A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Dnepropetrovsk

Дама с камелиями (The Lady of the Camelias)

This is one of the best directed performances I have ever seen. It is a new interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s popular opera La Traviatta, which was adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camélias. You are very familiar with this opera, even if you think you’ve never heard of it. There are scores of representations of this opera (The film Moulin Rouge, for example, is based on La Dame aux Camélias), and the arias are played so often, everyone would recognize them. So what did the Opera and Ballet Theater of Dnepropetrovsk do that made such an impression on me?

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Economic crisis in Ukraine

The worldwide economic crisis has not passed over Ukraine. Every day the grivna (Ukrainian currency) deflates even more. While this is great for me, because I get more bang for my buck, it is really destroying Ukraine, whose economy is based largely on exports. This Kyiv Post article discusses the effect on the steel industry, based in the east (ie: where I live and work!). The article was written in Donetsk, one of the cities I travel to quite often; I just got back from a business trip there yesterday, in fact. Most eastern cities, like Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk, are large industrial centers that run the entire Ukrainian economy, so while the crisis has only begun affecting the east, it will soon spread to the west. Already banks are suffering. I have heard stories of banks and ATM machines running low on cash in the past month. Naturally, investment in gold, like in the US, has greatly increased. JDC is struggling to cut its budget without having to cut services or fire employees. It’s rough. Things are looking up, though. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) finally met after two weeks of being deadlocked to approve legislation for a $16.5 billion loan from the IMF. This should help float the grivna and give banks more liquidity. For more, check out this Business Ukraine article.

A virtual tour of my apartment

I apologize for the long delay. Finally, I can welcome you into my Dnepropetrovsk home! First, I have to let you into the building itself.

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Свадьба Фигаро (The Marriage of Figaro)

I missed the first act, as a matter of fact. I bought my ticket, which seemed to say that the performance would start at 19.00. It was strange, because it looked like there was some kind of smudge on the 9, but there was no mistaking it for any other number. Well, when I showed up at 7 pm, I found everyone at intermission, buying snacks and stretching their legs in the lobby? What happened, you might ask? Upon closer examination of the ticket, it turns out that the smudge I had seen was really a penmark, making a very poor attempt to transform the 9 into an 8 (and considering that this is not very difficult to do, I was rather frustrated at the whole mess). Fortunately, I am very familiar with the opera, and although it would have been nice to see the first act, it was not necessary for my enjoyment of the rest of the performance. Besides, it’s a long show, and I still had two hours worth of opera left.

When I bought my ticket, I thought it was strange that the title of the opera was written in Russian. Carmina Burana had always been written in the original Latin, not even with the Cyrillic alphabet. Why, then, wasn’t the title written in the original Italian?

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Лебедине озеро (Swan Lake)

I am obliged to begin with a disclaimer for all future reviews of performances held in the Opera and Ballet Theater. Here are housed the opera and the ballet companies of Dnepropetrovsk, the third largest city in Ukraine. This is no country performance, this is a major metropolitan production. As such, I am comparing it to the likes of New York, San Francisco, and Madrid (as a side note, I cannot believe that these are the only three cities in which I’ve seen major theatrical performances). If it seems like I’m being harsh, it’s because this is truly excellent company to be compared with and it is hard to live up to such standards. I also want to make known that I was a bit lenient in my review of Carmina Burana. I did not realize the excellent quality of performances here, which I have later experienced first hand, and so I treated it as a B level theater with a B level company.

This understood, I can tell you right of the bat that Swan Lake was not a perfect performance, but it was overall very good. The company was good, but did not move as one. Lead performances were technically sound, but lacked emotion and feeling. The scenery was beautiful without being too distracting, and the costumes were wonderful. The final result was a highly enjoyable performance, visually spectacular, but quite unmoving.

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Tashlich in Globa Park

Tashlich is one of the repentance rituals associated with Rosh Hashana. You take some bread and throw it in a body of water– any body will do, including a puddle or even a bathtub. The bread is supposed to represent your sins, and you’re casting them out to start with a clean slate for the new year.

