice he was about to be crushed by a van. How do you scream watch out in Ukrainian? I grabbed his arm and dragged him from certain death and was rewarded with a mute outcry of confusion and anger.
Alright Janice. I have to check my e-mail. I have to see if anyone’s called. I have to download my audio notes and pictures and make sure the files aren’t corrupted. Somewhere on stage peasants danced. The brides continued posing, the ladies in green continued waiting, the cars continued speeding along.
Photos of pop starlets and brides by Janice.