Saturday, July 20, 2013

Y'all ever Heard of Yalta?

The harbor and the buses . . . about ten feet from the ship.
After Sochi, where we had to be schlepped into the port in tenders from the cruise ship due to all the 2014 Winter Olympics Potemkin spiffing up, we were pleasantly surprised to get a parking place practically on the promenade in Yalta, Ukraine. Did you see Speed 2? I think it was Speed 2. It might have been Speed 13. The one where Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric can't stop the cruise ship until it plows through the port into the houses? That one? That didn't happen, but our ship was an overwhelming presence in the harbor.

Having never been to Ukraine, we booked a bus tour with a guide. I'm going to call her Irena, although that's not her name. I was sitting in the first row (just like all through elementary and high school), so every time Irena said something she thought was funny or the least bit interesting, she would turn around and expect a reaction from me--because I'm naturally attentive and adorable. At first I'd smile and occasionally give her the thumbs-up, but then I'd anticipate the turn and conveniently turn toward the window and pretend to be taking a picture...of the side of a house, a guardrail, a cloud.

If you're adorable yourself, you'll know that being so has its drawbacks. Big eyes and a dopy smile can be misleading. While, granted, I don't know much about, say, trigonometry, I am not ignorant of world affairs. Damien the French Chess Champion's Hairdresser regularly--REGULARLY--forces me to watch black-and-white documentaries. I'm watching one right now as I write this. I've seen every documentary ever made about the former GDR--ask me anything, go ahead (Neimand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten.)--and every documentary about World War II and the Weimar Republic. As long as it's in black and white, we have to watch it. I'm sure I've seen documentaries about the Yalta Conference. The picture of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt is nothing new to me. I know why they got together; I just didn't remember where.

"So, um, Yalta," I said to Damien the French Chess Champion's Hairdresser as we were staring down at the tiny buses from the ship's deck.

"You have no idea where you are, do you?"

"I didn't say that."

"You're in Ukraine."

"Thank you. When did we stop saying The Ukraine?"

"1991." Damien the French Chess Champion's Hairdresser did not say this, but it's true. Independence for Ukraine also freed it from its definite article, which etymologically speaking suggested it was on the outskirts of Russia. 

Damien the French Chess Champion's Hairdresser tells me that the Livadia Palace, the venue for the Yalta Conference, was renovated to make it more wheelchair friendly for President Roosevelt. Well, we had a person in a wheelchair, and she had to climb a few stairs. What happened, Livadia? Maybe Franklin didn't have to use the upstairs bathroom? Was it exciting to be in the same room where such an important horse-trading session occurred? I don't know. I took a picture of the chair Churchill sat in just in case I developed more interest later.

I'm sure Irena told us what the next stop on the itinerary was, but I understood only every fourth or fifth word she said. It was as if when she didn't know a word she said gihrgblah, so she'd say, "Next stop very pretty important gihrgblah . . . gihrgblah. On right you see, um, gihrgblah." Since our return, I've Googled all the gihrgblahs on the tour, though.

The next gihrglbah was the Vorontsov Palace, where Winston Churchill slept during the Yalta Conference. Maybe due to its Scottish architecture? It has been beautifully preserved, mainly because Hitler promised it to one of his officers. Here are a few impressions of this place, including the most adorable sleeping lion:

Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the town when we got back to the harbor. We were expected on board, and we were sailing away within thirty minutes. AIDA plays Enya's "Orinoco Flow" (or "Sail Away" as I have called it for the last year) every time they leave a port. If you don't like this song, you probably need to jump overboard; the song is piped through all the speakers on the ship, so there's no escaping it. If you've grown to love the song, as I have, you'll want to be on deck singing (the wrong lyrics), adding harmonies, hugging your new AIDA buddies, exchanging Facebook handles. OK, I'm sick. I need a support group.

I must be off,

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to Z is for Zillertal.

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.