Spiceba! Dobre Ootrah! Pershalsta!
Thank you, Good morning, and please (respectively) is hardly enough in a country that uses a different alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, making signs impossible to read without knowing how to pronounce the letters. Actually, I was not sure what language to learn since 60% of Ukrainians speak Ukrainian, not Russian, and the local Barnes and Noble did not have a Ukrainian instruction book.
When I announced to friends and relatives that I was going to Ukraine I got strange looks and warnings to be careful. Even as I began to write this I wondered if my laptop would be safe in the hotel in Kiev. So far the trip had gone well. I managed to get myself seated in the exit row, where the extra leg room meant that I could arrive without sore knees. With only carry on baggage, I was one of the first to go through customs. That would have been good except for my carelessness in filling out the customs form. Having failed to answer "no" on the right questions, I was channeled off into the suspicious-character line where my baggage was x-rayed and extra questions were asked. Except for minor embarrassment, the delay was not too severe, nevertheless resulting in a new WWT rule; rule number 27. Make sure and follow all instructions on the customs forms to the letter and put a big NO on anything referring to drugs, large sums of money, and antiques.
My preparation for this trip included conversations with Ukrainian friends and a few travel books, but travel books make the most boring reading before you go. I find them much easier to read DURING or AFTER the trip than before, and get a tremendous rush when I read about something that I had seen and enjoyed without having known that I was supposed to have seen and enjoyed it. A few National Geographic articles about Ukraine were easier to read, so I had learned a little of the history. Still it is amazing how much difference having seen something makes when reading about it.
This trip was a classical case, however, where the WWT "responsibility handover" procedure is the best way to visit a country. This procedure requires that you have a friend in the country that knows you well enough and who is a friend enough to be willing to take care of you and tell you what to do in his country. I had hoped that my friend Vladimir Markov would accept that role. Vladimir had visited me a few times and we had worked together a few times. He had stayed in my home, we had downed a few drinks together, but now I found myself wishing I had done more to help him enjoy the sights of Southern California when he was there. We had spent most of our time working. Vladimir truly rose to the occasion, confirming my responsibility handover theory of touring on every account.
We arrived in Kiev on British Airlines, having come from London. My British friend, Pauline Abbott, who was joining me for this trip had provided a rest stop to get over jet lag at her residence in Flitwick which is northwest of London. Vladimir had seen me from the other side of customs and waved enthusiastically; I was surely glad to see his smiling face. He is a genius at cutting through red tape and I knew as long as he was in sight, I would not wind up in jail. As always, one of my greatest traveling pleasures is being met in an airport by a friend, especially in a foreign airport. Of all the places I have been, I would soon learn that Kiev would be one of the most desirable places to be met by a friend. I’m not sure how one could visit Ukraine at the moment without being met. I began to accept the logic in the rules for getting a visa to visit Ukraine. One cannot just go to Ukraine as of this date. One must get an invitation to visit. Apparently, this is a way to make sure that someone inside Ukraine is going to be responsible to handle the visit. By the time my visit was over, I realized how necessary this was. I had an invitation from the International Society for Optical Engineering which was part of the reason for visiting Kiev in the first place, to present a paper at a conference on holography. Vladimir had likewise gotten such an invitation for Pauline, who officially was a co-author of the paper I would giving.
One of the first things Vladimir told us as we climbed into his car was, "You have to make sure and put ‘no’s’ on all the drug questions on the customs forms. My first time back, I put ‘yes’s and thought I was going to wind up in jail." I didn’t bother to tell him why it took me so long to get through customs.
Kiev won its freedom from the Soviet Union in August 1991. The country is in a struggle to attain a free market economy after more than fifty years of socialism. To see a country in such a transition is a fascinating experience in itself, leading to some rather bazaar situations. I found myself in a near overload state almost from the beginning with so many new things and new ideas to face. Kiev is a modern city, loaded with magnificent sights and with culture clearly visible everywhere back to before the birth of Christ. I immediately began to see things I had read about for years. One of the great gifts of religion is the preservation of art for centuries. We visited many churches in and around Kiev. Ukraine has undergone a number of periods where the guys in charge took upon themselves to destroy churches. First Stalin, then the Soviets, then the Germans. Unfortunately, thousands of churches were destroyed; fortunately many great churches survived and are now undergoing restorations.
In the typical church like the Saint Sophia, frescoes date back to the 11 century and are shown in segments, where parts of the fresco are original and parts that were completely gone have been filled in with fresh paint in such a way as to present the entire painting, but with a distinct difference between the old and new. We explored about a dozen churches during the next week, each of which had its own unique character and beauty. Most of them have the characteristic gold roof.
