Expat ramblings in Ukraine

My time in Lviv remains very relaxing, less taxing.

I had the opportunity to meet with my new cousins the other day. We sat in a coffee house for about two hours chatting before deciding to walk around the city. When the rains came, they opted to go home. I stayed behind to enjoy the atmosphere.

Eventually, we will return to Kuty where I will again see their patriarch, my cousin, Zenovyi. I was able to chat with him on the phone, dear man that he is. His granddaughter, Christina, translated for us. He was so self-conscious; he was unprepared for a call from me and unprepared to say anything. Yet it was five minutes before I got a word in edgewise.

Did I mention what a dear man he is?

Since I’ve been here I’ve found myself just wandering around town aimlessly, yet purposefully. With no real agenda, yet a plan. A plan to absorb, if one can actually plan such a thing. I amble down side streets and marvel at the ornate architecture. I’m still swept away by the balconies. Balconies, balconies, balconies. Everywhere, balconies. Juliet would never have had the time to call out to Romeo in Lviv because she wouldn’t have been able to choose a balcony.

Of course, I’m in seventh heaven over the cost of everything. Dinners at three dollars. Espressos and cappuccinos at seventy cents apiece. Eye-popping pastries at eighty cents. If ever I’m to become diabetic, this trip will do it. I mean, last night I went to a cafe and ordered a cream-filled butter croissant dusted in powdered sugar, a cherry tart covered in almonds and a cup of drinking chocolate–right before bed.

I am the epitome of decadence. And I wear the badge proudly. I should be knighted.

Because my time as an expatriate is winding down, I want to savor everything to the nth degree. When will I get back to Lviv? I promised my new-found family that I would come to Ukraine whenever I visit Italy. After all, as I said, I would be “in the neighborhood.” But when will that be again?

And I have to say that visiting some place as a resident without the worry of time helps one see things through different eyes. I know, I don’t live in Lviv. However, as a (temporary) resident of Europe, I feel like every place I visit is part of home–my home continent, no matter how transitory. Perhaps that’s a stretch. But next time I come, I will be on a schedule and will have to hurry to have fun.

Now I don’t hurry, even with the freight train of caffeine coursing through my veins.

No, now I have the time to observe young couples holding hands. I watch with fascination a stereotypical scene of two elderly gentlemen playing chess in the park, surrounded by onlookers. I stare giddily at frescoes on the buildings in the main square. I love to run my hands over all the wrought iron and ponder its elegance and eloquence.

I’ve spent several evenings with my former Airbnb host, Ed. We have a great time. He took me, along with his current visitors, to a restaurant called “Meat and Justice” where we found boisterously drunk Belorussians bellowing nationalist songs.

The main courses at this restaurant are…meat, or meat-related. The highlights of this culinary experience are twofold–the three foot “tower of beer” delivered to one’s table and the big production scene entailing the beheading of an enormous sausage via guillotine for later consumption.

Sometimes I think the Ukrainians could teach Hollywood a thing or two about dramatics.

As an aside, I’ve realized something from visiting Eastern Europe–I’m not that crazy about red meat anymore. In Italy, sometimes I find myself craving it, probably because it’s so rare. It’s used more as a condiment rather than an entree there.

But when I’m someplace where meat is practically growing on trees, I get tired of it very quickly. After eating a lot of meat, I feel bloated, as though I’ve eaten a piece of farm equipment. I suppose there will be those back home who will point to this fact as the exact moment where I sold out completely and became a kale-chewing Socialist.

Anyway, Ed is great as a tour guide. An English-language teacher, he is fluent in Russian and Ukrainian and has traveled the world. A former military man, he’s seen a lot in his  thirty-two short years.

The other night he took me to a Georgian restaurant. I had eaten Georgian cuisine in a Moscow restaurant last year, at a hang-out for oligarchs and Russian mafiosi. I was suitably UNimpressed. Later, my Muscovite ex-sister-in-law invited us all over for “real” Georgian food, cooked by her, an ethnic Russian. And it had been sumptuous.

This time around, we had very basic Georgian cuisine. Georgian food is very simple because the country is very poor. Somewhat meat-deficient, the foods can still be quite entertaining. The restaurant we visited was called, in translation, “Meat Purse”.

Laugh if you want. I did. I will explain in a bit.

We started with “hatchupuri”. Basically it is a large piece of bread fresh from the oven, still piping hot and scrumptious. This bread, with raised crust around the edge has, in the middle, butter, cheese and a raw egg. A little salt and pepper and it becomes a meal.

Our “main dish” was the “meat purse”, also known as “khinkali”. Ed described this course as…a…purse full of meat. Hence the name. It was the best way he could translate it.

Allow me to explain…

Picture in your mind a woman’s coin purse from the late 19th Century. The kind with a little draw string that closes the purse at the top. Now, instead of silk or velvet, picture this little “purse” made of dough, filled with seasoned pork and the juice from that pork rather than silver coins. (Take away the draw string, too). One takes a bite out of the side of the “purse” and drinks the juice from the seasoned meat. Then one eats the purse, usually leaving the twisted portion at the top. Hence, “meat purse”.

I felt so daring. So continental. So sophisticated.

After all, when it comes down to it, I had eaten dough and meat. How challenging.

I had eaten a purse of meat. I couldn’t wait to write about it. I knew I’d have to explain in detail otherwise people would be picturing me with my head in a Coach bag, inhaling baby back ribs.

Anyway, Ed knows the places to eat and drink. I rely on him for all types of information on where the best places are to imbibe. Since I’m on the prowl for coffee, a man on a mission for extreme caffeination, I go to him.

Ed also helped me find a dentist. As a starving author (eating somewhat magnificently, I might add), I wanted to get my teeth checked. I had a couple of crowns that needed replacing, also. It would cost $1600 apiece in Portland. Even with dental insurance, I’d still be out a load of money.

Instead, I went to a dentist here. Two crowns and a cleaning for $250. My dentist was educated in Boston. His office was clean and modern, if somewhat austere. He had three or four assistants. And I got sterling care.

I had forgotten how long it takes to replace a crown, though. Three hours in the dentist chair I spent as he used utensil after utensil to scrub, scrape dig and drill. I thought he was creating a papal sarcophagus at one point. And I still just have the temporaries. The real ones will be ready in a week requiring a return visit.

Oh, joy.

Eventually, he finished and I went to a local pizza parlor to down a sixteen-inch pizza.

This is where I sit now. It’s 9:30 p.m. and I need to return to my hotel and do more job searching. Tomorrow will be another day of coffee-searching.

And pastry-scarfing.


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