Fragments from a War Diary, Part #177
This evening in Lviv was a bit chaotic and blustery. I went out with an intention to get drunk but somehow it never happened. I got chatting with my usual coterie of Ukrainian friends. They all seem to have descended into the Ukrainian habit of winter hibernation. We find consolation from the cold weather in the bottle. But somehow it never gets me hammered. It’s as though all those calories I absorb in drinking alcohol are an essential component of my bloodstream, keeping my arteries and veins warm and alive in this torrid, icy climate. This is what it is like to live through a Ukrainian winter.
I have been off work for a few days, with all these silly injuries that seem to include bruised kidneys and bruised ribs, and I am reluctantly reconciling myself to the idea that I have another week off work and hanging around my hotel room until all these strange aches and pains and winces every time I move my shoulders or sit down on the toilet finally escape me and I get my body back once more. In the interim I have this vague fear of getting fat because I am not exercising; my daily routine is disrupted and I am not walking to or from work and I am just lounging in my bed and engaging in quick diversions between my hotel and this or that restaurant or bar. It’s not exactly a healthy way of living, I reflect to myself. Maybe I should move for the winter to Costa Rica or Bali or some other silly place. On the other hand, my life there would surely be even more sedentary, only the weather would be warmer. Here in Ukraine it is pleasingly freezing, and in my numbness and suffering I can take heart in the fact that I am making the world a better place.
The highlight of my evening was a wonderful woman called A————, who you may remember from an earlier diary entry, as being the lady who agreed to go the Opera with me and then she told me the next day she had been so drunk she had forgotten all about it. In the end I went to a wonderful ballet with my good friend instead of her. It was some long and boring and stupid and silly saga that I will not again repeat. Nevertheless this very lovely lady had the courtesy and charm and integrity and modesty to come to me tonight and apologise for her prior rudeness. Even more: she told me the truth. Some stupid person had told her that I was a bad person and that she should not hang around with me. I know who this was, of course, although she did not tell me. But she had the honesty to admit it to me, and she admitted she had been wrong.
I told her she was totally KGB. This educated, charming and civilised lady should not be listening to idiots from the street with their silly ideas spontaneously proffered under the veneer of alcohol and distorted perception disturbed by excessive inebriation. She is not a person from the Street, I protested, and she should not listen to such rubbish. This is the mentality of the Soviet Union, where whisperers protest in your ear about someone or other not conforming to the ideological purities of the system. In Soviet times, all foreigners visiting were the victims of this sort of casual nonsense and this is why there is an element of suspicion against foreigners that exists to the present day.
I explained, I hope calmly and patiently, that in modern Europe there is no space for such prejudices and idle talk on the part of gossipers and people pretending to be associated with domestic security and other such silly and stupid things to brief against foreigners or those holding unusual opinions or anything else. According to the values of the contemporary European polity, all people are held equal, and that includes Ukrainians and British people and Polish people and everyone else. We are all equal and to be respected and we can interact with one-another freely and equally with curiosity and tolerance and there is to be no hierarchy of nations or ethnic groups or otherwise as there was implicitly, always, in the Soviet Union because this was an archaic remnant of Soviet times.
I finished my monologue with a soliloquy on the importance of not discriminating against people in Ukraine whose first language is Russian. They can be Ukrainian patriots and language has nothing to do with it. Earlier this evening I had gone into a local pharmacy to collect my medications for my various nauseatingly boring medical problems and the pharmacists in central Lviv, much to my surprise, spoke Russian. They asked me where I was from, and observing the British flag patches on my jacket, thanked me for my support for Ukraine. Russian speakers, they are patriots for their country every bit as much as everybody else in this country, and their first language is irrelevant. This acknowledgment and respect for national minorities, and a refusal to classify people collectively, by reference to language or ethnicity, is something the Ukrainians need to learn and I hope I hammered the point home to my new friend. And I hope now she will not listen to the KGB street whisperers and next time she will honour my invitation to the Opera. For she is a wonderful lady.
In Lviv, last orders for drinks in the bars is at 10.30pm and kicking-out time is at 11pm. I hurried out on time, to pop into the local supermarket for some evening snacks to take with me to the hotel room to cruise the curfew hours through. I wondered past drunks in hats and gloves lying in the icy-cold streets, and stood patiently in line as fools and drunks ordered their litres of cheap vodka to take home with them. All I wanted was a couple of croissants and a bottle of Sprite; but the locals seemed determined to wash down half a litre of hard liquor each and they were stocking up for a night ahead locked in their homes after curfew. I meandered down the historical cobblestones to my hotel, with drunks milling around the tram stops, more faded bodies in ragged military uniforms, and other human life barely surviving on the streets, and I reflected that this is all rather a mess. Ukrainians, a fine and cultured people, need to get a grip on their consumption of alcohol, and they need to re-align themselves with European standards of behaviour. We can’t be having all this. This sort of stuff is Soviet and Russian: drunks and fools and gossip and nonsense everywhere.
There’s a curfew and a war. Go home and behave yourselves. Show some discipline. And, my angelic new friend who had the courtesy and dignity to come to apologise to me, I’ll see you next time at Lviv Opera House. Goodnight.