Christmas in Kiev

At the Copper Pub, I failed to please the pierced brunette lady who pretended she didn’t want to teach me Ukrainian.  I made chums with an American compatriot over beers and english.   We drank up and bounced to a new bar.  Chum knew the places we could get beers for .85 cents.  Somewhere on Sofiivs’ka Street, I think.  We befriended two pretty Ukrainian students, and their good-humored pal.  Learning language, discussing the current state of State, considering life, reflecting on it’s beauty.   Don’t mention The Beast to the East.  I ordered round after round, despit2015-01-05 15.01.26e their half-hearted protests.  At some point we were shouting “Fuck Putin”.   That was the first time I contemplated being in Ukrainian jail.  5x people eating ourselves dull, drinking ourselves drunk, in 4x short hours, the bill was $70 USD. I split it with Chum.

We smoked cigarettes and said our good-byes.  Chum and I drifted through the snowfall from bar to bar, dollar-beers everywhere.   Trudging about, a fella noticed our English and offered us beautiful Ukrainian hookers.  He was a nice enough fella, and it was a good proposition.  We took his number, maybe to call him later, and didn’t.

We found ourselves loitering.    The moon was full.  It shimmered brilliantly above in the deep, ever-expanding night.    Casted above Kyiv, watching over like a guardian.   In gratitude we began to howl.   Hooowl, hooooowwl.   Like belching gospel in church we praised.   Your light, your brilliance, your inspiration to rise regardless of all else, we thank you moon!

The main street, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, was wide and well lit.  A police office thought to talk with us, and approached.   I pushed old chum to go left, I turned to go right. We were next to Freedom Square, I noticed, naively hankering to avoid all irony.

I was so joyed and pleased with myself.  I decided this cop was my friend.  I spoke to him that way.  He liked being my friend.  Who doesn’t like having American friends?   We left the well-lit street though, and met some of his cop buddies.   More friends, I casually supposed.

Because I had drank and was in public, I had to go to jail.   Even though we were friends, it seemed.   The jail and process, loosely, brokenly described, sounded bad.   Long and trying.  As it turns out though, I can pay the cash fee upfront.   We’ve no such conveniences in America, anymore, anyways.  The USD equivalence my three friends needed was $7.    I only had a $14 note.   Merry Christmas – Veseloho Rizdva (Веселого Різдва)   My friend returned me .80 to get a taxi.   I got a beer.

I was now alone.  Head to the sky, still standing in history’s empty cross streets.  The cradle of Slavic civilization.    They were all so damn wrong, Ukraine is the coolest!  Cheap beer, beautiful women, 300+ churches, friendly police, Christmas magic – What’s not to love?

I wondered towards the blue sparkling Christmas tree I saw earlier.  By the river, if I remember right.   Another selfie-photo-shoot.   Then, a cafe for soup!  I realized I was good and drunk.  The warm air flushed my face and the room tilted wryly.   I’ve a flight in a few hours I reminded myself.  I gave the server boy the rest of my Ukraine monies (hirshi), which was more than I gave the cops.  He shit his pants.   He insisted I was making a mistake.   I looked at him square, face to face, eyes on eyes, and told him to buy something nice for the people he loves.  I don’t think he understood me, but nodded affirmatively anyways.

I was lost.   There was a karaoke bar.  I went in to warm and ask for our location.  They explained I was not smart for walking the streets at night and then hovered over my map speaking in Slavically twisted tongues.

He was a nice young lad, and she had amazingly make-upped eye lashes.   Thick like Gaga, but otherwise, a pretty girl.   Considering how long it took them to place us on the map, I didn’t take their “not smart” comment to heart.   They said if I did not take a taxi I’d probably be robbed, raped and laughed at.   The streets were empty and I didn’t believe them.  But, they also didn’t tell me how to get home, or precisely where on the map we were.  So, I let them hail me a cab.

I got home to the Dream Hostel in a daze, and chattered with some German fellas.   The dark haired girl in her pajamas wanted to be my friend and I wanted to be her everything.  She was from small town Ukraine, street-wise and appreciative of what this life offers.   Its amazing how quickly we’re comfortable with strangers on the road.  Or maybe thats just what falling in love is, and the ones we cross paths with on the road are the ones we fall for. I fall for?   I’ll never be sure.

It was time for me to go and she gave me a friendly peck on the lips.  I shook off the chills and said good-bye with an overwhelmed heart.   I actually don’t even know her name.  But it’s not her I’ll miss.  This good-bye was really good-bye to the road.  For now.  I’ll get on that plane and be back in NYC with my apartment and my suits and my fancy job and my lack of friends, or desire for any.  It’ll be back to the same fantasy everyone I just met wishes for and I can’t get away from.