Kiev is an amazing city, one of the few old major cities I have visited that has wide streets and wide sidewalks. Our hotel was located on the corner of Pushkinsky (Everybody has heard of Pushkin!) Street and Shevshenko Boulevard, which has a treelined center with a wide sidewalk making it a really pleasant place to walk. The main Kreschatik Street actually has three different walking levels on each side, which are usually lined with kiosks and market stands that sell just about anything one could need, including souvenirs of every variety. This appears to be a new breed of entrepreneur. The stores themselves still reflect the Soviet philosophy, and are hard to distinguish from the outside. The store windows have little decoration and a clothing store looks about the same as a grocery store. Inside is a little more elaborate, though these merchants have a long way to go in marketing. Lack of experience in marketing a profit making are easily evident almost everywhere. Most of these stores could double their profit by simply hiring an American consumer who could easily emulate highly developed point of sales techniques used in practically every store in America. At this point some quantum improvements would seem so obvious to us. Even the street salesmen were applying some of the methods, but there the other extremes could be observed. A string of ladies sat on the sidewalk each with a few vegetables to sell. Between the two levels a larger market place sported small stands with cases of beautiful flowers, vegetables, breads, and meats. What a magnificent city to walk in! The first day, Vladimir walked with us for about two hours. I saw more in the first two hours than I had thought existed in the entire city. Vladimir seems to be a true history buff, telling us historical details about each building and statue. Every step of the way bore interesting history and architecture. We walked past the performing arts center, the Swiss Embassy, the Institute of Science and found ourselves standing before the 10th century Golden Gate of Kiev. I wondered what we could do for the next six days.
We spent the entire second day at the famous Lavra Pechersky (Cave monastery) on which lay several churches, the Ukrainian Gold Museum, and the catacombs with mummified saints that lay deep in the caves. The morning began with a meeting with the museum director during which we presented ideas on detecting and monitoring defects in artifacts. Since the meeting was held in Ukrainian, I rediscovered how hard it is to carry on a conversation through an interpreter. The basic problem was that frescoes in churches are deteriorating faster than they can be restored. Museum operators are in the "Surrounded by Alligators" syndrome, and don’t need to be told to "drain the swamp". What he really wanted was a faster simpler way to restore paintings, not a way to detect the problem. But it was a nice social interchange and a formal welcome to our visit.
The Gold Museum blew me away. Here before my eyes were artifacts that I had been reading about in National Geographic for years, some of the most beautiful gold jewelry I had seen and produced by craftsmen over 2000 years ago. Among them was the famous gold pectoral necklace for a Scythean king which was discovered in 1971 and has become somewhat a national symbol for Ukraine. Produced around 200 BC, the detail carved into the pectoral piece was almost microscopic and incredibly beautiful. The anthropologist who discovered this piece had been searching in a recently uncovered burial mound. The mound had been hit by thieves centuries earlier and there was little of monetary value discovered immediately. Standing ankle deep in mud, he felt a strange sensation that something important would be found that day. Just before leaving the site for the day, he felt something first with his foot and leaned over reaching into the mud with his bare hands. Within moments he knew that he had made the find of the century, the king’s necklace that somehow had been missed by the thieves.
The Scythians decorated everything with gold, including their swords and horses. A few burial sites had produced complete skeletons with full gold adornment, including rings, necklaces, headpieces, ear rings and toe rings. Apparently, the craftsmen were actually Greeks, paid by the Scythians with food and horses. The Scythians, in the few hundred years before Christ, were fierce warriors, and apparently dominated this region. After a few hundred years however, they softened up and were eventually kicked out by the Greeks and half dozen other invaders.
Vladimir had set up his holographic camera on the ground floor and recorded holograms of practically everything in the museum. An entire gallery was set aside just for the holograms themselves. The most striking was the one of the pectoral piece. In some sense, having that hologram was better than looking at the real piece since one could get extremely close to it. This piece is so revered that holograms have been reserved only for heads of state. Only nine were produced, with one going to President Bill Clinton. He was amazed when the Ukrainian president presented him with the hologram, which in every appearance looks like the genuine article. It is said that Clinton, upon seeing the hologram said that he did not realize there were two pectoral pieces and he was actually going to get one of them. On more than one instance, thieves have attempted to cut into these holograms, mistaking them for glass cabinets housing the real object.
After spending about two hours gawking and swooning over the jewelry and art of the time we worked our way up to the more modern days. By the time we reached the 19th century stuff, we were really hard to please, and though more recent gold was beautifully done, it lost some of the romance. Besides, the more recent stuff was mostly religious art and jewels. We decided that we would have to break away and see the rest of the monastery while the time was still available.
In the center of the monastery stood the ruins of what had been a magnificent church, originally believed to have been destroyed by the Germans in 1942; however, later information pointed to the Russians who apparently did it, then pointed the finger at the Germans just to get the Ukrainians more emotionally evolved in the war. I think it worked. Over six million Ukrainians died fighting Germany. Interestingly enough, the Ukrainians feel that they deserve the credit for stopping Hitler’s takeover of the world. If you look at sheer numbers, the argument is quite convincing. D’day was for them a rather insignificant skirmish when you consider how many deaths and how many years of fierce combat took place in Ukraine a few years earlier.
It is hard to imagine what the destroyed church may have been when the remaining "smaller" churches are quite spectacular. We climbed the remaining 170 foot tower to get a view of the entire region. After a few hours, Vladimir asked if we wanted to have lunch. I was reticent to trade time in the monastery for eating time (besides, I was too excited to eat) and suggested we forego lunch. Everyone else agreed. We compromised and stopped in a small kitchen where we had tea and laroch ( huge cookies). Afterwards we headed for the catacombs. A number of people had been placed in the catacombs before the 10th century and had mysteriously become mummified. This "miracle" won them saint status. The catacombs are generally closed to the public, but again, we seemed to know the right people.
