Arrived in Odessa, Ukraine about 10pm. Taxi from bus station dropped me off on a dark corner. I entered the tiny shabby lobby where a line of “loving” couples and bewildered families were waiting to check in. Checked in. Room maybe 8X8. Hot. No air. Mattress a throw-away from the family camper. I AM NOT GOING TO LIKE ODESSA AM I?
Next morning on line I book Hotel Ekatarina.
Taxi. Check in. Light sunny room. Golden good cheesy sweet breakfast crepes.
Walk about the square, Richelieu takes center stage surrounded by the awe-inspiring buildings of that old beautiful Europe we love so much—the creamy yellows, mint greens, rosy-reds shimmer in the morning sun. I AM GOING TO LOVE ODESSA.
Odessa is a place to wander about most happily. For two days, I walked. Down Potemkin Steps, up through a huge park that led me to the beach where, among the froth of condoms and potato chip wrappers, I stuck my toes in the Black Sea. A friendly sitting-about and reading, card playing, family game kind of beach.
The seafront is grand. From Potemkin Steps to the working port.
Long cobblestone tourist street with the requisite chic shops and cafes down to the fountain where marriages are being celebrated in fine Ukrainian and Asian traditions complete with snow white puppies and falcons and swords.
Among the wedding guests
Another meal to treasure. Beet-red borscht almost glows in the bowl in the sun by the sea.
Brown bread to be spread from the pot of pork fat retaining tiny slivers of the roast, a healthy shot of vodka decorated with a tiny scallion quite yummy to lick.
I think I would love Odessa in the rain and snow as well. It has this sense of layers and layers of cultures mixing in battle and in bed leading to that thing great cities have—a bit of each of us in their DNA. Pushkin called Odessa the city where “the air is filled with all Europe…” I suspect ‘all the world’ could be accurate.
I can picture myself…I’m young, living in a warm attic with my lover, the poet. We eat endless loaves of brown bread slathered with that delectable pork fat downed with the vodka we keep chilled in a bottle on the fire escape. It snows and snows. We stare out to sea, talking about our novels and poems and get chilly and damp as we dream. Then we get pneumonia and die.
Most of my conversations take place during my endless quest for directions. My favorite in Odessa was with a young man, surely his grandmother’s favorite—polite, curious, charming—who wanted to know how it was I could be traveling about by myself. “How old are you?” “How come you are by yourself?” “Aren’t you tired?” “My grandmother cannot travel because her pension is too small in Ukraine.” “Where will you go next?” I think young men must favor their grandmothers—they’re always the ones that want to talk about their lives to me. Later, that evening three of these young guys from Moldova started a conversation about travel as I sat on a park bench near my hotel, telling me how hard it is to get visas to go places in the west, how one of them had never even seen the sea before, etc. I am so looking forward to the trip to Australia next winter with MY grandson who is THE best.
And walk and walk and walk
David B., thank you for recommending “The Lady with the Fan” and “Lost.” I am so excited I have discovered a new place to admire from afar and visit often through books. Cape Town was my earlier favorite—which I’ve largely been exploring through murder mysteries! This will be a change.
My flat will be on the top floor
ODESSA. I DO LOVE YOU.