Tuesday, 31 January 2012


I saw a man in the street the other day, who looked like he might well have been homeless, and thought "Shit, I don't like the idea of being without shelter in this weather". And, it seems, dozens of people here and in Poland have actually died from the cold in the last few days, many of them homeless.
Grim. If you can't find shelter, I honestly think there's little chance of surviving ...

I'm told that the temperature here (-10 to -15) is not so unusual for this time of year, nevertheless it's still top of everyone's list of conversation topics. Odessits may be familiar with this degree of cold, but they don't like it any more than us newbies, it seems. And the fur coats and hats are out in force! I hope to get some photos tomorrow - if the camera operates, and my fingers don't freeze to the metal :{

One interesting (and more light-hearted) consequence of the weather is that the presence of snow brings a near-army of babushkas out onto the pavements, all bearing traditional, twig broomsticks, with which they brush determinedly away at the snow. They don't wear conical hats, though, nor do they utter obscure imprecations in rhyme, so the impression that Odessa is hosting a convention for witches from fairy stories is merely fleeting. Anyway, watching them, my first thought was that this place could do with some snow-throwers, because if these besom-wielding biddies (sorry, couldn't resist it!) were trying to sweep the pavements clear, they were, not to put too fine a point on it, entirely failing. But then I started to wonder if they were actually trying to do something else, like maybe just stir the snow up, so that it doesn't solidify into treacherous ice. If I can find anyone who a) knows and b) can understand what I'm asking, I'll ask.

Another thing that happens because of the cold is that, if my breath, from behind my scarf, goes up my face, it mists up my spectacles, but usually just on one side - with the entirely unexpected consequence that I instantly lose my depth vision. Several times yesterday and today I nearly stepped into a hole in the pavement several inches deep, or could not tell how high the kerbstone I was about to step off actually was. Just another thing to be careful of, as well as the simple slipperiness ...

Having successfully traversed snow-bound territory, ranging from the mountain peaks of the harrowing to the uneven pavements of the banal, in this blog post, I think it's now time to stop. Spokoinoi nochi.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


It's cold here. And I mean COLD. Today I believe the highest temperature was around -7 or -8 ... yes, I did say the highest. And there was an *icy* wind. I resorted to two pairs of trousers and to trying to cover up every bit of skin possible. When I go out, especially into the wind, my eyes instantly start to water; and then when I go indoors, my nose instantly starts to run. Very attractive!

The forecast is for it to get colder. There have been dark mutterings about it reaching -15 ... Ooer! But I think that's only expected at night. I hope, anyway.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to the market in search of thermals and jumpers, maybe even one of those classic Russian hats!
Somehow I just know I'm not going to look quite so moody ...

Friday, 20 January 2012


This is one of the classes I've been sitting in on these last two weeks.

I have absolutely no comment of any kind to make.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


A beautiful, sunny day today. The sort of day, with it's pale, wintry light, when the buildings here can look just fabulous!

A few posts back I described Odessa as a mix of very smart and run-down. This is the kind of thing I mean.

This is on one side of a street I walk along, on my way to work ...

and this is directly opposite ...

Another example, a little further along.

On one side of the road ...

... and on the other.

There is an appetite here for the new stuff - after the austerity of Soviet times, it's not hard to understand why these symbols of modernity, progress and affluence are attractive. Like during the 60s in Britain, after the post-war period of austerity. I'm not sure how much concern there is here not to lose their past, though. While I wouldn't want to work or live in the first of the "run-down" examples above, the second seems to me rather charming and, assuming that it was modernized inside, preferable as a home to its shiny new neighbour.

I was told a few years ago that there was some concern to preserve, rather than demolish, a place like the first old building above (maybe even that very one), because it was the last surviving - and, incidentally, still-inhabited - example of the tenements that many Odessits lived in, in the 19th century.
Don't know if that's why it's still there, or if it's just that the developers haven't got round to it yet!

Monday, 16 January 2012


Last night the school where I'm working held a New Year party for the staff. Fortuitous for me, 'cos it meant that I got to meet most of the people who work there in one go. It was fun, and I had some good chats with people about movies (I found out about an "art house" cinema here that shows movies out of the mainstream), about being a foreigner in Odessa, about the Ukrainian equivalent of a PhD (one of the teachers is embarking on hers just now), and so on. Everyone was very welcoming.

I was rather relieved when the attempt by the restaurant to encourage us to take up the karaoke facility they offered was resoundingly ignored by our party! I've failed to understand the attraction of karaoke ever since I first came across it in Tokyo in 1985 - well before it caught on outside Japan. But then perhaps that's just because I sing so badly! :( Having said that, I do remember the end of a splendid evening there with some Japanese guys, all of us completely rat-arsed, barely able to stand, who insisted on singing "My Way" etc. in wonderfully incoherent and quite incomprehensible fashion! A quite unique experience at the time.

