It’s really rough out here. I want you to understand that. As I write these words it’s almost 2am and I can barely write because my fingers have frostbite and it’s well below zero and I’ve spent the last two hours tramping round the streets mostly after curfew on some wild goose chase because some girl or other on the suggestion of some other girls who were the friends of some other girls suggested there was a party. It’s the sort of damn fool thing you go ahead with in Ukraine after you’ve been here for a while and you’ve become ingratiated with the locals and they infer that you’re as crazy as they are. It’s all in a good-natured way, of course; but they really are crazy. So I wallowed off in the snow blizzard after curfew with a litre bottle of vodka I’d picked up for five Euros in some bottle store or other and off I went to some unknown address in some unknown part of town. This was all so idiotic but I went for it because it was Friday night and why not and I still feel young and why should a war stop us all having fun.
I almost slipped to my death staggering down the icy steps of my apartment stairwell and that should have warned me to turn back but like a rugged, determined military type I was fixed upon my destination. I stepped outside my front door to find some drunk men beating some other man to death in the porch in front of a shop amidst the howling ice and snow. I turned the other way, because that situation didn’t look so good. There was blood and gore and I wasn’t in the mood for that when there’s horizontal snow in your face. So I went in the other direction and immediately encountered a police car with the officers wearing their flack jackets and their ammo clips and all the rest but they didn’t seem too interested in me. It looked at first glance as though the brake fluid at frozen in their brake blocks and their car was sliding all over the road. So I walked on past them too.
By this time I realised I’d left my gloves at home and my hands were going blue. The very act of holding a bottle of vodka in a plastic bag, swinging helplessly at my side, and I realised I was a nonsensical prat. But off I tramped through the snow in pursuit of this imagined party full of those girls in blue and yellow dresses, but of course it wasn’t to be because Lviv in January at 1am and well after curfew is a white desert of snow, ice, danger and darkness and there are no people and no parties and nothing at all except the risk of freezing to death. Why oh why don’t I listen to myself? I’ve been here before and I know not to do this sort of thing but sometimes you just get in the mood and you want to head out after curfew even though all your friends tell you that you should go home to bed.
Perhaps the adrenalin had been flowing as a result of my wonderful experiences in Lviv Opera House tonight, watching Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, a late nineteenth century comic opera of a kind with the most wonderful music that everyone has heard even if they don’t associate it with this one of the most impressive of operas in the later operatic genre. The orchestra, impressive as always, knew the score impressively and played it effortlessly, and we the audience were stunned and shocked by the elegance of the performance. I think the excitement engendered by so brilliant a display of musical and operatic talent had left me yearning for a longer night of mysterious and enchanting excitements but ultimately all I found myself with was snow. Tramping and tramping and tramping round in circles in the dark and dismal winds and icy flakes smashing the pupils of your eyes relentlessly: this is God’s punishment for staying out in Lviv after the authorities so permit.
As I write these words I’ve only just managed to peel off the multiple layers of my jackets and rewarm my blood and my body and now I feel safe again in my luxuriant apartment and I have my classical music playing and once again I feel stable and life is again regular. I have the weekend to look forward to, but I’ll be working nonetheless. I’ll have to get up tomorrow (or today); some friendly soul is coming round to help me with fundraising on social media and that is the sort of help and support I really need. I’m also still looking for that girl in the blue and yellow dress with those blue and yellow stilettos and all the rest: the patriot who loves opera and Mano’s Bar, the Yin and Yang of life, the contradistinctions that define my personality and any partner who I can live with and love and cherish. I don’t know whether I’ll find her, but I’ll certainly try.
In the meantime, I have my wonderful parents, my beloved daughters, and the beautiful and enchanting city of Lviv to guide me as my compass for all that is beloved and cherished in life. I can’t describe in all honesty Lviv as a moral compass; it’s rather a deviant, amoral, chaotic and crazy place in which anything goes and the Ukrainian laissez-faire approach to personal and political life finds its epitome. But one thing I can say about the eccentric city of Lviv is that it is liberty incarnate. Anything goes in this proverbial madhouse. It’s wonderful, even when wondering around its icy dimly lit streets in the middle of the night with your hands freezing off. I find a certain calm and happiness in this nuttiness; the forgotten Galicia, a place of multi-ethnic mingling, tolerance, peace, social democracy and respect and kindness to all people.
Tonight I heard a bunch of crazy political stories too, about all the lunacies in Donbas: things I already knew but that this evening were articulated so well by a particularly intellectual and wise, if young, interlocutor. I want to tell you all about those things. But now is not the moment. Now I must sleep, because all that snow has dumbed my brain and these are the last coherent words I can write.