Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Euro tour update #12, Kyiv, Ukraine

We arrived in the afternoon at the promoter's "second house" (What was with everyone having second houses?) and were led into a fairly elegant dining room and served a huge meal on a long, oiled oak table. This guy had told me that last night's guy didn't know what vegan was, but that he knew exactly what is was. Then some very questionable looking deep fried cakes showed up and I wondered how acquainted he really was with the ideology. Regardless, some definitely vegan and very appreciated fried salty zucchini, eggplant stew, coffee, and juice filled our stomachs. The "we go now" promoter from the night before was there, and as we finished our meals he told us, predictably, "we go now." I motioned to my dish and said that I needed to wash it. He nodded in the direction of the kitchen where his wife (witch hands) and the other promoter's wife were. "Pshhh, that's women's work." He laughed, and left. Then that night's promoter rushed over to me and said, "He's joking, he's joking."

During our quick tour of downtown Kyiv we saw remnants of Communism, like a huge building that used to be devoted to Stalin which is now an art museum, and monuments to Ukraine's independence in the center of the city. I asked the promoter (who was also our guide) if he remembered communism. "Of course." It was very hard to get details out of him, in part because of the language barrier and in part, I think, because he didn't know what to tell me. It was what is was. He had nothing from my life to compare it to. "It is much different now." How? "Better." Why? "More opportunity." That was illuminating, thank you.

From there we went to a flea market. It was on a narrow, winding cobblestone street, the kind that you imagine when you think of Europe. There was maybe a foot and half of room to maneuver through the crowded sidewalk. A huge church stood beautiful and stoic ahead, brightly colored laundry hung drying on balconies all around. You know, the usual. (Dave says I'm "euro jaded" since I don't marvel constantly at every little thing we see. It's still rad, I swear, it's just my 3rd time here and I'm growing accustomed to it all.) The tiny booths were filled with things like nesting dolls (including an set of Obama dolls), wooden spoons, military apparel, scarves, and other tacky and/or strange bullshit.

Back at the venue a crowd had started to gather. I recognized a lot people from the night before. Green pant photo taker. Minor Threat shirt guy. 3 year straight edge anniversary dude. And low and behold, there was the Granddaughter from St Petersburg and her Ukrainian friend!

The room was too big for the amount of people in it and the walls were mirrored. Giant, leather-clad bikers stood in front of the band to "protect" them (I guess?), making it impossible for the crowd to see the band and vise versa. I wasn't even excited to play, but then we plugged in, sound checked, and- as always- as soon as the first chord was hit I remembered that playing is absolutely my favorite thing ever. The bikers left. The kids went nuts. Mad pitting and such. Sing alongs from familiar faces. A couple hilarious kids pretending to sing along the entire set but not actually uttering a single word, just moving their mouths like sweaty Ukrainian fish surfacing for food. I sweat so much my hands became slippery and dropped and broke my mic.

While walking around Moscow I acquired a very strange and painful series of bug bites on my right ankle (the same ankle I busted on the Bishop tour). Over the days that followed the bites grew and swelled and opened and oozed. The slow, throbbing pain made it hard to sleep. Red, spider-veined filled circles surrounded the bites. Yellowish puss-bubbles would form and break, making my lower leg both unsightly and sticky. By evening the bites would almost dry out, then we would play and sweat would soften the scabs, which would then rub against random things and/or people and tear back open. In Kyiv, I was almost scabbed over when our set started, then some kids snatched me up to pass me around the crowd- and just so happened to snatch me by my bug bite covered ankle. From there, I didn't stand a chance. With the collective sweat of a hardcore show rubbed into my leg, I could feel the infection starting to set in.

When our set was over kids cheered for another song. We played "Hollow Bones". The floor was open, kids were moshing, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Then a small cluster of kids formed. At first I didn't know what they were doing, I thought maybe someone fell. We kept playing until someone ran over and told us to stop. I looked at the cluster again and saw that it was a fight. Then I caught sight of who was getting beat up- it was Green Pant photo taker who I'd met and chatted with the night before, and it was about 10 dudes on him. Oh hell no. I ran over to help break it up. The fight- if you want to call it that since it was really more a beating- got torn apart. I was told shortly after that the beef was that Green Pants was drunk and the kids beating him up were straight edge. That was allllllllmost funny, just because it was absurd that actual straight edge revenge had taken place, but Green Pants was a very nice guy. I jogged over to the bathroom to see how he was doing. His head was in the sink, red water washing down the drain. "You ok?!?!?!" He lifted his face to look at me. There were two or three huge, open gashes on the bridge his nose. His face was swollen. I gasped. He laughed, "No! I'm not!" (Euro honesty.)

Kids filtered out of the show, some taking photos with us, many apologizing for the "accident". At least 15 people told me they were sorry we "had to see that", and assured me it was rare. This, of course, struck me as funny since fights at hardcore shows are a pretty common thing to witness in America.

After Green Pants' head was done bleeding, he asked to take a photo with me. He emailed me this a few days ago:

After the show one of the leather-clad bikers took up to a grocery store in a neighborhood he explained was Kyiv's Harlem- "back when Harlem was bad." This was a conservative working-class area, they didn't like long haired bikers like him or tattooed-covered kids like us. Our stay, he told me, should be short. He guided us around the store, translating ingredients for us. This proved frustrating when we were craving chips and the only available flavors were ham, crab, and cheese. They seriously didn't have salted. Roasted chicken? Sure. Bacon and chive? Yep. But no plain. "If you are vegetarian, may I suggest you try eating a carrot?" In the end we got bread and jam and a delicious Ukrainian snack- puffed corn (like cheese doodles minus the cheese) coated in sugar. We bought like 23584567364547384 bags of this as it was the most god damn delicious treat I've had since I first discovered Tings.

Dave and I waited by the entrance scarfing corn puffs as Johannes and Biker finished their shopping. A clean-cut, shirt-tucked-into-pant Ukrainian man came over and asked where we were from. "American? Don't stay here tonight. Americans don't belong here. Leave here. Don't stay. Americans are not welcome here." Ok man, on our way out now. "Good. Don't stay. Go. Go tonight."

On our way out of Ukrainian Harlem our biker friend made it his mission to get me bandages for what was very obviously something that needed more than a pant leg cuffed to give it air. When the drug store was closed, he went from car to car in the parking lot asking for first aid. This is not something an American would do (unless it was a real dire situation), and I was embarrassed by his commitment to my wound. I hid in the the van. Minutes later, he appeared with donated gauze and bid us a good night and safe tour.

Epilogue. My ankle, thanks to the bandages, healed within a few days.

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