більше не горить, але вже не дихає 11/01/2012Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: history, kiev, Kontraktova Ploscha, kyiv, podil, Poshtova Ploscha, tourism, travel, ukraine, urban, walks, wandering
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.
Cardiac arrest came in 1811 when fire ravaged the district for three days. Sailors and longshoremen couldn’t save two thousand homes. No god intervened on behalf of a dozen churches and a handful of monasteries. Businesses, administrative offices and piers splintered and cracked, carried to the heavens as crackling cinders and sparks. Government officials decreed modern, geometric blocks and insurance agencies demanded plaster and stone.
Fortified and civilized, Podil no longer burns but no longer breathes. Decaying apartments cough and wheeze, showering dust all over the empty streets. Balconies held together by chewing gum and mold sag overhead threatening collapse. Trees burst through concrete and brick, growing through broken windows and missing roofs. Factory yards lay so vacant that not even memories of hustle and bustle remain. We walked along under grim grey skies meeting no one.
There were the port gates. There were shallow trenches filled with muck and strangled by traffic barriers. A closed bridge stretched off over the water. All compelling excursions, all adrenaline and mischievous glee, but common sense and lost nerve finally convinced Janice to stick to the known. Instead we shuffled along the riverbank past wasted real estate. Where were the well-heeled fashionistas whiling away inheritances in riparian cafes and nightclubs. Where were the couples strolling past wretched street artists as they whispered dreams to one another? They were not here. A shop keeper lowered security shutters on the failure of a day.
They were not massing at the passenger port either. Beneath Poshtova Ploscha pleasure cruises drifting from Smolensk to Odessa drop anchor. One of the oldest squares in Kyiv, archeologists have reportedly unearthed artifacts from the 4th century. This could have been the very ground where Volodymyr baptized the confused and terrified masses, but the only historical marker is the 1865 post office which gave the square its name. Today Volodymyr has a cathedral, the post office is an art gallery and tourists spill off passing luxury cruises.
Vendors sell beer, beer and more beer along the stone promenade. Despite a couple tables lost in cigarette smoke and savage tongues a funereal air settled over us. Ships sat dead with no hyperactive children to wave at, drunken sailors failed to stumble from the shadows, no pickpockets, no scam artists or drug dealers.
Just a monument to dead soldiers standing tall and proud and ignored. Some devotionals had consecrated a compact waterside church and decorated the walls with mosaics to embolden departing mariners. A lone fisherman stood barefoot in the rain as he tried to eek out a dinner from the sluggish river. Gravel and discarded utility poles ate away at the promenade and gave way to a parking lot which disappeared into idle construction work, leaving room only for a collection of BMWs, Mercedes and Porches parked outside someone’s opium hallucination of a floating pagoda.
Chinese food! Sushi! Karaoke! Poker! Booze! Naked women grinding against the hyrvnia in your pocket. We had run out of pavement and we had run out of faith in humanity. Backtracking towards what remained of civilization, an escaping $60,000 car gunned it through a puddle and soaked Janice.
Wandering led us back to the tourist trap where we’d last eaten. The Business Class Lounge and its Jewish money-lender statue was lit up ready for crowds but we continued down the main drag hoping for better sustenance. Street lights and traffic resumed in the heart of Podil, where every major restaurant chain (under Western-influenced management) was represented: Shynok traditional Ukrainian with folk flair, Tequila House Mexican, Marrakesh belly-dancing and couscous, L’Amour fine dining, and a fine assortment of 24-hour tantric massage parlors jostled for our dollar. We hemmed and hawed, we debated and argued, we found ourselves squared off against Kontraktova Ploscha. Eye witnesses report that I got “grumpy”. In reality I evaluated our limitations, the hour of day and the logical steps necessary to confront our situation. We ended up at another Japanese restaurant with pictures on the menu we could point at.
Our seats on the astroturf terrace had no protective tarp walls to keep stray cars from running us over. Once again the cuisine was astonishingly authentic and fresh, from flagons of local beer through miso soup and onto sushi and prawn noodles. A raving alcoholic kept a lamppost from keeling over while he screamed into the night and a fleet of Ukrainian Air stewardesses drifted past on their cloud of glamour.
Safely through throngs of acoustic guitars and panting kidney thieves holding court in the square, then Podil succumbs to darkness. Cars disappear and streetlights are few and far between. Ample prowling for knife-wielding street urchins and soothing calm for men passed out in their own vomit. Charming enough as we carefully picked our way over broken concrete, sunken trolley tracks and ancient potholes, but we were grizzled veterans of Kyiv. Had we been starry-eyed fresh fish from Poland we never would have left the hostel.
Janice snapped the picture of me peeking through a hole in the wall and shot the video moments before being soaked by a passing car.