Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ready? Set? Ukraine!

OK, so this first post is gonna have to be without pictures, because nobody around this place can seem to make my camera go.  Sorry.

Well, I was pretty sure that I wasn´t going to make it here - what with my distrust of flying and the actual flight itself.  I had three.  The first and the third were fine.  The second and longest was not.  It was pretty constantly rough.  I was seated in the tail, which of course is the worst place for experiencing constant roughness.  But I survived all that and landed at Lviv´s gleaming new aırport.  It´s exactly where the old airport was except the buildıngs are all new.  They built it for the UEFA soccer qualifying matches that took place there this spring.  Gone is the cheerless Communist-era hut that smelled of cigarette smoke, mıldew and misery.  The new building is modern, gigantic and empty.  But was this merely a façade or was it some kind of substantive change?  I mean, I´ve always said that once you´ve arrived in Ukraine, you´re suddenly in the shit.  The trip through customs and passport control would determine that.

The passport area in the new airport actually looks official; not, as in the case of the old airport, like they were selling vodka and cigarettes out of the back.  The customs people all looked mostly professional.  Nobody was smoking and no one smelled strongly of stale sweat.  A couple of the customettes (young Ukrainian women who point out which line you need to stand in) had skirts that were way higher than what I assume regulations would allow, but no one objected.  They both had the legs for it.  I handed my passport to a fellow with pale gray Ukrainian eyes and awaited judgment.  Would there be a "problem" with my passport that required a $50 "remedy?"  In the past, I´ve been hit up for all kinds of silly stuff.  Not this time.  Likewise, the trip through customs was completely without incident.  You know what that feels like?  It´s disappoınting, sweet people.  In a country as corrupt and bereft of civility as Ukraine not doing battle with some arbitrarybureaucratic power during your visit is something of a letdown.  It´s like going to Disneyland and not riding Pirates of the Caribbean.  I wandered out of the terminal, through a clutch of non-pushy, burly cabbies, in search of the bus stop.  I had trouble finding it, so I asked a traffic cop.  You know what happened?  He told me and pointed it out to me.  He didn´t ignore me or call the cab drivers over to jeer at me for taking the bus and he didn´t give me the wrong directions just for the sheer malicious fun of confounding a foreigner.  He told me.  What has happened to Ukraine? 

The bus ride was hot but otherwise not unpleasant.  The Lviv traffic was totally crazy.  The roads were completely terrible, but I expected that.  They´ll never ımprove.  When I got off the bus, the driver didn´t try to speed away while I was stepping off.  Once again, slightly disappointed.

The next great challenge was finding the apartment place.  For the first time ever, I´m not staying at the glorious old George.  It was sold out a month ahead of time.  Instead, I rented an apartment somewhere in the ancient center of the city.  The place took some finding.  The security guard on the ground floor totally gave me the wrong directıons.  Once on the correct floor, I went from offıce to offıce trying to find it.  Curiously enough, even the people across the hall and next door didn´t know a thing about the place and they weren´t nice about it.  Not in the least.  Ah, now there´s the Ukraine I knew!  Wow, what a relief.  Eventually, I found the place - it was next door and across the hall from the people who were meanest to me.  The very friendly Natalia led me to my apartment near the theater and the opera house.  And this is where my camera would really come in handy, so it´ll have to wait until tomorrow until somebody else can try to make it go.  .      

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