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Move and Settle (With Duck and Cover)

August 23, 2002

Dear Friends and Families,

In our last blog* we reported on finding our new home in Frankfurt, but now we had to go back to Kiev and move from the old place.  Moving isn't easy and we had less than two weeks for goodbyes, packing, settling business, and getting past the exit formalities. I have to admit, as I write this almost two months later, it doesn't seem too bad, but it was different at the time.

Saying goodbye to friends was the first order of business. The day after we returned from our Frankfurt house-hunt, we went to a reception at my old partner company's Kyiv office.  It was nice to see all the business associates and the friends among them. I was reminded that all these people would have to continue the challenging work I had been part of for the last years.  Keeping Chornobyl and the operating nuclear plants in Ukraine safe and well-regulated is a daunting task, but there were solid professionals among both the responsible Ukrainians and the Western advisors.  I wish them well.

Marianne said goodbye to her friends from work too.  We don't know when we'll see many of these people again, but they will stay with us one way or another.

Together, we also had a range of artists and merchants to visit for a last time. We visited "The Spuce" for the last time and talked with Sergey Gerasimenko, our favorite ceramicists.  We watched Sergey over our years in Kyiv and have pieces that show the change in his work. We can even recognize the new colors he found during trips to Moscow or the new shapes that struck his fancy.  And we have the memory of a hard-working artist, who is managing to make a living in a difficult environment while staying creative

We also had to say goodbye to our home designer Lena.  Like usual, she was hard to find but worth the trouble.  To me, she and her architect husband also represent the hope of the country: hard working, imaginative, open to new ideas and still very traditional.  More people we don't want to loose track of.

Of course we had serious moving concerns as well.  Leading the list was finding a renter for our home.  Our agent Nadia (another friend who bailed us out in Kyiv more times than we can count) assured us that something would happen.  The plan was to find someone working for an embassy or a Western company so we could charge good rent and be certain of payment.  Unfortunately, the first series of prospects all found fault, most often they concluded that the place was too small.  For example, our place, which the two of us found very spacious, was below minimum U.S. government standards for a single person.  Pretty amazing.

Finally, on the weekend just before the movers were arriving, Nadia showed up with Mark and he had the good taste and good sense to fall in love with our place!  He signed a three-year lease after negotiating with his employer, the World Bank, to replace what furniture we were taking with us.  They were happy because he was indeed taking an apartment that was in the low range of size and rents that the Bank had seen.  Everybody's happy, but I think we're happiest.

On Monday, the packers showed up.  The process went fairly well, with the guys taking good care of the things we could take.  Unfortunately, we could not take anything old (except ourselves) so Mark will get to enjoy our wonderful dining table and the old bits and pieces we'd accumulated.

But it wasn't just antiques that the movers had to be concerned about.  Computers would also required special treatment, so we simply gave away our "big" machine and carried the two laptops out on the plane.  Videos were also a concern since the authorities need to examine each and every one and that understandably slows the whole process.  So, we gave all those away too.  Audio CDs and tapes were another problem.  Once again, we resolved the situation by giving away what we couldn't carry on the plane.  At this point, we thought we would be clean with the antique-police, the computer-police, the video-police, and the music-police.  Exiting should be a breeze.

Wrong.  The movers had warned us of the difficulty of the process of passing out through Customs.  Because I had gone to a meeting in Frankfurt before our appointment with the authorities, Marianne had to do it all.  I'm not sure she'll ever forgive me.  She spent at least six hours watching 120 of our 150 boxes and packages be opened and examined.  The Customs authorities were downright rude, as we had been warned.  They were desperate to find a purloined antique or computer or video or CD or tape.  Hour after hour, they questioned everything.  In the end, everything passed but it's such a shame that we were so vividly reminded of one of the downsides of Ukraine and Ukrainian authorities.

A day later however, it was behind us and Marianne joined me in Frankfurt.  From our base in The Boarding House, we started the long process of furnishing and equipping our new home.  We had to buy and assemble: closets, lights, desks and any furniture that was not arriving from Kyiv.  Our new place is small but still, the job of re-equipping a house is getting old.

We did take some time off to just be tourists.  The day of the World Cup championship match between Germany and Brazil was a real treat.  We are long-standing fans of Brazilian "footeball", but here we were in the opponent's homeland.  We visited the large square in front of City Hall and mingled with thousands of fans.  That's thousands of German fans and a couple handfuls of us Brasileiros.  When time for the televised game came, we retired to a pizza parlor in our neighborhood and discovered that we had found one of the few places in town where Brazilian fans were a majority.  Of course Brazil won, but there was no animosity among our German neighbors.  Their team had been underdogs, had played well, but just couldn't keep up.

Over the next few days, as we waited for our furniture, we were able to wander around our neighborhood, Sachsenhausen.  It's a wonderful, old section of urban Frankfurt with lots of restaurants and small shops.

One of our early meals was in the Mexican restaurant just a couple blocks from our apartment.  Every American needs a Mexican restaurant, so we were pretty excited when we settled into our sidewalk table and ordered.  A few minutes later, we heard a "pop" and saw a man hurry away from inside the restaurant.  Then, two very drunk guys came out the door ten feet from us and we were astonished to see one of them waving a gun.  Fortunately, he was so drunk that the bullet clip fell out on the street and when he put it back, the gun jammed as he waved it around and pulled the trigger. Click. Click. Click.  It was surreal.

Marianne was the only person at the sidewalk tables who had the sense to "duck and cover."  She hid behind some tourists.  The rest of us were just frozen in disbelief while the gunman and his buddy stumbled away down the street.  After a few minutes to recover, Marianne glanced inside the restaurant and saw a woman sprawled out on the floor.

The story ended a few blocks away where the police found the shooter and hauled him away.  Meanwhile, the lady from the floor had walked out and sat at the table next to us.  We overheard her say that she had simply passed out from fright.  So the story ended with the bad guys arrested, no one hurt and we have a story about our exciting new neighborhood.  And its stories we're after.

Well, it's taken eight weeks to write this so I'd better call it quits.  Next time, the story will be less of the trials and tribulations of moving and settling in, and more of our new "normal" life.

Take care and go out to Mexican tonight.

John and Marianne


(Did you know we have a name?  We're "bloggers".  That's the techie term for folks who put their lives on websites.  (web-logs .... get it?)  It's good to have a name, sort of a sense of kinship with a quiet revolution happening around the world.  Now, if you really want to live through the experiences of others, just turn your internet searcher to "blogger" and see who turns up.)











One "last supper" with friends Chin, Marv, Marilyn and Peter.

Marianne and our last Sergey piece - for now.

Mark signing the lease while Nadia watches.










Every box is a project: closets, desks and bookcases.

A handful of Brazil fans among the German hords.

We never figured out if the Can-Can lady was a fan of Germany or Brazil!










Most of the crowd were carrying, wearing and painted in the colors and names of German footballers.

A Main River cruise passes by the dramatic skyscrapers of downtown Frankfurt.

Even the downtown streets are lined with trees.

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Updated October 27, 2002

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