I'm a little dazed and confused by other news this morning so I'll try and cobble something together about yesterday. Luckily it wasn't a big day, well not too big.
We had a quiet start to the day and then had a wander around. Coming across the college where mum studied to be a theatrical lighting technician we came across a man who had also studied there, graduating the year before mum. He is now teaching there and was happy to chat with her as we all strolled along to the local market (a smaller version of the prevoz we had been to a few days before). It was strange to see a ginormous Ostrich egg sitting quietly amongst the normal sized hen eggs at one stall. The lady was glad to tell us all about it, how it equates to 25 average eggs; you learn something new every day.
Walking the old streets something which washes over us time and time again is the smell. The smell of decay, the smell of old, the smell of dirty. It is a particular smell and one I can truly say I have never come across before in the same way. Another thing I have noticed is how things are "maintained" here. The doors and windows, even on the buildings which are being restored or which have previously been "cleaned up", are thick with paint, it is caked on, all the finer details of the woodwork covered up. No-one bothers to sand the old paint on the woodwork back, take a little care, before applying the new coat, so that the effect is slapshod and tends to ruin the look of buildings which by other standards may look nice after their renovation.
We return to our apartment for a little rest before being collected by the husband of one of mum's friends (well he's a friend too, as they all went to school together). This the group of people who didn't want to join our previous get together, not wanting to be taken out by the "rich foreigners". They want to take us out and we get taken to an Armenian restaurant in a park near Arcadia Beach. The restaurant itself is nice, outdoor tables under canopies, obviously a party restaurant where people come for large family celebrations.
Our table is already laden with smoked fish, pickles, slow cooked peppers, flat bread, all delicious. Later a large platter arrives with grilled chunks of lamb and pork with marinated mushrooms, country style. It is nice but very rustic, the meat chewy.
Between courses we take a walk in the adjoining park which houses a large cage with some peacocks. The park itself surrounds what they call a Sanitorium, a health retreat of sorts. I can not begin to describe how depressing both the building and surrounds are. If this is where they go to relax I'd much rather stay stressed. The building is plain, old and peeling, dirty, half hanging curtains block the tall windows. I ask if it is still being used because I can not see a living soul in the place and it looks deserted to me. Of course it is still being used, I am told, as if I'm stupid and/or blind. The park through which we are walking is alright, there are tall beautiful trees and we see a single squirrel rushing from tree to tree, but it is unkempt.
After our meal it is decided to go to another cafe for coffee and cake as this restaurant isn't good on desserts. The cafe isn't far and most of our group walk there but we get driven there; you haven't lived until you've driven down a cobblestoned road doing 80km/h with a tummy full of roasted pork and pickles.
I have to say they know how to do a cafe here. There are many cafes and they are all interesting in their own ways. The one we went to, Cafe Fontoni, is mainly set outside and we sit at a very comfortable outdoor lounge setting in our own little pavillion. We order from a waiter called Boris and the exchange is worth filming. The carry on was diabolical and I said to mum most Sydney waiters would have curled up in the foetal position in the corner and cried for their mummy. It was funny but in a worrying sort of way.
As the evening gets darker the lights are turned on. There are fairy lights around the tall trees in the garden we are sitting in, the effect is beautiful. The place fills up with gorgeous young things, long legged girls on the arms of shady types arriving in fancy cars. It was a public holiday here yesterday and people are out and about.
Even though it isn't very late yet the three of us are tired and ready to go home. A few of our group are super loud, even by Odessa standards, and as my dear husband would say "they'd give a Bex a headache". Everything is shouted, everyone talks over the top of everyone else, it is almost impossible to have a proper conversation, every question and decision is argued about. We seem like quiet little mice amidst this bedlam. My Russian is not up to participating properly, I can answer questions when asked directly, I can understand a great deal of what is being said but often I don't get the real gist of the conversation because so much is jokes and word play. It is exhausting and my head starts to thud from the craziness of it all.
It is a blessed relief to come home to the peace of our apartment. I am tired but we don't go to sleep for a while and even when I get into bed I can't settle, tossing and turning for ages. It is our last night and so much has happened, we have seen so many things. My brain struggles to put everything in order, to find a safe compartment for each image.
It's life Captain, but not as we know it. That's how I would sum up my visit to Odessa. My city of birth is an amazing place, like in many third world countries it stretches to the extremes of poverty and wealth. It is beautiful and ugly, joyous and beyond sad, full of hope for the future and carrying the heavy weight of a difficult past. I can not truly imagine living here but I know that it could very well have been my fate and that would have just been the way it was. You don't know what you don't know.
I am so glad and grateful for this experience and for being able to share it with you all. I hope you have enjoyed sharing this journey with me. This is a record I will always treasure. Later today we'll be back in London for the second part of our adventure. Stay tuned.