Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Old Country 4

Today is the day I leave. I have a flight from Odessa tomorrow. Nobody has figured out when or how I'm going to get there, but I'm not concerned. We have more visiting to do before that. There's Cousin Gennik in the afternoon and Cousin Roman in the evening. I assumed that some sort of train from somewhere would whisk me away after that. Around noonish, Cousin Bogdan came and got us. He drives a new Lada. I looks like a Hyundai. Bogdan works in a bank in Ternopil and his wife just had a baby. I mean, like the day before. It's so new to the world that it doesn't even have a name. That makes Cousins Gennik and Lyuba grandparents. Golly. Anyhow, we again found ourselves in Karashintsy. Here is a picture of our hosts:

Those are Cousins Bogdan, Lyuba, Andriy (he's pathologically shy) and Gennik. Cousin Gennik is a legendarily laconic fellow. He makes a confirmed stoic like Cousin Arsen look positively chatty. He is also an extremely no-nonsense guy. In the past, he's said stuff to me like, "Why the fuck are you asking that? It's a stupid question" and other bits of encouragement. He also mumbles. But today, Cousin Gennik was in an expansive mood. He poured round after round for us and actually made conversation. A bit later on, he took us for a walk and showed us the neighboring buildings he'd recently acquired. Here he is in front of one of his tractors:

I've never seen the guy so in the mood to receive visitors. Maybe it was the birth of his first grandchild. Maybe it's just that life is getting better, but it's nice to see that things are going his way.

After all that good and booze, I was ready to take on Cousin Roman. But once we got back to Cousin Arsen's, he declared that we absolutely, positively had to leave immediately and drive really fast to Ternopil. We, drat. No Cousin Roman this time around. Good thing that Roman was there waiting for us. I made my apologies and sent Kathy and Tim along with him. Luckily for them, he had invited some woman who spoke some English to dinner, so I'm guessing that they were able to communicate. Meanwhile, Bogdan, Arsen and I were tearing toward Ternopil in Bogdan's new Lada. This led to an impromptu adventure. See, we got there at around 6:00 only to discover that the train didn't leave till 10:00. So we walked around town. I've always found Ternopil completely charmless. This is due to the fact that it was first bombed to rubble during the Soviet advance, then that rubble was ground to dust by armored divisions meeting on the same spot. But the day was exceedingly nice. Here's what things looked like:

OK, that last one is just Yanukovich's party headquarters. We also met up with Igor, Galya and Volodya's (from Lviv) son. He runs the ride concession in Ternopil's lakeside park. He's not just a carny - he's chief carny. Here he is with his surprisingly hot wife + Cousin Arsen:

We hung out in their trailer for a while, then it was time to get back to the station. I took one last photo of Arsen and Bogdan before they left:

Ain't that sweet?

Anyhow, the only tickets they had left for this train to Odessa were third class, or platskart as they're known. The train arrived. I boarded it. I immediately knew that things were not right. The car was far too hot, humid and stinking. For the next ten hours, I had to exist in this environment. Although the outside temperature was in the comfrotable fifties, the inside of the car was at least 100. You couldn't look outside, because the windows were steamed over. Hot and close as it was, it was even hotter in top=bunk land where I was situated. There was nothing to be done about it. It's not like there was anyone to complain to. I just had to tell myself that I'd be out of the country in mere hours and that I could tolerate the indignity of it all till then. Well, despite the fact that it was the absolute worst train trip I've ever had, I managed to survive. I even slept six hours. It wasn't a good six hours, but it was six hours. Getting out of that stupid airtight car was a true gift from God. If I can avoid it, I will never ride third class again. It's not an adventure. It's a test for the soul. I nearly failed.

OK, I had arrived in Odessa. Uh, big deal. I've never liked the town. The best thing about it is that everybody speaks Russian. Other than that, it sucks. It's just a big, conceited, empty post-Soviet nowhere. The only cool thing that happened is that in the taxi on the way to the airport, the Vysotsky tune about Odessa came on the radio. That was neat. Otherwise, I hate that city with a passion.

I was soon gone and thank God for that. I might return to Ukraine for Cousin Ivas' wedding in October. Ukraine, you rotten place, why do you keep pulling me back?

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