We were each given a long thin candle, the only light allowed in the catacombs and instructed to hold it in our palms, so that if any of it dripped, it would be caught in our hands. We descended down and down some steep, narrow stairs, deep into the earth, for what seemed like a very long way. Finally, we arrived at the first burial. The mummy was called the "healer", because of special healing energy said to emerge from the body. The residents of the monastery kissed the mummies as they passed to gain repentance as well as healing energy. A few of them were said to give off "negative" energy. I held my hand over the body of the "healer". Honest to God, I COULD FEEL A TINGLING in the palm of my hand. To make sure, I turned my hand over. Now I could feel the tingling in the BACK of my hand.
Our guide told us that the energy had been measured with scientific instruments to confirm its existence. I asked what instruments were used. She responded by saying that she did not know what instruments were used but that "scientific conclusions" were used. At the end of the second day, I had seen enough that I would have been satisfied in the worth of my trip, had it not lasted a day longer. But this was only a beginning.
After arriving back at the hotel, we sat and relaxed for the first time of the day. Only after the excitement had waned, did I realize how exhausted I was. Nevertheless, after a brief rest, we decided to look for a restaurant, since we had not eaten since morning. Not far from the hotel, we found a "Pectapohr" or restaurant. Restaurants are identified only by a small, six inch sign protruding from the buildings or stuck in the window. One has no idea how to tell what kind of restaurant lays beyond. We stood before the restaurant staring in attempt to figure out what kind of restaurant it was, and indeed, was it really a restaurant. Fortunately, a waiter came out and invited us in. I ask him if he spoke English. He politely shook his head. I then ran through Deutch, Italiano, Espanol, Francious, and got a smiling "nyet" on each account. What the hell, let’s go in anyway. Lo and behold the menu had some English on it.
We had a great meal for a quite low price, about 10 dollars for two. I had decided to tip the waiter generously, though, in Kiev, I had read tipping is not necessary, but appreciated in any amount. To get some tip money, I paid with the equivalent of about 20 dollars. When the change came back, I noted that it was about three dollars short changed. I had also read about that. What to do? Pauline and I discussed it briefly. How does one complain when no English is spoken. The guy probably knows that. Three dollars is not worth me creating a scene in a Ukrainian restaurant. I decided to consider that the waiter just stole his tip and I picked up all of the remaining change. It is ashamed that he didn’t let me give it to him, but so what? I guess he needed the money. There weren’t that many customers.
The next day was seminar day. The Hall of Scientists was packed. There were three Americans present, one Korean, and the rest were Russian and Ukrainian. I gave the first talk and after that I could listen to the other papers in a relaxed mood. I found the meeting quite stimulating and got a number of new ideas to try back at home. By noon I could feel myself getting very tired and felt myself nodding off. Vladimir must have recognized my waning interest, so he made me chairman of the afternoon session. One of the duties of a chairman in a meeting like this is to make sure that at least one question is asked at the end of each talk. Quite often, a thoughtful question by the chairman breaks the ice in an otherwise silent audience and opens up a vigorous discussion. The added involvement gave me a second wind and I was wide awake for the remainder of the day.
Clearly, not everyone in the hall had excellent English skills. From that point of view, I had the advantage. A few people who had good English skills carried on the most discussion. One of the old professors from the University of Kiev, Mirat Oscin, added a lot of spice to the meeting, jumping on all of the speakers, especially the young ones. When the title of a speaker is unknown, in the USA it is sometimes polite to introduce him as "professor", if he is from a university. The introduction is correct whether or not he has a doctorate. But to introduce a PhD as mister would be insulting. I noticed that most of the speakers were being introduced as professor, so I adopted that strategy also. This irritated the old professor who after a while asked, "Is everyone here a professor? Anyone who is willing to give a talk gets to be a professor."
I often enjoy the way languages translate into English, and Russian especially has some interesting results. Russian does not use articles in the same way as in English. Between sessions, Professor Oscin was questioning some of the results I had reported saying that he did not believe I could check the results. He waved for one of his students to join our conversation and then asked him, "Anatoly, how do you think that Dr. Trolinger can check his results." Oscin did not know that I had already shown Anotoly how I had tested the results. Anotoly, a tall heavily bearded, young man blurted back in a loud, assured manner, "Without problem". We all laughed, including Oscin.
It seems that in Russia and Ukraine almost everyone is named either Anatoly, Sergey, or Vladimir.
Later at Vladimir’s office we conducted a radio interview to discuss the role of holography in society and its future. Then we met with a team of scientists who wanted to hear any new thoughts on diagnostics that could be of use in studying Chernobyl. I had just become aware of how serious Chernobyl was, even today, where in Kiev, just dealing with the continuing cleanup takes up over 10% of the national budget. I learned that over 60,000 people were still at work on Chernobyl. Strange mutations, such as a four legged chicken, had appeared in the area during recent years because of the radiation. The problem was anything but over. Clearly, a few of these things could tie up a large fraction of the entire world’s resources.
