Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Well, little did I know that when I was killing time before my train to Lviv, the Ukrainian Parliament was getting rowdy. We're talking eggs getting thrown and fistfights and smoke bombs and such. Gee, I thought that kind of stuff only happened in South Korea! Well, it's happening around these parts. Yeah, some people really don't want the Russian Black Sea Fleet here. But more people, it seems, like cheap gas from Russia more. And these guys being Slavs, compromise is not an option, so this kind of stuff happens. Funny thing, I was only a few blocks away looking for squirrels at the time. I missed the whole thing. There was also a big anti-fleet protest in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. I missed that, too. And I didn't see any friggin squirrels either.

OK, so I got here yesterday morning. I shared a compartment with a fussy baby. Don't worry, his parents were there, too. But I didn't sleep too well. After I got in, I caught a cab, which turned out to be this guy's maintenance van. It was kind of gigantic. But he was a jolly fellow who hates Yanukovich and loves his city. I forgot that most of the city streets are cobblestones (which are in extremely poor shape), so the noise from all that compels you to scream at whoever you're talking to. This is where he drove me to:

Ah, the grand old Hotel George. I love this place. I first stayed here in 1993. It looked and smelled the same back then. Like the rest of the city, it's falling apart, but in a really beautiful way. My room is absolutely gigantic. Seriously, if I lay on the bed, I can't see the TV, because it's so far away. It's really nice to see that they haven't replaced the shuddering Soviet-era elevator. It's only large enough to hold three small, frightened people. I've gotten stuck in it twice. It has always been a worthy adversary.

Back in the days of the hilarious Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lviv was pretty much the last bastion of culture and learning until you got to the ridiculous Russian Empire, which, at the time, contained only cossacks and wild-eyed holy men. In other words, it was the last trace of Western Europe you would encounter on your way east. Here are some pictures from around town:

These last two photos are of Mickiewicz Square - Adam Mickiewicz was a Polish poet of some repute - and the magnificent Opera House. To be clever in an Austro-Hungarian way, its architect decided to build it over a stream that ran through town. As everyone predicted, it immediately began to sink, but stabilized after a few years. The architect, it was said, died of shame.

As you can see, there is a lot of beauty in this crumbly old place. I greatly prefer it over Prague. Not only do have stunning architecture (although everything needs a good scrubbing and a paint job), but there aren't any Czechs here AND all the signs are in Ukrainian. It's a wonderful place where you can make stunning new discoveries just by rounding the nearest corner. It also has something of an infamous past where my family is concerned. Check this out:

Yeah, so this place isn't quite as charming as the rest of the city. That's because it's a prison. This is where my great-grandfather spent seven years back in the fifties. He got sent up for owning a farm. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Communists are dicks. The ironic thing is that this building is located no more than 200 yards from the glorious, not-sinking-anymore Opera House. You know, I had an opportunity to go to a show there last night. It was a showcase of dance pieces from choreography students from the university. I passed. Instead, I hung out with Galya and Volodya. They're not actually relatives. Galya is my cousin Arsen's half-sister by Arsen's father, who isn't a blood relation. Volodya is her husband. He books acts for the Lviv Circus. He's a political junkie, so of course in the wake of the brawling in Parliament, he had a lot to say. So we drank and watched TV, finally settling on the Polish newscast, as Volodya believes that in general, Poles are smarter than Ukrainians. My language skills have improved dramatically in the past day. I went from sounding like a retarded phrasebook to somebody who can actually ask questions and understand their answers. I can even take a stab at Ukrainian (or the Ukrainian speaking it) and, if the answer is sufficiently un-complex, comprehend what's coming back at me. So last night was really nice, just hanging out and talking. My cousin and her husband arrive tomorrow, so I'll have be able to talk for them, since they don't speak the lingo.

This morning, I climbed up to the Vysoky Zamok or the "High Castle" and took pictures. I did the same with my cousin and his wife (at the time) 10 years ago. For some reason, we ended up getting lost on the well-marked path something like three times. Once frustration overtook us, we just climbed straight up. Zoriana, my cousin's now-former wife, was wearing three-inch heels. Well, we made it. This morning's jaunt took something like 20 minutes and yielded the first photo of this post. That's the Lviv that everybody loves. If you turn the opposite way, you see the Lviv that nobody thinks or cares about. And neither should you. Here it is:

And finally, I apologize for the quality, but here it is for your viewing pleasure. Ladies and germs, I give you the Fart Store:

If you want cheap clothes, think Fart. Well, that's all.


elaine said...

LOve your posts! Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

Anonymous said...

I'm learning much more about the Ukraine from your postings than I ever have from numerous Ukrainians I've met in the US. Thanks!