Sunday, May 08, 2005

ukraine: end of the world, or not? asks monkeyscientist

So enamored with the fact that I can finally blog, from a working keyboard, without paying a million Hungarian forints a second, that instead of writing a new post, I'm just pasting a response to an email. Sorry everyone. Any moment now, this dream might end and the computer disappear.

Not. But very, very strange in some ways. Mom and I just came back from "Royal Pizza"--the first meal we've taken outside the hotel, where the menus are in English (sort of) as well as Ukrainian. And we managed okay, the pizzas (small individual ones) were pretty much what we asked for. Although we didn't realize that "ketchup" was literal. And we sort of had this idea about our food being hot that was also, apparently, off-base. I have a bit of a tummyache, but I was working on that before the food even came, so I suspect it may be related to the juicebox I had just before we left the hotel. Strawberry, not very good. Hoping to have better luck with a larger container of apricot juice I bought today from a store where all the shop ladies were wearing little lace ramekins on their heads.

Also: roast chicken-flavored potato chips, lots and lots of good bread, and Nutella for 18 hrivna and 90 kopeks, which is very expensive for food here. 5 Hrivna=1 dollar. I LOVE kopeks; I'm trying to save them up so I can drill holes in them and sew them onto my coin bra/dance belt. We are avoiding all dairy products because Mom's travel clinic said so; something about pasteurization. I actually snuck some butter onto my bread this morning.

Don't tell, okay?

It's 10 degrees C outside right now, and it was bitterly grey all day. Not even the kind of overcast that makes for good photography. Not a good day for shooting. There seem to be some celebrations of the anniversary [of the end of the war] going on here--something at a theatre (there is at least one stage, possibly two, and a 'kinoteatr' showing the latest Vin Diesel movie and 'Sahara' with Matt McCounaghey). At the Biblioteka there is a display in the window of old books about the war, and today there were fresh flower arrangements on the monuments in the central area, which is a pedestrian mall.

Ouside of the downtown, all freshly cobbled and planted with young trees, the storefronts painted bright colors at street level, things get a little more Communist. I took the stone bridge across the river (I *think* it's the Tsiza), where a woman was selling bunches of lilacs from a square plastic food-service bucket and a yellow dog kept running in and out of the street, chasing cars, which nearly made my heart stop. If you keep following that street--attractive old apartment buildings on one side of the river, one massive ugly Stalin-era one on the other with dirty facade, washing hung out, and some satellite dishes--the street eventually ends in a church. I stood at the corner in front of a closed store and pet a little black cat with white paw tips and a star under her chin and watched the babushka waiting across the street for a bus, with her bicycle and plastic bags of things.

The babushkas fascinate me. They all sport headscarves, sensible shoes, and monumental bosoms that start just under the chin and end somewhere at the junction of shapeless cardigan and earth-colored skirt. I bought a small bunch of lilies-of-the-valley from one today for Mom, for 2 hrivna; they were bound together with red thread. Lilies-of-the-valley had been my maternal grandmother's favorites, the grandmother I'd named after. Tomorrow would be my grandmother's 90th birthday, had she lived; she died just before my parents married, so I never met her.

But I was talking about the babushkas. Everyone is very careful of and respectful of them, and it dawned on me today that they've seen everything--some of these women must have been children during/just after the war, and during the years of the forced famines, when Ukrainians were forced into cannibalism (this area was Hungarian until '45, when it was ceded to Russia, and the monster Stalin). They worked on collective farms, they stood in line for bread, you name it. I can't imagine what all this looks like to them, the young women with their ultra-pointy-toed shoes and tight jeans, the boys in American sports clothing, cell phones everywhere.

Did I mention the market? In the thing that looks like an airplane hangar? Butcher stalls around the outside, produce and sweets and moloko (milk, if you haven't read 'Clockwork Orange') products in the middle. I negotiated the purchase of several small packets of paprika to take back to my mother's cousin in Long Beach, IN GERMAN, and that of two greenish bananas (Mom likes them that way) in English and Ukrainian. HA!

Up on the hill, there's a medieval fortress. We may or may not get there.

And I must point out the wonder of this thing: I am sending you email from a place that just twenty years ago probably wouldn't have let me in. Mom and I sit in a little room in what was once a duke's residence, the nicest (and only) hotel in Mukacheve, a four-star hotel with a towel warmer in the bathroom and a Jacuzzi and pool somewhere (haven't found those yet) and three restaurants, all of which, apparently, play loud, goopy music at all hours. At breakfast (jam fritters and big orange caviar), it was Muzaky versions of everything from No Doubt's "Don't Speak" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" to some European metal ballad I can hum but not name. With wave sounds and chirping birds covering the transitions.