As I had expected, very simple things were difficult, at least in the beginning. I set modest goals.
Day 1: Food. (This might be a surprising first priority to those of you who know me. Normally internet access comes ahead of food, but fortunately, the friend of the family from whom I’m renting this kvartyra leaves her internet running, and the lengthy password worked on the first try.)
I went to the “Products” store, and after some impatience on the part of the checkout lady I stocked my tiny fridge chock-full of provisions: bread, butter, and delicious cherry juice.
I also bought some water for drinking, following the advice of the nice lady who had let me into my apartment.
It was nice seeing a childhood friend of mine for a brief lunch. I called him from my kvartyra’s phone, not completely sure which of many digits I should enter. I guessed right on the second try. I gave myself plenty of time to make the walk to our meeting place – the McDonalds in the Maidan (square) of Independence. I followed the map carefully, passing Saint Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery where I photographed myself.
I arrived early and waited for 40 minutes, watching people and telling myself to look comfortable. McDonalds seemed to be a common meeting place. Most people looked very affluent.
The familiar face and familiar language put me at ease. We went to the dining area at the mall, at a franchise which serves traditional Ukrainian food. The girl smiled at my heavily accented Ukrainian. Sometimes they seem irritated, or only speak Russian. My friend works as a journalist, and we had a very vigorous discussion about politics and political philosophy. He returned to his work, and I wandered around a bit before heading home and unpacking.
Day 2: Communications.
After a breakfast of bread, butter and cherry juice, I followed the familiar route passed Saint Michael’s Cathedral to Maidan and to the same mall, but I couldn’t find the dining area. I ate at a different spot. The sausage smelled a little ripe. I ate one of the two and decided not to return. I felt myself digesting the one for the rest of the day.
I wanted to get Kyivstar for mobile service simply because I’d heard of it before, but the clerk at the mobile store insisted MTC (which is MTS in latin letters, since Cyrillic C = Latin S) was the best. I didn’t initially realize it was an MTC store. They were able to simply replace the sim card in my U.S. phone which had been unlocked.
Anyway, they were so excited for my patronage, that on the next day, MTC threw a dance party all over the Maidan:
(I’m a pretty big deal.)
Before leaving the mall, I went to look at the gallery there. I had visited the same gallery during my 2004 visit to Ukraine, and was so impressed by some of the painting, that I journaled about them, then returned to look at them again to finish my description. I was stunned they only cost the equivalent of $200. Had I been better prepared, I would have bought a bunch.
On this trip to the gallery, I was particularly impressed with the landscapes of an artist named Vladimir Hrubnyk. I can not explain why they were so moving. Their cost ranged from $700 to $7000 for the larger ones. I guess this is good news. As is the fact that in 2004, that was the only mall in Ukraine, now, according to my friend, there are many.
I was feeling a little lonely after awkward interaction in coffee shops, and also a bit restless, as I often am on lonely Saturday nights.
I took a different route to the Maidan after studying the map, passing Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and the statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, leader of the 1648 uprising against the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth which established a Kozak state.
Boxing matched were underway in the Maidan. I had seen the posters before, but hadn’t taken the trouble of reading them. It was a big affair, and I couldn’t get very close.
The poster only depicted the Ukrainian in the main event. For his opponent they only listed a name. Perhaps they didn’t want to advertise him.
I walked several blocks to a common bar for ex-pats which I knew from my 2004 trip: Baraban (the drum). Sometimes you beat the drum, sometimes the drum beats you.
It’s in an alley and has no sign. Unfortunately, the bar looked to be undergoing renovation, so I went to another ex-pat bar, O’Briens. I actually knew about it from overhearing the heart surgeon – orphan savior who sat behind my on the plane. By chance, I had passed it earlier and recognized the name.
At the bar, I instantly met Mike from England on his last night in Ukraine. He’d just returned from a tour of Chernobyl. The video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. inspired his short trip. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a popular Ukrainian-made video game, an alternate-reality first-person shooter modeled on actual Chernobyl and the nearby town of Prypiat.
Mike had a job and a passion, not unlike me, though I don’t do much of the former anymore. He’d just had a success with his passion, namely establishing himself as a record label for digital music.
He inquired about my work, and I told him about my program. I told him I wanted to survey political and economic philosophies in Ukraine. To illustrate, I said that poet and national Ivan Franko began as a Marxist, but later went on to say that Marxism is a philosophy based on hatred. Ivan Franko, by the way, is apparently the only man in history to be kicked out of a University which was later named after him. I also mentioned famous anarchist Nestor Makho, and his anarchist black army. I want to read everything he wrote too, find as coherent a philosophy as I can, and criticize it.
Mike asked about my own beliefs. I was happy to have made a friend for the evening, and didn’t want to get into politics, but we were already on good terms and he was genuinely curious. For the second time since arriving in Ukraine, I drew the chart from Jesus Huerta de Soto’s essay, Classical Liberalism versus Anarcho-capitalism, which, I think, offers a good overview and classification of political and economic thinking.
As I drew and explained, he objected to my putting communism beside fascism in the same box, the pro-state, anti-property rights box, because communism is beautiful, at least in theory. I conceded that many educated people have subscribed to its tenets, but I personally, don’t find it beautiful. It fails in practice, of course, he said, but in theory it is beautiful. I said it fails in theory too, because when you abolish prices, society is blind. I talked about all the information and coordination which happen through prices. They tell you from what materials you should build your home, what jobs to apply for, and what to study in school.
I also related to him Mises’ identification of German socialism as opposed to Soviet socialism, where on paper capital goods remain in private hands, but all important decisions are made by the state.
We went upstairs to listen to music, and kept talking. Five musicians played played a damn good rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. I couldn’t even hear an accent. Four had gray hair. The fifth had a mullet. They were fearless.
Mike asked how I would summarize it. I approached it from George Reisman’s, angle, the non-initiation of force. Force should only be used in defense or retaliation. We spoke about what this would mean for education.
They played Blue Suade Shoes, then Pink Floyd’s The Wall, as we listened in stunned silence. My heart leapt with joy and excitement every time they sang: Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!
Mike kept listening to the music, and I became increasingly drawn to the television on the other side of the bar. The boxing matches from the Maidan were on, and I watched rounds 9 to 12 of the main event. The Ukrainian pressed the action for all the rounds, trying to get inside, but I though his lanky African opponent out pointed him, jabbing and circling away. They were close rounds, but by my reckoning, the Ukrainian lost each one. They embraced after the fight. The African fighter raise his hands. The decision seemed to take forever. It went to the Ukrainian.
Mike remained lost in the music. It really was quite good, as far as I knew. I watched a little Cricket, then bid him farewell.
I felt a little buzzed on the way back. Excuse me, Mr. Khmelnytsky, I imagined asking the statue, which way is my kvartyra? I want to lie down and sleep. The statue said nothing, stoicism being appropriate to his Kozak spirit, but he pointed with his scepter to exactly the correct street. Thank you, I imagined saying.
Continue eating, drinking.
Contact Kyiv Mohyla Academy about Ukrainian classes. They had me take a Ukrainian test – my first since I was 14 years old in Saturday school.
Contact the think tank which agreed to host me.
Iron my shirts and slacks.