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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #369

Odessa is known for its raucous and rowdy nightlife. The war has certainly depressed the omnipresent sense of excitement the city used to hum with after dark, not least because as in the frozen Saigon, every hospitality venue strictly has to close its doors by 11pm. Nevertheless there are plenty of options to get a hangover littered across the city. By 5pm, even in crisp early March, the streets are awash with lots of different people in the city centre, all looking for some crazy event or other. There are people who will ride you through the streets on the back of a horse or with a cart, people selling bric-a-brac on the street corners, tacky tourist souvenir shops and an extraordinary arrange of restaurants. It seems that everyone has set up a restaurant. There are also all the old hotels that existed before war, where the staff would traditionally cater to upscale Russian guests (in central Odessa at least) but now they the catering staff are all learning English. This is because the local residents aside, the only people who now come to Odessa in any significant quantities are western foreigners with some other mission in mind, such as me, taking a few days’ break from it all.

What interests me about Odessa is that although the city is historical and a number of the buildings are grandiose, equally many are dilapidated and run down even in the tourist centre. It is as though the entire city needs a face lift. Bars and restaurants sit in haunted old Habsburg-style buildings with curious and unusual, unknown pasts and various characters out of the Soviet Union era have had their faces chiselled into the sides of the ageing stone. Nobody seems to know who any of these people are either, and their lifeless faces peer out from every corner.

My evening out with K—— had I think with the benefit of hindsight a fairly predictable course. Duly dressed up, we went off to the nightclub in a bomb shelter round the corner from where I was staying but it was closed on a Sunday. We then went directly to an Irish pub, an enormous heaving establishment in the centre of the city that always seems to be packed and it is right on the main drag. K—— drank a revolting green cocktail while I supped on beer and, most critically, we forgot (or neglected) to eat. The consequences I suppose were inevitable. After about an hour of this, exchanging stories about our two really quite remarkable lives as I got to know this near-complete stranger as though now an intimate companion, almost a sister, we decided we ought to go to a nightclub. Or at least she did. So food was completely off the table, and a state of inebriation lay in wait. We found a series of nightclubs on the internet, but they all seemed to have the same telephone number. We started walking round and round in circles in the street, asking unusual people where we should go, and we were quite lost.

Then we called the nightclub in question and they welcomed up with open arms. However it was a strip club. They’re all strip clubs in Odessa; every night club involves stripping of some kind. K—— wanted to go in nonetheless, and her eyes were on stalks as she’d never been to such a place before. I think she’s lived a fairly sheltered life. She’s from Luhansk, a remote old Soviet city now under Russian occupation, where her family still lives, and she hasn’t seen all the crazy anarchy of nightlife and strip clubs and all this silly stuff most of us know and let us pass by earlier in life. So I agreed to go in and K—— drank more and more of these revolting coloured cocktails while staring in amazement at girls dancing round in the semi-nude. She couldn’t believe such silly things take place on a Sunday evening in Odessa. Well, they do, even in the middle of a war, and around virtually every corner. It’s difficult to find a bar or nightclub in Odessa that isn’t a strip club. Odessa has always had a reputation for this sort of tacky tourism and some things haven’t changed, although the customer numbers were right down.

We became steadily more inebriated. We smoked shisha (a Middle Eastern tobacco pipe where the tobacco is cooled with water, very popular in the former USSR) and K—— watched the girls. Then she changed the “no sex” rules. Apparently she will have sex with me, she said, if I have liposuction on my stomach. Naturally I immediately agreed, and made promptest enquiries on a Sunday evening with my doctor. I’m not sure whether I’m really prepared to have liposuction to satisfy K——-’s crazy whims, but it was certainly a very funny idea. I’ll look into it when I’m back in Lviv. Perhaps. In any event the “no sex” issue became somewhat irrelevant because we only made it through to about 10pm, whereupon we slumped home through the streets and I decided to fall asleep and start snoring: something typical when I’ve been drinking and smoking. I woke up in the middle of the night to find a note saying “I left because you were sleeping very loudly! :D I will come back tomorrow”. I have no idea where she has gone but I suppose she’ll be safe. I think she has an ability to do some unhinged things, particularly when drunk, like a lot of Ukrainians, but somehow they seem to manage to get by even when they spend a large proportion of their lives so very drunk.

Today is a beautiful, sunny day, and I fully intend to enjoy it by walking to the beach nearer into town and striding up and down the promenade, buying some souvenirs and acting and thinking life a tourist. I spent all weekend working, if I am honest, and last night - snoring and all - I must have slept 10 hours which is a record for me. This is my body telling me something. I need to take some time to rest and relax, and not always be on the move. Mondays are traditionally a good day off, I find, because the rest of the world is getting back to work and you can leave them to their labours while you try to focus on emptying your mind. For all I know, K—— is sleeping on a sofa outside the front door. I have no idea at all how far she got. Or she may be in a friend’s place. I will google “liposuction” on the internet. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea; I drink far too much beer. We also agreed to visit Luhansk to see her family, that she hasn’t seen for a decade: this is possibly the most dangerous place in the world for a person with a British passport right now. I’ll have to think about that one carefully.


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