Monday, March 28, 2005

The Kievan Adventure - or, There and Back Again

Last weekend I went to Kiev with my friend Pavlo to see a Jethro Tull concert. Now you, too, can read the exciting details of our Kievan Adventure...

Two Weeks Before the Show:
Pavlo’s father went to Kiev on business and with the additional, much more important, mission of buying Jethro Tull tickets for Pavlo, me, and some other people who wanted to go to see them play. Unfortunately, he was only able to buy one ticket, which of course went to Pavlo. That left a bit of a sticky situation for the rest of us. (I’m not quite sure what happened to the others, come to think of it) Pavlo’s friend who lives in Kiev was sent on the mission to buy a ticket for me….

The Day Before the Day Before the Concert (Saturday, March 19th):
Pavlo and I went to buy our train tickets. Everything went smashingly. I had to show my passport to buy my ticket, and it was amusing watching the lady try to figure out my last name and Pavlo trying to explain to her that it’s a French name, even though, of course, it wasn’t a French passport.

The Day Before (Sunday, March 20th – which is actually really the day of, since we left at night)
Maria wanted to have a ‘Ukrainian Lunch’, which was lovely, it’s just that when you come home from church at 1:30 and still have verenicke (Ukrainian version of perogys, little dumpling things filled with potato or cheese or other things - small furry woodland creatures, for example), borscht, and these crepe things called nalisnicke to make from scratch, you’re not going to be sitting down to eat very soon. (We also had a visiting theology professor from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota – he’s actually Ukrainian, from Kiev, but has been at St. Thomas for a couple years now. Anders, his name is Pavlo Gavrilyuk, heard of him? He’s a pretty interesting guy, and he got us into some extended political and theological conversations.) Anyway, I finally dragged myself away from the table and threw my things together and ran out the door to meet Pavlo and catch the train….

The First Night Train:
I’d never been on a night train. Actually, this was only the fourth time I’d ever been on a train in my life, period (above ground, that is - well, excluding the L, that is). Us Americans, you know, at least Midwesterners, we don’t ride trains very much! I think my family rode this tourist train in Wisconsin once when I was little, I think I saw a picture of myself on it once, but I don’t remember riding it. (Do you have memories like that, too? Where you’re not sure whether it’s an actual memory or you’ve just been shown the photo so many times it’s turned itself into a memory in your head?) Anyway, trains to me scream, ‘Europe!’ (I have to keep telling them that it’s not my name and, anyway, why do they have to keep screaming it?) This particular train reminded me of scenes from Harry Potter. There were these rooms with four beds in them (a coupé), two up, two down, and the lower two had storage space under them. There was a window, and a little table.

Our train left at 9:30pm Sunday night. I was happy to find that our roommates were two sweet older ladies (not whatever ruffians I’d half-imagined to find riding the rails at such hours!) They give you a mattress that you roll out and a pillow and you pay a couple dollars for a nice little set of sheets, a towel, and a Kleenex packet. We had the upper two bunks. I actually slept pretty well, the ‘rhythm of the rails is all I need,’ as Woody Guthrie put it in the ultimate train song, ‘City of New Orleans’ (or was it Arlo? I always forget). It was actually the stops during the night that woke me up the most – around 4:30 we stopped for quite awhile and I lay awake a little bit, lazily wondering if perhaps we were about to get robbed and our bodies buried deep in a pine forest to be found years later. But then the train started again and I went back to sleep.

The Next 12 Hours:

Who out there remembers the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Okay, hands down. I know I read it as a child, but all I remember now is the series of ‘Fortunately…’ and ‘Unfortunately…’ sentences describing Alexander’s roller coaster of a day. (If some of you remember more of it, particularly the ending or any actual events of the day, do share!) At any rate, that book kept coming to mind while we were in Kiev….

Unfortunately, Pavlo hadn’t been able to get a hold of his friend who was supposed to buy me a ticket to the concert, which didn’t mean he hadn’t gotten one, but I was taking the chance that even if he hadn’t been able to get one, I’d be able to buy one from scalpers before the show, if necessary. Fortunately, Pavlo and I both had cell phones with us, as well as access to email at the train station in Kiev, so we had many ways of trying to get in touch with his friend once we were there to see if he had a ticket for me. Unfortunately, Pavlo had forgotten to charge his phone that day, so it would only stay on for a few seconds before dying. Fortunately, I had the guy’s cell number in my phone already since we had been trying to call him the day before. Unfortunately, (is this getting annoying yet? :) this number never seemed to work, as it would always either yield a busy signal or a ‘this number is not available at this time’ message, which here you get if their phone isn’t on since there isn’t voice mail here. But FORTUNATELY, Pavlo’s phone decided to turn on long enough for him to read a text message from his friend saying that he had a ticket for me! Then the task was just going to be to find the guy and get the ticket. And for that we had a good ten hours to go yet.

