Friday, June 05, 2009

Another busy 24 hours since last I wrote.

We started the day with breakfast downstairs. Lots of Americans on a tour of some sort. The owner of these apartments is from New York, so far all he seems to do is sit in the courtyard and chat with various shady looking guys. J and I call him the host with the most, because he's not. He barely makes eye contact when we walk through. Possibly we're of no interest to him because we're not here for a girl. Maybe I'm misjudging him, maybe not.

Anyway, then we booked a car, a taxi, to take us to the cemetary. We picked up mum's friend and her sister, our main hosts and tour guides for this trip, on the way. We went to the Jewish Cemetary where my grandfather on mum's side, her father, is buried.

I'm not a big fan of cemetaries in general (as opposed to all those people who are!) but this one is a good example of what is wrong with this place (i.e. the Ukraine). On the one hand you have these very elaborate headstones, huge slabs of polished granite with the deceased's face etched at the top (though this is apparently against Jewish custom), following by the dates and inscription. Some have a life size marble or stone statue erected next to the headstone as well. All have a little wrought iron fence around each grave site, mostly rusting and some collapsing. So the effect may sound pretty, at least quaint, at least interesting to the casual observer. The problem is there is apparently no maintenance of the cemetary grounds and the weeds and bushes have almost taken over. The grave sites are very close together and the paths which lead between them are very narrow anyway. So the weeds (I'm talking serious weeds here!) and the vines and the overhanging trees and bushes make it almost impossible to walk along a row to a particular grave site.

We met with a man who is like a private caretaker here. The big expensive headstones are apparently purchased by wealthy relatives who have made it overseas and come back to outdo each other with headstones to their deceased relatives. So many of them, while they are still alive and/or still care, pay private caretakers to clean and look after the headstones of their relatives. This man took us to my grandad's headstone. At least it was reasonably accessible though we stood amidst tall weeds. Mum talked to him about what she wanted fixed and we stood for a while.

I am unmoved by cemetaries (my thoughts on these places at another time) so I didn't feel very much standing there. I was interested in looking around, seeing other headstones, just absorbing the atmosphere. When we came back around to the front gates after walking around for a while we saw the gypsy part of the cemetary. Whoa baby, these people know how to do a headstone. Well not a headstone actually. More of a outrageously grotesque memorial. For example the huge slab of granite etched with the full size image of the deceased gyspy man, complete with real gold plate on his watch and his ring (mum joked that he should have been smiling so that his gold teeth would have been on display). Another tomb was surrounded by an iron fence, the stone itself was as big as a small stage and next to it was an outdoor table and chair setting. We were told the gypsies come and have huge drunken parties at the cemetary on various rememberance days, which is very upsetting to the Jewish people who share this cemetary with them.

At the front gates of the cemetary is a small building, the office. When we arrived 3 or 4 men were sitting outside this building and when we left they were still there. I was told one of them was the director. The question arises if these men are paid employees of the cemetary why the fuck are they sitting around doing sweet FA while the cemetary goes to ruin and turns to jungle. When I asked mum's friends about this they just said that's how it is.

We leave and decide to get the public bus to the prevoz (the market). The buses are old and bleak and after a few stops it gets very crowded but it's an experience and we get there safely. The prevoz is something else altogether. Wow! Mum says if you haven't been to the prevoz you don't know Odessa. This place is huge, with outdoor and indoor areas that seem to go on forever. There's the meat building where chunks of meat sit on the stone slabs, exposed. Dogs and cats roam around. This place is certainly not for the squeamish and dispells my long held belief that meat comes on styrofoam trays from the supermarket. This is the real deal and only one short step away from the abatoir.

Then there are areas where people sell cold meat, hams and salamis, stall after stall after stall. The dairy area where people sell cottage cheese, cream and sour cream, fetta cheese, stall after stall, etc. People walk around, take a taste of this and that. It's the way it's done here but I felt so bad. These are peasant people, most of them, making these goods in their homes on the city outskirts and hauling them in every day. Making a pittance on the tiny prices they charge and yet the locals walk around and take a taste of everything. A particular custom is to get a dollop of cream or sour cream on the top of your hand and to lick it off. I couldn't get into that custom.

Outside there are countless stalls, tiny ones, selling fruit and vegetables, sometimes no more than a few handfuls of this or that, a few herbs, a few tomatoes. Here too people ask to taste the produce and then bargain over the already low prices. There are clothes stalls, shoes and sunglasses, hardware, somewhat like our Paddy's Market.

We come away with some cottage cheese and sour cream, a smoked mackrel (mmm....) - a beautiful big fat juicy one for about AUS$3.50, some strawberries and cherries, a big slice of Napoleon Cake (a special childhood memory of mine).

We take the bus back to mum's friend's house. On the way a man hops onto the bus to sell newspapers. He tells the people all about his particular paper, an Odessa speciality. He is dry funny. The paper costs ONE GRIVNA (the local currency) which is about 15 cents. After I get off the bus I think that I should have bought one as a souvenir.

After sharing another long lunch with mum's friends we call for a car to take us back to our apartment. We were getting ready for the ballet. We walked down to the Odessa Opera Theatre, a beautifully restored building not far from our apartment. It is lovely and like old European royalty we sat on little velvet and gilt chairs on a tiny balcony. The ballet was lovely but I'm more of a So You Think You Can Dance type. The music was lovely, the dancers were gorgeous, everything was perfect, yet I kept nodding off, the last few days finally catching up with me. If only they could have installed a few Jason Recliners (Gold Class cinema style) I may have enjoyed it a little more.

We finished off the evening with a late-ish supper at the Ukranian restaurant where we ate on our first day here. Though the food was delicious I may be reaching my limit on pork fat products. The cafe downstairs from us was in apparent disco mode when we returned home but closing my window made my room soundproof and I slept very very soundly last night.

Now it's almost 9 am and we need to head down for breakfast. It's raining so our planned day at Arcadia Beach may not pan out. We'll see what happens. It rained yesterday but only for about 20 minutes and then it became humid and very warm.

Hope you're all well and happy, my friends. [Glad you're reading my blog now honey, love you!]


La Viajera Insaciable said...

Thanks so much for letting me tag along on your travels! You write so descriptively I feel I'm getting in on some of the Ukraine experience. Looking very much forward to further posts and eventual photos.

Kath Lockett said...

This is so fantastic as, La V said, being able to 'tag along' with you. Maybe you won't need photos after all because you're writing is so descriptive.

HOw is your mother coping with it all? Does she miss it or is she relieved to have left?