Yesterday, Tobi and Patricia arrived in Kiev from Moscow. Their journey began in Latvia a while ago. After stopping over in St. Petersburg to stay with our friend Danilla, they then took the train to Moscow. I must say that it’s lovely to have another lady around and they’re such agreeable holiday mates. After giving them a quick breakfast, we headed to Larissa and Vladi’s datcha for a relaxing day. The datcha is about 12 km away from the city. The harrowing drive (I can not imagine any tourist renting a car and giving the unwritten rules of post-soviet roads a go) led us past elegant looking high-rises and massive supermarkets. As we got nearer the holiday home, however, the streets got shabbier and the houses were one-family constructions. Vladi and Larissa’s datcha is large and covered in siding. Bars on the window and doors and an alarm system keep it safe in their absence. The security features aren’t as harsh-looking as the description may imply. Behing the garden is a quite large shed; about the size of what I’d been expecting. When Tobi suggested that this was their shed, I said that I thought it may be someone else’s datcha. Larissa soon opened it’s doors however and revealed a number of lounge chairs and plastic garden chairs. Vladi was meanwhile unzipping a tent which covered a large table with benches, surrounded by mosquito netting. There was an outdoor toilet with a lino floor that wasn’t too bad at all. Hands could be washed from a spigot where hand soap lay next to the bucket, which collected our grey water, which was then used to water Larissa’s incredible garden.
The temperature was chillier than it had been and the sky was alternatively cloudy and sunny. The others had a quick swim in the Nieper, which is meant to be cleaner away from the city, but I found the air to be too cool for that. The river was reached by a 10 minute walk along the road-side and the adrenaline rush of crossing said road was as invigorating as a dip in cold water, I suspect. The fellas got draft beers at a stand along the way and other than the large billboard for a tiling company (picturing a woman wearing over-alls with no shirt and a hard-hat) the way was quite rustic.
We had an insanely massive lunch, a lovely nap in the garden and some really stimulating conversation around the outdoor dining table. I tried to help Larissa as best I could in preparing and washing up. My first attempt at offering help was met with her turning her head and shouting to Vladi “Vlad, Jessica is trying to tall me something and I don’t understand it.” (Or so it had sounded to me.) The rest of our interactions were done with small attempts at using words that were common in our languages or that we’d already learned (Larissa took a German course years ago, but the knowledge has lapsed without practice. My Russian knowledge is based, of course, on 2 weeks of holidays in Russian-speaking countries.) Things like “Sol” and “Paprika” being offered while I was preparing vegetables for grilling were easy. Compliments like “schön” while drying a lovely tea cup were appreciated. Otherwise we worked silently and with a number or gestures to denote what we wanted or needed.
Larissa is an amazing orator. When she speaks, it’s always with passionate inflection and an amazing cadence. One can often follow the general meaning of what she’s saying if a few words can be caught. You only need to hang on, as her speech arches and drops, to understand what she’s talking about. Then you need Ivo to clarify that she’s referring to the “singing underpants” that were apparently featured in Eurovision. She’s already let you know what she thought of them. In other pronouncements, Vladi’s response of “let’s not talk about politics” (indicated by tone and the Ukrainian word for politics’ similarity to English) and Ivo’s lack of translation let’s one know that the soliloquy was likely something anti-american or mildly conspiracy-based. (I discovered that after pressing for translation a few times.) At lunch, she said that Ukraine was falling apart before it’d ever really become a true nation. When I answered that many countries are falling apart at the moment, she said that America would never fall apart because there are too many truly patriotic people there. This didn’t feel like a compliment.
Last night, we went to the nearby bar “Nirvana”. The wait-staff all wear T-shirts from the band Nirvana and the walls are papered with posters of American groups. The football was only shown in the basement (above ground a TV was showing America’s Funniest Home Videos.) We had an assortment of Ukrainian snacks and were pleased when the surrounding viewers all showed themselves to be Spain supporters. Patricia is particularly passionate about Spanish football, being half Spanish, but did not loudly sing her version of the anthem. When I’d asked her earlier in the afternoon how she feels about the lyricless anthem (there hasn’t been any agreed-upon text since the 1950s and the text up to then was a temporary post-Franco solution) she said that different regions have different word, but that they are often quite rude.
Today we will finally make an attempt at seeing the Lavra. It’s a Sunday so wait times may be long, but I’m confident that we can keep one another entertained. I must say, the more time I spend with Patricia and the more I get to know her the more I like her. I’m quite excited that she and Tobi will be our downstairs neighbors this fall.