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Tales of A Lost Past
Market: Why are you taking my photo ?
In addition, the Olbians tried to behave like good Greeks as well, wearing false beards and covering their arms – customs long abandoned in Greece proper, but remained in vogue in Olbia. What was Dio’s most fascinating discovery, however, was that the ancient Greek veneration of homosexual love as the supreme intellectual and spiritual experience – also no longer popular in the Hellenic Lands - was still very much alive and fashionable in Olbia. In fact, a gallant young warrior and prominent citizen of Olbia Dio met was also renowned to have “many male lovers”. Given the Olbian desire to announce its Greekness, this fact was treated more as an evidence of the warrior’s achievements rather than merely his orientation.
City of Grandeur, Exiles and Love
ODESSA The train arrived in Odessa at about 06:50. The moment I stepped out of the train, I was amazed by the Baroque grandeur of the Train Station - its neo-classical columns and statues, as well as glass chandeliers and more – these reminded me of Vienna and Paris than an industrial seaport of Ukraine.
Odessa's Opera House
Odessa was founded by the Russians 200 years ago upon the conquest of the region from the Turks. Mistakably named after the Greek city of Odessos (which was later found much further away in what is today Bulgaria), Odessa quickly became the most important port of the Russian Empire. Its wealth, glorious past and cosmopolitan nature are reflected in the grand 19th century and early 20th century architecture. It boosts many fine buildings, leafy streets, statues and public sculptures by European masters, and a magnificent opera house equal to Viennese standards.
Walking around Odessa was a pleasant experience. Lots of grand old buildings and public sculptures. Leafy avenues shelter the stroller from the summer sun. Two peasant women selling warm donuts while a late arisen street hawker was busy setting up his newspaper booth – his regular customers were already buying from a rival a block down the street. A beggar had begun his day too, and had already secured a few coins. The elderly hobbling along with their walking sticks. Children walking to schools with their kiddie bags. The office worker smelling each other’s breath in the crowded city trams. This is bustling Odessa beginning its day.
Odessa is also the most cosmopolitan city this side of the Black Sea. Ships from the world over call at its port. Sailors of all skin colours walk on its streets. In fact, since its early days of foundation, people from not only the Russian Empire but also from abroad have settled here and helped built the city. This was a city with a French noblemen, Duc de Richelieu, as its first governor; Greek shipowners; Jewish and Armenian merchants; Nogay Tatar wine growers; Russian and Ukrainian peasants; Moldovan and Swiss colonists; Polish landlords; Entrepreneurs from Britain, Belgium and Denmark. Russian has always been the linqua franca, and laissez faire the spirit. In time, Odessa began to attract the persecuted and the exiled. The misery of life in the inland Pale attracted so many Jews to Odessa that by 1897, Yiddish was spoken by 32% of the population.
Ukrainian stamps commemorating the birth of Alexander Pushkin
Russia’s national poet lived and fell in love here. The same goes for Poland’s Adam Mickiewicz – he came here in exile in 1825, not long after Pushkin’s departure. Away from his beloved conservative Catholic homeland, Mickiewicz lived a carefree Bohemian life. He became a patron of whore houses and carried on passionate love affairs with a succession of four Polish ladies, one of which was a well known socialite and a Tsarist spy.
At the Potemkin Steps
I walked along the leafy Primorskie Bulvar, wondering which was Pushkin’s
apartment and tried imagining where he had his tryst with Madame Vorontsov.
In the middle of the street are the 193 Potemkin Steps, where the famous
battle scene of Battleship Potemkin, a Soviet Revolutionary movie about
the ship’s rebellion during the 1905 uprising, was filmed. The Duc
de Richelieu’s statue stood at the head of the Steps, with a cannon ball
– which ironically was lobbed there by the French Navy, who were bombarding
the city during the Crimean War. At the statue’s pedestal were carvings
of the goddess of Justice and Mercury. Lady Justice, unlike those
elsewhere, wasn’t depicted blindfolded here. According to local residents,
this is simply a reflection of the state of justice in today’s Ukraine.
With a pseudo-Cossack !
In the evening, I met up with Tanya, an Odessan lady who runs a travel
agency. Got to know her on the internet, and it was a most interesting
evening with her partner and son, getting to know life in Odessa and the
ironies of life in the newly independent state of Ukraine. We had
quite a few drinks and great laughs. It’s amazing how the internet
have brought the world closer than ever before, and how friendships were
struck on that tiny little screen.
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