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Pole to Pole

Day 38: Odessa

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleGlowing with health and smelling very gently of marine deposits I take a walk on the beach from which the therapeutic mud is gathered. Because the mud is best applied only to those parts which need it, and because most of the applicants are very white, the shoreline offers the bizarre sight of what appear to be human crossword puzzles. A local lady doctor strides into the sea with her daubed legs looking like thigh-length black boots. 'I bathe and then I don't wash it off for five days,' she enthuses.

At lunch I meet a local historian. Discussing the recent past it's clear that sunny, seaside Odessa has not escaped the tragedies that have befallen most of the western USSR. Romanians occupied Odessa in the war - Hitler had promised their leader Antonescu large stretches of the Black Sea coastline. They burnt 20,000 locals in an arsenal and hanged 5000 from trees around the city to frighten the populace. Today the major problem is severe industrial pollution. The Sea of Azov, a huge area east of the Crimea, is so badly affected that its beaches have been totally evacuated.

Later I go down to the Arkady Beach, one of Odessa's most famous, and find that there is not a space to be found, and - as in the waters of the Dnieper at Kiev - there are still plenty of people for whom cooling off on a sunny day is more important than any health risk.

We have dinner at the Krasnaya Hotel. Huge bare-breasted ladies support the balustraded balcony above the door, and the whole pale green and white fašade is like a richly adorned cake. Inside there is a mirrored and chandeliered barn of a dining-room, the inevitable zakuski, and a very incompetent band fronted by a fat lady in a gold dress. She probably gives mud enemas in the daytime but at night she murders Beatles songs.

We have a party on the balcony of my room to celebrate having made it this far. It's late when I get to bed, and when I get up there is a faintly detectable trace of black sediment on the bottom sheet.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 38
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Odessa
  • Book page no: 85

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