When Ukraine decides to get on your nerves, it's your ears that suffer first. A day might start with the metallic whistle of a leaky shower, or by switching on the television to silly pop music, or going to work on a grumbling metro train and buses that screech and hiss. Rush hour is at its best a monotonous urban hum, at its worst - a collective grunt. But all of this can be forgiven when Ukraine makes music.
Needing to clear my head, I took a Sunday stroll along the most illogical route I could think of: I walked from Pechersky market to the Kyivska Rus cinema, via Bessarabska square, Khreshchatik, Evropeiska square, St. Michael’s cathedral, the outdoor gift and souvenir market on Andriyvskiy Uzviz, Velyka Zhytomyrska and Reitarska streets, Lvivska square and Artema street.
I wanted silence - I got a soundtrack. At Pechersky market the stalls were being stocked as I passed; sacks of fruit and vegetables were being thrown out of vans and loaded on to tables with a thump. The sellers who were already working were listening to portable radios as they waited for shoppers to arrive.
At Bessarabska square I heard dance
music playing from outdoor speakers, almost drowned out by a cheering crowd. Moving towards the sounds I turned a corner to see that hundreds of people were jogging up and down Khreshchatik - Kyiv’s main street - taking part in an annual run that twenty thousand people in all had signed up for. The joggers were running in time to the beat, picking up their pace at each chorus. The scene was filled with different shades of green, from the runners’ vests, to the chestnut trees at each side of the wide street, to the balloons clutched by children in the crowd.
I walked through a weakly-lit underpass on Evropeiska square, where, as if to qualify the happy sounds coming from the street above, a busker in the shadows was playing Champagne Supernova
on a saxophone. The next sound I heard was a chorus of camera shutters, as half a dozen Japanese tourists gather in the leafy park behind St. Michael’s cathedral to snap images of the Podil district beneath them.
Alongside the cobbled street that leads from the cathedral to the outdoor market a man was sitting on the pavement, playing a Ukrainian melody on the harpsichord.
The music was wonderful. Many people passed him, and most stop to drop coins into the hat in front of him. On Andriyvskiy Uzviz the sound of the harp is fainter, and competes with church bells - and the chatter of the men and women tending the souvenir stalls - for people’s attention. In the depths of the market, stall tenders and dark-skinned tourists haggle in European English over the price of matryoshka
I didn’t need to go to the market, and have only ten hryvnya
in my pocket; my ears had led me there.
The rest of the way to the cinema is calmer, but the sounds I hear are those of Kyiv in summer. At first I hear only my heart, overheating under my sweatshirt (the chestnut trees on Velyka Zhytomyrska street gave shade from the hot sun), then morsels of the conversations of shopkeepers who are gossiping into mobile phones outside their shops. Reitarska street is even quieter: piebald pigeons coo and flutter their wings; boutique doors slam shut; I buy a bottle of fizzy Morshinska water, which opens with a moist tshhhhhhh!
Outside Lukyanivska metro station I hopped on a marshrutka bus
to go home. I felt better than I had when I started my walk: the ugly noises had moved to the back of my mind, and the thoughts that replaced them were more in tune. -You can find more of my writing and photography on my blog, MY EUROPE
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