I hopped in a taxi with the German fellas, instead of sleep.  It would be wiser to soldier through the sobering at the airport.  I had one last flirt with the sandwich girl before check-in.   Time to pay the price.  I felt like a mack truck carrying an entire forest of logs backed up on me.   Demons at battle within and throughout my body, eating me alive from the inside.  I had no attention span, no tolerance, and could hardly walk.  Physically gross, mentally ravaged.  Maybe this balances out just how much fun I crammed into my short stay.  4 churches, 15+ U-brewed beers, 5 meals and a heart infinitely exploding with false love.

Good bye Ukraine, I love you.

Learn Ukrainian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBwMg6Eav-0

Cradle of the Slavs – KYIV

It’s Christmas Eve! Веселого Різдва !! These Eastern Orthodox got it good with the post-New Year celebration.  The commercialized, corporate-fueled eviscerating Christ and love blizzard has passed and snowy air dusts calmly in the cool night, on the big old city.

Landed 10AM in Ukraine. A frail older fella stood hunched over, holding up a paper sign “JOE MECCA”, Damn! Hell yeah Dream Hostel. The old fella and I taught each other how to say “hello” (pree-vee-yet), “please” (büd laska) and “thank you” (Djahk Oh-Yoh) in our respective languages. Those plus charades was how we communicated. We walked 20 minutes to his car. It smelt like stale cigarettes and cheap air freshener. We awkwardly danced to pop-electro music, driving down the long high-way stretches under dismal gray clouds. The open land had a sad, poor, eastern European feel and I wondered if everyone was right… Ukraine?

Ultimately, they were wrong, I was right. Surprise, surprise.

We drove straight and fast, I watched the trees, the empty land and the morning pass by.  The billboards had a funky alphabet. A magnificent stone women held a sward to the sky! The statue must have towered 60 meters – massive! “I will pay her respects this afternoon!” I suggested to myself. Gold domes shined above the city like a never-forfeited hope the people held. I arrived at the Dream Hostel real hungry. I should have been more mindful of the roads that lead us there.

привіт ! The woman behind the desk had round glossy baby doll eyes. Brighter than the stars. Her hair the color of a late-afternoon sunshine on a meadow of golden wheat. Wheat for brewing. She had the answers to all my questions, a bash2015-01-05 14.26.35ful smile, a twinkle in her face and a knife to my heart. I imagine every asshole flirts with her. I’m just another. “I’m from New York”, I replied to her curiosity. She swooes, as if I said something devilishly charming. Now she’s playing me. Or, I’m Don Juan vid America – breath taken. It’s been an hour in Kiev and I’ve already adopted a certainty to return. Damn, I’m primitive.

I grubbed on chicken smothered in Kyiv gravy and smashed potatoes. On the streets stands sold delicious desserts, round chocolate cakes and puddings and sprinkles and happiness. The wind whirled wisps of snow flurries before me. I was glad I had my hat. The skirt of the town had a chill and eerie emptiness that authenticated it the storied Eastern Europe.

I ventured to explore the churches. There’s 300x+! Glorious, opulent, powerful artwork, extensive design. A child stared up at the wall of heroes, the dead men that hel2015-01-05 14.38.25ped over-throw the president last year. Saint Anthony’s illuminated the imagination. For a moment, I felt sinless. Above, in the center, an empty dark dome, like a looming black-hole sun reigning over me.Metaphors and rock chase me. Candles, donations and prayers. Outside, I had a selfie-photo-shoot with the pale blue and glistening gold cathedral. The dark fell quickly. Near the gondola down to the town, a coffee-cart served me espresso.

I planned to return around 5PM, but would be 12 hours late.

Timeless Corridors of Good, Evil & Legendary.

Ahh, Istanbul, I really connected with the city of Istanbul, but it’s my type of city.   It was surprisingly similar to New York, the hustle, the edge, the camaraderie and esprit de corps, but not without caution.   Let’s face it, in this big, buzzing city, we’ve all different dreams.  Here, in the bul, a variety of cultures root so deep through hiatory that budding above the concrete surface is the remnants of ages welded, spliced and entwined. A city of historic mystique and harrowing mystery connected to all of human time.