Back to last night, where I was very impressed by the daughter (about 10 or 11, I think) of one of the teachers, the only child present, who showed us the moves she'd been learning recently at her dance class - this involved her effectively commandeering both the sound system, by getting the dj to play the specific pieces of music she needed, and the floor space in the middle of the restaurant, where she went through her routines, entirely on her own, with great skill and panache. She dealt with those hiatuses in the routines, where others in the group would have featured, by simply standing and counting through the music, without a trace of self-consciousness, until it was her turn to dance again. I confess to envying her complete insouciance. Her mum, who appeared a little abashed by her daughter's utter certainty that centre stage was her rightful place, told me she had suggested that perhaps she not go through all the dance routines, because that might not be so interesting for everyone else there; to which her daughter's response had been to conduct a poll amongst us all, asking if we wanted to watch her dance or not! Needless to say, we did. I think it's fair to say that centre stage was in fact her rightful place - both in terms of her dancing, which was very accomplished, and her winning the "more front than Blackpool" award for the evening!

I was rather inactive on the photo front, being more involved in talking and spectating, but here are a couple of pics of me in charming company. First with Sabine, who's from Latvia
and second with Elena, who's Ukrainian
They both teach English at the school. I sat in on several of Elena's classes last week, as part of my "familiarization" process.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


This afternoon a walk along the streets on a beautiful, sunny winter's day.

A pretty church, just along the street from my apartment:

But it's not all pretty. This dilapidated building is just down the road from the church - and there are many, many others like it. Odessa is a real mix of the very smart and the very run-down.

I was heading for the market, called "Privoz". I think it's the biggest open-air market I've ever seen in my life - thousands of stalls, selling pretty much anything you can think of. These photos give a very poor idea of one small area of the place:

Just fascinating. I think it deserves a whole photo essay - one day ...

Most gratifying of all, however, was that I managed to buy the things I wanted (kitchen stuff mostly), and understand and be understood by the stall-holders. Mainly just exchanges about what I was looking for, and prices. But I had a pleasant conversation with one friendly stall-holder,  mostly in Russian, with occasional bits of English, who wanted to know what I was doing in Odessa etc. They weren't all friendly like that!

Then a walk back in lovely late afternoon sun:

I took a wrong turning at one point and had a moment of panic ... Omigod I'm lost in a strange city, what if I just get more and more lost ... Ridiculous of course, since I had a map and I could always ask someone for directions. Guess which one I resorted to (being a bloke and all that ...)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Here's part of the explanation for my choice of title for this blog.
Anyone who's aware of recent cultural developments in the UK will know that immigration has become a "major issue", and that increasingly (if the mass media are to be believed) a part of British society likes to lay the responsibility for its grievances at the feet of "immigrants". Particularly featured among these are people from Eastern Europe - currently unpopular largely, it seems, because they are the most recent arrivals. I, of course, have gone from the UK to Eastern Europe, that is to say I have gone "the other way". Since I abhor the growth of this "little Englander" mentality, I am pleased to draw attention to, and celebrate, my geo-social contrariness. Hence the title. Small rant over.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Woke to find a light snowfall outside. Pretty.

A 10-minute walk along snowy streets to the school (it's the building on the end):

Looks like I'll have a fairly light week, sitting in on lessons, reading course materials, getting the hang of the place, then start in earnest next week. Good - gives me a bit of time to recover from the intense upheaval of the last month!

The school is directly opposite Shevchenko Park, which is a nice place to go for strolls when the weather is good. It looked rather lovely this morning too:

Monday, 9 January 2012

Next day

Much sleep later ...

A stroll round the area near my apartment today. The weather cold and grey. Streets familiar to me from previous visits, but this time walking along them repeating, rather incredulously and excitedly, "I live here" to myself, trying to experience them from that perspective.

Had lunch in a favourite cafe.

I wonder if the day will come when I don't get given an English-language menu, even without uttering a word. Foreigners are noticeable to the locals!

I got talking to an American man who's here looking for a wife - a fact he shared without a trace of awkwardness. From the amount of time (months, and on more than one occasion) he's been here, the different places he's visited, and the number of "girlfriends" he's apparently had, who have however "never become serious" about him, I guess he wasn't having much luck! He seemed like a pleasant enough guy - although I thought his apparent inability to understand even the simplest Russian phrase spoke volumes about attitude. And I couldn't help thinking his lack of success might have something to do with the book about the Illuminati which he was reading (and prominently displaying) - Ukrainian women may be keen to find foreign husbands, but they're also renowned for being pretty hard-headed. Flakiness is, I suspect, unlikely to impress! I wished him well in his search and headed back out to the streets and the now-fading light.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


I've arrived! The journey was simple, smooth and trouble-free. Met at the airport by a friend, who brought me to where I'm living (should I write "staying" or "living"?), took me shopping for essentials etc. The apartment I've been given, for the time being at least, is right in the heart of downtown Odessa. It's huge, with 4 bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom, and in very good condition. I have it all to myself at the moment, although usually it's used for foreign students who come to learn Russian/Ukrainian - there just aren't any here at the moment. When there are, I may be offered somewhere else. But for now, this will do very nicely!
This is my room:

And, btw, that is all the luggage I brought with me. Usually I'm crap at travelling light and take far too much stuff away with me. But, I think that's not bad for 6 months! (OK, there are a couple of parcels on their way as well, but still ...)

OK. It's late and I'm very tired. Time to try out the whirlpool bath! Then sleep. :)
Spokoinoi nochi!