It is a horrible sight to see the Russian military movements and activities in Ukraine. Bombed houses, schools, hospitals, and bridges, many casualties, refugees, people surviving in basements and metro stations, a country bravely fighting for its sovereign existence. It makes me want to do something, help Ukrain, stop the war. But unfortunately, there is little I can do or accomplish. As a compensation, I decided to write this post to tell you about my dear memories of visiting Odessa. This city will soon come under high pressure from the Russian aggressor due to its strategic location.
My visit to Ukraine and Odessa
At the time, I boarded didn't know what to expect. As usual, I prepare little as I want to be surprised by the surroundings and the culture. To start, it was a bumpy flight, the landing was safe, and a taxi ride swiftly brought me downtown. My hotel was close to the opera but sadly had no concerts due to the holiday season. I walked to the other side of the street next to the garden with massive flower beds and decided to sit down and inhale the culture. Simply sitting in the Gorsad Park safeguarded by the flowers enabled me to feel the vibrant energy, the lust for life, the exaltation of being free and independent. There was no music, but it was unnecessary because everyone was swirling in a very melodic way. There was a buzzing of joyful intonation with all the words I didn't understand. The women were showing off their elegance, the men their strength and pride. I observed a completely different culture and was happy to be in Odessa.
Odessa is a big city where the slopes corner around the sea and harbor and has an international atmosphere due to its historical and cultural richness. As a former eye to the west, it encompasses many buildings with Italian or French architecture. As such bore the nickname 'Marseille of the Black Sea' and has a theatre built by Austrian architects, it also had a large Jewish community.
The Potemkin steps and solidarity against authoritarian rule.
I had booked an extended weekend stay and wanted to see more than just people walking by and made my hikes through the city and to the beach. Beaches are always fun; the surroundings will always get you in a joyful mood. So I swam in the Black Sea, had sand between my toes, and noticed all the entertainment options visitors get. The nightlife is as festive as the waves are encountered by the beaches. I decided to make a long promenade alongside the beach, through the park. I noticed the many gymnastics racks, and at the end, I finally came to the harbor where ships unloaded. Meanwhile, I had almost walked a perfect circle and faced the infamous Potemkin steps. You cannot see how tall they are; you have to pass midway to understand the effort needed to climb or descend these stairs.
- The staircase is 142 meters long and spans a height of 27 meters. Repeating 10 smaller steps and then a plateau, you get a total of 192 steps, which are wide at the bottom and narrower at the top, bringing you from port to city level. The narrowing of the stairs makes them seem even longer and the ascent even more heroic.
The steps used to be named after the first city governor, Richelieu. Still, they gained its new name after the movie Battleship Potemkin, showing the famous scene of a rebellion and how it was ended by the Czar. The movie intended to commemorate the Soviet Revolution and is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It is based on a true story of sailors who had to endure the most brutal circumstances onboard and the humiliations of the officers. The sailors refused to eat their Borscht which sparked the mutiny. Their mutiny was successful, and that's why the Czar decided he had to end this with a counterattack, slaughtering sailers and sympathizing civilians. This didn't take place on the Potemkin steps. However, in the movie, this is where the retaliation was staged. Obviously, the persuasive powers of the film lead to the stairs being renamed after it. Potemkin symbolizes the citizens' rebellion with the mutineers of the battleship and a display of solidarity against oppressive or authoritarian powers, or in other words, their heroism.
What does Mozart have to do with it?
Mozart never walked these stairs since they were built long after his demise, but these stairs are a symbol for the very same Mozart stood for. He disliked people with absolute authority, like the archduke of Salzburg, and was a freemason. He also had trouble conforming to the Emperor's straightjacket. Freemasons are committed to the social engineering of man and society. Their ideals are individual freedom and development and universal society in which everyone has a place. Unfortunately, history has shown that authoritarian regimes persecute and murder Freemasons.
One of Mozart's compositions expresses his ideas, namely Don Giovanni. He frequently denounced the nobility and the behavior of authorities in his operas. So too in Don Giovanni, where the womanizing narcissist is a metaphor for authoritarian power.
In the famous Commendatore scene (act 2), Don Giovanni (K527), the womanizing narcissist, is given a chance to repent and save his life. He cannot and will not, however. The inhabitants of Prague saw in this the symbolism of the Austrian Emperor, and I see it now with the current leader of Russia. Don Giovanni knew that his behavior had been wrong, but he did not want to change. This music is symbolic of dictators and is a prophecy of Mozart coming true. As beautiful as this opera is, I can assure you that this scene is even more impressive live. However, it is not the music I associate with Odessa. For me, it is Mozart's clarinet quintet. Because this composition depicts Odessa's splendor, culture, and light-footedness.
Mozarts Clarinet quintet and Odessa
During Mozart's time, the clarinet was in vogue as a new instrument, and he cleverly capitalized on this. His clarinet concerto (in A, KV 622) became famous in "Out of Africa." However, the quintet (also in A, KV 581) belongs to Odessa; it is a composition for a clarinet and a string quartet. And is also called the Stadler Quintet because Mozart wrote it so that Anton Stadler, a friend, fellow freemason, and virtuoso clarinetist, could play it. It is an intimate concert where the clarinet, like an opera singer, takes the string quartet and the listeners by the hand. It tells a story that is entertaining, exciting, and, who knows, mischievous. Themes recur, switching from major to minor; tempo and mood changes occur.
Let's follow the music!
- The Allegro takes you by the hand up the stairs. Once upstairs, you catch your breath, and you look around you; you see the well-kept buildings and the dancing people. Then, before you walk further, you look at the port and see what you have done, proudly continuing your journey.
- Larghetto, you walked up a little too fast, now you slow down in the city; via a detour, you walk past stores, hotels, and beautiful facades to the opera. The town fills you, you slowly absorb the energy.
- Menuetto, at the Derybasivska Street, people swaying past you incessantly, the laughter embraces you, as does the dream of a peaceful and respectful world.
- Allegretto, you say goodbye to the city. You leave the hustle and bustle and go to one of the pleasant beaches to take a splash in the water.
Slava Ukraini! Stand with Ukraine!
Isn't there anything I can do? Listening to Mozart is revisiting Odessa and collecting my memories again. Now, all I can do is write my feelings down and wish for a better and more peaceful world. Luckily, I learned that I could make a booking on Airbnb to support people in Ukraine, so I decided to do so. But there are many other ways, which the site https://standwithukraine.com.ua shows.
I hope that I may be a support to all my Ukrainian friends and acquaintances. Slava Ukraini!