Thursday, June 26, 2008

Paul McCartney, Summer Camp, and T-Shirts

Hello, everyone! I hope that your summers are going well. Mine is extremely busy so far . . .

First, a few stories I forgot to tell about my uncle and aunt’s visit. Our second day in L’viv, we were walking around the city, and came across a strange statue by a café. It was a man dressed in 19th century clothes, examining his gloves. Upon further examination, you notice that there are hands coming out of his jacket, and pants leg, etc. Very weird. Then my uncle noticed the accompanying plaque: birthplace of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. As in, masochism. As it dawned on us who this was, a waitress from the café walked out wearing a leather dog collar, and other leather accessories. I exclaimed, “Oh my God . . .” and she started laughing. Later, we ate there! The food was not bad. We ate outside, though, and mostly avoided the evocative interior decorating.

Later, on our first day in Odessa, we stopped at a café to have breakfast. I was very excited, because the Ukrainian menu had pictures of a full breakfast, including hash browns, and of a club sandwich with fries. Then I realized that the restaurant didn’t actually offer these meals . . . maybe they just thought the pictures were pretty. It would have been worse if the pictures had been in the strangely-worded English menu (“chicken hip”?), to trick the tourists, but this was bad enough, in my opinion.

Finally, on that same day, my aunt and I went to a Ukrainian sauna! It wasn’t quite as fun as the one I went to before, with a freezing-cold pool to jump into, but still good. (Really, jumping into freezing water can be fun!)

So, after my visit, I rested at home for a few days and did as much laundry as I could. That Friday, I met Clara and Cindy in Vinnytsia to get ready to go to Kyiv for the Paul McCartney concert!!! Yes, Paul McCartney came to Kyiv for a free concert, on June 14th (his birthday!). We figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so, despite predictions of rain, we headed to Kyiv .
. .

Two wonderful Volunteers had arranged for an apartment for several of us, right near where the concert was taking place in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). After a late lunch, Clara and her former cluster-mate Linda and I waited near the square to see how things were looking. The rain started around 4 pm, and didn’t really let up until 10:30 pm, about an hour after the concert had begun. For the first few hours, we waited under the awning of a nearby “Double Coffee.” I began remarking nervously on the design of the awning: it was made up of several inverted tents, which might be stylish, but seemed like a really bad idea in that kind of rain. Sure enough, the tent nearest me began to spurt water everywhere: waterfalls pouring onto the surrounding tables and splashing everything. We retreated to a safer distance, and watched the rain pour down for another hour or so.

Eventually, we decided to brave the crowds in order to claim our spot in the square. When they opened the gate and people started streaming in, I was actually worried about being trampled for a few moments. I don’t think I’ve been that nervous about being squashed in a crowd since sophomore year at W&M, when we went to see Prof. Whatsisname’s famous Blowout speech. (A big waste of time; he couldn’t be heard over the shouting, and the guy with a huge, strange, horn-like musical instrument . . .)

We waited in the pouring rain for an hour or so, soaking wet, while I tried to pretend that I had come to see a concert in a swimming pool. That would be fun, right? We stood under our umbrellas and, every now and then, said things like, “I’m so wet.”

A little before 9 pm, they started showing videos on the big screens, which we could see fairly well through the umbrellas. My favorite Ukrainian celebrity (not that I can understand a word he says) was there in the rain, on camera, singing “Happy Birthday” to Paul, which soon gave way to videos of the other nine Ukrainian celebrities waxing poetic on Paul and the history of the Beatles. We watched the videos for a while, and then, at about 9:40, Paul came on stage! He said “Privit, druzi” – hello, friends – and began to play “Drive My Car.”

During the first half he played a lot of new songs no one cares about – but soon he began to play things that we all knew. He introduced one by saying “Here’s one you may remember . . . I don’t.” When he spoke English (really only about half of the time!), the screen showed a translation in Ukrainian. He pronounced the Ukrainian phrases he had learned very well, and would say things like “Tsya pisnya dlya Johna” – this song is for John (“A Day In The Life”). Perfect grammar! (He also sang “My Love Makes It Good,” or whatever it’s called, for Linda, and “Something” for George. Very sweet.)

It was a really good concert, and well worth the wait (few things would be). He played til midnight! One of his favorite things to do was to repeat “Spa-cee-ba! Dya-koo-yoo!” (“thank you” in Russian and Ukrainian, only slightly mispronounced) rhythmically, over and over.

My favorite was “Live and Let Die,” because there were fireworks! Very fun. Other crowd favorites were “Birthday,” and, obviously, “Back In The U.S.S.R.” Before he sang “Blackbird,” he said, “The blue and yellow bird flies high over the Black Sea tonight!” Aw. There were two encores – and for one he emerged waving a Ukrainian flag. At that point, the crowd was chanting “Yes-ter-day! Yes-ter-day!” They are obsessed with that song here. It is sung at almost every special occasion; by which I mean that various random syllables are sung to that tune, after the initial word, “Yesterday . . .” He did finally play it, and everyone was very happy.