The next two days continued to open up new sites of interest. By now we felt more familiar with the city and enjoyed walking even more. It was time to do some serious shopping. I found that I could negotiate with the vendors on the street, even if they did not speak English. I always got a few Gryvna knocked off the price before buying. The entrepreneurs make their own rules it seems. At one point where I stood at a counter in a large department store, looking at the wooden crafts, a street vendor wearing came over to me and offered to beat the price with merchandise he was carrying in his back pack. The clerks did not seem to think anything was too unusual about that procedure.
On Thursday morning at the crack of dawn, we left for Crimea on Crimean Airlines, a small twin engine aircraft that looked like it had seen better days. Not long after leaving the ground I realized I had not the slightest idea what we would be doing in Crimea. The guide book I had purchased, which purported to have been written in 1996, stated that we could not go to Sevastapol unless we sneaked in, since an important Naval base was located there. I had learned by now that things had changed so fast in the past five years that guidebooks were something short of useful. Even the currency, the Gryvna, had been introduced less than a year ago, after the book I had purchased was written We could not have done what we were about to do without the help of a local, and at times I wasn’t even sure that was a sufficient condition. We were met at Simferopol, the capitol city, by Arrest, a young man who apparently had worked for Vladimir in earlier days. I had no idea where Simferopol, Sevastapol, or Khersoneses was and I barely knew what Crimea was. We loaded our bags into a Toyota and headed Southwest.
Just outside of Simferopol, we stopped for gas. A Ukrainian gas station is typically a large metal tank with a gas hose attached, sitting on the roadside beside a wooden shack. Since there was an argument under way between Ukraine and Russia, who supplied the gas, there seemed to be a shortage of oil in Ukraine. The process for purchasing the gas was not always clear and some negotiation seemed necessary at times. In one case, a station began by refusing all purchases except by a coupon, which had to be purchased somewhere else. Somehow, Vladimir convinced the owner that he needed gas bad enough so we filled the tank. Clearly, there were no restrooms in these stations. Restrooms, we later discovered, constituted bushes on the roadside. Women on the car side, men on the opposite side. I was quite surprised and somewhat relieved when Pauline accepted this without question and dissappeared into the bushes.
By noon we had reached our first stop, Khan’s Palace, a Muslim palace from the early 18th Century. After an hour tour through the palace we headed for the nearby Chuput Kale cave cities, which had been dug out from rock in the hills. As we were leaving the car, Pauline asked Vladimir how far we were going to walk to help her decide what to carry and if a change of clothes was needed. His reply, "We’re just going to walk up some steps."
After hiking about two miles, we could finally see where we were heading, a shear bluff located high in the mountains. The trail wound up and up, getting steeper and steeper. Fortunately, the locals sat scattered along the way with food and drinks for sale. For some strange reason many of the vendors were selling dried plants and herbs. They seemed surprised when all we wanted to buy was water. By the time we reached the top we were soaked with perspiration, but what we found was well worth the climb. It was so cool inside the cave houses I dreaded leaving. But we did need to get to Khersoneses before the museum closed, so that we could meet the director, who would help us find a place to spend the night.
What I had learned by now was that a tourist does not simply walk into a hotel and make a reservation in Ukraine. Reservations must be made by an official of the country. These are typically arranged these days by travel agents or by friends inside who know somebody. We reached Khersoneses about 4 o’clock. By now I was used to Vladimir driving up to locked gates and having a guard let him in, so it was no surprise when this happened at Khersoneses. Arest had warned us that there was trouble at the site. Various church groups have now been given permission to take over churches that had been confiscated by the government in Soviet times. Although this normally makes since, the particular church in question sits right in the middle of Khersoneses and was built on the ruins of the ancient Greek city. During the previous night, the church group had airlifted in a large metal pagoda like structure and installed in the ruins. They had arranged for the local sheriff to be conveniently out of town. So now, there was the struggle to get them out or at least stop them before too much damage was done to the ruins. Efforts to have them evicted had proven futile so far.
We parked outside the museum and headed immediately for the director’s office. The next few minutes unfolded with a series of events I still don’t understand. The receptionist directed us to enter the directors office through a large double door. Inside the large office a meeting was in progress between the director and about five others, presumably dealing with the previous night’s invasion. Upon seeing Vladimir, the director bounded from his desk and embraced him. After the events of the day, we all looked like vagrants by this time, and would have seemed somewhat out of place. Nevertheless, we were all greeted as the meeting was placed on hold. At this point the director began personally to call hotels arranging for our room. One thing I noticed about the Ukrainian and Russian languages. I could not tell when people were upset or not. His phone conversation sounded extremely energetic as though there were some kind of problem. Occasionally, he would stop and confer with Vladimir and Vladimir would ask us a rather inane question like, "Do you want small beds or large ones." This went on for at least five minutes while the rest of the meeting attendees sat around as though this was standard business. Vladimir apparently was not sure how demanding we were and wanted to check every detail including cost. Finally, the deal was set. I wasn’t sure what we were getting, but we did have some kind of accommodation reserved. I was still baffled as to why it was necessary to interrupt the director’s meeting and have him personally make the reservations. The best I can guess is that we were doing something slightly out of the ordinary and therefore needed someone’s blessing. At the moment one does not simply walk into a hotel and get a room. Only a few years ago, we could be arrested just for being in town. Five or six years ago, we could have been shot as spies for being here.
