A Day at the Beach
Trip Start May 12, 2006
20Trip End Jun 03, 2006
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Around 11 with no break in the skies, I found my way to the Museum of Western and Oriental Art, housed in a grand old 19th century mansion, complete with winding marble staircase and a profusion of roccoco embellishments everywhere. The paint, however, was flaking off the ceilings and walls. Three flights up I wandered around the galleries for awhile. An ecclectic collection of 16th and 17th century Italian, French and Dutch works including a magnificent Carravagio -- "The Arrest of Christ." The last time I saw something by him was in Malta. He gets around. Luminous chiarascuro faces of the Roman soldiers seizing JC's arm while Peter(?) looks on in horror.
There is one irritating thing about a lot of museums in this part of the world though. The galleries are illuminated by sunlight through tall windows and many of the canvases reflect it, making it difficult to see the paintings from any angle. Add to that that most of them could use a good cleaning and it tends to detract from the experience a bit. But the fact that the sun was ruining the view inside meant my options for the rest of the day had expanded a bit and I decided to go to the beach.
Got a cab from the hotel to Arkadia, the main seaside attraction in Odessa which had officially opened for the season the night before. We careened past the gates of several old sanitoriums and on through a blighted strip of highrise condos and hotels. The pedestrian path to Arkadia is lined with kiosks, sleeping dogs and video game arcades and the main strip above the beach offers a hideous collection of gaudy theme restaurants, discos and bars (a pirate ship, a wild west saloon, a Mexican village, a Greek ruin and some sort of blob in free form plaster dubbed "Ibiza." If it was Moorish, call me Roger.
A series of old piers, breakwaters and ruined boardwalks extended out into the sea where a few men were fishing in the surf. The beach wasn't very crowded for a Saturday afternoon. There were a few brave enough to be briefly splashing around in the waves -- it's pretty early yet. Most were just lying in the sun. One of the particularly endearing qualities of Russian sunbathing is that it's considered to be perfectly acceptable to do it in your underwear. Most were wearing suits, but every once in awhile you come across a fairly heavy older woman sitting on her towel in bra and girdle and and no one bats an eye. Come to think of it, that's the first time I've even seen a girdle in decades.
I stopped at a restaurant for a beer. A cool breeze was blowing off the water and in the hazy sunshine the horizon couldn't have been more than a half mile out.
I get bored quickly at beaches, and after I finished the beer I walked back to get a cab back to the hotel. It cost 60 hua to get there. The driver I found said "What do you want to pay?." "What does it cost?" "100." "It cost 60 to get here." "100."
I waved and walked away. "Okay, 60." I think that's the first time I ever dickered in my life. Must mean 60 was too high.
The ride was the most thrilling yet. This guy operated purely on taking the shortest distance between two points. We'd come to a line of traffic that wasn't moving and he'd just pull into the opposite lane and pass as many cars as he could before encountering a car coming in the other direction who would be leaning on his horn. Then he'd muscle his way back into the other lane to the expressive consternation of whoever he cut off. We weaved in and out so many times that I think we spent most of the trip in the center lane -- that is, we would have if a center lane had existed. I would have offered a few objections along the way, but I felt it wise not to distract him.
Just got back from spending an hour anchoring a table on the terrace outside the Hotel Mozart in the shadow of the Opera House, newly restored in all its Viennese splendor. Sipping coffee and reading Leo's first sketch. I think I'll give their restaurant a try tonight, my last evening here in Odessa.