Kiev
Malishka!

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Les climatiseurs poussent sur les murs du quartier des affaires.

Air-conditioning units cladding walls in the Financial District.

Les climatiseurs poussent sur les murs du quartier des affaires.

Air-conditioning units cladding walls in the Financial District.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Les eaux du Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

Vue d’Udaipur depuis le lac Pichola.

View of Udaipur from Lake Pichola.

L’aquarium d’Aquaventure, sur l’archipel artificiel de Palm Jumeirah.

The Aquaventure aquarium, on the Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago.

After putting a token in the turnstile of the funicular, we hear the lady driver yell: “Malishka!”

At first, we don’t pay too much attention. But the woman, gazing upward, is insistent. Standing on the platform in front of the driver’s cabin, she seems to be looking for someone on the other side of the tracks. Malishka means “my little one.” The funicular remains at a standstill, and the woman shouts even louder, with a tinge of urgency in her voice. She looks around even more keenly.

Nich, the photographer accompanying me, and I had been planning to visit the M.M. Gryshko National Botanical Garden. We’ve heard that the park is one of the most beautiful in Kiev and that many of the trees there are in full bloom right now. While we contemplate the Dnieper River below, we hear the woman say this word, malishka, again. But this time, after calling, we hear something like a happy sigh; clearly, she has found it at last.

She takes a handful of seeds from her pocket, and a small gray and yellow bird swoops down to nibble from her large open palm. Malishka: she had been calling to the bird. Others soon join in. Flying in loops over the track, they seem to be waiting their turn. But then a bell ringsit’s time for the car to leave. The woman puts the seeds on the instrument panel, sits down at the controls and shuts the doorsall the doors except for hers, because while she drives, she continues talking to one of the birds that is struggling to keep up. It doesn’t want to lose her, so it flits around in the air, as if it were dancing. When the car stops at the bottom of the hill, the woman steps out of her cabin again, and the birds that had followed her continue with their meal. As before, on her open hand, as if suspended over the platform.

We should keep going as planned, taking a bus after the funicular to get to the park. But this scene has captured our attention. So we run to buy more tokens to climb back up the hill, before coming back down again with the bird lady.

Hill

We finally make it to the botanical gardenor one of them at least, because Kiev has two. In the tropical greenhouse, we meet Faïna, visiting with her parents. The child is not yet ten, but she speaks Russian, Ukrainian, English and French. Her father questions her in each of these languages, and the little girl answers, moving from one to another with surprising ease, as if it were a game, a kind of linguistic hopscotch.

We leave, determined to climb the hill just behind the greenhouse. After a few meters, even though we’re higher up, we can no longer see the glass building with its exotic flowers. Nor the rest of the city, in fact, because there are lots of small mounds on the hill, covered with plants. Around us are tall grasses with large clumps of yellow irises. Hornbeam and ash trees form a curtain of greenery. Suddenly, we’re in the countrythe city seems to have disappeared.

In Gryshko, as in so many other places, it seems as if Kiev is trying to forget that it’s a major city, unless it’s the oppositethat it’s about memory rather than forgetting. That with this park, Kiev is trying to remember what preceded it: the landscape as it was before the stone, concrete and roads.

At the top of the valley, several brown onion domes rise behind a thicket, all topped with large gilded crosses. This is the Trinity Monastery of Saint Jonas, in the middle of the botanical garden. A few monks are walking toward the building; from our vantage point, their black robes stand out against another screen of greenery. We step into the church. In a small basement room with a vaulted ceiling, we’re captured by the sight of the strange icon of Our Lady with Three Hands.

U-kraïna

I read somewhere that “Ukraine” originally meant “borderland.” U-kraïna. I think about it again as I discover Kieva city on the edge, at the borders. We are on the outskirts of urban space, in a major capital that has managed to keep one foot in the forest.

There is an uncommon equilibrium and sense of magic in all this.

Ghost

Like the one in the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. Bulgakov, who died in Moscow in 1940, is the author of The White Guard and the fascinating Master and Margarita. A museum now occupies the home he lived in, at No. 13 Andriyivskyy Descent, until he was 20 years old.

The space is relatively small, with a scant number of objects on display. But through the play of light and reflections on the white-walled rooms, the house is imbued with a strange presence. Tania, the woman who shows us around, is amused by our unease. Suddenly, she starts talking about the author as if he were still alive. Here, with us. Or just behind that doorshe’s aware that the visit is something of an initiation. With Tania, we learn how to look for Bulgakov’s ghost. When the door of the building closes behind us, we are sure we want to go back. Just because we saw everything in the small house at No. 13 Andriyivskyy Descent doesn’t mean that we know all about it.

