Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Black Sea is a great place for a swim.

I did it. I swam in the Black Sea. And when I use the verb "swam", I really mean it in a way that means "exited as quickly as possible."

I spent the previous weekend in a southern Ukranian town on the shore of the Black Sea, called Odessa. The weather was warm, the reprieve from work welcomed, and the freedom limitless. The crew (those of us doing the gold in the temple) took a trip while our boss gave us 4 days off, waiting for materials from Utah to arrive for us to continue working. We took a night train friday night to Odessa for about 15 dollars. Entering the train felt like I was enlisting in the Soviet Army sometime between the first and second world wars. The lights flickered, carpet smelled of leather boots, the cabins were ancient, and even the curtains looked communist. I slept in a cabin with 2 other crew members and a BABUSHKA! Haha. I talked with her for a bit, but the language barrier prevailed. We slept in an oven for a room, because Europeans believe that any sort of draft blowing through a room will cause immediate illness and death (whereas we call it 'fresh air'). I woke up at 5:10am staring into the eyes of a train attendant ranting at me in irritated Ukranian. We had reached our stop and it was time to put my shoes on and give the nice man back the sheets.

The weekend was spent walking--a lot. We saw most of the town: the main streets, the Potempkin Steps (the famous scene in the film 'Battleship Potempkin'), the opera house, and of course--the shores of the black sea. I don't know if you are familiar with the Black Sea so I will fill you in on the details. It is a body of water with high salt concentration and a poor trash removal system. Oh yes, and lots of foam perusing the surface. I stood at the end of a cement pier with my shirt off and suit on, contemplating the odds of my getting out of this adventure without contracting some debilitating disease. The odds were good but on '3' a friend and I jumped in. As soon as I hit the water my main goal was to get out. I swam to the dock after about 10 seconds of struggling toward the shore. It was the coldest and saltiest experience of my life. It was like swimming in table salt. Table salt up the nose. Table salt in the eyes. Table salt in many other places. Unpleasant. But completely worth it. We walked down the beach like men, with women sheilding their children and men looking at us with the utmost respect. We will probably be the only ones to jump in that water for the next month or so.

Did I mention we went to the biggest market in Ukraine? I bought some odds and ends. Ties, shoes, and things. Ties for 2 dollars. Shoes for 6 dollars. We also met a guy on the train down to Odessa who said he had a friend with an apartment in the middle of the city. He offered us the place for 60 dollars over 3 days. It was perfect.

And the only thing that could have made the weekend superb? I was in Europe at a market selling cheap merchandise. Yes--you guessed:

I bought a new man-bag.

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Saunter

"But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.
"Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered 'Here is his library, but his study is out of doors'."
-Henry David Thoreau
I went for a walk tonight, exiting the apartment hoping to return in an hour. 5 hours have since passed and I still find myself out of doors. I got lost walking in downtown Kiev. I stumbled across an outdoor festival, a light show, a group of college kids clubbin', and numerous park benches to rest my aching feet and collect my thoughts (don't worry mother, I am no longer lost, but felt like stopping at an internet cafe before calling it a night).
The work here is great. The country is as gloomy as ever, but things are starting to come to life. Spring is budding, and the air is getting warmer. People are moving from their black coats to their black shirts. I count it as a step upward. I have had borschk since my last post and can not rave about it enough. Who knew beets could be done right? Not only right--to perfection.
In the past three weeks, we have finished the gold lines in 2 1/2 rooms and it looks great. Next time you are in the temple (hopefully soon), please take notice of all the gold leaf on the walls and remember that they did not paint themselves. Someone slaved over those puppies making sure they were straight, smooth, and beautiful. And they did it for you.
Life is good. Go for a walk and find out just how good it is.