Month: December 2011

Kiev looks naked

Having completely shed its autumn clothes ready to be wrapped in winter snow, Kiev is currently standing almost embarrassingly naked.

OK, so it is kind of novel to be here in December and not be freezing one’s tits off, but its doesn’t feel right. The city trees look like they’ve just emerged from some skinny dipping, only to find that the bushes have run off with their clothes.

However, the absence of -30C temperatures does mean I can still enjoy the city on my days off. 
Kiev hides a fascinating world behind the main streets and tacky shop-fronts, so I went exploring yesterday to see what I could find near my apartment. I’ve been here on Artema street for more than 6 months, but hardly know the area. I found all of this within less than a kilometer from my door…

Oh, and finally, there’s Kiev’s much ridiculed and highly ridiculous Christmas cone, point, tree. 
Complete with LCD televisions as decorations! It is impossible to to admire such unashamed kitsch.  

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Sing while you’re winning

At the gym this afternoon, I sat in the changing rooms and watched an angry dad shouting at his three year-old kid. The little boy (Bogdan) was completely unmoved by his dad yelling “Богдан давай!” and he sat there defiantly singing a happy song. As dad got louder, Bogdan kept smiling and singing.

Amused, I turned around to leave reflecting on the need for more ‘little revolutionaries’ like this in Ukraine. As I stood up, a man was standing right in front of me wearing nothing but a thong.

Ukraine needs a lot less of these.
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God created Polish by dropping his scrabble box

I’ve never wanted to go to Warsaw. I don’t know why, I’ve been to pretty much every other capital city on the continent but never to Warsaw. Maybe this is because I have read way-too-many descriptions of the city that start with lines such as: ‘Warsaw is not as pretty as Cracow, but…’ and perhaps this put me off, but given my disturbingly-passionate admiration for depressed looking housing estates and Soviet concrete ‘art’ – I doubt it. I think its just in an awkward location and not ‘between’ any other places like, for example, Budapest is. You can’t really move in Europe without going through Budapest but to pass through Warsaw you’d have to be taking an unlikely journey from somewhere like Belgium to Belarus. Who does that?  Besides, I’ve never had a reason to visit Warsaw.

All this changed this summer when two very good reasons (Kasia and Justa) arrived in Kiev. They found me on CouchSurfing, I found them at the Metro, and the rest is история.

The flight from Kiev to Warsaw (Varshava in Polish and Russian) is just one hour, so getting there is easy and as the airport in Warsaw is very close to the center, getting into the city is also easy – especially if you have detailed instructions, bus numbers and a map provided by Kasia.

The place really won me over. OK, it’s not Ljubljana and it is more similar to Brussels than I would wish on any city, but it is very cool and boy does it have a history.  You feel it.

I’ll save the gory details, but I had a great time. The Poles I met were all, without exception; friendly, hospitable, talkative, optimistic and more than anything – extremely likable.  The only crazy thing is the language. In fact, its no so much the language but the spelling.  For the first time in my life, I was wishing things were written in Russian.

While I was there, I bought a copy of Norman Davies epic Rising ’44, in an attempt to understand both Warsaw and Poland and on page five he hits on some of the problems this language craziness creates.    

“From hard experience, I know that foreign names and places can create havoc in the psyche of English-speaking readers. Indeed, in the case of some languages like Polish, I believe they constitute a near insurmountable barrier to a full understanding of the country’s affairs. For it is not just a problem of unfamiliarity. It is unfamiliarity compounded by an incomprehensible system of orthography and by the unique, jaw-breaking combinations of consonants and syllables that are uniquely disturbing. Charles Dickens, who met a number of Polish emigres in London after the rising of 1863 had a wonderful ear for this problem: ‘A gentleman called on me this morning,’ he once remarked, ‘with two thirds of all the English consonants in his name ,and none of the vowels.’  The joke is that God created Polish by dropping his scrabble box.  But this is not just a laughing matter. If readers cannot retain the names in a narrative, they cannot be expected to analyse or to understand it.”

So true, and so true of Ukraine too.

Anyway, thanks Kasia and dziękuję to everyone I met this weekend.

The pictures are here

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