Tag Archives: Ukraine

Goodbye Odessa

Georgian singer Nino Katamadze, live at Ibiza Club, Odessa

Either my social skills are improving, or folks here are really nice, I say to myself walking up to the pulpit to witness the marriage between new friends. Barely a week in, and I have already found what I’d come looking for: the meeting point betwixt east and west. Zhe melting pot entre Beijing and Brussels. Yulia, the happy bride, has the blood of Genghis Khan in her (or at least a Chinese father). In terms of red goo I go no further than so many steaks saignant, or hearing white-robed men mumble incoherently about imbibing the juice of Jesus or some such nonsense.

Here, in the city formerly known as Khadjibey, most of the facades are Tsarist Russian, but Ottoman influences can be spotted everywhere in the um, architectural… ancient crossing of the caravans… and so on and so forth [copy-paste your favorite wikipedia entry]. The gist of it: everything’s kinda glued together. The minutes and eons. Mass-ish tourism and the type of coffee place that serves Americano as Espresso, adulterated at will by means of hot water served on a wooden cutting board. I’m talking hip, and the deadly beauty that hasn’t taken any prisoners since world war II. The vacant strut that says “What?” with every step, well-heeled against impossible odds, high-heeled on impossible cobbles.

Odessa is special,” someone said. “It’s not Ukrainian. It’s not Russian.” The latter are staying away since the latest fracas further east. Their place is taken by Ukrainians, who used to vacation in the Crimea. Cry me a river… And Egyptians, I couldn’t help but overhear from a particularly jolly table adjacent ours, Turks, Romanians, Germans, the list goes on. As pots go; what has been melted, cannot be unmolten.

The city shrugs off the centuries, self-proclaimed sentries be damned. Minorities become majorities and vice versa. Somewhere a supernova explodes. It don’t matter to Jesus. One’s thoughts wander to that other town, from Odessa to Brussels, Black Sea to backseat. Another such place whose soul is not one thing, however much its constituent parts partaking in the muddle muscle to pretend (now repeat!).

Identity is plural. Place is nothing without time. Flags don’t mean a thing. Blood is thicker than water but to dust we all return must.


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The world’s worst-kept secret.

My arms are growing out of my ass.” Don’t picture it. Just accept that this is the Russian way of saying you have two left hands. Or at least that’s how it’s translated to English. Live to travel, and travel to learn random facts of life. Or to pay EUR 1,30 for a coffee plus perfectly good cherry juice. Oh, and those stairs, the Potemkin staircase, birthplace of the 1905 Russian revolution, at least according to the movie; they sell selfish dicks there now. I mean selfie sticks. I am talking about Odessa. A city that is so hot, it’s pronounced ‘Oh Dieu, ca!’ 4th largest population center of a country that probably flares off about 15% of its national gas imports in commemorative eternal flames. As in, the hot breath of history. As in, you could roast marshmellows on this thing. Or minorities, as has been the case on more than one occasion.

IMG_0233There is nice place,” the gold-hearted baboushka I’m AirBnB’ing with confides. “For coffee. Mmm…,” she wracks her brain. Then it hits her: “McDonalds!” “I’ve heard of it,” I nod. “I’ll definitely check it out.” Out there, where the streets are literally, alliteratively, littered with heart-achingly beautiful porticos, nonchalantly abandoned to the grinding teeth of time. Or as they’re known in Brussels: real-estate developers. The beasts have yet to discover this city. Only a civil war can save it from such a terrible fate. Fingers crossed. If spirits had limbs all the Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Greeks, Tatars, Belarusians, Molds (folks from Moldova?), and Armenians who have lived here over the centuries will no doubt do likewise. I will not, I repeat not mention the electric tourist trolleys carting folks to and fro, dizzyingly about the Disneyfied parts of the old town. If there’s one thing I hate more than bermuda’d gawkers, it’s snobbery. I gawk better than most. I was not here first. The only prize I’m still in the running for is Who can sweat the most. Winning that, hands down. Down there, where the sidewalks sizzle.

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2015-07-24 22.02.51So it’s come to this: I’ve literally become an extra in a Wes Anderson movie. There aren’t many reasons for anyone to be on the sleeper train from Bucharest to Chisinau other than that you can. As per the old hedonistic saying: if it feels uncomfortable, sweaty, and vaguely smelling of excrement, do it. All the usual characters are in attendance: the chatty Korean (not being chatty back); the sleepy American (good riddance); the drunken Lithuanian dude who’s asked me twice already if I happen to have some beer on me and if so, would I sell some to him (you’ve breathed on me, so yes, there’s beer on me, albeit not in sellable quantities).

Did I mention that it’s about 35 degrees out?

And yet, woe is not me. Moldavia, I’ve been told, is nice this time of year. As is Tiraspol, provisional capital of the unrecognized republic of Trans-Dnjestria. Sounds made up, doesn’t it? Newsflash: so is every other country. I’m looking at you, France. One of the perks of being human, I guess. Everything starts with an idea. Like the little trip I’m currently on, which began with a cup of coffee and zooming out too far on Google maps. I could have just gone to the Ardennes. Now, provisionally, Odessa is the limit. As in: baby carriage careening down scenic staircase, but enough with the movie references. Rebellious gem on the Black Sea, here I come.

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