Because of the commotion with the church, we had the ruins all to ourselves, except for the people gathered around the metal pagoda that had been brought in the night before. The city had been constructed by the Greeks a few hundred years before Christ. In the years since, it had begun to sink. A few hundred years later, the Romans took over and added structure on top of the Greek structure. In one place one could actually see a Roman styled arched entrance constructed directly over a Greek entrance that had sunk by about ten feet. Over ten next thousand years a major part of the city actually sank beneath the surface of the Black Sea and was lost for the next thousand years before being discovered in this century. The remainder of the city was build over by a Byzantinian culture, which even later was overrun by Tatar people and later by a few more cultures. The Germans had overrun the area for a few years in the early 1940’s. After the war, Stalin, accusing the Tatars of complicity with the Germans shipped most of them (several hundred thousand in number) out of the area with nothing more than the clothes on there backs, and a good many of them died in the process. It seems that Stalin was determined to kill everyone in the area. At one point in history, he took all of the food and starved over 6 million people in this area (What a son of a bitch!). I can see why these people could easily get spooked by outsiders. Excavations had been underway for over fifty years with much work left to be done.
In almost any place one could scoop up a hand full of dirt and find bits and pieces of pottery dating back to the time of Christ and before. The different styles of pottery were as easy to distinguish as the architecture of the different cultures. "This one is Byzantine," Vladimir would remark, brushing away the dust from a piece of pottery he had just picked up. Then scooping up a hand full of dirt and searching its contents he would say, "Ah, here is a Greek piece, probably before ‘Krees’. You can tell from the thickness of the piece and the texture." We strolled around the streets of Khersoneses for another hour, with each turn bringing up another surprise. An early Christian church was tiny with a basement for secret meetings. In the center of Khersoneses was a larger church now undergoing restoration. In this church, St. Vladimir was baptized. He agreed to become Christian as a part of a marriage deal. Money is so tight that restoration is going slow in such structures, with much of the work being done by volunteers.
The sun had set and we realized that we had not eaten since early morning. Also, we needed to make sure the hotel was real. So we set off for the hotel which we could see in the distance. Also, I began to realize how really tired I was. The rooms were a strange blend of opulence and poverty. Our room was actually a two room suit with refrigerator and a cabinet stocked with fine crystal. The cabinet, itself, was of reasonable craftsmanship but it was fitted with drawer pulls that were placed in one of the two holes that had been drilled for the drawer pulls that should have been used. The bathroom was a disaster, having two dirty plastic glasses, pipes that had been taped, tile that had been repaired by daubing bits of mortar on broken pieces, and two postage stamps for towels. The bedroom had fresh flowers and a balcony that was in bad need of paint. The sitting room had a large expensive chair with one of its cushions missing. We would have hot water between 8 and 10 PM. It was as though the room was maintenanced by someone who had not the least bit of skill, perhaps a child from a local grammar school. One thing for sure. When you are in a room like this you know you are a strange and exotic place. I would not want it any other way.
The three of us were big time hungry and to our dismay discovered that the hotel restaurant, like the hotel, was not set up to handle walk ins. We were directed to a pub-like bar behind the hotel. Even though it was attached to the hotel, we had to enter it from behind the hotel. Why it was in this particular place is anybody’s guess, but I was glad it was there. Some how they managed to get food, apparently from the hotel restaurant itself. I cannot remember enjoying a meal as much as I enjoyed the heaping plate of barbecued pork and potatoes and the Ukrainian beer. The friendly waitress and the ambiance of the place made up for the limited menu of four different plates. Although I wouldn’t have you go out of your way to find this particular pub, it was good enough that we returned the next night. We made it back to the room just in time to catch a few minutes of hot water for a shower before bed. The shower was a real challenge. When I turned it on, water sprayed from the side half way across the room. The tub had no shower curtain, so as hard as I tried to avoid it, water went everywhere. It mattered little by this time since Pauline, having showered first, had already left an inch of water on the floor.
The next day began with a bit of negotiating by Vladimir to get breakfast for us. The waitresses in the hotel restaurant were not quite sure how to handle us since we did not fit the bureaucracy. Apparently, learning that in a free market we all work for the customer and that he is the most important part of a business is not so easy to learn coming from a socialistic background. These waitresses were not actually trained to wait on customers, and if anything they seemed a little frightened by us. They were trained to serve n meals to n people who had been prearranged and provided coupons. Not so long ago in this part of the world a customer was simply something to be put up with, a sort of nuisance that went with the job. Whether the customer made a big purchase or not was irrelevant since there wasn’t a whole lot to sell him. The days when people ran to get in a line to buy whatever food was available now seem to be over (the line only meant SOMETHING was available). Now that the customer is calling the shots, strangely enough, there is much more available. When these people finally figure out how much money they can make and that they are sitting on a gold mine, they will become more enlightened. I don’t know how long that will take. The breakfast included oatmeal, juice, coffee, bread and jam.