Different than Rome or from Athens, because Istanbul, the Bosporus passage, the districts, changed rule, power, religion, century after century.  The keeper of many secrets, not in a Godfatherly way, but like that Grandfather whos lived through it all, and only share with you the stories you’re old enough to understand.

I was to scout the city.   Most especially, I was to plan a New Years celebration.   The perfect missions for me!

That overly eager night concierge.  His help was so endearing it was fake.  And, in return, I pretended I was very important to this world.  I think we both knew I wasn’t.  Or maybe, he doesn’t care and acts as if everyone is important because that is his job.

Reconnaissance 101, I mapped the terrain.  Two laps around home-base, then onward and upward.  Aimed at landmark: Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower, 1348.   Originally, Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) The Galata Tower has a Romanesque style, and stands 220 feet tall.  You can spot most the historic center from the top.  The Byzantines were replacing the Great Tower, which was destroyed during the Fourth Crusade.  Cats galloped about.  I shot a photo-sesh with the prancing kitties.

The Pera Palace: Timeless glamour and elegance with genuine Turkish hospitality, retains its unique heritage combined with a modern touch.    Cosmopolitan Istanbul.   that’s how the Pera Palace describes itself. All I felt was the darkness of it humming 1892- Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock among others.   Ghosts singing, maybe screaming.  Here, I’m deff to the difference.  Mystique memorizing like an open flame, relentlessly roaring.  The ignited will of eternity.   Consider the Tower of Terror, but instead of a thrill ride through the twilight zone, it’s a palpable surrender to history. I drank whisky in the lobby, enamored by it all. Senses teamed, ghosts lurked and I pretended not to be spooked while in these timeless corridors of good, evil and legendary.

I walked across the Galata Bridge.  It reeked of fish.   Fare or foul weather the fishermen fished.  Today had cold horizontal rains and whipping winds.  Istanbul had no hesitations in washing itself clean of 2014.   I trudged, soaked, and happy to be bringing in the New Year here.

Timeless Corridors of the Good, Evil, & Legendary

Ahh, Istanbul, I really connected with the city of Istanbul, but it’s my type of city.   It was surprisingly similar to New York, the hustle, the edge, the camaraderie and esprit de corps, but not without caution.   Let’s face it, in this big, buzzing city, we’ve all different dreams.  Here, in the ‘bul, dozens of cultures root deep deep through the ages.  Budding above the concrete surface is the remnants of centuries of people welded, spliced and entwined.   A city of historic mystique.   Harrowing mysteries in the halls of all of human time.

Different than Rome and different from Athens, because Istanbul, the Bosporus passage, Eurasia’s champion cross roads, connecting the Orient Express, the Silk Road, had a different purpose throughout history.     The Byzantines, The Romans, The Ottomans, the hinge of the world as we knew it!   Power, Religion, War.  The keeper of many secrets, not in a Godfatherly way, but like your Grandfather who’s lived through it all, only sharing with you the stories you’re ready to understand.

I was to scout the city.   Most especially, I was to plan a New Years celebration.   The perfect missions for me!

Reconnaissance 101, I mapped the terrain.  I walked across the Galata Bridge.  It reeked of fish.   Fare or foul weather the fishermen fished.  Today had cold horizontal rains and whipping winds.  Istanbul had no hesitations in washing itself clean of 2014.   I trudged, soaked, and happy to be bringing in the New Year here. Aimed at landmark: Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower, 1348.   Originally, Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) The Galata Tower has a Romanesque style, and stands 220 feet tall.  The first Galata Tower was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade.

First place man took flight, or as some would argue, glided.   He did flap the wings he was wearing, and made it across the Bosphorus, flying Europe to Asia, about 1.5 miles.    His name was Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi, an aviator in 17th century Ottoman Istanbul.  He might have gotten exiled to Algeria because of it.  Source needed.

The Pera Palace: Timeless glamour and elegance with genuine Turkish hospitality, retains its unique heritage combined with a modern touch.    Cosmopolitan Istanbul.   That is how the Pera Palace describes itself.  All I felt was the darkness of it humming, 1892 – Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock, among more.   Ghosts singing, maybe screaming.  Here, I’m deff to the difference.  Mystique memorizing like an open flame, relentlessly roaring.  The ignited will of eternity.   Consider the Tower of Terror, but instead of a thrill ride through the twilight zone, it’s a palpable surrender to history.  I drank whisky in the lobby, enamored by it all.  Senses teamed, ghosts lurked and I pretended not to be spooked while in these timeless corridors of good, evil and legendary.

