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Pole to Pole

Day 38: Odessa

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleIn the middle of the night I'm woken by the sound of voices from the street below my window. A man and a woman are talking. The woman's voice is deep, rich and smooth. The talk turns into an argument. I lie for a while contemplating rather enviously the exotic, Mediterranean feel of Odessan street life when the argument turns into a violent shouting match. Suddenly the woman screams repeatedly and with such primal intensity that I'm up and rushing to the window. There is a sound of car doors slamming, an engine revving, tyres squealing, but by the time I've pushed the curtains back nothing is there but the disturbing echo of her cries.

We're staying at the Londonskya Hotel, situated on a tree-lined esplanade overlooking the port. It has a heavy neo-classical fašade and was built in 1910; it had its name changed to the Odessa Hotel in 1948 as part of a policy called 'anti-cosmopolitanization'. Thanks to glasnost, it has, from last week, returned to being The Londoner. The lobby is a reasonably accurate representation of a London club, dark and rather grand, with columns, stained-glass windows and a wide and self-important marble staircase.

Equally decorative but much more seedy is the Kuyalnik Sanatorium, one of the most famous institutions in Odessa, to which people from all over the Soviet Union repair for mud treatment. The mud is drawn from a nearby lagoon which was once open sea, and which retains mineral deposits believed to be good for arthritic and respiratory complaints, as well as for the nervous system, slipped discs, thromboses and kidney trouble. Built in 1892 as a series of rococo pavilions, it has never quite recovered from being submerged in 1941, when a nearby dam was blown to try and halt the advance of the German armies. It stayed underwater until 1948.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 38
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Odessa
  • Book page no: 84

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