All the maps in the hotels and tourist information agencies identify street names, building addresses, the names of monuments using the Roman alphabet. All the actual street signs, plaques commemorating famous Odessans’ houses, names of buildings and monuments are printed in Ukrainian letters. Some signs are bilingual, Russian and Ukrainian, and therefore give us two forms of Cyrillic lettering. Your project: create a hologram map that translates street and building names from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet. Fortunes guaranteed.
# Traffic Engineering and the Stoic Mentality
Catherine the Great’s Odessa was meant to be a ‘second Petersburg,’ the Paris of the East, the Great City on the Sea Wrested from the Ottomans. This meant, among other things, building great, wide boulevards flanked by great, wide sidewalks on which the great, wide bustles of the nouveau riche of Odessa would make their daily promenades in the shade of the vast acacia trees that line all the streets of the center city. In some quarters, the roads retreat a bit from the monumental, but the sidewalks retain their grandeur. Indeed, so grand are the sidewalks that, rather than running the tram tracks in the roadway, they share the sidewalk. The looming acacias separate the tramline from the roadway. The architecture, then, is shaped like this: Sidewalk//Northbound Tram//Row of Acacias//Ten-Inch High Curbstone//Two Northbound Automobile Lanes//Two Southbound Automobile Lanes//Ten-Inch High Curbstone//Row of Acacias//Southbound Tram//Southbound Sidewalk. Do you begin to see the dangers? Pedestrians, no longer burdened by corsets and stays, can walk between the tram rails and still turn briskly about from time to time to see if a tram is closing in on them. Strollers seem to have adopted a kind of paranoid shuffle: two steps, swivel to look behind, swivel forward, two steps, swivel—all the while texting. This is not the stoic mentality mentioned above. That comes from experiences like this: parking on the street is often not permitted. To skirt the rule, a driver urges the front right wheel up onto the ten-inch curb, moving ever so slowly lest the curb eviscerate the exhaust system. Once the front tire is up, the back wheel can safely zoom up, too. Then the modern application of the acacias comes into play: the trees are spaced some 16 or 20 or 27 feet apart. If you’ve chosen your parking space well, you will have ample room to fit your Lada, your Skoda, your Explorer between two trees with the passenger side of the car inches from the passing trolley. However, if you misjudge your distances and need to pull ahead a little further to get the rear wheels up on the curb, and if the fronting tree is a little too close so that you need to turn sharply in towards the sidewalk, well then: you can’t see it coming because the rear-end acacia blocks your view, but the trolley, whose driver can’t see you either, is just going to take the front end off your Ford Escape. Being mostly plastic, the front end yields almost silently, peels away, and falls to the waiting cobbles. A hundred yards downstream, the trolley stops and the 95 passengers (in a cabin whose capacity is maybe 50) watch as the driver walks back and engages the unhappy Escape parker in stoic conversation.
# Ancient History
According to the Archeology Museum displays, Greek colonists established settlements in the Odessa area at least two centuries before Athens’ great leap forward. Two such settlements were called Olbia and Histria. A third was called Terseness, about which the less said the better.
#A Potpourri of Conquerors
Of course the northwest corner of the Black Sea enjoyed its days as a Greek and then a Roman colony. In after years, as the tides shifted, Genoa, Pisa, Venice laid claim to the harbor of the yet-unborn Odessa as they made their ways east to the silken marketplaces of China. The nearby rivers—the Danube, the Dnieper, and the Bug—and Odessa’s harbor made the region a natural for trade routes. So on came the Mongols, the Golden Horde, the Byzantine Christians, the Muslim Ottomans, the Cossacks/Ottomans/Cossacks/Ottomans, the Russians under Peter the Great, and Catherine the Greater Still. Catherine’s aim, never quite realized, was to thoroughly squash the Sultan and his Ottoman Empire and re-invent Byzantium as a Russian Orthodox Empire. Though this crusade failed, the Ukrainian Orthodox churches are exceptionally beautiful and icons, real and forged, are hot exports at every art store and souvenir stand.