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A hellish time on an Ukrainian beach

While visiting my fiancee’s relatives in Gaspora on the outskirts of Yalta, we set out for the beach (or Plyazh in Russian, which I misunderstood as “splash”). I was initially excited, but the appeal quickly wore off from the moment we walked out the door. Because to get to the beach, we had to walk all the way down the mountain. Perhaps if it was a direct path, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But this road zigzagged, taking its good old time. By the time you reached the beach, you were ready for bed. Going back was even worse.

When we arrived to the beach, the first thing I noticed was a hand-painted sign displaying a happy couple holding drinks in their hand, while their child is drowning in the water behind them. The message? “Please don’t leave your children unattended.”

I mistakenly assumed that several hours of relative comfort were ahead of us. But when the beach consists of large rocks about three inches in diameter, rather than warm, soft sand, comfort is difficult to obtain. Walking on it hurts like hell. And lying on it is no picnic, either. How Olya could so gracefully walk upon the rocks showing zero discomfort whatsoever is beyond me. I was just a big, American wimp. Then again, the rocks only fit the mold of the constant state of discomfort known as Ukraine. The only thing more uncomfortable to deal with than the rocks was the abundance of men in Speedos.

I persuaded Olya to head to a patio area overlooking the beach. At least some temporary comfort was to be found on the deck chairs there. And by temporary, I mean the unexpected arrival of bees that forced us onto the rocks below. Comfort was obtained by lying down a towel and then essentially wiggling yourself into the rocks, until it formed a sort of cocoon that conformed to your body position. The trick was to make sure the position you settled one was a comfortable one. Otherwise, you would be forced to re-shape the rocks to fit your new position.

Shortly after we settled in, something very disturbing caught my eye: a man in a Speedo. Naturally, that is disturbing enough. But this man weighed 300 pounds on the low side, 400 on the high. He was standing on the edge of the heaping lump of concrete disguised as a pier, surrounded by friends who were urging him to jump. However, out of fear of perhaps displacing every drop of water out of the Black Sea, he was having doubts. We watched him tackle his existentialist crisis with both disgust and delight as he stared into the water, perhaps wondering how he could have possibly let himself go the way he had. Considering the relative scarcity of food in Ukraine, I wondered if he ever felt guilty for his gluttony. He remained staring into the water for at least two full minutes and I remained staring at him, transfixed, as his friends continued encouraging him to go through with it.

Love and vodka book cover“Stop staring,” Olya said.

“I can’t stop now. I have way too much time invested into this,” I said, as he crept one step closer to the edge. I could sense that he was finally reaching the level of courage needed for him to take the plunge. He took a step backward. For a split second, I feared that he was going to walk away. But he was simply taking a step back so he could gain enough momentum to clear the pier. Now, one would assume that someone of that magnitude would simply just plop himself down into the water like an elephant that didn’t realize it was about to fall off a ledge into the water below. But not this guy. He was going down with grace. And by grace, I mean an elegant, perfectly formed dive that was Olympian in every sense of the word. In fact, his mechanics were so aerodynamic, hardly a splash registered.

Several seconds went by and he hadn’t yet come up through the surface. I worried that something went horribly awry. Like perhaps a heart attack. But I just wasn’t looking in the right place. Because he was about 200 feet away from the pier. So not only was he a diver, but he also apparently had the speed and agility of Michael Phelps. This was further confirmed with the speed in which he swam back to the pier. From that moment forward, I would never make assumptions about a fat man’s athletic skill ever again.

Inspired, Olya and headed into the warm water of the Black Sea. Several hours later, we headed back. And by the time we finished our arduous climb back up the mountain, we were drenched in sweat and utterly exhausted. And there was nothing I wanted more than a refreshing swim, even though I was just a half hour removed from one.

More by this author’s foray into Ukranian life at
Excerpt from from “Love & Vodka” by R. J. Fox.
Published by Fish Out of Water Books, Now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
© 2015 by R.J. Fox. All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without prior written permission from
the publisher.

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