Black Sea Cruise: Odessa

Day 6, Odessa-mama

That’s what her inhabitants call her.  Odessa comes as a shock to an
unexpected traveler, especially, after Constanta.  One just doesn’t
expect a city of this caliber to be in this part of the world.  The
French and Austrian architects did their job well.  The center boasts
ornate 19th century buildings dressed in their Sunday best.  Their
noble façades in an array of pastel colors with white relieves are
refined and eye-pleasing.  The opera house is a jewelry box surrounded
with a perfect ensemble of palaces.  Mature sycamores and chestnut
trees line the spacious boulevards.  Even slightly farther from the
center, the neighborhoods are still eye-pleasing, even though not just
as resplendent.   We took a Jewish heritage tour since this city has a
long and rich Jewish history.  For me, it was really cool to hear all
the names that are stuff of legends: Diribasovskaya Street, Arcadia,
Frantsuzsky (French) Boulevard, and last but not least, Moldovanka.
We were shown the house where the famous Jewish gangster Mishka
Yaponchik lived, the house where the first mayor of Tel-Aviv Meir
Dizingoff was born and raised, the house where the Jewish writer Issak
Babel wrote “The Odessa Stories”, and the musical school where Yasha
Heifetz studied.  Even the 19th century working class neighborhoods
had some rugged charm, and the Soviet era apartment buildings did not
look as offensively pitiful as they do in the outskirts of Saint
Petersburg.  Perhaps, it’s the greenery around them.  We were taken to
a kitschy Ukrainian restaurant on Diribasovskaya Street.  We had
first-rate cherry, cheese, and mushroom varenniki (dumplings) and
listened to a musical trio playing and singing and a cock-a-doodling
rooster in a cage (don’t ask me why).
It seems that the city stubbornly resists being Ukrainian.  The
writing everywhere is Ukrainian but the spoken language is all
Russian.

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