“Darling … please pass the soap”
Volgograd – L’viv
During my time here in Russia and Ukraine I have taken to wearing dark glasses. This is not to look cool … sadly it will take more than glasses – but I am assured by the constant advertising of men’s cosmetics that they will do the trick. My reasons for donning the shades is so others won’t see me looking shifty eyed or wonder why my eyeballs are spinning. It’s rather embarrassing but I feel sure you want to know things that others are reluctant to share. It’s the young ladies. Here in the old Soviet Union there is a grave shortage of illegible men. The military activities, secret police and vodka have depleted their ranks until the ratio is about 46:54 … in favour of the male minority you might say. As a result the young woman are desperately trying to ensure they will successfully snare a husband to fulfill their biological instincts. Like all good marketing programs this involves presentation and advertising. To achieve their goal the young ladies have all their assets on display … and they flaunt them shamelessly. I’m pretty certain I saw a stunning young woman wearing nothing more than a belt. I can’t be 100% sure because my shades steamed up and my eyes swiveled past the point of easy return.
The fashion is little skin tight tops that would enable open heart surgery without removal and tiny skirts that could also do service as a bandanna. Below this are legs so long that to view them I found myself nodding just like the funny little man that has a spring neck and hangs on our Christmas tree. Those who decide on trousers for a change must have spray painting equipment. Spraypainters will appreciate the specification – tack coat only, no undercoat. Before this degenerates into a pornographic ramble, I want to assure you there is a balance and my heart rate is given opportunity to stabilize. It’s very strange. I cannot understand how the Soviets have kept their genetic improvement program secret from the rest of the world. The fathers of these stunning creatures appear to be poorly dressed men with big tummies who only have the energy to hoist one side of their braces. The mothers are generally short, wide and quite memorable in their own way. When I asked for her opinion, Flypaper suggested these women would typically wear a 52/EEE and enough elastic to make a trampoline. Given their ample clothing in contrast to their daughters, the textile industry remains quite stable. The other popular and outstanding feature of the mothers is their flaming red hair. I use the word ‘flaming’ because a squirt with a fire extinguisher would likely make a great improvement. I have wondered if red hair was an indication of their political leaning just as the blue rinse is predictable at home.
It’s well known that hindsight is very accurate. I consider it my best talent. You may or may not be old enough to remember the ‘cold war’. In simple terms this was a standoff between Russia and American during a time when each considered the other had ambitions to rule the world. While this was mostly just paranoia between the leaders of each nation, the general populace was drawn in and both sides became very suspicious of the other. I now know that the US could have easily won the cold war by warming the hearts and winning the minds of the Soviet people. All they had to do was send over a couple of planeloads of plumbers. Most Soviet buildings were/are huge standard concrete shells fitted out for whatever purpose considered as having the greatest need at the time. ‘Plumbing’ was an afterthought and surface mounted. It is universally inadequate, prone to blockage and leaking or simply doesn’t work. In spite of constant administrations from the women with the big elastic, it also smells. Our journey through Russia and Ukraine can easily be tracked by the KGB, should they have the urge, by following the series of showerhead repairs, toilet cistern overhauls and tap maintenance that I have busied myself with each night to prepare the facilities for Flypapers pleasures. Sadly, because I know it’s likely to make my hair stand on end, I have been unable to repair many of the light and electrical fittings. Again, the US or even any ambitious country; Fiji for example, could and would be loved by the Russian & Ukrainian people if they shipped over a team of electricians with a bag of those red pointy gadgets that tells where all the electricity has escaped and helps find it again. They should bring a few light bulbs as well. The latest deception, known as privatization, is to reclad the old buildings to look like Dubai transplants. Inside they are often still close relations of Siberian prison camps. All have women in big aprons carrying a mop and a chip on their shoulder.
