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Tale of Three Cities

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    #16
    The Tupolev touched down in Kiev at 14.50 after a 1 hr. 20 min. flight from Moscow. It took twice as long again for those of us who had stayed in the Cosmos to reach our hotel after the coach had done the rounds depositing the plane load of passengers at their various accommodations. There was time only to quickly unpack, refresh and gather in the dining room for dinner before we were due for an evening walk to Revolution Square (later renamed Independence Square). During our stay we all had our meals at the set time as in Moscow, but I don'’t remember anyone missing out at feeding time -– we had been thoroughly drilled (indoctrinated?) so it had become the norm for us.
    The first thing that struck me during our walk was the appearance of the shop windows! I had expected the same as had been evident in Moscow, blank, colourless, giving little clue as to what was to be had inside. But these were lively, the clothes shops had smart garments well displayed, other shops dressed their windows with their attractive wares, it all looked quite prosperous. In my naivety this was something that I found difficult to understand. Agreed, we were in the Ukraine, but it was all part of the USSR and I had assumed that a similar standard of living would be evident at least in the western parts of the Soviet Republics.
    Of the hotel décor I recall the dining room quite well. There presumably existed a much larger, general one because ours was very small and probably just for groups or private parties. Some very attractive tiling decorated the walls, beautifully modelled little plaques that were somewhat out of the ordinary. I wondered whether there were any shops around that might sell something similar for DIY enthusiasts. So when we were out and about several people kept an eye open for tiles for Ivy! But to no avail, unfortunately. Maybe people in the city didn’t DIT?
    Regrettably I was not drawn to Kiev as I had been to Moscow or soon would be to Leningrad. And with only three days in which to explore and a few interesting optional excursions available I decided not to lose out by going off on my own. It was a pleasant enough city in a way, with wide streets, grand squares and several parks. It was also a city of monuments. There were monuments at every corner along the boulevards, or so it seemed, monuments on each piece of slightly higher ground in the parks, or if they ran out of high ground then they built pyramids and massively tall plinths. The displays related to what must surely have been every battle fought in Kiev during WW2, as well as older ones extolling the achievements of the heroic people of Soviet Kiev after the October Revolution. The messages were hammered home from every direction. Some of the monuments, particularly those commemorating battles, were certainly impressive with the multiple figures beautifully sculpted, exuding the strength and determination of the fighters as well as the agony of the wounded.
    During that first evening'’s walk, guided by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable young man, we had paused in one of the parks to look at a particular statue. I think the image was somehow representative of Soviet youth, but can I picture in my mind the details of the statue? No! I have a booklet about Kiev, at least about its numerous monuments, and though I have scrutinised all the photos not one of them jogs my memory -– no eureka feeling. Maybe the statue had too recently been erected to be found in the booklet so, being important, received particular attention from the guide.
    I can see us all standing there gazing up at the figure which was situated atop a flight of wide steps. There we all were, listening to the young man standing to my right half way up the steps as he explained the symbolism. The American I mentioned earlier tried to get a serious conversation going with him on life under the Communist system. The questions asked were all sparked off by what seemed a genuine wish to try and understand.
    But the discussion got nowhere, needless to say, for the young chap had a well memorised answer for everything. The American gave up.
    For the following day that very short list I still have shows that a full programme had been arranged. The morning excursion was a city tour, which would have given me a much better feel for Kiev than I could have achieved wandering the streets in the limited time available. Then in the afternoon we were to go on a river trip and in the evening to dancing at the theatre. I just have no recollection of either, but must have gone to both. I would never pass up on a trip on the water and, assuming that the evening was of national dancing complete with costumes, then that is right up my street.

    Do you know, back somewhere in the early sixties (I can date it closely because my parents moved up to Bungay in 1964 and my father died two years later), my parents and I went to the Theatre Royal in Norwich where the Red Army Choir were appearing. The theatre was jam-packed and seething with excitement because they had such an excellent reputation for their deep, full-throated, powerful voices. And did they sing! Amongst their vocals they must surely have had “Kalinka” for no collection of Russian folk-songs can be complete without it. Also no audience at a live performance can help but join in with the chorus. Who can resist it? Finally, of course they did some superb Cossack dances. Who can resist that, either? The thunder of the applause nearly had the chandeliers down and the encores lasted almost as long as the original concert.
    So yes, I must have gone with the others to that display of dancing at the theatre in Kiev.

