Retire To The Ukraine?
“I’m in Odessa, a pretty port city on the Black Sea, traveling with friends Ivan and Vinnie,” writes Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst, picking up where he left off yesterday.
“We went to the fine arts museum here, housed in a 19th-century palace with wide wood staircases, worn floor tiles, and large gardens. The museum displays paintings of 19th-century Russians going about their daily lives, all as seen through the eyes of Russian painters. We see Russians visit the watchmaker, spin yarn, dip sheep, bury babies, hire a maid, and beg. We see them host a party, get tipsy (the painting’s title is ‘Tipsy’), get drunk, and sleep off a hangover. We see soldiers defeated at war, marching through snow. We see peasants eat, we see the nobility eat. The nobility eats better.
“My favorite painting was of a tiny chapel on a rock in the Black Sea. A priest was standing in a tiny boat nearby, in solemn devotion. In the background was Odessa and its church, all under a dark, threatening sky.
“Our budget hotel here has a curious policy: The front desk people work 24-hour shifts, then take four days off. Whoever is at the desk when you check in, is still around the next morning.
“Our first day here the desk clerk just shook her head. Whether we asked for a map or laundry service or told her the WiFi had gone out, she shook her head and gave us the same response. ‘This is an economy hotel, only for sleeping. We provide nothing else, no other service.’
“Straightforward, right? Then the next day, the new desk clerk was so helpful. She found us a map. She got the WiFi fixed. She arranged for the laundry workers in the basement to wash our clothes for a nominal charge. What a difference.
“We took a local bus to the catacombs, 14 kilometers from Odessa. The catacombs were originally quarries, created when Odessans mined limestone for use as building material. These days some 2,000 kilometers of catacombs, on three levels, zigzag around and under Odessa. During World War II, the Resistance hid in 10 locations. One of the 10 locations is open for tourists, and we got a guide to take us in.
“The guide himself was worth the small admission price. He did the entire one-hour tour without using a verb. For example, instead of saying, ‘The partisans had no electricity,’ he’d say, ‘Partisans, no electricity. Now electricity. Electricity, new. Partisan time, no electricity.’ And on and on, for nearly an hour.
“The main room, left pretty much untouched from the war days, still sports pictures of the two great heroes Lenin and Stalin. Remember Odessa was part of Russia. Russians were the good guys, Nazis the bad guys. These partisans were on our side. From their hiding place in the catacombs, partisans sabotaged Nazi operations, gathered intelligence, and otherwise made life tough on the Nazi occupiers.
“Each of the 10 underground units consisted of 65 men and 5 women. Three women cooked, two nursed the sick. Or, as our guide put it, ‘Five women. Three cooking. Two medical.’ With so much humidity down there, I imagine the nurses kept busy treating lung disease; our guide mentioned tuberculosis.
“Our friend Vinnie had to leave and return to Houston. So we celebrated his last night: Chateaubriand at The Steak House on D Street.
“Outstanding. What a discovery. We chatted with the guy at the next table, who turned out to be the British ambassador to Moldova. He and his wife had driven over from Moldova for the weekend, a four-hour drive, mainly to eat at The Steak House.
“I could live in Odessa, and maybe someday we will. First, I’d arrange an exploratory trip for Vicki and me. Remember, Americans and many others can enter Ukraine without a visa, for up to three months.
“If we manage to set up shop here, short or long term, I’d have to learn the alphabet. Learning the alphabet should be much easier than learning the language, and at least I could read menus, road signs, bottle labels, and the like.
“Come to Odessa sooner rather than later, before costs go up. I figure with Russian prosperity, the currency will rise, inflation will take hold. Then again, all that prosperity means life here will probably improve. So take your pick, come now or come later. But I definitely suggest you come.
“Next stop: Kiev, capital of the Ukraine.”