Saturday, April 24, 2010

Odessa Catacombs

If you're about to descend into two-and-a-half-thousand kilometres of largely unmapped subterranean tunnels, it's best not to do so in the company of a drunk. "Follow me," he'd said, through a mouthful of half-chewed Twix and the smell of rank vodka. "How much?" we asked, but he he'd already stumbled ahead and was pointing out some marks in the rock. It didn't take us long before we really started to worry. "This was where the women slept," he leered, miming putting on lipstick while he thrust his pelvis backwards and forwards in the gloom. "And this over here was carved by the Partisans. Where's your camera? Take a picture," he ordered as he staggered around in front of the words Blood for Blood! Death for Death! "Do you have one of me? Put it on the internet." He put his arms around both our shoulders. "Should we make a run for it?" asked Graham. "I'm not sure I know the way," I replied, thinking about the 2,499.9 kilometres we hadn't yet seen.

"You're American?" "No, English." "American journalists, yeah?" "No." "Listen, when you get back to America I know a way to make five million dollars." There was a noise behind and the real guide appeared, torch in hand. "Get out, Vitaly," he said. Vitaly wavered, looked as if he might give us a kiss, then raised his hand in farewell. "Don't forget the internet," he said as he stumbled back the way we'd come.

"He's mad," said Graham. "No, just pissed," smiled the guide. "He's the security guard."

One of the more distinguished visitors to the Catacombs. Bet he didn't get shown round by a pisshead.

One and a half thousand Partisans survived the Romanian Occupation of Odessa undetected in the catacombs. Among them were a hundred Slovak deserters.

I keep my promise to our new friend.

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