Pushkin Ate (a lot) Here

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of Ukraine  ,
Friday, June 23, 2006

We were seen onto the train back in Kiev by Lida and Artem, bearing heaps of food from Tanya and Natasha who, once again, were philosophically opposed to the concept of no. Arriving a little early for our train (which was highly outside our regular custom), Lida and Artem waited patiently on the platform as I slowly ran out of amusing things to mime to them through the window (I don't know why they wait so long, I think it's a Russian thing) and the train mercifully shuddered to life and began its roll to the jewel of the south, Odessa.
It was one of the less comfortable train journeys that we'd taken thus far as the train lady would not buy our explanation that, as Ryan had gotten robbed and sprinkled by a hobo, we literally had no money with which to buy sheets. She was quite the yin to Tanya and Natasha's yang, and was very comfortable with "nyet", "ne mozjno", and "ya skazal NYET!", so we got to enjoy the metal bars of the train bench unencumbered by the small degree of cushioning the thin threadbare train mat might have provided us. We wouldn't have slept long anyhow though, as we were in Odessa bright and shiny in the morning, met by (another) Tanya and Alona. Alona was the three-time karate champion of Ukraine, fourth in Europe, and the friend of Tanya who is the daughter of the college friend of my aunt's who we'd be staying with. They were sweethearts to come collect us so early in the morning, and we chatted away for a while about football (is there anything else to discuss while the World Cup is on?!) before Aunt Gayla's friend Vera, her husband Vitaly, and their evil dog Lucifer rolled up to get us home. At the apartment, as seems to be the pattern, we ate but Vera said not enough as we again moved beyond eating to straight foodpacking as there is no way to ascribe a natural body process or nutritional value to putting that much extra food into one's stomach.
Over breakfast we did have a fun time swapping stories with the uncle visiting after moving three years ago to San Francisco to land a job in "security". I might add on a completely unrelated note that Odessa is known to be the most Mafia-ridden city in Eastern Europe. Just sayin'. Made me appreciate the comparatively benign badassness of my own uncle. Tanya then took us out on the town, the main things I can tell you are that there is a statue of Pushkin for every man, woman, and child in Odessa, they clearly don't quote the right figure for the number of stairs on Potemkin Steps as I counted three times and each time got a different result (none of which matched the official one), and we found the San Greal, or Sang Real if you will but you probably won't you Council of Shadows operative. SOFIA, it's so simple! We also walked through the wishing arc and over mother-in-law bridge, that legend has it was built by the city's governor who needed a quicker path to his mother-in-law's house so he could more easily lunch on her tasty borscht. I say myth because neither borscht nor, I'm told, mother-in-laws, are wonderful at all. Passed onto Alona, we toured the kids store where the girls work, cried because instead of a giant piano like in Big they instead had the scariest animatronic elf statue ever, and come back home to, what else but, eat.
Off to the beach next for a fun time in the cold and gross yet refreshing water and king of the mountain on the moss wall before I obliged like a sucker, for the promise of both chocolate and beer, to be buried, mainly so the gnats would have an easier time buzzing my face, making like I was an air traffic control tower and they were each Maverick. Then, back at home, we ate. And I played the piano. Until Vera made us eat again.
One of the coolest parts of traveling during the World Cup is the opportunity to watch games in several different countries, occasionally actually catching a game in a nation whose team is playing that day. As luck would have it, our first such experience was in Odessa while Ukraine took on Tunisia in its last group match, needing a solid result to have a chance to advance. Still reeling with disappointment after news of the US loss to Ghana to earn a trip home, I threw myself full-bore into adopting a second-favorite team, made even easier as their colors were (you guessed it) Blue and Gold (while Tunisian was a shade of Cardinal Red). We made our way to the center of town to catch the match on the giant screen set up and were swept up into the spirit as Ukraine went ahead on a penalty kick! Though not quite as thrilled by the burns that Ryan and I suffered on the neck and foot, respectively, from the celebratory firecrackers being lit in the middle of the crowd, that dampened our excitement none nor did it in any way dissuade the policy from breaking the party up as we all spilled away in one big happy soccer hooligan wave chanting "Hey Hey U-kra-ine!"
To keep the good times rolling, we (well, first we ate again) headed out to Arcadia, the bar and disco on the beach district. We caught a bit of France-Togo with the for sure Mafia guys in the corner who everyone coming in had to go pay respects to, boogied, and walked on the beach as a prelude to our late long walk home where, try as we might, we could not avoid setting the devil dog into another frothy frenzy powered by our mere presence and existence.
In a short comedy of errors, we went to the dock the following morning to buy our boat ticket out to Turkey: stand in line, find out there was a boat, get out of line, stand in line, is the boat today?, confer, stand in line, OK 2 tickets please, we need money right now?, get out of line, stand in line, get out of line once more for fun, stand in line, and pay. It took us two hours.
With some time to kill, we kicked it in a sweet sidewalk cafe with the girls until it was time to go home and eat. I meant to say (and actually did mean to) pack, but we had no choice in the matter. We bid farewell to Vera and good riddance to Beelzebub and were escorted by Tanya and Alona to the harbor where, even after saying goodbye at passport control before beginning our lengthy processing, and even though the boat departed an hour late, they kept waiting on the railing just brimming with anticipation for the moment they got to wave goodbye as the ship actually finally set sail. It's a Russian thing.

Moral of the Story: I just saw the movie Omen and I'm pretty sure that if I were to take scissors to that dog's coat I'd find that triple circle 6 birthmark. Stupid Dameon.
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