Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Backstories: Home 17/2/2010

My flat is on Sadovaya, between two pizza restaurants, behind a bus shelter and a baker’s kiosk and a few hundred metres from the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, nearly two hundred years old and newly rebuilt after the Soviets blew it up. There’s a gated courtyard with bare trees, stray cats and a Lada ambulance van, and four flights of stairs before you reach my door - though only the lower three are ever lit at night.

The first thing you notice is the shower, which fills a third of the bathroom, looks like a time travel pod from a 60s sci-fi show, blows water in twelve different directions and has a switch to play the radio while you’re rinsing yourself off. It’s too big to be properly secured to the floor so every movement of your feet shifts the whole thing round like an F1 driver’s gear stick. The toilet cistern is too far forward for the seat to stay upright, meaning you either have to piss sitting down or with one hand outstretched. Hot water is from a boiler above the sink, which is always to be left on.

Through an arch is the main room, painted one half in beige, one half in brown, and meeting halfway in the middle like the front of a Blackburn Rovers top. There’s a double bed pressed against a radiator with blankets not quite big enough to stretch around the sides, a hi-fi with wall-mounted speakers – “You can play as loud as disco. No neighbours,” my landlord told me, cranking the dial all the way to the right – and eighty-channel cable TV, every single one of them in Russian or Ukrainian. No internet – yet – but there is an armchair, a man-sized tree in the kitchen and a balcony with a corrugated iron roof and windows round the sides (although I came home last night to find the floor covered in snow). Around the walls are two separate pictures of a forest at sunset, a Japanese Geisha, a cat crawling out of a Doctor Marten’s boot, a woman undressing behind a red cape, a horse, a woman in black twisting a gun around her finger with the words Sweet Revenge printed underneath in English, and five framed butterflies with Latin names to the side. From the windows you can see the domed roof of the Opera House, a Star of David on the side of a building, a couple of spires, snow melting on blue and red rooftops, and chimneys padded for warmth in space-station silver.

The last room is the kitchen, through another arch and with all mod-cons except for a saucepan, frying pan, chopping board, cheese grater, tin opener…There’s a top-loading washing machine with instructions in Cyrillic, an upright fridge freezer pushed into an alcove, a real oven and an electric kettle which keeps falling on the floor. I work at a low-table with half-circle bench seating round the sides, reminiscent of a caravan. Work is a five-minute walk away, through a iced-up, slightly flooded subway, past a steak house and a Japanese restaurant and on the other side of a courtyard halfway down Odessa’s main street, Deribasovskaya. So far I like everything - except the sleepless nights.

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