Snow comes to Kiev
When it came, it came very suddenly. On the Monday before Christmas we had been to the central Post Office to post a second, and final, batch of postcards. That is the only place where they can be stamped ‘Par Avion’. Unstamped they are unlikely to arrive before next Christmas. And then we walked up the short hill to St Alexander’s Roman Catholic cathedral. Where we hope to attend church on Christmas Day. And then we went to have a late lunch at the Maidan branch of Puzata Khata; something that tasted like pork teriyaki [it sounds better than pork stew] with mashed potatoes and apple juice. And then when we came out of the restaurant the snow was coming down thick and fast along Khreshchatyk. Which corresponds to Oxford Street or to Regent Street in London; a wide street with big stores on each side, colourful Christmas decorations, and little shacks selling coffee and mulled wine.
There has been intermittent snow for the remainder of the week, but nothing so dramatic. Temperatures have fallen sharply. It has been down to – 15ºC at night, and hovering around – 10ºC to – 12ºC during the day. It is said to be quite a lot colder in Moscow this week. But it is certainly substantially colder than anything we are used to in Edinburgh. The local authorities are out early with gritters and salt spreaders. And many shopkeepers are efficient at clearing the pavement in front of their stores. But there is still a potentially treacherous covering of ice and hard-packed snow on most pavements. We are immensely grateful for our Yak Tracks, the pedestrian equivalent of winter tyres, which [on Kate’s advice] Susie bought on-line before we left Edinburgh.
After our first day, I have been extremely reluctant to go back into the Metro. Mainly because of COVID and social distancing. We don’t know what COVID numbers are like here, nor whether the Omicron variant has reached Kiev. This information doesn’t feature on France 24 bulletins nor in The Guardian on-line, which are our twin sources of information about the world. A lot of people wear masks in the street, and they are obligatory in shops and shopping malls. Reassuringly we are also asked to show vaccination certificates in cafes and restaurants, even in the relatively downmarket Puzata Khatas. My best guess is that COVID is less rampant here than it seems to be currently in London. Where blustering Boris’s habitual indecision seems unhelpful. I gather that the saintly Nicola is imposing tougher restrictions in Scotland. Susie hopes that we will be allowed back into Scotland in two weeks time without too much difficulty.
We have enjoyed several Carol Services in recent days. Notably Holy Trinity, Brussels, complete with orchestra and singers last weekend. Another bravura performance by David Mitchell and his team. On a lesser scale we also enjoyed the service of St Peter’s, Lutton Place, Edinburgh. This was on-line because of changing COVID concerns. And an excellent little video by the TEAR Fund international choir. It is our own Carol Service here later this evening. I am going to say a few words about the carol In the bleak mid-winter, which seems appropriate given the weather. Christina Rossetti’s carol, published posthumously as a poem in 1904, certainly encouraged generations of people, including me, to associate the nativity with winter snow. For which there is of course no Biblical warrant. But there are precedents. Milton’s poem On the morning of Christ’s nativity suggests that snow fell at Christ’s birth to cover the fallen world with pure whiteness.
Feeling confident enough with our Yak Tracks we walked back up to Lavra one day, a complex of monasteries and catacombs. It was extremely cold. We walked on to the foot of the huge and hideous Rodina Mat in search of a cafe, but were stopped by a long flight of icy steps. So we retreated towards Pecherska, and stopped for coffee and a cinnamon bun at Titka Klara. Titka means aunt, and is one of the few words that I have mastered from my Duolinguo sessions.
The following day we walked back past the central Post Office and St Michael’s monastery, and descended somewhat gingerly the steep and cobbled Andriyivsky Uzviz. Tradition says that St Andrew walked up this hill, planted a cross, and said that a great city would be built there. Podil, the area at the foot of the hill, has a rather arty, village-like feel. Slightly spoiled by a gigantic wheel and a hutted winter village in the central square. The area is known for its bars and restaurants. We ate in a long-established Georgian basement restaurant. There are a lot of Georgian restaurants in Kiev. And a suspicion that they all serve the same [Georgian] menu. Accompanied by screens showing Georgian tourist information films. The food was good. But the service very slow.
Our children and grandchildren are in Scotland and Sweden respectively. We hope to speak to both branches of the family tomorrow. It doesn’t feel quite like Christmas yet …
Christmas Eve 2021
We were twenty-something at the Carol Service last night. Partly thanks to David from the Embassy, whom I met ten days ago, and who turned up with six of his colleagues, “all unbelievers” according to him. And a family from the American Embassy that I didn’t know. And a young-ish Ukrainian guy there for the first time, just back from several years in China. The tune for While shepherds watched their flocks by night was extraordinary. But otherwise it was all fine, and we enjoyed mulled wine and gingerbread afterwards.
Today, Christmas Day, we have had sunshine and the temperature was up to – 2ºC. Susie and I went to the English language mass at St Alexander’s [Roman] Catholic cathedral at 12.00 midday. It is a handsome nineteenth century building, a bit behind St Michael’s Monastery. The church was pretty much full, the best part of two hundred people there. I would estimate that about 20% of the congregation were black African students. Emmanuel in front of us was a 5th year medic from Nigeria, an Ibo; and his friend was a Ghanaian PhD student from Accra. Five robed acolytes were all African. The music was good, with a choir and musicians in the gallery, conducted by a young man in a Valencia [football club] hoodie. But I was upset by the preacher: after a Gospel procession and a rousing acclamation, the priest chanted the Gospel [John 1] in an almost unintelligible manner, and then preached making a noise like a dying Dalek. Mercifully it was quite short. I feel quite strongly that it is a waste of time reading [and preaching] the Word in such a way. [A Greek Orthodox bishop did something similar in a Semaine de prière pour l’unitè service in Lyon a dozen years ago. A huge wasted opportunity.]
Lunch was in another Georgian basement restaurant. No turkey on the menu. But we had well-spiced lamb stew, mixed vegetable stew, Georgian baked potatoes, flat bread with spinach, followed by local yoghurt with nuts and honey. A good place. Now are re-charging the batteries back in the apartment. Tomorrow afternoon back to church for Communion and a baptism.
Christmas Day 2021