Sunday, May 06, 2007

Odessa - The Return

Odessa is awesome! That being said, it has to be said it is also pretty crappy. The crapitude is mainly in terms of the roads being in bad shape, side walks being none-existent to life threatening, and there being loads of (very well behaved) stray dogs about. The thing is, I find all of that stuff really rather endearing especially as it both reminds me that I am in the former Soviet Union and reminds me of the good old times in Kazakhstan and St. Petersburg. Even for being rough around edges there are just things I love about the former Soviet Union (over say Western Europe): 1. stores are open! You don't know how I hate Europe's stores (especially supermarkets) being closed on Sundays, open for half a day on Saturday, and closed by six on weekdays, even if the 24 hour magazins lie and aren't open 24 hours in Ukraine or Russia, they are still open a whole lot later than their counterparts in say Austria 2. Soft serve ice cream for less than fifty-cents at McDonald's, it is a small thing, but oh so wonderful 3. Cyrillic and Slavic languages! I may know that when I see an 'i' in Cyrillic it isn't Russian I am looking at, but it doesn't make me any less happy 4. I like that I can pass for Slavic at the very least until I open my mouth, it makes up for the fact that nobody believes I am Italian.

So Odessa is really just pretty cool. Granted it isn't as big or as culturally rich as say St. Petersburg, but it still has a lot of cool architecture and historical significance. The fact that it is also sort of a post-Soviet Florida is sort of amusing. What is cool about Odessa is that it has a good chunk of tourism, but it is also Ukraine main port and as a result can't quite be pigeon holed as a tourist town. It is very much Russian speaking (even if McDonald's only seems to use one language per country so the menu was all in Ukrainian), but it isn't really ethnically Russian either (the natives are a mix of Jewish, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Greek, Kurdish and Tatar heritage). Odessa is experiencing many of the same problems as the rest of the former Soviet Union (population drop, poverty), but at the same time there is a vibrance to it, both with the bustling new economy and the cultural venues.

I had a good time. I had a really good Russian teacher who taught me a lot about Ukrainian politics and also convinced me that I will work for the US State Department in the future. And I had Ukrainian TV! I got to watch both the Russian and Ukrainian news. The news bit was interesting since the Ukrainian news in Russian wouldn't dub the Ukrainian politicians when they spoke in Ukrainian (where the Russian language news from Russian would) and with Prime Minister who speaks Ukrainian with a very thick Russian accent I only new he hadn't been speaking Russian when I watched the Russian news later and he was dubber. Also I got to watch a Russian remake of married with children, and notice how the only channel that black Ukrainians seemed to pop up on was the music video channel. All and all a very successful trip.

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