Wednesday, August 17, 2005

First Post from Kyiv

Pryvit! Greetings!

I am back in Ukraine and am writing to you from Kyiv. It is great to be back here, even if I felt like crap this morning when I got up (pokhmylnyj s'ohodnyj--hungover today) and the folks upstairs from where I am staying are doing a evroremont of their apartment, so the banging started only after 5 or so hours of sleep. Why is my luck such that I am frequently staying in places in Ukraine with neighbors who start their Euro-renovation projects first thing in the AM? All of this is, of course, just my luck and not something out of which to make a tale about some travels in Zainy Ukraine; however, it also does indicate something interesting: "Euro-Renovation," "Euro-Standard," etc., have been buzzwords here for quite some time.

Anyhow, the real point is that I spent the first evening of my first full day back in Ukraine in a very Ukrainian way with a Ukrianian friend and a Canadian grad student of Russian literature with a keen interest in (and good knowledge of) Ukraine as well.

It's kind of weird being here right because of how much it does not feel like such a big deal for me! It feels like I never even left this place. After living 8 months in Ukraine and now returning for another 2 1/2 months after a 5 month interlude in the States, it is easy to jump back into life here. But maybe that's because Eastern Europe in general and Ukraine in particular feel like home to me; certainly a spiritual home, but more and more like a real home as well. I am really happy about this, that this is becoming evermoreso a real place for me, such that I am not all wowed by being here all the time (I want epiphanies of Wowness, but not all the time like I was having my first ever month in Ukraine a little over a year ago) . That is, one's real homeland is where one works, sweats, bleeds, etc.; hence, Ukraine is only a spiritual homeland for diaspora, but a real homeland for those who were born and raised here; and I do NOT mean to prioritize or privilege one type of homeland over the other. A spiritual homeland is just as important, and I think that perhaps part of the problem for the majority culture of the US is that it was long ago set adrift from anything like a spiritual homeland, and it really has not grounded itself in a new one. Germans in Germany live in their real and spiritual homeland as do Ukrainians and others as well. And although what I am writing here could be turned into a formula for fascism, I still like it; for it is not fascistic in the sense that, for example, non-ethnic German minorities in Germany who keep their culture alive also have two types of homeland that are divergent, one spiritual and one real, and there is nothing wrong with Germany or the US or Ukraine for that matter being only a real homeland (money and labor) and not a spiritual one for large minority groups (Germany or Ukraine for Germans or Ukrainians is a fascist idea, of course). And sometimes, its those whose real homelands are far from the spiritual ones that, through the sanctity by which they look back at the spiritual homeland, have a lot more passion for it, while many of those who really exist in the homeland have want nothing more than to get out of it!

Well, I could go on and on. That was just thinking out-loud, but I do intend to write a great deal more during this trip on the difference of Ukraine as a spiritual homeland and a real one. And thankfully, there are plenty of people still left in Ukraine for whom it is both a spiritual place as well as real one; and also, thankfully, Ukraine is becoming more and more a real homeland, of not a spiritual one, for a growing minority of Africans and Asians, etc. But also there are Ukrainian-Africans or African-Ukrainians, for example, who proudly proclaim their Ukrainianness, their spiritual connection to the place. . .

Hm. These out loud thoughts must be heading in the direction of an essay on Ukrainianness. . .

Well, here's some proof that I am back in Kyiv, some photos I took today of St. Michael's Cathedral on a cloudy day and of a pagan statue not far from it:

A priest was sitting nearby while I took this photo of a pagan statue (probably a replica of one), and he shouted at me in English something like, "Why do you taking photograph of pagan idolatry? It is sinful for this stand here between two great churches." To which I said in Ukrainian that I respectfully did not agree, and that I consider the true message of Jesus was one of universal acceptance and love for all without regard to faith or belief. He then asked me to walk over for a chat, but it turned out that I was not in the mood for a chat, as I was really looking for a 5 o'clock nap, and so declined the offer. That could have led to an interesting conversation, but oh well. . .

And one other thing: the Cathedral above is rebuilt. It was destroyed byt the Soviets, and I think on orders of the ever loving Stalin.

Onto other anecdotes, I went shopping at Petrivka (the main outdoor bazaar in Kyiv; take the Metro to Petrivka station and shop for absolutely everything, from books to AV to technology to clothes, etc.) to buy a shirt and pair of jeans (packed really lightly this time) and was once again asked by no less than three salespeople whether I was from Poland. I was asked this all the time my last adventure in Ukraine, and I am REALLY happy about that. Only once did someone detect that I was a Ukrainain-American among them. And I am happy about this even if my newly Ukrainianized speech caused consternation among some diaspora Ukrainians while I was back in the US, who would definitely challenge the notion that it was Ukrainianized. "Bozhe Stefane, ty teper hovorysh jak vony v Ukrajini!" In other words, I am Russified. Hmm. . .

Does the fact that most diaspora Ukrainians speak with an obviously N American influenced accent and cadence, and that they say things like "bosska" for a female boss while younger ones like to say things like "dui mene" for "blow me," which is NOT mat' in Ukraine (not a cuss phrase) not mean that they have no position, no bully pulpit, upon which to stand and preach about the purity of language?!?!

Oh, but back to Petrivka--my conversations with salespeople there are usually interesting, and I recommend going there and even just pretending to shop if you are not really interested in buying anything, just to get a feel of the real Ukraine and for the conversation. This is how most Ukrainians do their shopping; they certainly do not shop on Khreshchatyk or Andrijivskyj Uzviz! And I was really impressed by one guy selling shirts and underwear yesterday; he was a fabulously friendly and very gentlemanly middle aged fellow who even writes receipts and tells you that you can return things if you don't like how it fits, etc.! I have never been told that so openly at a bazaar, and certainly have never been given a card guaranteeing me the right to return the items if I wish. He seemed like an educated fellow and was very interesting to talk to, so go buy something from him (he told me to tell my friends)! His booth is located in row (rjad) 46, (mesto) space 17-18.

1 comment:

yosyf said...

It is very interesting to read some of your latest posts. I was especially intrigued about your reference to African-Ukrainians. For some time I have been depply concerned about the racial intolerance in Ukraine (especially in rural areas), and was wondering whether the more cosmopolitan Kyiv is considerably different in that regard.

As far as the homoerotic film you propose, I think that the storyline would be more plausible than Tymoshenko-Sakashvilli.

A couple of years ago while searching for pictures of Kyiv for a website I was working on, I ran into a tourism page that claimed that Kyiv was the homesexual capital of Europe. I couldn't help but laugh at that description, considering that there was no part of Kyiv that remotely resembled San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. Nonetheless, I wonder whether intolerence toward homosexuality is easing up as well, or have you observd no change.