After that, we found our way back to the apartment and slept soundly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get all the way home that night, because a holiday on Monday (not sure which) changed the bus schedules. So, I ended up having only about twenty-four hours at home before my next excursion . . .

On Tuesday, I arrived in Kyiv again for a meeting of the SPA grant review committee. There were the requisite English resource center grants, but also some unusual ones; including a health information center, complete with a team of students to promote its use! I served as the “scribe,” which meant that I typed up summaries and funding decisions, and tried to keep everything organized. That was probably my last SPA meeting . . . I really enjoyed being on the committee; it was nice to do something involving “concrete” results, as the Peace Corps experience on the whole is notoriously difficult to define.

While in Kyiv, I got to meet a friend of my friend Louisa’s sister (still with me?), who was traveling in Eastern Europe; and I also saw my former Ukrainian teacher, Yulia, for dinner. Yulia and I went to “Belfast Café,” the first Irish pub I’ve been to in Ukraine! It was all very fun.

After that, it was on to my friend Clara’s summer camp at her school. Different Volunteers taught about culture, peer pressure, leadership and healthy living. On Saturday, I taught a lesson in English mixed with Tarzan-esque Ukrainian on HIV/AIDS, and the students were very good and attentive. Later that day, before a lesson they were teaching on South America, Grant and Keith asked the campers to guess different things about the Volunteers. I was voted most likely to have adopted a dog in Ukraine, to enjoy riding horses, and to have the worst Ukrainian! Sigh. My fellow Volunteers were very sweet, and comforted me after this blow. The first thing was really Keith, and the last two were Grant; mine was “who here lives with a babusya (grandma)?” That’s me!

We all had a lot of fun, and enjoyed seeing Clara’s site. The boys liked tossing a football around during their free time, and while I watched (I’m not very sporty), I decided to program the Ukrainian national anthem onto my phone, note by note. Ah, the things we have time to do during Peace Corps. Once I had perfected it, it was a hit; and is now the ring tone of a few Volunteers’ phones! Sure to raise some eyebrows on the trolley . . .

One sad moment was when we and several students came across a burlap sack that someone had thrown from a moving car onto the sidewalk – with a dog and a kitten trapped inside. All I had were nail clippers, but we soon found scissors and were able to let them out. They were soaking wet, and so may have been thrown into the lake before that. The stray animal situation here is very depressing, and we’re reminded of it every day.

A nicer moment was visiting Clara’s host grandmother, who wanted to give her a bucket’s worth of fresh strawberries. While we were visiting, she insisted on feeding us varenyky (dumplings) with potatoes, and borsht. Visits like those are definitely something I’ll miss after leaving Ukraine . . .

I left Clara’s camp a little early in order to make it home for graduation. The ceremony was much like it was last year – girls in ball gowns, and boys in shiny suits. The monument visiting was thankfully cut short because of the rain, and we paraded almost directly from the school to the café, followed by a three-man band – all of whom, at some point, found it necessary to try to fit under my umbrella. Ha ha. Oh, the Amerikanka: endless source of amusement . . .

Well, what has been making me laugh recently is the unusually high number of ridiculous English t-shirts I’ve been seeing around. I started a list of my favorites – here they are:

In Gothic, white letters, against black, on the back of a t-shirt: “Whith all it’s shame drudgery / and broken dreams / it’s still A Beautiful world / be cheerful strive to be happy”

In Gothic letters, under an orange cobra coiled with barbed wire: “Don’t tread on me”

“Some days it’s not even worth chewing through the restraints” (I swear.)

“You can’t stop the music” (Don’t even try.)

“When I dance I am even more beautiful”

A combination of mangled lyrics from an awful James Blunt song – such as “Because I’ll never you” – and text from a customer service document asking for positive or negative feedback on a product.

In gold, sparkly letters against brown, on a large man: “Only Good Can Judge Me”

In Gothic, black letters against white: “One Jesus / One Revival / Faithfully / Punk”

On a sleeve on the metro, gold on black: “Warrors Peacemarker Soldiers Freedom”

On the metro, with pot leaves: “They say I was in Amsterdam but I don’t remember”

“Bar Girl”

And finally, in sequins, “I (heart) UGIRL”

Thank you so much to Kristen for the hilarious letter, to Aunt Mary for the pretty postcard, and to Gigi for the long-awaited, occasionally difficult-to-hear video! (Still not sure what Marc said in Russian – it’s possible that even he doesn’t know.)

Well, that’s about it. In a few days, I am off on another adventure – to visit my PCV Twin Katie on another continent! More on that next time! Keep in touch . . .

Love, Virginia


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