Monday, April 26, 2010


OK, it turns out that I do have time. Just about everything I planned to do today fell through. I failed to find the elusive red squirrels in the nearby park. The Natural History Museum was closed. My subway project was a bust (more on that later). And I failed to locate this crazy modern art museum that I could have sworn was just across the street. It had the distinction of being the worst art museum I've ever visited. On top of that, there were all these grim placards around telling of how this or that artist was charged with formalism during the thirties and was subsequently shot or had his paints taken away or some such. And this was for attempting Cubism in the thirities. I mean, it's one thing to make bad art, but getting shot for it seems a bit harsh. Sheesh, those Communists were a bunch of losers! Anyhow, here is something about Kiev: even though it is the capitol of Ukraine, a country whose official language is Ukrainian and even though all the signs are in Ukrainian, very few people speak Ukrainian. Everybody speaks Russian and to hell with what's official. When I came here a decade ago with my cousin, he was completely mortified. He tried to speak to people in Ukrainian and they'd just answer back in Russian. I figured that he was just being over sensitive, so I started asking questions in my meager Ukrainian and the same thing happened. Well, things haven't changed a bit. OK, so here are some pictures:

This is the bell tower at St. Sophia Cathedral, a place famous for having an iron floor. Every time I come to Kiev, the ticket price goes up. Eight years ago it was $10; this time, it's something like $15. And included in the price is the opportunity to be badgered by all the old ladies who work there. Below is the very fine Volodymirski Cathedral:

Here's the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. You may remember it from such revolutions as the Orange. You know, the one that didn't work out so well. Observe:

Apparently, during the "revolution," around a million people filled the square. I find that really hard to believe. It's not big enough. I mean, I'm standing at the far end. The statue of Bogdan Khmelnitski is a little ways down and things just get narrower. No way a million people were there. If they mean a million people total throughout the city, then sure, it could have happened. Kiev is mostly empty space, so it's more than possible.

Whoah! It's a big woman and she looks pissed! Actually, she's mourning the war dead down by the Dnieper. Here's what the rest of her looks like:

Well, if I were a hundred feet taller and she were a hundred feet shorter, it might just work out. She is quite handsome. Speaking of the Dnieper, here it is:

Yeah, I know, thrilling.

Here's the always-disappointing Golden Gate of Kiev:

Down the street is the sun-dappled Opera House:

And wouldn't you know it, they were playing my favorite opera of all time, Boris Godunov, see:

But here's the deal: I'm still jet-lagged. I would have fallen asleep. I didn't want that to happen, so I plan to see it some other time, preferably in Moscow, but un-jet-lagged in Kiev would be just fine.

Oh, here's a fine traditional Ukrainian restaurant:

Yeah, it's TGIFriday's. It can't possibly be as popular as McDonald's. That place is super-crazy busy all the time.

Everybody's getting excited for Iron Man 2. Witness:

Both signs are in Ukrainian and the title translates as "Iron Humanoid."

Odds and ends:

Here's a guy all gussied up like a cossack playing a bandura on the Kreshchatik. He was really not good, but when you look so authentic, who cares? Tons of people were stopping to have their picture taken with him. I gave him a hrivnya for tickling the strings.

On my marathon walk yesterday, I noticed these banners hanging up everywhere, urging you, me and all our Ukrainian friends to "Love Ukraine." This stands in marked contrast to the "Hate Ukraine and die, you miserable chumps" campaign of a decade ago.

Finally, I'm no big fan of Kiev. Given its rich and tragic history, there's remarkably little to see. There's even less to do. You can see everything in two days and you'll probably see a local squirrel along the way, as I did. But I did have an intriguing idea about riding all three subway lines out to the last stop, taking pictures and then posting them. I thought that there would be something different about these end points. I rode the red line back and forth and I have to say that it was a complete waste of time. What was I thinking? Except for a few central sights, Kiev looks the same everywhere. And it's a terrible place to walk, but it's not like you have a choice. The Metro stops are really far apart and the architecture is in the Stalinist monumental vein. Buildings are often an entire block long. You walk and walk and walk and never feel like you're seeing anything or getting anywhere. Well, Kiev is no longer my problem. I'm shipping out for Lviv on the night train. Lviv has long been my favorite city in Ukraine. It's like Prague without all those pesky Czechs, with their weird-sounding language and Latin alphabet.

OK, so bye Kiev. I'm sure I'll be back, but I'm also sure I won't like you more in the future. I might even like you less.


Kevin said...

Amazing! Thanks!

ruffhauser said...

Are there Ukrainian squirrels?

Anonymous said...

I love the tufty red squirrels. The Brits are really _really_ vehemently anti-grey squirrel, because the red guys are the UK natives, but the grey ones came over on a boat or something at some point, and took over. The thing is, the red squirrels hibernate each year and the grey squirrels do not, which is why they were able to monopolize the food supply and living quarters. It isn't their fault! Don't hate the poor misunderstood grey squirrels, English people!

But I am really a sucker for those tufty ears.

Sandy Marsden said...

I'm glad that Jim posted a link about your trip on FB, or I wouldn't have known that you were yet again kvetching your way through the old country.
Did they really have a parliamentary fistfight today?