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Rosh Hashana

Friday, September 26

3 days until erev Rosh Hashana

Since the entire Joint office would have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, and since not everyone works on Sunday, the office Rosh Hashana celebration was set for the Friday before the holiday. Someone had heard Sharon talk about making sushi for her family, and soon all the women were asking her to teach them (there are quite a few sushi restaurants in the city, but at least in the office, only Lena really goes to any of them. Many people had never tried Japanese food, in fact). Well, one thing led to another, and Friday’s Rosh Hashana lunch was a homemade sushi feast! We all helped prepare, rolling the maki, preparing the sumka (a type of salmon, I don’t know what it’s called in English), setting up the ginger and wasabi, making a platter of all the Rosh Hashana foods– apples, honey, pomegranate, and challah (the sushi was the fish)– and of course, since this is Ukraine after all, setting up platters of pickles, pickled mushrooms, and olives.

It was a wonderful lunch! Everyone had filled out small cards for at least five other staff members, and we all exchanged these. Drinks were poured, and toasts were made. Wine abounded. Everyone was in good spirits, and lunch lasted quite a few hours (as meals here tend to do). Read the rest of this entry »

Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

For two days each year, at different times for each bank of the river, the city turns off all the water to clean the system. That means that Tuesday and Wednesday (that’s right, Rosh Hashana) my side of the river had no running water.

Here it is necessary to give a little background information. The city’s water is not potable under any circumstances. You can’t even boil it, because apparently the toxins in it will only get worse with heat. I don’t know the chemistry behind it, and although no one here can explain why, it’s a definite fact that there is nothing to be done with the river water. Instead, everyone in the city has one of those large water jugs, either like mine shown here, or with the two tabs to dispense hot and cold water.

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A singular event

I was walking with my friend Danya the other day along Karl Marx St., the main thoroughfare in the center of the city, chatting in Russian, when suddenly, he cried out,

-A black!

-A black? I repeated, confused.

-A black! Back there! Didn’t you see him? A black. You know… a… “nihher.”

He didn’t have to pronounce the English word properly for me to understand what he meant. I was completely taken aback, and only partially due to his surprising lexicon. You see, I haven’t seen a single black person, or any non-white person, for that matter, since arriving in Dnepropetrovsk almost a month ago. This is the most homogeneous place I have ever been in my life. Danya informs me that every now and then you’ll see a black person with dreds, but this is a very rare occurrance and clearly merits screaming it out loud as you pass. Also, apparently, there are some Chinese people in Chinatown, which is not a town so much as an intersection not too far from Chessed, but I haven’t seen a non-white person yet in the couple of times I’ve been there.

After me, the flood

I am still wet, two hours after arriving at work, despite having carried an umbrella wth me. Rain is always tricky in this city, even when just a small drizzle. The streets and sidewalks are so riddled with potholes, any rain whatsoever will collect in large puddles scattered without rhyme or reason and barring your path. The drainage here must be pretty poor, I think, given how much water congregates after only a few minutes of rain and stays for some time afterward. Add to this the fact that women wear crazy heels all year round, despite the weather and the temperature. One does not wear winter boots or galoshes, as one would in America. One wears fine leather boots with a large stiletto heel, and one somehow skirts around the puddles as if they weren’t there. I don’t know how the women do it. I find myself constantly looking down, even when the weather is fine, lest I trip over a some kind of hole or kink in the sidewalk (and it’s even worse on the roads!). If I struggle so, I who live in the center of the city, where everything is new and capitalistic and thriving, just imagine what it is like the further one gets from this modern metropolis.

In any event, today was one of the greatest downpours I’ve seen in the city, and certainly the largest I’ve had to struggle through. The walk to work was like a giant adventure: Indiana Jones and the Ukrainian Downpour! I was running and leaping just to walk along the sidewalk without soaking my shoes (and running and leaping in 3 inch stiletto heals is no easy feat). Then, to cross the street, I often had to walk 1/4 of a block out of my way to find a manageable leap, putting myself in harm’s way by stepping in front of the oncoming traffic (but what threat is death compared with getting wet and ruining my shoes?). With my umbrella as my shield and my bag tucked firmly under my arm, I laboriously traversed the 1/2 mile or so from Russian class to the JCC, but just when I thought that all would be well and I would soon be safe and dry, I found myself face to face with the greatest challenge of all. Read the rest of this entry »