On our day trip, we passed over the Baidary Pass from which we could see Foros and the southern most tip of Crimea following along the beautiful Southern Crimean coast.. It was in this region where Gorbachev had once maintained a rest home and was actually imprisoned in the last days of his presidency of the Soviet Union. Vladimir had scheduled a trip to a local champagne factory, but like so many other days, we ran short of time. Vladimir and I both seemed to have the problem of too much interest in details of each piece of art and architecture that kept us in each place longer than we had originally planned. I was fortunate in that Vladimir seemed to be following the WWT rules without even knowing them. We proceeded on to a church high in the mountains,. after negotiating a washed out road that ultimately halted us altogether. The church, still under reconstruction, was attended by a lady who had been restoring the paintings inside for almost six years. From this place one could see for a hundred miles in both directions. If God would ever be proud of a church, he would certainly love this place. We continued on to the top of the mountain where we had a lunch cheburekis, a more or less typical tartar food., a pastry that contained ground pork
Afterwards we drove to the town of Alupka, which though itself was 1000 years old, served as home for Vorontsov’s palace and park, a cross between a medieval fort, a Turkish palace, and an English Mansion. The architect was Edward Blore, an Englishman who was also a designer of Buckingham Palace and Sir Walter Scotts castle in Scotland. (That explains it all.) As we entered the fort walls, we were met with the disappointment that the Castle was closed for the day. Actually, Vladimir was more disappointed than the rest of us who were in awe simply walking around outside. I guess only he knew what we were missing inside. As we took pictures from the rear and gazed inside through glass windows, Vladimir excused himself with the idea he could get inside somehow. I could only hope he would not land us in jail. After about ten minutes he returned and motioned for us to follow him. We went to the rear of the palace where Vladimir banged on the huge wooden door. He looked at me and said, I can’t promise anything, but I will try. I looked at him and said, "Vladimir, if you get us in here I will finally know that you can walk on water." A crack appeared in the door and a short heavy set lady peered out at us. Damned if she didn’t recognize him!
After some hugs and a brief discussion she gave us a personal tour, showing us rooms used by Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and others. We wondered among fine paintings and sculptures by the masters, a piano that had been played by Stravinsky (or was it Checouski?), and a fountain room that we had viewed from the outside. The tourists outside strained to see who had been given entry..... royalty, no doubt.
After an hour in the palace we were again in overload. We all wanted more time at Khersoneses, so we headed back to Sevastapol.
Sevastapol is the place where the British, in the Crimean war, staged the famous "Charge of the Light Brigade". Some idiot general ordered his men to a suicide charge. Somehow they still managed to win the war.
Again our day had been so full that we had eaten little since breakfast. Seeing the market place and hundreds of little ole ladies with truckloads of cherries, other fruits, and vegetables drew us in. Cherries were in season, so we bought a few kilograms of two kinds of cherries. We strolled around Khersoneses eating cherries from the bag for several hours. In a hundred years an archeologist is going to be amazed at all the cherry trees that sprung up in the ancient city. Khersoneses is the kind of place in which one can feel so much history and art that one does not like to leave. It’s like the town is still be alive with the spirits of a thousand years of Greek and Roman inhabitants, followed by a few other cultures that had walked these streets. Only one thing could persuade me to leave this magnificent place, the thought of a cool Ukrainian beer sliding down my throat when we would return to the hotel.
On Saturday, we returned to the Simferopole airport to head back to Kiev. The only available seats were in business class and we had elected to take them and pay an extra 40 Gryvna (about $20). We were seated around a table. After everyone was boarded, the four seats opposite us were still empty. The flight attendant then told us that we would be joined by Members of the Ukrainian Parliament. Four gentlemen arrived. After take off to our surprise an elaborate meal was served. When drink time came, we all selected non alcoholic drinks. The four men chose vodka and the flight attendant left a liter of it on the table. After finishing a good part of the bottle, these men began to sing, and I might add, they were quite good. They got louder and louder, one of the men doing a solo part with unbelievable volume and clarity, which would have been irritating if his voice had not been near that of a professional opera singer. Vladimir explained that this was quite common place, and the songs they were singing were traditional.
We were met by Irina, Vladimir’s daughter, who had commandeered on of her companies vans. She said that the van actually belonged to the American embassy. I don’t know if she was joking or not. Her company arranges business deals with American companies. She told us that she had managed to get tickets for the ballet for that night. We still had a few hours to do some last minute shopping and sightseeing on foot, so we ventured into places up and down the main Kreschatik Street. We had yet to find the main post office which we knew was somewhere on this street. Some of the places we looked into wondering if it was a post office included; the subway, a movie theater, the phone company, and a government building of some other type. A truly different experience is having no idea what is inside a store without going in and looking around.
Realizing that this was our last chance at souvenirs along this street, we bought a few sets of the boxes that successively fit inside each other, and a few other carved objects that caught our eyes. Clearly, it was much more fun to shop on the street than inside the stores. These people had learned who the customer is. A little old man sat on the side of Independence square carving a flute. As soon as he saw my interest, he put the flute to his lips and began to play a beautiful song. Then he proudly showed me his initials carved in the side of the flute. The flute sits in my living room, but to this day, I cannot make it produce the beautiful sounds he did so easily.
