Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Years

Our family celebrated the coming in of the new year at home, which is the traditional way for Ukrainians to celebrate it. We did watch though the festivities gong on downtown on TV last night. If it weren't for a case of pneumonia that I happen to have right now keeping me home, my wife and I would probably have gone downtown to see what was going on in person. It was nice to see it on TV too and we probably got a better view than we would have gotten being there. But there is something to actually being there though.

We flipped through the channels last night bypassing Yanyukovych's speech a couple of times. (Our little girl who goes around everywhere chanting "YU-SCHEN-KO" and asking people how they voted, wouldn't stay in the room to listen to anything from Yanu. She's five.) It was interesting to see. The ERA channel coverage of the festivities on the square seemed to me to be about like you would get for the Macy's parade in New York City. (That is Thanksgiving Day but the coverage is of a type.) There was no parade, of course, just a couple of what we had thought were rather staid journalists trying to keep the beat to the music with some kind of movement very distantly related to a dance. The female reporter was much better at it as women tend to be. The guy though had the trouble. (My wife is an expert dancer and has to put up with those kinds of movements from an expert in them. She doesn't think of it though as putting up with it.)

But it was all content light, frivolous really, as that coverage tends to be.

I found it annoying. I guess it's part of the same annoyance I felt when I was down on the square during the revolution the times I went. The whole thing was unserious to me especially in light of what was risked by these people and the extent of that risk. I have posted on this numerous times but the threats were real and we don't really know why the trigger was not pulled except for some self serving statements by Kuchma people about a legacy. It will take more than just saying so to convince me.

And I'm not the only one who was bothered by a lack of seriousness. Some of the tent city people were also concerned about it. They thought that the people needed to be more organized and trained to face the potential danger. That they didn't need it in the end doesn't mean anything. The danger was real and it was immediate.

But those risks are no longer there and that is a very good thing.

Some of the coverage light might be the fact that the constraints have come off. These guys have had to toe the government line for a long time and now they no longer have to. That might be some real relief especially for people who knew better and these reporters and newspeople knew better.

Anyway, that there could be any frivolous coverage or any coverage at all on the square should be considered a very real success. So maybe I ought to get over my annoyance with it?

It was kind of interesting to see all the toasts on TV too. That is a nice, personal touch that you won't get in many media outlets in the US. And it was heartfelt like those things tend to be here.

Last year, my wife and I spent New Years at a sanatorium in the Crimea, one of those Soviet era marble resorts, a Stalin gothic style of structure like any number built during the Soviet era both here, in Russia and in other Soviet countries. This sanatorium was for mid-level party bosses. It had been luxury but not too much. (Was it Orwell who noted that equality was the basis of communism, it's just that some people were more equal than others?)

We had just come from Sevastopol where we stayed in a nice, reasonably priced room complete with kitchen. We actually lucked on getting a room at that place. It was filled with people wanting to celebrate the New Year. (Ukrainians have fond memories of vacation time spent in sanatoria. They seem to want to go back and experience it again when older.) All the other places around the area were filled up or closed for the season. (The season around there was the summer, for the most part.)

The room ended up being a dump. We had two beds in a cramped space that we moved more to the center of the room to keep from touching the walls even accidentally. Musty, moldy and simply dirty they were. And the bathroom facilities were down the hall--way down the hall. We did though have a sink in the room which obliged us with cold water only. Though there were glasses, we would never have thought to drink it.

But it did have a gorgeous view of the Black Sea. The sanatorium was situated on a cliff about a hundred feet above the sea. That allowed us to have that beautiful view and we could see all the way to Yalta about 10 miles in the distance. We moved some of the junk around that was being stored on the veranda and put a couple of the rickety chairs out there that the room came provided with. We spent some very nice time looking out at the sea watching the ships going to and from Yalta from that veranda.

It ended up being a nice spot even with the inconveniences. It was a nice New Years for us.

This year though it was family, dinner and TV.

There were fireworks downtown at the square last night. But there were also fireworks around our place too and lots of them. When we went to bed at about 2:30, people were still outside setting them off. And the sound boomed around these Soviet era concrete apartment blocks that are all over the place in this area and around Kiev. (They are the same in any ex-Soviet country for that matter.)

The explosions and staccato popping were incessant. It all ended up sounding outside like the civil war we might have had here but didn't. And the blasting lasted until just before dawn--I guess people have to sleep sometime.

Some kids just came to our door. Kids tend to go around knocking on doors here to collect treats at this time of year like we do on Halloween. But this is Christmas time and New Years of course and they ended up leaving a kind of blessing on our house. It was interesting. I saw them through the door of our room and they reached into their pockets and started casting grain of some sort on the hallway rug. My wife said it was wheat. While they did this they recited a poem the gist of which was that our home might have health and plenty. It was cute and quaint in a good way. A small young girl and her taller. older brother.

Of course we put something in their bag which was already quite full. That is what motivates these kids, a lot of them, to go do it. But they still are asking for something good to come to the person's home so they have to at least take the other's perspective somewhat. Not all of them leave that kind of a blessing on the home of course. Some of them kind of hold the doorway hostage while they ask for candy or money. And we have had some curses in the past when we didn't open up for them. If we get any of these kinds of visitors today, we might put them to work vacuuming up the wheat left by the others before they get something. Of course my wife wouldn't put up with that kind of idea but it seems like a good one to me. And she wouldn't wait for it even if she did agree with it. After the door shut on these two kids, I could hear the vacuum going in the hallway.

So much for what is going on here at the moment.

I hope that everyone has a happy New Year.


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year!!! Thank you Scott, the blog was a fascinating read. I hope that you get well soon. I am a huge believer in chicken soup with lots of real chicken fat, as hot as you can stand it, and right to bed to try to sweat it out. The soup also relieves the bronchial congestion and is a good source of energy for the body. But I am sure that you are being expertly taken care of.
Slava to your daughter! As important as this these events have been for the current day to day they mean everything to the Ukrainian children and future generations as they est. what world they grow up in.

I watched ch. 5 and the studio celebration was flat but I figured that it was because everyone wanted to be at Maidan. Your decription of the hotel room in Crimea brought back memories of my hotel room in Kerch. (No toilet cover on the toilet...) but it was the Carlton Ritz compared to staying with my grandma. I don't know if you have ever seen "The Missing" but it starts off with Kate Blanchett (set in 1800s) sitting in an outhouse, using pages from a book as tp. I experienced this just a few years ago in a small village outside of Kerch and later when I stayed in Horlivka. Surreal but fond memories.
I had never heard of the New Years holiday custom. Thanks for describing it.
Very best wishes to you and yours in the near year.

Scott W. Clark said...

Thanks for the tip on the chicken soup.

Kerch is near the straits right? That is where there was that little confrontation between the Ukraine and Russia wan't it?

Anonymous said...

Kerch is a seaport on the Strait of Kerch, which links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The coolest was the night sky - I had never seen so many stars in my whole life while staying in my grandma's village (although this was due to almost no electricity).
Scott, I hope you get better soon. How is your mother-in-law? Did she return. She sounds like a really cool lady. Tears come to my eyes everytime I think of the story that you wrote about her.

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