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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #339

The nights are getting funky in the frozen Saigon. Yesterday evening I rushed from one Church to another, each one more elaborate and ornate than the last. I started off at 6pm in the Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the Jesuit Church, where I sat with one of my favourite friends and colleagues and we discussed a serious and complex, sensitive matter. Someone’s been injured, and he won’t tell why. So I am going to have to find out. I don’t want to say much more right here, because it’s one of those things that needs to be approached with great discretion; but that’s a task for the coming days. Also my friend S——- and I caught up on lots of gossip and we had a lot of great laughs over a light meal. It was all great fund and he’s getting out of a difficult work situation and he’s moving to a much better place. He’s one of the finest minded volunteers in the international community here and it warms my heart to be able to work with such people.

After a brief meal after Mass, we moved on to the Dormition Church, a famous icon across Lviv although I’d never been there before. There we met another colleague M——- who I have increasing respect for; he had managed the construction of the new military kitchen where I work, virtually single handed, and although he had a reputation as a hard taskmaster with a military background from which he is retired he got the job done and that is what matters. He’s now working on a new series of projects and when he’s no longer the guy in charge his personality has changed completely. He’s relaxed and easy-going in that charming American kind of a way, always with some light conversation and we sat down and listened to and watched the music in the back room. I never even knew there was a back room to this place, which looks like a coffee shop from the front; but let’s just say that it attracts an upper class of Lviv residents, with exceptional music and fine deserts and it’s a great place to go to pray.

Then it was time to head over to our traditional haunt, the Latyns’kyy Katedral’nyy Sobor, where I admit that I drank a little too much of the communion wine. Nevertheless the Latin Cathedral, as it’s colloquially called, is always completely heaving on a Saturday evening and tonight was no exception. I had shot after shot of vodka, and I think someone even bought me a glass of the wretched limoncello. The Latin Cathedral is also where I engage in my press gang techniques of turning honest upright and decent citizens into journalists, and now I have acquired a portable microphone and some complex wires I can make podcasts and do interviews on the move which turns out to be a wonderful technique because let’s just say that people are more free with their opinions when they’ve been supping on the communion wine.

The new journalist I signed up last night is the lady who wanted to come out east and then withdrew at the last minute. Which one, I hear you ask? Well, life in Lviv can be a little … complicated; but this lady is charming and beguiling and she has lots of opinions. You can hear my interview with her, just outside the doors of the Latin Church, on the Lviv Herald podcasts page,, and I hope you enjoy listening to what she had to say. She’ll be a fantastic member of the team because she is opinionated but in a fair way, and with impeccable English, an educated lady with lots to add to our journalism. So a Church wine press gang it may have been; but I am pleased with the fact that I have added her to the list.

We were rolling around in the Church, as is typical on a Saturday evening, and I decided I’d had enough and I would head to bed. But alas it was not to be. I walked out of the door and I was just heading past the doors of the Bolm Chapel when another lady approached me and asked me whether she could come home with me. I thought this rather forward; I asked her whether she had had an argument with her boyfriend. She indicated yes, and suggested that we go into the Bolm Chapel to purchase some communion wine, because that particular Chapel closes at about 11.45pm - it’s one of the last places to buy alcohol in Lviv. And then she just wondered off into the night and I never saw her again.

I suppose she was teasing her boyfriend or making him jealous for some reason, by appearing to walk off home with a foreign man. Or maybe she just wanted to get away from him. Or maybe she was completely hammered and had been to even more Churches than I had last night, and she had no idea what she was doing or saying. She was just one of those faces that appears in the night, and disappears into the mist, and that you never see again. Like Dr Zhivago, it was a brief if romantic encounter amidst the ecclesiastical mists, but all in all this was a very typical Saturday evening out in Lviv, and I think now dear reader you understand just how many Churches there actually are in the frozen Saigon.

I woke up this morning with two bottles of communion wine on my sofa, wondering what on earth they were doing there. I dusted myself down, took a cup of coffee, organised my things, and started to get ready for the day ahead. Because there is much to do and never enough time to do it. This is how life goes in the raunchy, rancorous, radiant, ravish, frozen Saigon.


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