There have been exceptions. For example, in Volgograd we stayed in a brand new hotel. The rooms were exactly 2.4m x 2.4m plus a 2.4m x 800mm bathroom. The white walls (with bright orange architraves) where paper thin which provided entertainment from the neighbours throughout our stay. (What’s said on tour stays on tour). Living under these conditions requires planning. If I wished to be in the room, Flypaper was required to stand on the tiny refrigerator until I found space on the bed amongst our luggage. Going to the bathroom necessitated a waltz, or easier, ones partner to stand outside in the corridor until recalled after the event. Using the bathroom involved shuffling forward to the hand basin then sideways to the shower or toilet. The toilet was unusable by anyone who qualified as XXL. Showering was interesting. It was possible to stand but not to move ones arms because that turned the water off. If one dropped the soap the only solution was to call for ones partner and hope she was in the mood to help. The one advantage of the tiny room was that the air-conditioning could reduce the temperature from ‘chicken roasting’ to ‘frosty’ in 49 seconds. This of course worked both ways so I was alternately baked or frigid with interludes of standing in the corridor or having my toes tickled by the soap hunter.
The small town of Donetsk on a seldom used Russian / Ukraine boarder is not usually frequented by travelers and had only one place of accommodation. It was a Sanatorium. We eventually found it on the outskirts of the town when a brave and excited young lady offered to accompany us in our car. She communicated by telephoning a friend who had learned a few English words at school. This night proved a very interesting experience and one of the trip highlights … as you can imagine. Not many people are given the opportunity to try a Sanatorium until sent by ‘authorities’ or ones children who are tied of caring for them. Our fellow inmates ranged from young children who appeared to have ‘health’ issues through to strangely quiet and subservient elderly people. We briefly saw them at the evening meal when we were invited to the ‘other’ dining room to watch a young local girl give her interpretation of belly dancing. I suspect she has a great future – but not as an entertainer. There were numerous stern looking ladies in attendance – their ranks apparent by the number of stars on their old fashioned military style caps. Some were waitresses, some nurses, some cooks and cleaners … and I suspect some were guards. Our exclusive dining that evening was together with the facility Komandant and his interpreter. Unfortunately the interpreter he called on duty that evening spoke French. We communicated brilliantly through the ‘bonjour’ stage but struggled thereafter. Our host, who we did enjoy, entertained us in the typical Russian manner … with two bottles of vodka. His party trick was to fill our special little glasses, stand and propose a toast to an unknown entity then, after we all drank it in one large gulp, he expected us to join him in a victorious arm gesture while shouting “Yes” which was the only English word he knew. Fortunately this caused him considerable merriment which lasted quite a while thus postponing the next round. By the end of the evening we were quite relaxed about being committed at some future date to a Sanatorium.
Kiev, the Ukrainian capital is a large city of over 2 million people all scurrying around attending the hundreds of Christian Orthodox churches. These large edifices are impressive with their shining ‘onion’ domes and I suspect are the largest business in the country. The priests all drive new large black cars just like the mafia. Some may say they have similar roles and aspirations. I wasted Sunday afternoon among thousands of people congregated in the main street which is closed off for entertainment and to bolster the restaurant trade. I say wasted because my eyes remained constantly out of focus.
The road to L’viv was far from perfect but the best surface since early China. As a result we were caught speeding on two occasions. Fortunately our travelling companions were in the lead and it was they who were captured by the radar. On the journey we were exposed to so much microwave energy I suspect we arrived half baked. The Ukrainian police were far less greedy than the one I experienced in Russia. After showing Martin the road code and making clear his misdemeanor they finally gave up their negotiations in 4 languages and released him without penalty. I consider that to be a ‘fine’ result. Our cars are dark colour and of reasonable size. This possibly saved many discussions with the police who only stop small cars – mostly Hyundai’s or Lada’s. The large black cars that are driven fast and with total disregard to any rules – they are strangely ignored by the police who seem to be looking elsewhere at the moment they pass. It’s as though they were invisible. We have ventured many opinions about this but are united in the belief that if we lived here we would definitely travel in black and be totally arrogant.