I had left my city map in the hotel room, so we had to rely on our familiarity to find our way around. We had decided to head back to St. Andrews Cathedral, which we had admired the first day. While searching for it we discovered another monastery that we had not seen before. We ultimately became lost and did not find St. Andrews Cathedral (Later when looking at a map, I discovered that we were within 100 meters of it at one point) After a few blocks we found our way back to the main street with about an hour left before Vladimir was to pick us up for the ballet, . we bought a nights supply of the sweetbread that was sold by little ole ladies who had just finished baking it, and we returned to the hotel.
The performing arts center is one of the designs that I have only seen in books. The halls are decorated with exquisite chandeliers, and sculptures of famous composers. The performance hall is long and narrow with about four levels of box seats lining the walls. The performance was Berlioz’ "Symphonie Fantastique". I had recently studied this very symphony in a music appreciation class and was excited to see the real thing in production. The symphony contains an unusual combination of ballet, choral, and symphony orchestral music. In the seats around me were strange and unusual sounds. This was the first time since I had been in Ukraine that I saw other Americans and heard normal English (except between Pauline and me).
After the ballet, we strolled around the streets, sampled our last Ukrainian beer and headed back to the hotel. Just as we entered the hotel room, a fireworks display began in full view of our balcony. We realized that this must be the grand phenole to the Youth Day Parades we had watched earlier in the day. We watched in awe one of the most spectacular displays of color and fire I had ever seen, with as many as three or four bombs exploding simultaneously and continuously for at least 15 minutes. Almost never had I seen so much magic in such a short period of time.
The next day came too soon. Vladimir and Natasha picked us up at 9 AM. We still had a few hours left and Vladimir was determined to show us everything in Kiev. We had missed a few things, so off we went. Our first stop was the St. Vladimir Cathedral, which we had seen only from the outside until today. Since it was Sunday, the church would surely be open. I always have a bit of nervousness going into a church in progress in a foreign country. One never knows when one is going to violate some rule. In many churches of this type, it is not unusual for people to mill around the church as the service proceeds. So I milled around, attempting to look as much as possible as the others who were milling around and looking as reverent and respectful as possible. Nevertheless, it always has to happen at least once, a fau paux, that is. A little ole lady started motioning to me with a frown. Finally, she figured out that I was not Ukrainian and that I was with Vladimir. So she explained that I should not hold my hands behind my back. It was disrespectful.
Next we headed for Babiyar, a monument commemorating the murder of a few hundred thousand Jews during world war II. A larger than life sculpture depicts a large number of people being shoved in horror over a cliff. At the top of the sculpture, a women, hands bound behind her is falling backward as her child clings hopelessly to her breast. These people were herded up to the edge of a trench, shot, shoved into the trench and covered with dirt, layer by layer until over 200,000 were buried. The soviets denied the event ever occurred until a few years ago, when the truth could no longer be kept quiet. While I found the sculpture extremely moving, it is not acceptable to the Jews, since it implies that the atrocity was felt by all of the people, not just Jews. Someday, they hope a truly Jewish sculpture will replace the one that is currently in place.
After a few more stops at monuments and churches, our last stop before heading for the airport was the outdoor folk museum, a collection of homes from the various cultures around Ukraine. Old wooden churches, windmills, and ordinary dwellings are inhabited by people dressed in the traditional clothes. After walking over the area, we again realized that it was mid afternoon and we had not eaten since morning so we looked for a traditional eating place. Then from out of nowhere, Vladimir and Natasha ran headlong into an old friend who conveniently worked in the local store and escorted us to a nearby traditional restaurant. As we feasted on Borsch, a group of singers entered and sang for us.
In the airport I regretted not buying more souvenirs, so I finished filling my bag in the tax free store. With little delay, we were on a DC10 headed back to London.
Another associated story on a different level.
Folded into the story was a second story that deals not with travel, but with people, psychology, and craziness. This story is a prime example of how much people will give up just to be "right". I will tell it in such a way that it can be separated from the rest of the story.
I have another lady friend, let’s call her Kelly. She happens to be a scientist and I have known her, even worked with her for about 10 years. A few years back, when Pauline and I had significant others other than each other, Kelly became a close friend of Pauline, dropping in on her quite frequently and joining Pauline and her fellow, who is also a scientist, lets call him Tom. In the process of the friendship, Kelly began a little hanky panky with Tom. Actually, it was more than just a little hanky panky; she went to bed with him on more than one occasion. Pauline was totally oblivious to this, especially since she knew that Tom already had an affair in progress with another lady, let’s call her Dana. Eventually, things between Pauline and her man decayed to the point that they split up and Tom immediately solidified his relationship with Dana and went public. Since Pauline had already known about this for years, the knowledge was more devastating to Kelly than to Pauline. At this point Kelly became very close to Pauline, ultimately confessing her betrayal and indiscretions with Tom. To everyone’s surprise, Pauline quickly forgave Kelly and became friends with her, ultimately moving into a condo only a few doors away from Kelly’s. But for reasons that were not too clear, the relationship between Pauline and Kelly decayed. It all seemed to begin when Kelly and Tom entered into a terrible argument and Kelly wrote a derogatory letter to Tom’s boss accusing him of harassing her. Kelly was apparently surprised when Pauline would not support her in this argument. One thing led to another and Kelly then perceived that Pauline was going talking behind her back and attempting to alienate her from her friends. At this point Kelly vowed not to speak to Pauline again or even to acknowledge her existence. Now what does this have to do with Kiev? And where do I come in?
