Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ukraine II: This Time It's Personal

You know, I've been here nine times. I always forget what it's like. But here it is: You spend all this time in a plane. You descend down through all the fluffy clouds and everything looks placid and calm. You land. The plane taxis up to the terminal. The door opens, and suddenly, you're in the shit.

Welcome to Ukraine! Let's back up a bit.

It took three flights to get here. I started from SeaTac - everybody knows what that looks like - and changed planes in Newark:

The flight was very rough and therefore was not liked by me. Then I jumped the Atlantic and ended up in Munich:

This is Franz-Joseph Strauss International Airport, named for a fat and shameless wardheeling politician who is now dead. From there, I hopped in this cute little learjet and landed in Lviv. The airport is this post's first picture. It's also hopelessly primitive (two gates: one for departures, the other for arrivals) with a dark and gloomy waiting area. Oh yes, and some very crafty customs operators.

OK, so I'm bringing in this metal detector that my cousin has been bugging me about for the last half year. What exactly he wants it for is unknown. I've never asked him. My theory is that he wants to dig up a bunch of WWII crap. OK, fair enough, so my cousin Kathy buys one through Costco, sends it to me to take with me, which I do. It's too big to fit in my baggage, so I have to check it. Bam - fifty bucks right there at SeaTac. Yeah, I forgot that Continental charges for everything. Everything. So the flights fly and I arrive after 18 hours or so. I get through passport control just fine. But customs is another story. They xray my luggage. Everything is normal. I'm frowning. The two guys on the xray machine are frowning. I'm pretending like I don't speak Russian. And they're buying it. Then come the fateful words: "What's in the box?" And I say: "Oh, that's just a metal detector." Here's the thing: in Ukraine, there's no such thing as just a metal detector. And so began a face-off that lasted about half an hour. They explain in rudementary English that I needed a license to bring in such a piece of military equipment. I tell them they're completely nuts to think that this stupid, increasingly-costly thing has even the slightest military application. They call their supervisor. She explains (in not bad English) the same thing and says that I could take it with me when I leave. I tell her I was leaving through Odessa. She says, "Well then, I can't help you" and walks away. I call Cousin Arsen, hoping he'll tell these guys off. Remember, I'm still pretending not to speak Russian or Ukrainian. But Arsen just listens, asks no questions and then at the end, the grimmer of the two customs guys hands me the phone. Arsen says, "Don't worry about it. Just give them a bribe, but not too much."

Ah yes, bribery. Where would the Ukrainian economy be without it? Their routine was as bad as it was hackneyed. Both of them were the bad cop. One of them just did all the talking. It cost me 20 bucks to be on my way. Look, I realize that it's a small price to pay for my freedom from that reeking arrival hall and Cousin Arsen's future as roving detector of metals, but let me say this: bastards. And I realize that public servant salaries are miniscule, but...bastards! This is why everybody hates the government - because everyone from the lowest to the highest is seen as being a crook. And guess what? They are! I really hope Arsen uses this metal detector for good and not evil. It has been a royal pain!

Finally, the cat was out of the bag. The figure out all by themselves that I speak some pretty OK Russian. I say, "Let's do this for 20 bucks." They take it and say, "Fine. Get out of here." And I was gone. But it wasn't over. I'm surrounded by a mob of taxi drivers all offering an overpriced ride into town. The most reasonable price is 10 dollars. But me, I already know there's a bus. It costs 14 cents. The drivers all strenuously argue that there's a lot of roadwork going on at my downtown destination and I'll have to walk at least half a kilometer. I tell them I can handle it just fine. After all, I walked from 2nd & Blanchard to the bus tunnel with no problem. But then, their tone changes to outright ridicule. They mock me. Seriously, what the hell? This only stops at the arrival of the bus, a rickety mini-thing that soon fills up to beyond capacity. When my stop comes, I tell the driver - in what I know is correct Ukrainian - that I'm getting out and he needs to wait because I have baggage. As I'm just to the door, it closes and he floors it. I'm slammed up against a railing and damn nearly upended into the lap of a Ukrainian granny. In a rare show of compassion, the woman who was sitting next to me asks if I'm OK and tells the driver to wait. I say that I'm fine and the driver ignores her. At that point, I'm gathering the words to really let him have it. And then we arrive at the next stop, so I get out, telling him that I'd really appreciate it if he would wait till I got out before he drove on. Thus freed of the bus and its throng, I walk to the grand old Hotel George. It's about a minute's walk away. So yeah, the cab drivers were all lying to me. Not only that, but they made fun of me based on the fact they were lying to me. Honestly, what's the point in that?? Yes, they were working on the roads, but it was nothing. Jeez.

I checked into the George. My room wasn't nearly as huge as the last two I had. You'll recall that last visit, my room was so large that I couldn't watch TV from the bed because it was too far away. What I've got now is more large closet-sized, but it's comfortable. Of course, my old nemesis, the elevator is still there, looking as menacing as ever:

I've gotten stuck in this tiny thing like three times. The way things are going, I'm anticipating number four very soon. The room may be small, but I have a balcony. Here's the view from it:

And this is what the building directly across the street looks like:

The thing I like about Lviv is that everything is falling apart. It has that "crumbling beauty" thing down pat.

Despite the very rainy weather, I've been able to get out and take some pitures. You'll be happy to know that the Opera House is still intact: is the Fart Store:

...and the Squirrel-Bank:

I also ran across some new stuff. Here's a neo-gothic cathedral of sorts:

A park dedicated to Nazi-sympathizing murderer, Stepan Bandera:

This probably used to have a statue of Lenin in it, so one murderous thug for another, I guess. For more information about Stepan Bandera, ask the Internet. All I know is that more of my relatives were killed by the Banderists than by the Nazis. I'll leave it at that.

I also ran into this very cool statue of St. George that I've never seen before. Here it is:

That's one mean-looking snake, isn't it?

Oh, and here's a hilarious typo:

Yes, I always get my coffee "fo go."

Oh, and here are some random architectural cool things:

And finally, are you curious as to how Eat. Pray. Love looks in Ukrainian? Well, here it is:

That's Yisti. Molitisya. Kokhati.

Anyhow, I'll try to post tomorrow, but if not, it may be a while - like a week.


TripTrumpet said...

Hope you don't mind, but I just notified the Ukrainian authorities that you will be using the metal detector to find stray nukes. They weren't going to send the police and their version of the KGB after you, so I bribed them. Only $5 - a steal!

Dino said...

I could smell the streets and the wet rain that was such a good blog entry. Love the pictures. I am truly entertained. Now, post some pictures of the young girls hoping around town. I know there are plenty of them.