So we went to the Internet café in the train station and emailed him (Plan A). Then we had breakfast at this Ukrainian fast food place where I had the equivalent of McNugget Tater Tots, only they seemed to be made of much more substantial potatoes than your average school lunch tater tots. So that was nice and then we continued on our quest to get a hold of Dmytro and get the ticket. First we tried to call him from a pay phone instead of from my cell phone (Plan B). But it wasn’t working and we weren’t sure we were doing it right, so we ran around the train station to find someone who knew the fine art of calling a cell phone from a pay phone (Plan C). (I should note that this train station was larger than some small towns in Wisconsin, so there was a fair amount of learning our way around that was necessary, as well as all kinds of services available. By the end of the day I felt sure I could survive there quite happily for several days.) This method failing to yield results, we went to Plan 4, which involved trying to get his cell phone charged so that we could discover Dmytro’s other phone number hiding in his addressbook. Luckily the ubiquitous mobile phone kiosk was in the business of charging people’s phones for a small fee (is this a great country, or what!) and, when Pavlo’s charger ended up being broken, the kiosk lady even had one that worked with his phone! So we left his phone to charge and decided to attempt to accomplish our other mission for the day, to visit Petrivka market and buy cheap cd’s and dvd’s, particularly for a friend whose birthday was the next day (Plan Є).
This installment of the journey required riding the infamous Kievan Metro, deepest subway in the world (well, at least in Ukraine, which is all that matters :). Having accurately navigated transferring lines and avoiding getting sucked into the end of the speedy escalators, we emerged, blinking, into daylight only to find that the entire Petrivka market is closed on Mondays. *Sigh*
Plan ה (there sure are a lot of alphabets in this ‘special characters’ thing!): Try calling Pavlo’s dad to find out where another cool audio/video store is in town. He didn’t answer. Plan ك (I think that’s Arabic): Go back to the train station (home!) and check email again and see if Dmytro had written back. Back down into the subterranean depths of Kiev (which is actually where most of the life in the city takes place, we discovered), back past the accordian player who was making the most of the subway tunnel acoustics. Back to the mobile phone kiosk lady to see if the phone was charged enuf to get the other number off it. It was done charging so we tried calling his other number and, thank God, he answered! We arranged to meet him at his work place in a couple hours, which meant that we could then move on to Plan #42, which was LUNCH. We had a lovely little picnic in one of the waiting areas and chilled a little before making the trek to the TV station where Dmytro worked.
Plan #6,351: Taxi to TV station, go past the fancy gate and guard, take out the phone to ring Dmytro and, guess what, he’s calling us! So he came down, we did the ticket handoff, exchanged a few pleasantries, found out where else we could buy cd’s, and trekked back off to the nearest Metro station.

Metrograd: The Mall of America – underground
The place Dmytro sent us to by cd’s was in this underground mall. They sold everything you’d think to find in a mall, from clothes, to furniture, books, cosmetics, electronics, staircase railings, light fixtures – only there weren’t a lot of walls to get in the way, delineating stores. It was kind of like IKEA, only everything was closer together, and probably less cheaply made (and did I mention it was underground?). I was excited to find a lovely little English bookstore, but I talked myself out of buying anything I thought I could get cheaper at home. The cd/dvd store didn’t have a very large selection, and it was pretty pricey, but we managed to pick up a birthday present (the cartoon Asterix in Britain). We grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to brave the windy streets of the planet’s surface again.

Kritika, Home of the Ukrainian Intelligentsia:

When Pavlo was in Kiev during the Orange Revolution, he frequently visited the Kritika offices. Kritika is the Ukrainian equivalent of the New York Review of Books. His dad often writes for their publication and Pavlo does some occasional translating for them. It was another small miracle that we found the place, since we asked at least seven people who had no idea where the street was that the office was on (my favorite was the street vendor lady who said, You know people keep asking me where that street is and I have no idea!). It was really cool to go there. I felt like I was in 1920’s New York hob-nobbing with…you know, people it would have been cool to hob-nob with in 1920’s New York! The bonus was that Pavlo got paid for a translation so he suddenly had a lot of money to spend on, say, outrageously expensive fruit juice at the concert.

THE CONCERT (Drum roll, please!)

After getting through a minor Ukrainian bottleneck in the Metro, we popped out at the pleasantly not-crowded theatre. It was quite a snazzy place, complete with multiple chandeliers and multiple wine and cognac bars in the lobby. Pavlo hit the merchandise table and picked up a Tull scarf before we headed in for the show. It was quite a nice performance space, for a second I thought I was in the old Oscar Meyer Theater (*tear*).

We didn’t have seats together, but we each thought the seat we had was the best. I was on an aisle in the left-hand section, so I could see everything without any heads in the way. The three-piece-suited usher/guards did their best to keep people from doing anything crazy (including take photos with their cell phones – it was amusing to watch them chasing down the little glowing screens), but during the last few songs people came up to the front and filled the aisles and it was cool. (It made me miss the Terrace L) It was a really good show, with a mix of older and newer songs, including some pieces from solo albums.

Our last miracle of the night happened after the show when we went back to see if any of the band members were going to come out and sign autographs or anything. Unfortunately, no band members came out (one of the guards gave the lame excuse that he had to get home to his family, therefore Ian Anderson couldn’t come out), but there were these big white balloons with the Tull silhouette symbol on them that they had thrown out for the audience to bounce around at the end of the show and when we were walking dejectedly back out of the theater we saw a guy standing with one of the balloons and I was like, let’s take a picture, so Pavlo walks over toward the guy with the balloon. Suddenly, the balloon pops, so we nonchalantly grabbed the remains and walked away!

We rounded the night out with a little midnight verenicke (my first with cherry filling – mmm!) at the other fast food place in the train station before, very sleepily, boarding the train for home and crawling into our bunks, with visions of Ian Anderson dancing in our heads.

What a fantastic, wonderful, very good, not-bad-at-all day!

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