    But back to the present, or at least to 1984.
    The following afternoon was earmarked for an excursion to a site that I can picture clearly and that I will never forget. It sears the soul as yet another reminder of what man can do to man. The venue was Babi Yar. I have no wish to detail what it was about for it is well documented online. But if anyone not familiar with it wishes to do a search, make sure you find a straightforward account of the complete story, because many give only what happened at the beginning.
    The site was a deep ravine -– once it was much deeper -– and there at the top on a built-up mound to one side was a memorial to what had happened in the area during WW2. One of our group, wishing to go closer to examine the sculpture, tried to reach it by moving along the top edge of the ravine but was immediately shouted at by someone right over on the opposite side. Not understanding, he hesitated, and was hastily warned by our guide that it was sacred ground. There was silence all round as the guide gave us the facts which I am avoiding here, and the coach back to the hotel afterwards was also pretty quiet.
    Our final day in Kiev was for a morning trip to the Lavra, a complex of above-ground churches and monasteries and underground catacombs housing the mummified remains of monks who had lived there centuries ago, while in the afternoon there would be a visit to the cathedral of St. Sophia. I have faint memories of the interesting catacombs, which resembled a confusing underground maze, but I can recall nothing of the many churches at the site -– because of the lack of time I doubt whether we visited them, anyway. Similarly a search of my memory for images of the afternoon trip to St. Sophia cathedral has drawn a blank. Seeing yet another church could have put a damper on my enthusiasm and memory decided to lose the pics.
    However, our last dinner in Kiev –- ah! What an evening! We had settled happily at our two tables in the little dining room and, sheer coincidence, next to the one I was at sat a wedding party. They had arrived before us, but were still at the speeches stage so we contented ourselves with admiring the bride and her attendants and sizing up the groom. The formal - well, meant to be formal - part over they settled down to chit-chat, jokes, laughter and anticipation of a great evening feasting. Food arriving, they quickly began to tuck in. Then began the toasts. We noticed that after each one all the guests started shouting a single word over and over again until the couple stood up to kiss. Someone timed the duration of each kiss. Yes, each kiss, for this was going to continue throughout the evening. Great shouts went up after each performance and, as we learnt later, its duration was announced. We all began laughing and clapping with the wedding party, learnt the word they were chanting and did our bit to add to the din, while our grins and waves were returned with great bonhomie.
    But we wanted to know what it was that they were all calling out. And what was the custom about? The waitress explained that the word meant “kiss” in English and the couple had to hold the kiss for as long as they could, something to do with how long their love would last. But I have forgotten the word, except that I’m sure it began with the English “v” sound. Searching the web I soon found the wedding custom but could only discover that the word to be shouted out was Gorko and meant “bitter”, implying that the vodka was too bitter and the couple must kiss for as long as possible to take out the bitterness.
    Two somewhat different explanations! However, the American ordered a couple of bottles of something special to be sent over to the party and we all redoubled our efforts for the final toasts. So much laughter and cheers as we became part of the merriment made our final few hours in Kiev very, very memorable.

    And so, tomorrow – ah! Leningrad.
    (to be continued)
    Ivy

    "To thine own self be true.......
    Thou canst not then be false to any man."

    Comment


    • Ralf__
      Ralf__ commented
      Editing a comment
      Wonderful continuation. This was again a story which was producing pictures in my mind without having been there before. I searched a little bit for the statue, but this is quite difficult, especially because a lot of the monuments were erected during these days in the eighties. I looked also out for the description of Babi Yar and was very impressed about the shocking history of this place. I admit that i pay meanwhile less attention to WW2 things having a certain overflow. If you want you can follow in Germany 24/7 to TV channels "working up" these years. It is a large part in history education in school and many families, so also mine, can share personal memories of family members during the war years (either lost, having been in prison for years or expelled from their homes). So maybe it is no surprise, that Babi Yar was new to me and made me speechless.

    • yvneac
      yvneac commented
      Editing a comment
      Still flabbergasted (scotché, in French) at your story Ivy. After the sadness ofBabi Yar , the wedding party is a ray of sunlight.

    • janihudi
      janihudi commented
      Editing a comment
      remarkble how you can recall so many things after all those years.
      beeing there in the time of the iron curtain it must have been a strainge feeling.
      impressive but strainge.
      never heard of Babbi Yar, but i have seen those movies about what was happend in the war, so i think that it was at Babbi Yar.

    #17
    Many, many thanks to the four of you who have been reading my tale and have responded with such appreciation plus remarks on what you have felt while reading it. That makes me feel that you have been at my side all the time. a wonderful sensation.
    I'm writing the Leningrad section and will post it as soon as possible.
    Ivy

    "To thine own self be true.......
    Thou canst not then be false to any man."

    Comment


      #18
      At what time we left the Ukraine I don'’t know, nor when we touched down in Leningrad, but it would have been a slightly longer journey than on our previous city hop, and then the arrival at our various hotels would have pushed the clock hands on still more. So it is no wonder that my small list shows a complete blank apart from the magic name of that city. What is it that sends a small shiver of delight, wonder, almost disbelief up my spine when I see the name board at overseas stations and airports that I have not visited before?

      I remember when I first went to Florence, impelled by the need to tread the streets in the footsteps of Michelangelo and gaze at the buildings that he also had seen. Yes, I had just read Irving Stone’'s The Agony and the Ecstasy and simply had to go! The journey was by train across a France drenched in pouring rain, through the Simplon tunnel (wasn’'t claustrophobic then!), emerging about 7a.m. to find Domodossola station bathed in a clear, bright but gentle dawn. With the engine stopped and nothing but the murmur of distant voices and the occasional slam of a carriage door to interrupt the peace it had been as if I had emerged into another world. Getting out onto the platform to stretch my legs I had looked at the mountain tops jagged against the blue sky, a sky that still had that look of mysterious depth prior to taking on the hard glare with which full daytime sun would cover it. My gaze dropped to my immediate surroundings, to the buildings with their much-faded pastel-painted walls, those distinctive tawny tiles on the low slope of the roofs then, turning, I had gazed back at the dark mouth of the tunnel which had spewed me out into………...... Italy.
      Whistles beginning to blow, I had climbed back into the carriage and the train had started off to destination Pisa, where I was to change for the one to Florence. Finally, gathering my luggage and stumbling out on to the platform, that tingle had coursed rapidly up my spine as I had gazed up at the board –- Firenze. I had to stand there a few moments just to make sure.