Reaching The Mediterranean’s East

I arrived late, hungry and ready, immediately setting search for where to drink a beer; maybe have a conversation.  The bars I stumbled into were coy, cool in the way a saxophonist in a jazz band is.  Like a East East Village in the port of Eurasia.

I found beer.   Some feeble attempts to talk but embarrassingly realized  I knew no Turkish.   I would reside to my beer, my book and my observing.   The eat and drink halls of Karaköy had a posh attitude, swank style, and I was waltzing around like Pig-Pen found a trunk full of Snoop’s old clothes.

The people of Istanbul dressed well, mostly in black, conservatively suave.  Istanbul does hipster, but in a poised way, rather than contrived.    Welcome to the Med-East.

New Rome, down to the tip-toeing half-sidewalks and doging the mess of jolting traffic.  I ordered another Efes.  It was time to read up on the history and culture – I was a bit benighted, illiterate to the world around me.

I meandered along the Bosphorus’ edge, watching the fish catch line, reel up into the night sky.  Like an abduction, iconic mosques in the backdrop, across the Bosphorus.  There was a refreshing chill and the acute aroma of fish.    Turkish isn’t a tongue I was picking up on.  It’s as foreign as Arabic, yet.  I couldn’t even translate “Thank you”.   I stumbled upon a bakery in my unsuccessful quest for real food.  I settled for a honey dessert.  It was sweet but unsatisfying.   Onward!  Across the street I ordered what tasted like lamb-meat-balls, over rice, and called it: Night 1.

2014-12-28 00.03.59

MИP via Ukraine

No matter how many times I travel, or how often, I get nervous.  Especially if I’m leaving directly from my family.  Twice so if it’s at night.   We joke about who to call if I go missing (ex-special forces, coast-guard divers, rich distant relatives) all real people for a fake situation.    We smirk at the far-fetched, yet nod solemnly to admit it is possible.   We’ve a vague contingency plan, should a screen-play-like one be needed.

I’m flying Ukraine International Airlines.   They offered me money and additional adventure,  see Consider Kiev & Where We Find Our Truths for more.   Long-haul red-eyes have a camaraderie other flights don’t.   Even more when most passengers are of the same culture.  I’m the outsider, observing the people in their matching sweat-suites, soft white skin, blonde funky hair and Slovakian speak.

The women are like grown American Girl Dolls, but with wide faces, wide eyes, submissive smiles and a manner of mischievous innocence.  I was benevolently bewildered, but allured by the thrill that they all seemed straight from a spy-novel, as if women of the Ukraine play a role of a smitten sex-kitten, that turns double agent and crosses man for country.  In fact, everyone at the airport had a part in this delusional story of romance and espionage that unfolded in my mind.   May they be accomplices or bystanders, agents or pawns, they were all honey-potting, scotching the plot or being played.

Rosy cheeks, soft pale skin, strawberry blonde hair, round doughy eyes with dreamscape color and long lashes.  Their lips were thin, or maybe their mouths were just small.   They’d make great house-wives my thoughts explored further.   They’ve a soft touch in the way they carried about.  I was sensing strong relationship loyalty, or was it obedience?   I observed the couples surrounding me.  The women were docile and nurturing, and innately intimidated.  However, a part of me believes their hearts also harbor an evil that could strike if cultivated and cornered.  Or, I’m back to being engulfed by spy-novel-nonsense.

In the first half of the haul to Istanbul, I’m seated in the way back, squeezed between the window and a friendly, goonning*, Ukrainian truck-driver.  He’s even bigger with his bubble jacket, which he never took off.   I say a silent pray for protection from anxiety and claustrophobia.  I sleep until some jet-rumbling turbulence about 4-hours in.  Shouldn’t we be above the weather by now,  not experiencing any such turbulence?   Maybe if I fall back asleep my passing will be peaceful.   MИP

2014-12-27 22.10.10 2014-12-27 17.59.07

*made-up verb from noun: goon

A sleepy MESSINA

We’ve been traveling without rest since 3PM Saturday.  It was now 4PM Monday.   It was time for sleep.

Messina is the port city Sicily, and there’s not too much to brag about.   Surely one could find adventure , women, maybe even a party to attend, however, we didn’t.  We did get lost walking the hilly city in the rain, pack up our bag out of the smoky hotel (didn’t exactly splurge) and set the navigation for Sicily’s west.  With a small pit stop in for a game of charades with locals for in search of gas, we made to destination: CINISI.  Here in Cinisi we’d celebrate the conclusion of 2013, and cheer in the new year, the sensation of fresh-starts, the relief of beginning anew.