Outside, not far from the entrance gate, is a statue of the author, seated with his arms crossed. A few people are waiting in line to be photographed next to it. Sitting on his knees, a woman is holding the metal figure by the shoulder. Before giving up her spot for the next person, she kisses the statue on the cheek and says, half-serious, half-joking: “Don’t be so sad, Mikhail, I’ll come back, you’ll see.”

Sand

The Dnieper looks imposing from the large Kiev-Pechersk Lavra; it flows along the valley floor between groves of trees and the sandy beaches outlining the islands. From high up, you can also see the left bank and its modern buildings. At the base of the monastery’s gilded domes, the landscape is written around the river.

But I think I like the Dnieper best from its banks. On the beach, sitting on the sand, facing the Hydropark, among the bathers. Some people are here for the day; others for barely a few minutes, just enough time to take a quick dip before returning to work.

Two fishermen have set up underneath the willows on the spit of sand jutting out from the island opposite. A man is standing alongside them, watching what they’re doing. If this were our only view, we’d imagine this to be a pristine wilderness. Or another era, because this strip of sand on the opposite shore is undeveloped.

From time to time, the man standing next to the fishermen looks awayit seems that he sometimes completely loses interest in their activity, that he even wants to forget that the other two are there. His gaze wanders off toward the trees, which for him are on the opposite shoreour side, in other words. I realize that for this man as well it’s all about framing. That certain spots, like the banks of the Dnieper where Nich and I are, can make you feel like you’re in the midst of nature, miles from any populated areas.

But all it takes is a few steps for the city to reappear. Or even easier: just raise your sights.

A place to write In Kiev, I always wrote outdoors. I scribbled a few notes on a bench in the park around Saint Sophia Cathedral, in the shadow of the green and gold domes, and later while leaning against a lavender blue wall in the grounds of Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monasterya window was open and the sound of a man’s a capella choir could be heard from inside the church. On discovering the city, I knew that I would not be choosing just one single place to open my little notebook. I wanted to test each one that I came across. I also wrote in the Hydropark, in the outdoor gymnasium, next to the apparatus made out of old industrial machines and recycled gearwheels, and then on the grounds of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, up in the hills, against the backdrop of the Dnieper. And, on the last day, at the water’s edge, on the beach, with my feet buried in the sand.

Intercontinental Kiev

This well-situated hotel wows as soon as you enter. It might seem large with its 272 rooms, but the lounges give it a welcoming, intimate vibe. The cuisine is exceptional, particularly at the fabulous Comme Il Faut restaurant. The sauna and pool are great spots to relax at the end of the day, after hours spent exploring the city.

Intercontinental Kiev

2A Velyka Zhytomyrska Street. Tél. +380 (0)44 219 1919.

kyiv.intercontinental.com

Eleven Mirrors

A man in a top hat, standing in front of a huge window, greets us at the entrance. Inside we discover a contemporary lounge with a lovely bookcase. The place resembles an elegant home. Eleven Mirrors is said to be a design hotel. But what does that mean exactly? That even the tiniest decorative object has been chosen with care and love. And it’s a real success. Ask for a room on the top floorthe view of Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral with its golden cupola is breathtaking.

Eleven Mirrors

34A Bogdana Khmelnytskogo Street. Tél. +380 (0)44 581 1111.

www.11mirrors-hotel.com

Next

Nouvelle-Calédonie
Conversations
from the other side

Carnet d’adresses

Intercontinental Kiev

2A Velyka Zhytomyrska Street. Tél. +380 (0)44 219 1919.

kyiv.intercontinental.com

Eleven Mirrors

34A Bogdana Khmelnytskogo Street. Tél. +380 (0)44 581 1111.

www.11mirrors-hotel.com
Address Book

Going There

www.airfrance.com

Flight frequency

Air France has 2 daily flights from Paris-CDG to Kiev.

KLM has 2 daily flights from Amsterdam to Kiev.

Arrival airport

Aéroport international de Kiev-Boryspil.
À 30 km.
Tél. +380 (0)44 363 7777.

Air France KLM offices

À l’aéroport.

Booking

— Depuis la France : Tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz, à l'aéroport

Tél. +380 (0)44 359 0991.

www.airfrance.com/cars

Further reading

La Danse de l’araignée (2017)
et les précédents romans de Laura Alcoba sont publiés aux éditions Gallimard.

Ukraine
Lonely Planet.

Ukraine
Le Petit Futé.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Map for illustration purposes only