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Declaration of love to the city
I only began to comprehend the significance of what Kyiv meant for me when I was in the senior grades of secondary school. As I grew older, I wandered more freely into those parts of the city that I had not visited before. To my usual routes — from home to school and back home, and occasional trip to the central street — were added other places, previously unknown to me.
In my younger years, Kyiv was just a place where I happened to live, but this fact filled me with a childish pride — meeting children who hailed from provinces I could say with a feeling of superiority that “I live in the capital.” Living in the capital meant that I could have all kinds of cakes and tea in one of the little cafes at the central square, Maydan Nezalezhnosti. My memory firmly holds the light, tender-sweet flavour of the cakes of various sizes, shapes and colours; the tepid tea invariably served in a glass with transparent walls looked light-brown and cloudy. Kyiv was also a number of other things and impressions: a toy store in the Pasazh shopping moll; huge wheels — a little taller than me — of the buses that radiated warmth and a peculiar smell as they rolled by; little white and pink blooms from the candle-like blossoms of horse chestnut trees falling into the green grass; the zoo with its shady alleys, green lawns and very sad eyes of the animals behind bars.
But then came a moment when Kyiv began to feel differently. This happened on a Sunday morning, in the early autumn. Khreshchatyk, the central street, was still tired, heavy and perspiring with the lingering heat of summer. At that early hour on Sunday it was almost empty of people. At one of its ends, the street lazily climbed up the hill. There, on the top of the hill sits a park, and I always felt it was a miraculous transformation — a noisy, bustling street turning into an old, slow-paced park, humid and languid where the trees live their contemplative life, and where alleys and paths promise to take you to secret places. The park provoked flights of imagination.
On that day, the park was enveloped in a fog. The Mariyinsky Palace that sits in the centre of the park was surrounded by the foggy quiet and rows of white chrysanthemums whose blooms ran further down the steep slope to the Dnipro river. Those white chrysanthemums in the grey fog, the aquamarine walls of the palace, the dark boles of trees have come to occupy a permanent place in my soul, and have become an image closely associated with the feel of Kyiv. My emotional state then could be compared only with falling in love.
I walked the old streets of Kyiv all by myself, looking at the baroque-like buildings, and discovering wonderful little courtyards. And, of course, I could not help writing verses:
I need a gentle, momentary touch of your hair,
The shadows dance at the autumnal fair.
I wished I would become eternal,
I hoped I would survive the death hibernal,
But was so happy just to be there...
Kyiv did not mind me walking its streets. Friends asked whether I was not bored strolling around all alone, with no one in tow. And when I said it was what I wanted they shrugged the shoulders. And I felt uncomfortable and a little depressed because of their lack of understanding.
Kyiv never failed me in promising to reveal new secrets. We struck a deal — to communicate silently, the city showing itself and me looking. Kyiv liked me and wanted to spring all kinds of surprises on me. In Velyka Zhytomyrska Street it showed me an impressive panorama of its hills; it displayed an amazing play of colours in the early evening sky as a striking background to the Church of St Andrew illuminated from top to bottom; Kyiv took me down the winding street of Andriyivsky Uzviz, and then through the streets of Podil. There’s been a lot written and said about Uzviz; many declared their love for it.
I wish I could find words to describe how wonderful it is to be sitting on the top of Zamkova Hora Hill above Uzviz, when the crescent of the moon hangs suspended among the torn clouds, and the grasshoppers and crickets chirp; the grass smells of the steppe, pungent and fresh; muffled sounds of music and laughter weft up from a cafe below, at the foot of the hill; the myriad of city lights surround my vantage place on all sides. Big ships, all ablaze with lights, majestically sail in the dark waters of the river. Kyiv reminds me of its secret life by delicate sounds that come from afar. The city holds me in its palms, sending messages from its coffee shops, old houses, ever changing display of light and dark in its streets and squares.
I sensed the city’s moods, I knew the city invited me to come over to the secluded garden that used to be a part of a monastery, close to the Sofiyivsky Cathedral; I knew the city suggested it’d be best to walk down Volodymyrska Street on a wet, cloudy day, all the way to the Red Building of the University, and to the Botanical Garden next door; I knew the city wanted me to visit Podil, probably the most ancient part of town, when the sun is bright.
And I heeded the city’s advice. We were two of us — Kyiv and me. Life never stopped flowing around us, although for us time stood still, freezing in the windows.
Once, after a thunderstorm, walking past Zoloti Vorota (The Golden Gate of Kyiv, an eleventh-century landmark — tr.), I ran into two men, friends of mine. I was in no mood for socializing and my immediate reaction was to find an excuse and take leave of them, but at the very moment when I began telling them that “you know, I’ve an urgent and important business to attend to…”, I was doused in water from a big puddle splashed on me from under the wheels of a speeding car. In drenching me from head to foot in rain water, Kyiv had a purpose of which I was ignorant yet, but an excuse I prepared no longer seemed good enough — how can you attend to an important business being wet?
I accepted their suggestion to go to the nearest cafe and stay there for a while, giving me time to get dry. We had a nice time in that cafe. One of the men was a poet, of “a metaphorical kind.” He took my fascination with his poetry for granted. I think he even fancied me. The other man was not a poet — he was just a good friend. Sipping coffee, we talked about lots of things, and when I felt I was sufficiently dry, we decided to go to Zamkova Hora. A strange quiet descended upon Kyiv; it was close, the air heavy with humidity; the voices sounded muffled, all other sounds indistinct. For some reason, the men I was with thought I needed help in climbing the hill, and grabbed my hands and started pulling me up. Kyiv acquired an unfamiliar quality — it was dreamy, lyrical and enigmatic. We kept climbing that hill, and a sense of unease began creeping into me — I felt crucified with my arms outstretched and my hands held fast. There seemed to be not enough air to breathe. I made a rather feeble attempt to get my hands released and the poet’s hand let go of mine. But the wet palm of the other hand felt a gentle touch of a finger and was squeezed even tighter. I questioningly looked at the man who had tightened his grip, and saw something in his eyes that my City had never told me about. And a moment later, Kyiv seemed to come back to life — and I heard the noise of traffic, distant voices — all the usual noises of a big city.
Kyiv is still a part of my life, but now there is also someone else in my life, the beloved, the only one. And my City seems to be glad for me.
By Lesya Hryhoryiva