Saturday, 31 March 2012

   Though i’d been able to leave my things at the hostel, i was hoping to get back on the road that night, so after a go on the internet i checked out – but i realised at the foot of the stairs that i’d left the smaller of my two rucksacks. Returning, i mentioned to the manager that, in English idiom, i could say i was a ‘doughnut’ for being so forgetful – but i used the German word which i’d learnt a few weeks before, ‘Berliner’. At this he explained that, when JFK delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in June 1963, most people were pleased that he was affirming the city in this way, but others have jokily suggested that he was saying, “I am a doughnut”!

   So in the evening the metro and a minibus brought me back to where i’d left off on the morning of the previous day. After a nice picnic supper i walked on for about an hour before settling down to sleep in a drainage duct again, fending off a hedgehog which tried to invade my personal space at about 3am. On the next day, Wednesday the 27th of April, there were a few thundery showers but the poncho was on hand so i made it a fair distance along the Kharkiv road before settling down to sleep in a disused barbecue enclosure. Early next morning, over coffee at a diner opposite i was entertained by a very juvenile American feature film, perhaps funnier for being almost out of earshot and dubbed into a language i could barely understand anyway. Walking on, later that morning i couldn’t resist buying some bright yellow honey, like a jar of sunshine, from a stall by the road. I spent the night in another drainage tunnel, slightly disconcerted at having seen the carcass of a grey/black canine, similar to a wolf, by the road – but the Dazer under my pillow was a great reassurance. After a picnic lunch at a place called Oleksiivka on the next day i was joined by a local farmer, who poured me two cups of still-warm milk from a jar he was carrying, and then filled a plastic bottle, besides giving me a nice loaf of sweetened bread. At a cafe afterwards i was spontaneously presented with a lovely bowl of borsch. As a thank you, i wrote a message on the back of a photograph of the painted ceiling in Lityatin – at which the lady felt honour-bound to give me a banknote or two! The royal wedding meanwhile was taking place that afternoon, though i was under the impression that it would be on the next day, so i was none the wiser. Overnight there was some disruption, as the place i initially found on the outskirts of Piryatin was too visible; then after settling down in an apparently better place on the other side of the road i was overcome with hay fever. Burying my head in my bedding made a difference, but the final straw came early-ish, when i realised that i was obstructing an ant run, so i had to decamp rather hurriedly.

   After finding a computer and writing a blog entry, spots of rain were falling as i took breakfast/lunch on the other side of Piryatin, but thankfully a downpour never materialised, and by the afternoon it was bright again. In the evening however, i was thinking how great it would be to be taken some of the way by car, as otherwise it wasn’t going to be possible to reach Kharkiv in the timescale i had in mind, and there was little more than a week before the start of my Russian visa. How marvellous then, that around 8pm a large black German-made motor car cruised past – but halted about 100 yards further on, and reversed back. Gladly accepting their offer of a lift, the young man and his girlfriend/fiancée explained that they were on their way from Kiev to Lubni, the next large town, to visit his brother. After disclosing the essentials of my enterprise i was invited to come and stay at his brother’s dacha, but by way of a detour we went to the Mgarskiy Monastery, just outside Lubni. At the gateway through the fortress-like walls, all women must tie a specially provided scarf around their heads, heightening my sense that we were stepping into a place beyond the reach of the 21st century. Being late, we couldn’t go inside any of the Churches, but we could spend a quarter of an hour or so strolling around the grounds, savouring the special atmosphere of twilight in springtime. Besides intermittent bursts of mellifluous birdsong, also audible here was an assortment of less familiar chirrups and yowls, from an aviary, where one could make out the hunched silhouettes of a small convocation of eagles. Before leaving we spent a few moments admiring a mural commemorating a distinguished local Bishop, known to posterity as St Athanasius the Wonderworker.

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