I'm up early though we had a late night. Some men have been yelling downstairs from the courtyard since about 5 am. I don't know what they've been yelling about - most people speak Russian here but many also speak Ukranian which is similar but different; the words sound like I should be able to understand them but I don't.
We had a slow start to the day yesterday but made up for it later. It was raining yesterday morning. We didn't get down to breakfast until almost 10 am. We had arranged to meet mum's friends and had decided to walk there but the rain was quite heavy. We got as far as the construction awning at the end of our lane way and stopped, waiting for the rain to ease. It didn't, so we decided to run for it into the shopping area half a block away to find some umbrellas. Armed with our brand new, compact, Austrian made umbrellas we soldiered on.
It was fun walking through the city in the rain, jumping puddles, listening to mum curse as her light blue pants got splatered with dirty rain water. There is no drainage in the roads and lots of potholes and just general holes from damage to the roads and pavements where water puddles. We stopped to exchange some US dollars; there are little money exchange booths everywhere with signs outside advertising their exchange rate. So far mum had only exchanged her money, wanting to pay for everything while we were here in Odessa. This was fine until she told me "you don't need that" one too many times at the privoz the other day. I felt on top of the world with a wad of local currency burning a hole in my pocket.
We arrived at my mum's friends place and again found the table laden with the leftovers from the other day. After the late breakfast it was a little hard to cope with but we managed to put away a bit of this and that. The rain had stopped and our next stop was their old school - Number 26.
Though it's school holidays here the school was open for a vacation care type program (though the poor kids were doing something very boring looking in the classrooms rather than the fun activities they may have been doing at a vacation care at home). A funny moment was when the kids ran out of their classroom for a break and one of the boys, aged about 8 or 10, immediately got out his mobile phone. Some things maybe very different here but some things are very much the same. We were allowed to have a look around and the place brought back lots of memories for mum and her friends, who went from place to place and door to door saying "do you remember this room?", "do you remember that teacher?". It was great to see.
The school itself is bleak. It is large, with high ceilings and huge doors. But as with almost everything here it is badly maintained. The paint is either peeling or layered on thickly, without any sign of care or workmanship. Outside is all concrete, not a blade of grass in sight, with rusty basketball hoops and a huge hole in the ground which mum said was there when they were - over 40 years ago. To me it doesn't seem like a happy place but it brought back lots of happy memories for mum and her friends.
We kept walking and saw the hospital where I was born. Or should I say the mother's home because these are seperate here. Poor mum wasn't allowed to have anyone with her when she gave birth to me and the staff were horrible to her. I don't think there were too many happy memories there.
Our next stop was another friend's place at Arcadia beach so we called our friendly private taxi driver and eventually he turned up to drive us there. This friend - Zosa (as they affectionately call her) or Zoya - is wealthy by most people's standards. She was not in mum's class but two years below them at their school. I'm not clear as to how she became part of their group. She is a lovely lady, one of those people you want to be with, something warm and charming and welcoming about her personality. I was looking forward to visiting her and her apartment, which had been heralded as something special.
She lives in the penthouse of a seven storey apartment building at the start of the Arcadia beach area, far from the water but overlooking it. The large apartment block she lives in is 12 years old, it's modern and there are gardens around it. It is a million times better than just about anything else I've seen here but still it's somewhat bleak. I'm not sure how to put my finger on it.
Her housekeeper is coming down in the lift to walk their gorgeous chocolate labrador as we are going up. We are shown the apartment, which is over three storeys. It is huge, there is no doubt about it. I've never seen anything like it. Big rooms and lots of them. Their bedroom is probably half the size of my own apartment - she says her husband calls it the Sex-o-drome - which is funny but a little unsettling. On the top floor is a large rumpus room with a giant empty spa and a huge outdoor area which overlooks all the surrounding parklands and new apartment buildings and a smudge of the sea. It is an impressive place.
I think Zosa's husband is a jeweller and a businessman (though he was a journalist and she a pre-school director at the start of their marriage, and thus very poor). Her son is a well known actor, now living in Moscow. He is no Brad Pitt but he did buy his mum a nice little brand new Toyota Corolla for her 60th birthday.
