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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #144

Last night I went to the Opera in Lviv. It was amusing but absurd. Carmen, the principal character in Bizet’s most famous opera, pranced around in various sets of increasingly revealing clothing while being tied up, trashing furniture, screeching and surveying young children chanting incoherently. Nevertheless it was all thoroughly good natured, but the most inspiring part of the performance was the Orchestra’s heroic performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem that began at 6pm precisely, as always. There were tears streaming down the faces of the audience as we reminded ourselves that this is a country at war and under existential threat. The operatic performance itself was vaguely ludicrous, and I decided to depart early, at the end of Act II. Nevertheless I appreciated the energy and fervour that the extraordinary cast devoted to the performance. I retired to my favourite bar, to overhear some even more ludicrous dialogues about the imagined conditions on the front line and the situation in Israel / Gaza. I find it depressing that so many people speak so much about things they do not truly understand. The front line in Ukraine is living hell, and you should not speak about it unless you have experienced it.

As is typical in Lviv, the Saturday evening became increasingly ludicrous. I joined some friends, and some ladies became interested in becoming acquainted with us. This was a typically interesting encounter, and I enjoyed every intricate aspect of their detailed and profound conversation. Actually they weren’t that bad. They were just some young ladies who had worked at a hotel in central Lviv and they spoke English and they wanted to be friendly. These sorts of young people who treat foreigners as equals and people with whom it is normal and friendly to be open and engaging have the right attitude for the future of Ukraine and I appreciated chatting to them with my irreverent and ludicrous banter. They didn’t take me seriously, until I told them coldly and calmly of my daily horrors serving the front line in the east and south of Ukraine. Then their faces became still, and they thanked me for my service to their country. There is no need. I am proud to do what I can to help this country, and my work is my own reward. Words of gratitude, while always welcome, are just words. I obtain satisfaction from what I have done and what I continue to do.

There was some discussion as to whether it is safe enough to travel back to the south amidst the perils of live fire and hot war. I have not yet formed a view about this subject. There are politics involved, and therefore obtaining a neutral and impartial assessment is no straightforward affair. Notwithstanding, I am tentatively planning some travel shortly. It is time to go back to the front line where I can help people who are most in need and I can serve as an Emissary of the West in showing to the people living through the hellish front line conditions that we, as the western community of civilised nations operating through Euro-Atlantic military and civilian institutions, support the benighted people who suffer at the hands of the Russian aggression.

Then we went to some other bar-nightclub complex in central Lviv, of a wholly illegal and spurious nature. This place was full of Lviv’s criminal classes. My friend and I were barely admitted entrance; I had to kick up an unholy fuss, asserting military-civilian credentials and threatening to stand in the foyer all night in my military jacket, in order to persuade the management to back down.It did not take long; they realised that I was a potentially troublesome character and that their admitting me to their after-hours nightclub complex was entirely in their interests. The Ukrainian low criminal classes were thriving in this unusual establishment, seemingly oblivious to the laws relating to curfew that apparently reign just outside. At the end of the evening I was released from this unsavoury place into a dingy staircase in an old and unused historical building, and then I was ejected onto the streets amidst a slew of Police Cars looking for curfew-breakers that might be likely candidates for enforced conscription.

I dodged around these various Police cars and other cordons and I stamped back to my hotel in my mud-washed trench boots. Even though in theory there is a curfew in Lviv between Midnight and 5am, the streets remain full of cars and there are people out and about. There was a guard on the door of my hotel ready to meet me when I got home. The curfew is a rule to be broken - by the wealthy. As I write these words, I hear the roar of traffic past my bedroom window, in the middle of the night: traffic that ought not to be passing at all. And I acknowledge that I am just a couple of minutes away from the entrancing, glorious, bewitching Lviv Opera House. Tonight was just a duff performance. I do not wish to become Lviv’s opera critic, but part of the charm of Opera is the occasional caustic review and last night was a hilarious, riotous joke of the ludicrous and the absurd. At its best, Carmen is a tragic tale of bewitched love that ends in tragedy and not a comical farce from start to finish.

When I was sitting in the front row of the Opera, I found myself adjacent to a charming young lady, like me on her own, by the name of Z____, who told me that she loved opera and that this was the second time she had been to see the opera Carmen at the Lviv Opera House. I thought this might be a prospective opportunity for a date with a wonderful, cultured and charming Ukrainian lady. So I asked her the inevitable question: “do you have a PhD?”. She replied: no; she only had a Bachelor’s. Undeterred, I pressed the issue: would you like to have a PhD? She replied: “no, not really”. Our relationship floundered there and then. Soon after, my new friend and colleague, sat just a few seats away, passed by and, casually, on his way to the bathroom, observed: “she seems to be about 12 years old”. I was immediately defenestrated, which is tough when you are on the Ground Floor.


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