The Black Sea: Landing at Poti “100% Maybe”

The problem seems to be that of small ports and big ships.

It is Friday afternoon, and we have been advised that we can’t land today because there is a large gas tanker blocking our path to the single dock that can accommodate our ship. So tomorrow morning it is, as long as the weather cooperates.

Gazing loningly at Poti
Which is “100% maybe”, according to my German friend Not his phrase, of course, but what the scuttlebutt is around the ship. But tomorrow, of course, is the Bulgarian’s turn at the single railway dock, so we will have to see.

In the meantime, I seek new ways to amuse myself. Christopher Hitchen’s fine book God is not Great, while fascinating is hardly the sort of light reading that is called for; nor is Martin Walker’s tome The Cold War, although somehow the setting seemed appropriate. I have finished the only novel I bought, and there is a limited number of times that one can read the Kyiv Post, particularly an issue devoted to law firms.

So I ponder, write, wonder about the poor folks who have to make a living in these difficult countries.

And believe me, it is difficult. Simply put, there is no work to be had. I drank a coffee in Odessa, and lifted the cup to see “Made in China” (in English) on the bottom. There is simply nothing to be made even here in the world of low costs and expectations. And nor does there seem to be a potential of anything changing as the political leaders race headlong toward the holy grail of EU membership.

It is all about change, and expectation. Evolution or devolution; managed change or rapidly imposed change authored by distant consultants in Washington, Brussels and Moscow.

And it doesn’t take a genius to realise that those who do well do very, very well, and those who don’t are left further and further behind with no realistic possibility of any change. Their options are simply emigration at any cost or drugs; and the drug problem hereabouts appears to be rampant.

Which is not to say that they are inhospitable places or destinations to avoid; a simple glance at the economic-political structures of Mexico, the Dominican or Cuba reinforce this class difference and the futility of believing in state institutions. Hopefully it will change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In the meantime we should all keep exploring, thinking and above all, questioning authority!

I am not particularly maudlin because of the ship lying at anchor outside Poti Harbour, but it doesn’t help. I am also quite bewildered by what is going on in Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad is a very odd place, and one that I should visit. It is a sliver of land wedged between Poland and the Baltic states, and although an integral part of Russia, it is disconnected, and toed to the mother country by a railway that runs straight across EU territory. Very peculiar.

It first came on my radar a couple of years ago while I was in Trans Dniester, a really odd “country”, a break-away part of Moldova running along the Ukrainian border. While I was there, I chatted to the hotel manager who, when I asked what sort of future she longed for, answered “to be like Kaliningrad”. This was a bit of a show stopper as I had never considered the enclave to be at the peak of anyone’s aspirations, but there is was. Pointing out that they didn’t have a Baltic seaport, or in fact any port at all, were not advantageously located adjacent to the lucrative markets of Western Europe and that Trans Dniester was driven by drug money, money laundering and the most venal of arms transactions budged her not an inch.

And so today, when I met a delightful Armenian who was en route home to Yerevan for a vacation from Kaliningrad where he now worked, I was only slightly surprised at his enthusiasm. “It is wonderful”, he said, “a real international city. Russians, Polish, Armenians, Turkmen; everyone is there”. His eyes went a little misty at the thought of this bohemian paradise, and I became completely convinced to visit.

That is, if I ever get off this ship.

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