Lada: My first car was a Lada – which I had forgotten until coming to Ukraine. The cars in Kyiv are a good indication of the gap between the Rich and the Rest – lots of massive new 4×4’s with tinted windows, mainly BMW, driven by people who are on the phone and smoking while trying to manoeuvre through highly congested streets full of other drivers in similarly oversize vehicles, and then there are the Rest: people driving very battered ancient Ladas held together with string.
Lard: People are slim – noticeably slimmer than in western Europe in general, and the UK in particular where we’re all a bunch of fatties in comparison to Ukrainians. This may be linked to the price of food, which is high. The average teacher earns about £300 a month, yet a lot of food is about the same price as in the UK. The staple diet appears to be apples – which are cheap and plentiful right now. There are lots of tiny old women laying out small displays of apples & mushrooms on street corners; and I’ve been shown the local market by a colleague, Masha.
The cheese counter had 14 different women each serving their own special curd cheese; there was plenty of beetroot for borscht, grapes from Moldova, pickled cabbage and cheese-stuffed aubergine & peppers. And huge lumps of lard – a local treat which I’ve avoided so far. Probably because I’m not hungry enough. Like the British wartime diet of bread & dripping, I imagine you’re glad of a chunk of raw pig fat if you end up cold & hungry.
Church Bells v. Riot Police – this morning it was all going on down my end of town: the church bells at the monastery calling the faithful, and right opposite the church, the militia being trained in riot techniques: banging on their shields. And over all that, the ubiquitous Daft Punk’s Get Lucky playing through the PA at the start of the Kyiv Half Marathon.
Kissing – And finally, which comes first – the mistletoe or the kissing? There’s quite a lot of kissing couples around – Kyiv’s clearly a romantic place; and there’s a lot of mistletoe – lots of trees bedecked with balls of mistletoe. Could these two things be related?