Saturday, September 27, 2003

With many different variables for dates, people, and locations we got our act together in time to put together a great time away from Kiev. Alex, Daria, and I boarded a train Wednesday afternoon and by Thursday morning we arrived in Simferopol. Alex explained to me that it is customary to drink on the train when leaving Kiev to wash the troubles away kind of thing. Well, Daria and I must not have completely filled Alex in on our plan not to drink for the duration of the travels, and I obliged him at the train station by getting one-half liter of beer for myself. He started with a liter at that point. Until he met the colonel that is. In our cabin the fourth was an army officer going for some purpose not explained to me or perhaps anyone. Anyway he shared Alex's sentiments percisely and the two of them happily drank together for a number of hours. Daria and talked while then got a good nights rest proving to be a wiser decision with as much weight as we were going to accustom ourselves too the following day. To his credit Alex didn't once complain about his state of being until some days later when he commented the first day was a bit tough.

We left the train and caught a Marchutca to the foot of the hill leading to the Red Caves. A Marchutca is one of the answers to the questions of public trasportation. There is a growing need for mass transportation, and in addition to the existing trolleybus lines and metros that exist in various cities; to this point, I think Kiev is the only city in Ukraine with a metro. So Marchutcas are 15 to 30 passenger vehicles that run on either the same route as other public transportation or they run on their own route. The cost from 50 Kopeks to 2.50 Hrynhia, depending on the length of the journey. They can drive between towns and are often quite fast as a way of transport. Many people like Alex, think buses and the metro are too crowded. Marchutcas are however more expensive, and all of these mentioned modes of transport are significantly cheaper than having a car. Gas prices are on the rise here also.

There we were looking up towards the Red Caves. We repacked our bags with the fresh fruit, meat, and bread we found in Simferopol and we began our trek into the mountains. The first weather report I heard was on our second to last day heading back into Simferopol and it was 22C or about 76. This was fortunately our weather for the entire week. We didn't check the weather before we left; I suppose this was figguring we couldn't do much about it anyway, or another thought would be that my company doesn't put a lot of effort into forethought. They don't know the answer to the occasional question that I assume people always know. I normally operate with a strong base of information day to day, but that has changed being here. I ask different questions, and I don't have the same concerns. With the thought that I won't melt when I get wet, and put more clothes on when I'm cold I've pretty much stopped worrying about the weather. That, and it has been fairly consistent here for the duration of my stay in Ukraine day to day. Over the last two months obviously it has gotten cooler, but it has gradually happened.

After enough time to build up a great sweat we fould ourselves looking at the fork in the road pointing to the Red Caves and in the other direction a waterfall. With the idea that we might go from the caves to a higher altitude we went for the waterfall first. In very unconventional American Style I donned my birthday suit for a refreshing friggid dip in the mountain water. This is something I can honestly say has been a cultural exchange. If people here are as judgemental as I always thought they were in the states, I've missed it. The first boating trip that I went on we were sailing along, and then it the time came to throw a line off the back and pull people along. One by one I watched the members of our company strip down and jump off the back. I was not so bold in this moment, and jumped in with my bathing suit on. When we got to the island that we were to camp on we all went swimming and the same thing happened. "Let's go swimming," announced, clothes off. So, while in Rome. I have begun to associate swimming with the absence of clothing. It's kind of nice not waiting for a bathing suit to dry...

After our wonderful dip we regathered ourselves and headed for the Red Caves. They were wonderful. The caves have been forming for many thousands of years, and the highlight of the venture inside the mountain was seeing the mushroom like formation, I cannot remember what the appropriate name for it is, stalagomite? It was naturally quite damp and cool in the cave, I'd say comfortable. After the caves we headed up the mountain in a rather strenuous path to find our first nights camp. It was really great to eat the BBQ meat we prepared that night. It was quite delicious...

I'll need to continue this at another point because the keyboard's shift button sticks every time I press it, and it is quite maddening. It's a little difficult to switch machines with such poor Russian. So, until then...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Oh, la la. It has been some time. So many thing have happened in the last two weeks. Alex, Daria, and I went to Crimea for a wonderful week of warm weather, mountain hiking and beach bumming. I've been playing a lot of chess. I've gone on another boat trip; although, I see as I scroll through my blog I didn't write about the first one. I've been in a frenzy of activity and cultural exchange, and now is not even the right time to go into much of it because I have to firm up details for my upcoming transition to India via Germany. Perhaps tomorrow I will execute the grand description of what life has thrown my way the last several weeks. So much to say. Mom, I'm still alive.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I think it is pretty funny that an American can teach Ukrainians about local music. There is a group called pyatnizza. I was exposed to them in Nikolaev by Gregory and some friends of his from Germany. There were in town having come from Kazantip.