I have attempted to maintain a friendship and a professional relationship with Kelly and on numerous occasions have attempted to help her in her profession, since I am some years senior to her. This has become more and more difficult with time, especially when we go to some of the same social functions, she wants to speak with me, but refuses to acknowledge the presence of Pauline who is always with me. On several occasions I made attempts to resolve whatever was between them. On several occasions Pauline attempted to reduce the tensions by calling and seeking some sort of truce. Kelly never responded to any such attempts.
Now Vladimir enters the picture. Vladimir and I became close friends, almost from our first meeting six years ago in Bogota, Columbia. We had actually communicated professionally even in Soviet times and now we communicate often. We have worked together had fun times together and have stayed in each others homes several times. I have introduced him to many of my friends over the past years, and now we have worked an arrangement for him to come and work in my company for at least a year. When he first told me of the conference in Kiev, I mentioned it to Kelly and ultimately sent the announcement and call for papers to her, since I knew she might be interested in attending. When she told me that she planned to attend, I went somewhat out of my way to offer her opportunities to get to know Vladimir better, since I knew he could and would help her meet people and make arrangements in Kiev if he knew her better. She wisely accepted the opportunity, having lunch with us, picking him up and delivering him to the airport on two occasions when I could not, and even helping look for some used equipment for his laboratories in Columbia.
About eight months before the Kiev trip, Vladimir and I discussed optimum dates for the Kiev meeting and he ultimately selected a date that would allow me to bring Pauline with me, a date just after her school was out that would allow us to make a brief stopover in England where she owns a house. About two months before the Kiev trip I told Kelly that I was planning to take Pauline with me so she would be aware of the situation that would exist in Kiev. Kelly became extremely upset with this news and attempted to persuade me to leave Pauline behind. Pauline made one final attempt at a truce at least for the duration of the trip. At one point Kelly, herself, informed me that she would not go to Kiev. When Kelly learned that Vladimir would visit me a few weeks before the Kiev meeting, she retracted her statement and informed me that she was still going and insisted on seeing him. So I arranged some time when the three of us were together and offered her the opportunity to drive him to the airport. She did.
I finally had to tell Vladimir what was going on. Apologetically, I told him that we would have to keep the two ladies apart in Kiev. Unfortunately, having not been aware of this situation he had been assuming that we could easily do things together in Kiev with both ladies. Is this getting too complicated?
Kelly arrived in Kiev a day before Pauline and my arrival. Vladimir picked her up and proceeded to take her to the hotel. Almost from the beginning problems developed because she had come unprepared. To start with, for one reason or another, she did not have a hotel reservation. As we have seen, hotel reservations are not something to be taken for granted in the current state of Ukraine. To complicate matters further, she was somewhat picky when it came to price and quality of hotel. So they spent several hours attempting to meet everyone’s constraints. Then when they did find a suitable hotel that would make them a reservation, she had no cash. Ukrainians do not understand travelers checks nor will they accept them. So Vladimir rescued her and paid for her hotel. He then took her on a tour around Kiev for the rest of the day.
After that, it became a balancing act for Vladimir. He did his best to arrange two different sets of transportation from one place to another. Clearly, a few things were totally impractical. He got us to the Lavra Monastery in two different cars, but we did go around in a single group in the monastery. The whole thing must have look pretty stupid to an onlooker, Kelly going out of her way to talk to everyone except Pauline. At one point Pauline made a gesture to break the ice, but that was not to be. So we continued throughout the day with this strange hostility hanging over the group. It became pretty clear that this sort of environment is not conducive to pleasure.
Unfortunately, Vladimir and I had already mentioned the idea of going to Crimea and Kelly was hot to go. Clearly, this was not something either of us wanted to contend with. So we arranged the trip so that it would not fit with Kelly’s schedule of leaving on Saturday. We would go to Crimea and return too late for Kelly to take her flight out of Kiev. Vladimir still did all he could to help set up Kelly with other meetings and visits in hopes that she would befriend some of the other Ukrainians. He arranged for his associates to meet with her and show her other things in the vicinity of Kiev.
Unfortunately, this was not to Kelly’s liking. For some reason, she apparently felt as though someone owed her a trip to Crimea, regardless of how she was acting, regardless of how difficult her behavior made accommodating her. By the time she returned home to the US she had little concern as to whether or how she would repay the money Vladimir had loaned her. As far as she was concerned, Vladimir had "dumped" her and had not taken care of her in the fashion to which she would like to have become accustomed.
I did learn a lesson from this episode. Unfortunately, Kelly apparently has failed to learn anything. All she knows is that she has been wronged by others. What did I learn?
Before Kiev, I had always made a point to offer Kelly an opportunity to meet foreign friends that visited me, especially those specifically in her profession and when it seemed of value to her. In the weeks after we returned, I had the pleasure of visits by a variety of scientific friends, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Whether I should offer Kelly the opportunity to join us no longer entered my mind.