No trip to the Former Soviet Union would be complete without at least one death defying experience. This time around, said experience arose very unexpectedly (Although, don’t they all?), in the hills high above Khar’kiv, along the city’s Soviet “ropeway.”
Let me start off my saying that I should have known better. Or at least, I should have thought it over a little more carefully before I hopped on for the ride. T., a friend of mine who has spent a good deal of time in Khar’kiv, and who is also a scholar of things Soviet and socialist, recommended taking a trip on the cable cars, which are suspended over the city’s botanical garden and its Park of Culture and Rest so high above the ground that a large marsh looks like a tiny pond and the cars and people below, if visible, appear as tiny as those little pink and blue cars with plastic pegs that represent humans on the old fashioned American-dream board game, Life. The ride is also not quick. It takes about twenty minutes to descend to the bottom, that is if the operator doesn’t decide to unexpectedly halt the cars a few times along the way.
In theory it all sounded so innocent: an extant Soviet architectural amusement that allows you to see Khar’kiv as socialist city planners wanted you to. This utopian vision greats you at the entrance:
Cool? Bizarre? Intriguing? Absolutely. All of the above. But then, when you proceed to the entrance and begin contemplating the buckets that will carry you along, you notice that things are, er, a little rickety. The general unease really kicked in when the lady who takes your money (It costs about $3 one way.), warns me that due to technical “work” the ropeway may or may not stop a few times along the way. But please, don’t be frightened if it seems stuck…Since I (foolishly) hadn’t really investigated the path of this particular ropeway before I came to Khar’kiv, and since I am in general a fan of funicular’s in general, I assumed the ride would only last five to ten minutes max and figured, how bad could it be? The distance and path were difficult to judge, because of the summer foliage, and I had to make the decision to get on or not very very quickly, because as the buckets rotate in to the passenger platform, they don’t actually stop. You either have to literally hop in or stay put within a very short window of opportunity. And it has to be done a certain way. On the entrance, left leg in the bucket/right hand on the rail. On the exit: right leg out of the bucket/left hand on the rail. I realized immediately that juggling this act with a lower than average left leg and a crutch was going to be interesting. And so did the otherwise VERY relaxed Ukrainian lady running the show, because just before grabbing a bucket for me, she paused and said, “Is this going to work?” And that’s when my own defiance kicked in. No disability issues were going to stop me damnit! Determined to prove to myself that I could STILL do this, I disregarded all my safety concerns and somehow managed to wrangle my way in. However, the wrangling/crutch juggling prevented me from actually closing the not-really-very-secure-even-when-closed door to the bucket before the actual descent started. The operator was screaming at me to secure the door from her post back at the platform, which fortunately I managed to do before my bucket moved too far away from the hills. At first I felt pretty triumphant, excited about the views I imagined I’d take in in the next five to ten minutes. And then I looked down. Mistake. And then the buckets stopped and started a few times. And then a black bucket with two workmen precariously dangling from its edges and pounding away on the cable’s electrical structures passed in the opposite direction. And I spent the rest of the twenty minutes gripping my seat and praying praying praying to make it to the bottom alive. But I did manage to take one more picture, thinking that if I did make it, I’d like to have something to show for it.
Moral: Think at least twice before hopping into a moving bucket on a post-Soviet ropeway, especially when you don’t know just how high up that bucket is going to go.