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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #351

Today I started to fall out of love with the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra. I wasn’t feeling particularly well; I hadn’t been into work today because I had suspected influenza or something like that, and I had tramped off to the pharmacy to pick up some medications. I asked for blood pressure pills and I was offered sodium thiopental, an extremely strong sedative and truth serum also used for self-euthanasia and as a means of administering the death penalty in some US states. I’d also given one of these cheery smiling interviews for a podcast saying how wonderful it is to work as an international volunteer in Ukraine although I frankly felt sick and went straight back to bed afterwards. There’s some bug going round the frozen Saigon and although it doesn’t feel so frozen anymore as the temperatures are lifting up, we’ve all got some mystery illness that is knocking us out. Anyway I went to the Philharmonic Orchestra at 5pm as observed only to find it strangely boarded up and shut. This infuriated me no end until I stared at the Cyrillic fine print on the tickets and I learned - needing my spectacles - that this particular event was actually in a historical museum buried somewhere in the Old Town.

So back I tramped along the cobbled streets, swearing under my breath as those pretty ladies try to tie blue and yellow bands round your wrist with a quick kiss on the lips and then charge you 20 Euros for the privilege, and I marched off in my grumpy sweaty state to the appointed destination which turned out to be a medieval crypt buried in the back of an old church with a knackered old Soviet-era museum full of junk built on top of it. The entrance was guarded by an army of Soviet-era Babushka ladies who incredibly unimpressed that I was ten minutes late and marched me off through the catacombs to the back crypt as though I was being taken to be shot. I was hurled into the crypt in the middle of the first act which turned out to be an organ music recital - on a decrepit old organ that was being played as though the pianist was casually smashing a small sledgehammer repeatedly into the keys. Now the Ukrainians - and this is one thing I like about them - have no courtesies in such a situation. This was bad music and they weren’t putting up with it. The audience started getting up from the cramped plastic chairs we were all jammed into in the middle of the performance and they put on their coats while the music was still playing and they marched off towards the door.

Matters were not ameliorated by the singer whose librettos accompanying every other organ music piece sounded like she was busy strangling a particularly violent goose. She was dressed up in an elegant ball gown her dazzling appearance amongst an itinerant group of dissatisfied members of the audience was not going to save the day. They kept standing up and dramatically exiting, some of them talking over the singing and the audience playing as they headed out of the hall as though to make the point as to just how rubbish all this was. I was sitting in my polite English way at the back while all this palaver was going on and I decided I would just rough it out and listen through all this ghastly screeching and notes being played out of tune on a decrepit musical instrument.

However there came a point when I too had to the follow the crowd and I wasn’t going to take any more of this. I fumbled around and put my coat back on, trying to be as discreet as possible but failing abjectly in the circumstances, and I followed the line of disgruntled audience members in their white bobble hats and thick jackets and I headed for the door. I’d sat through an hour of this and it was more than enough and my home was waiting for me around the corner. So I wondered back through the catacombs of this unusual palace of museum furniture or whatever it was and I found myself back on Lviv’s cobbled streets in the early evening with the usual rolling alcoholics swaying and shouting at each other on the streets amidst the dreamy spires of historical Lviv. Another typical evening out in the frozen Saigon is about to begin.

I found a shop selling ibuprofen rather than lethal sedative and I pulled myself together, ready to head out for whatever adventures await me tonight in this town of extraordinary contrasts. Certainly the music is not for me tonight; I am back to the Lviv Opera House tomorrow which is in an entirely different category all of its own. I am still planning my trip to the Dnipro River front line for Monday which I have this eerily depressing feeling is all going to go wrong. Maybe I should just pull myself together and get on with it. My head’s thick and cloudy and tomorrow is another day. There may not be a train or bus from where I am going to Nikopol which is my ultimate destination, and nobody seems to have the slightest information here in faraway Lviv what on earth is going on there which is kind of why I’m going. I haven’t heard from my contacts in Kherson which is also rather ominous. Maybe there isn’t a Kherson anymore since the last time I was there amidst the shells and snipers and chaos and destruction of a few weeks ago. I’m feeling down this evening, but who’s to say what crazy adventures I might get up to tonight. The mercury’s rising, the sauce is spicy, the girls are slinky, I want a drinky, the glasses go clinky and I feel like Pinky: it’s Friday night in frozen Saigon.


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