Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kyiv (3)

Other random things:

Fans of Reginald Perrin will be delighted to learn that there is a fairly expensive looking shop right in the centre of Kyiv called “Grot” (or “ГРОТ” actually, but believe me it’s the same thing)

One afternoon I came upon a platoon* of soldiers cleaning up the autumn leaves from the streets, which seemed like a remarkably good use of an army. Much better than sending them round the world to kill Iraqis or whatever my country does with its army. During their free time (which in autumn when you’re on leaf sweeping duty isn’t that much probably), the same soldiers seem to congregate in downtown Kyiv at specially set up booths where you can pay a small sum to test your punching power by wellying a leather sack as hard as possible. (*I’m not exactly sure what a platoon is and how it compares to a troop or a battalion or a division or a flock or whatever other collective nouns for soldiers there are, so I may be mistaken there)

Kyiv is one of the world capitals for sex tourism, as I was reminded regularly by the English language local press all of which seemed to have faux-shocked articles about how big a problem it is, and listing the websites one could visit to prove to oneself about how shocking it indeed is, and filling up their advertising space with escort agencies and massage salons (in one case under the charmingly euphemistic catch-all classified heading of “Acquaintances”). Given the prevailing street fashions I’m not entirely sure how the would be sex tourist goes about deciding which girls are actually on the game – while in most cities a group of girls standing around a street corner wearing the shortest possible micro skirts and knee high leather stiletto-ed boots late in the evening might be assumed to be of a certain profession, here they’re probably just waiting for a taxi.

Completely unrelated to that last paragraph, though it amuses me to deny the non-existent link in order to conjure up an image in your mind’s eye, Kyiv airport on Sunday was packed with orthodox Jews. Really. Loads of them. It was like being in Tel Aviv (well, Tel Aviv airport without the hours and hours of mental torture masquerading as security, without the interminable and insane questions “You’ve been in the West Bank? Did you meet any Palestinians there?” “What’s in this toothpaste tube?” which are all designed as a not so subtle way of letting you know that you’re not welcome in Israel and that in order to dissuade you from returning they’ll make your last memory of the country as hellish as possible.) I’m not sure if they’d all been attending some orthodox Jewish conference where they discussed the best way to get your hair into those long ringlet things, or new designs in small plastic boxes to strap to your forehead, but they were certainly out in force. I imagine the conference had been obliged to finish on Friday but all of them had been forced to remain until Sunday trapped in hotel rooms unable to turn on the TV or call room service. I know that Ukraine had a big Jewish population before Stalin and Hitler got their insane genocidal hands on it, but I wonder whether there’s much of a community left these days (or whether people have started to return).

The ones on my flight must have really suffered though. For reasons known only to themselves it seems KLM have decided to cut costs on their flights by vastly reducing the service on offer – no more can you get special food, so my orthodox companions were stymied for a kosher snack, and I was unable to eat the cheese-filled rubbish they thrust at me. Also, there is no alcohol served on KLM now (well outside of first class) – this was possibly less of a problem for the orthodox Jews, but it certainly bothered me unreasonably. Why they have done this is not clear to me – in order to compete with the low cost airlines you’d think that normal airlines would have upped their service offerings since they can’t lower their fares to the EasyJet level. But hey, maybe they’ve seen a niche waiting to be exploited in the high cost, no frills airline sector. Idiots.

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