She really is the host with the most and great fun to be with. We eat some more as by now it's late afternoon, her housekeeper eating with us (which is lovely and tells us about the sort of person Zosa is). Then we go upstairs and she reads us some of the very funny, very witty poems and songs their friends wrote for them for the 120th birthday (when she and her husband turned 60). We laugh a lot, people here love to laugh, every conversation is filled with jokes and banter; the slightest exchange with friends or shopkeepers or strangers in the street has a joke or a play on words built in.
Finally, around 7 pm, we decide to take a walk down to the beach itself. Mum has fond memories of coming down here in her youth. We walk along the main road leading to the beach, it's quite a long walk from here. We pass a shopping mall and decide to have a quick look. As we were told it's like a museum. It's brand new and gleaming, inside the shops are filled with overpriced designer items only Donald Trump can afford. Shop after shop filled with shoes, clothes, bags, homewares, all staffed by well dressed gorgeous young things. All devoid of a single customer. It's like a ghost town. It's a total mystery to me how a place like that would make money.
Further along they are building a large number of new apartment blocks, great big towers. To be frank I'd be worried about living in them; the city is built on catacombs which apparently accounts for why so many buildings are collapsing slowly. Would you want to live on the 15th floor of a building built on catacombs? Zosa says that they obviously have some sort of building/engineering technology which makes them safe but I'm not so sure. I've seen building sites here and I'm not filled with confidence. I think as with a lot of "new" money they are going for style over substance.
The beach area itself starts with a park or a wide walking path surrounded by park. There are stands on both sides selling food, drinks and souvenirs, even a little old day offering a weighing service for about 7 cents (personally I'd pay a lot more than that not to know my weight, especially after a few days of Ukranian eating). At the end of this path, where previously you would have walked down to the sand itself, they have built a giant nightclub/restaurant. This is one of many giant nightclub/restaurants they have built along the foreshore here. The beach itself is very much secondary, which is probably good because it's awful. The sand is grey, apparently naturally, and littered with rubbish. There is a narrow concrete walkway of sorts but it is crumbling and dangerous looking; you have to climb through a rusting metal structure, possibly an old rotunda or something, to step onto this path. There is an area of the beach with white plastic sun lounges but mum says this is a private beach area for which you have to pay. Though the water is calm and looks clean from where we were standing it is not the most inviting beach I've ever been to.
We walk around and the commercialised awfulness is astounding. The nightclubs all trying to outdo each other in terms of decorations and size. We see young girls arriving for a big night out, quite possibly they are prostitutes, they certainly dress that way. I think long legs and a pretty face are a meal ticket out of the poverty here (and lots of other places) and I say good luck to them.
Walking back we go a different way and wander around the streets immediately behind the beach. Streets filled with luxurious houses and small hotels. We finally make it back to the main road and by now we're exhausted, it's after 9 pm. I think we're going to get a bus back up the road to Zosa's place (she stayed home to wait for her husband to return from work) but suddenly mum's friend Lara is hailing a car, yes just a car. Apparently it's common and normal to hail any passing car as you would a taxi. I guess what we may have called hitch hiking but in a much more normal-mode-of-transport manner. The person takes you up the road, you pay him a little money. The car Lara pulled over is small; there are five of us (traditionally built) ladies - and the driver. Lara hops in the front and her sister Milla, Jules, mum and I squeeze (and I do mean squeeze) ourselves into the back seat. I'm not happy Jan.
Back at Zosa's we sit around for another few hours. The table is laden with sweets on our return: delicious freshly fried little local fish (not everyone's cup of tea but I love them), freshly baked apple strudle which is gorgeous, a big bowl of cherries and chocolates. We drink tea and talk and laugh. We could easily sit there all night but at 11ish we call for a taxi and head back.
As always I cause a drama by daring to open my mouth when mum haggles with the taxi driver over the fare. This is a recurring theme on this trip.
Bye for now. Lots of love to everyone at home. (Go the Swannies!)