      And so now with Leningrad as we touched down. The name boards at the airport had their effect and I did a little dance in my mind as I gazed at them. The hotel was the Moskva in a street turning off the top end of Nevsky Prospekt. What the exterior looked like I have no idea, but my room.... – well, it was not a mere room but more like a mini apartment. It was charming. The door from the corridor opened on to a short passage and a few steps along on the left side was the door into the bathroom. Then at the further end another door opened onto the chintzy little bedroom, a real single room instead of the usual standard décor double. I had phoned my anxious mother from Moscow and Kiev and hopefully convinced her that I was having an excellently enjoyable time, and so now I picked up my phone to book my third and final evening call from the USSR. To my surprise they were able to get straight through there and then. Sounding less anxious, she seemed to have accepted that everything was alright. No doubt my pleasure at having just arrived in Leningrad and delight at my accommodation added that extra note to my voice that convinced her.
      Unpacking for the third and last time in the USSR and having stowed things away in their last temporary home in drawer, wardrobe, shelf and wherever else one puts things in a hotel room (including down the passage into the bathroom), I drew a deep breath, left the building and was one of the folk in the street. I tried to look casual, one of them, knowing exactly where I was and where I was going. But I must have had "“Strange foreign visitor, one of those"” written all over me as I stopped and stared, gazed up and down Nevsky Prospekt trying to decide which direction to take. I had a little wander round during what was left of the afternoon before dinner and discovered a wonderful cemetery not far away. Many people famous in the literary and musical world were buried there and the beautiful marble statuary interspersed with trees and bushes which often made a grave a new, unexpected discovery, half hidden as it was by foliage, deserved a much longer time for study than I was able to allot. You could quite easily spend several hours there searching out the graves of famous writers and composers. I have Googled to try and find the name of the cemetery and, although there are many similar ones in what is now St. Petersburg, I think it was the Tikhvin.
      My mind whirling with countless images I wandered back to the hotel and up to the floor for my room, having collected my key from the very friendly receptionist. I said my room number in English, but decided that I must learn the Russian for its three digits and surprise her next time. The result led to some great fun………......
      (To be continued)
      Ivy

      "To thine own self be true.......
      Thou canst not then be false to any man."

      Comment


      • PoloUK
        PoloUK commented
        Editing a comment
        Lovely writing - as ever - Ivy. It made me think of where I travelled as a much younger man, and how little I thought about the situations I found myself in or the distance from my bit of the world. A few decades later I can't believe how brave we are, or how little we know, before life's complications and experiences hit home.

      • yvneac
        yvneac commented
        Editing a comment
        souvenir,souvenir! Years later, I had a meal at Moskva hotel (guess it has changed) and had a stroll in the cimetaries nearby. They are called Saint Lazare and Tikhvine where you can find the graves of Tchaikovski , Dostoievki and many other Russian celebrities. Thank you Ivy for the continuation of your magical mystery tour in USSR.

      • wherrygirl
        wherrygirl commented
        Editing a comment
        What a surprising coincidence, Yves. Out of all the eating places in the city you went to that one! Yes, reading your comment prompted me to look at the map again and it shows that both the St. Lazare and the Tikhvin are part of the Alexandra Nevski monastery complex. They seem to go in for these gigantic complexes of monasteries, churches, cathedrals and the like - I remember the one in Kiev, except that I can't remember what I saw there! The blurb with the map mentions that both Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky are buried in the latter cemetery, and that certainly rings a bell. The writer will get another mention in my tale later.

      #19
      My thanks to you all for your responses, they really do mean a lot to me. At one point there appeared a faint question in my mind during a despondent moment (they come too frequently), a question of "Why go on when it will all be destroyed in a matter of days". But I hold a compulsion to write and am finding this tale such real fun to share with you that I'll certainly complete it.
      Ivy

      "To thine own self be true.......
      Thou canst not then be false to any man."

      Comment


      • wherrygirl
        wherrygirl commented
        Editing a comment
        I thought you still had a CV group on Facebook? But I have my doubts as to whether it can it be the same kind of thing as a forum. If the CV group doesn't exist, then why wait for J-O to start one? Any of you can.

      • janihudi
        janihudi commented
        Editing a comment
        no, that was very fast over and closed.
        But don't think it would be a busy group either.

      • Ralf__
        Ralf__ commented
        Editing a comment
        J-O is preparing something. I am in contact with him. Stay tuned, we will soon know more.

      #20
      We have now a group on Facebook:
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/710689052996688/about/

      Please join us and keep this thing alive on another platform!
      Lofoten '07 ...... Nordnorge '11

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