Sidenote: Kazantip is a growing festival in Crimea, which unlike most other festivals lasts a month. It is on the beach, and everyone has an amazing time. Opening and closing ceremonies tip about 30,000; however, any given day the festival hosts about 4,000 music loving sun-worshippers. There is even a stage called stonehenge. You can Serge and Gregory's site at Yet another amazing cast of characters I've met in my travels. Good Folks.

So, here I arrive in Kiev, and I'm asking Alex and Daria to help me find this CD. I got one of their discs before leaving Nikolaev, and I gave it to Gregory as a thank you for his help during my time there. At a kiosk in the metro I was able to find another copy; Not before asking at five places or better. They're relatively unknown around these parts. Sergei, Gregory's friend from Hamburg, told me about their story. It goes that they were near Kazantip playing, on the beach or something of the like. It could have been anywhere, they're two guys with one guitar. They have amazing harmony and apparently humorous lyrics in Russian and Ukrianian. So, the organizer for the festival heard them playing, and he was either in a bind or astonished because he invited them to play on the mainstage. From there a producer heard them, and he asked whether they would like to go to Moscow to play around in different venues. They cut a disc, and I think now their trying to explode. The three of us here have listened to this disc many times, and Alex and Daria's friends also like their Reggae flavor. It's quite something to introduce this to them.

I can't speak entirely for the accuracy of the above; however, Sergei was dubbed foreign minister of Kazantip, so I have pretty good faith in his knowledge of this matter. Regardless, yet another person has exposed me to great music. Music is something I've given a good bit of thought about lately because it's very comfortable. I have been listening to music on the metro. Daria and I have typically been going to the office at different times. I love having slow mornings with some reading or tea or stretching, or my absolute most favorite of late, chess.

Alex and I have discovered wonderful chess opponents in one another. He taught himself through books in childhood. Both his father and grandfather are also players. There is a chess clock that belonged to his grandfather, but it is in ill-repair. He doesn't seem to have much interest in speed chess. Speed chess is a great game to talk some shit and have a lot of fun. The real game lies in sitting hovered over a table with bad posture, in my case twitching my leg, a nice cup of tea, and figuring out how best to annhilate your opponent. There is an amazing beauty watching a strategy executed. Pieces coordinate with one another harmoniously on 64 squares. Alfred Carlin always told me look at every square on the board, something is happening on each one. When you're able to encompass all of the board one's game expands exponentially.

We were talking yesterday over our games about blindfold chess. He said it has always been an interest of his to learn to play the game without pieces or a board. Imagine two people without a chess board, pieces, or even a table for that matter. Tell me your move, and I'll tell you mine in return. 64 squares, 32 pieces, 16 pawn, 4 rooks, 4 knights, 4 bishops, 2 queens, 2 kings, 2 opponents, and no material to speak off. That is an incredible game. Alex talking about this reminded me of a grandmaster. I may mispeak by saying it was Capablanca that played a simultaneous exhibition (where one person plays multiple opponents simultaneously) against 20 opponents. That in itself was a feat, but that there was a sheet between himself and his opponents is the really difficult part to grasp. He played 20 opponents at the same time without seeing any of the boards. All of his opponents had the pieces in front of them, and I remember correctly none of them won, with perhaps some draws. Walking in the park playing a game of chess makes walking and chewing gum sound like childsplay.

I have threatened before to return to the game of chess, competitively. Seeing how much I'm passionate about this amazing game has confirmed that I want to accomplish more. Sitting at a table with some for hours and hours struggling to topple each other in a single game is an incredible experience. I had the discpline before, and I think this time to figure out who I am has returned me to that same desire to learn and play and laugh. You've never heard language like you do when two people are having an all out slugfest on the board.

I went to Shevchenka park the other day where much like my beloved Washington square park there is a chess circle. Except this is an imperfect circle. People are everywhere. There are twice or three times as many people as I usually saw in New York. Chess is a national past time here, and they love it. And, the trash talk is the same. I didn't understand all of it. However, there is a phrase I learned while at the beach in Ochakov. Irina, Polly's homestay mom taught me to say, "A Sto Dee-a-let." Essentially, it means what to do. It's very akin to a personal favorite English idiom, "What I'm gonna do?" So, they say it in the park; we say it in the park, and you can hear it all over the city.

If you finish the phrase with "A Camoo Seechas Lighko?" You're saying, "who has it better than you." Everyone laughs when I say it. It must be my southern twang that comes out when I try to speak foreign languages.