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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.

Taking the Descent

Stray dogs wandered as freely as Janice and I and caused as little trouble. They didn’t steal table scraps, menace small children or vandalize any monuments. No doggie graffiti marred the walls of Mikhail Bulgakov’s house, although no tourists were present to appreciate how nicely maintained it is. The celebrated pen behind The Master and Margarita was raised on this street, in this house that is now a museum.

Half of our party had never heard of him. Raised by a family of means he graduated from university as a doctor. When The War to End all Wars broke out he worked the front lines as a Red Cross volunteer and earned himself severe injuries and a morphine habit. He kicked drugs just in time to be drafted into service for civil war and earned a nearly fatal bout of typhus. While he was sweating it out in a Caucuses field hospital his family was moving to Paris.

Eventually Bulgakov left Kyiv as well, heading east to be a famous writer in Moscow. His early shorts and plays earned him the respect and regard of Stalin, but not the right for his works to be published or performed. Finding himself censored he appealed to Stalin to be allowed to emigrate and was instead put to work as a backstage theater hack. What plays managed to survive committee were critical failures and his stories were relegated to the desk drawer. His most famous novel was published in 1966, twenty-six years after his death and ten after Stalin’s.

Artistic credentials might have been inherited from Bulgakov but lives on through hordes of junk dealers and third-rate street artists. Gaudy portraits of wildlife rub shoulders with Soviet-chic trinkets and mass-produced, authentic, bonafide Ukrainian folk crafts. None of the ragged rabble approached us for a quick sketch but the closely packed souvenir stalls recall the soulless exploits of Place du Tertre transported back to the days before Montmartre was forcibly civilized.

Andriyivsky

Just as the shitty crêperies and pay-to-play bohemians sit in the shadow of a church, so do the merchants and stray dogs of Andriyivskyy Descent. Local legend recalls St. Andrew planting a cross on the hills and declaring to the skies that a great Christian city would rise here.

Wooden huts were built and burned with little recognition or fuss. It was Czarina Elizabeth who brought a sightseeing worthy structure to the winding path. Eying a new summer residence she chose the hill for her private communing with God. During a ceremony in 1744 the Empress herself laid a foundation stone of what would become St. Andrew’s.

She never returned, dying before construction was completed in 1754. The church fell under the auspices of whomever cared to care for it. Storms tore the cupolas from the roof in 1815 and the building was left to fester for more than a decade. It stumbled along serving whomever while the neighborhood around it grew in opulence and prestige.

But the Soviets were never comfortable with opulence and prestige. The doors of St. Andrew’s were shuttered in 1932 and left locked until the late 60’s when a museum of architectural history was opened. Cupolas were returned to the roof in 1978 and the museum remained until the fall of the Soviet Empire. Today St. Andrew’s is run by the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, who have locked the doors again for repairs. The steepness of the grade has allowed the foundation to shift and crack, which explains all the construction behind the church were Janice and I found ourselves confronted with a vacant lot days before.

Andriyivsky Uzviz

When the church is repaired, the glistening concrete laid, the riffraff licensed and the dogs slaughtered Andriyivskyy Descent will impress. A shaded statue garden to pause in while you eat your over-priced kabob, ample space for street performers to entertain, art galleries and boutiques popping up down every side street– what more could you possibly want?

We wanted to find a place where we could sit, point at food to eat and beer to drink, and then we would wait for a phone call. We continued down the hill to Podil.

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