Airport Romance

Knives on Planes

Last year I travelled to my girlfriend’s native Ukraine. Bizarrely, many of the places we visited were shortly to become focuses of the Ukrainian conflict, from Maidan Nezalezhnosti to the coast of Crimea. On the way, thanks to the bureaucracy of fortress Europe, we were trapped overnight in Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport. There are certainly worse places to spend an eleven hour layover (each way). Yet the whole experience, and especially the enhanced security procedures at play in Paris, reminded me unpleasantly of my previous visits to City 17. I wrote this poem, published in the latest issue of Saul Bowman’s never ending zine project, after one particularly intimate encounter.

Airport Romance

I’m going to have to pat inside your waistband.
I’m going to have to pat up and down your arms and legs
with the outside of my hands.
It’s no good, you’re going to have to step through once again.
You’re going to have to go through in one movement,
not stop in the middle like you did before.
You’re going to have to come over here, my friend.

I’m going to have to touch you in a way you will never forget.
You’re going to have to show me Paris from the inside out.
I’m going to have to love every minute of it.
We’re going to have to shower once we’re done,
and comb each other’s moustaches.
Yours is going to have to be the colour of caramel,
mine is going to have to go, or people will think we are brothers.

I’m going to have to hold you and keep holding you till we’re little old men.
You’re going to have to die in my arms tonight.
The earth is going to have to slow and cool,
the stars put out their lights,
our blinding cataract.
I’m going to have to let you go.
I’m going to have,
I’m going to.
I’m going,
I’m going,
I’m gone.

Ukraine – Part 2



Aloupka is an endless concrete Riviera. Shops line the road that corkscrews from mountain, as though they’ve fallen from heavy goods trucks speeding towards the sea. Ay-Petri sits at the top of the cablecar ride over pinetrees and vineyards peppering the ochre earth. Natives with the faces of evil sherpas hawk from every square inch of the narrow streets – strange wasp infested nougat and baklava, barbecued mystery meats, rides on emaciated nags that respond only to fear and peck at the sparse grass pathetically if you loose their reins, their foals pathetically attempting to nurse every time they stop, like piglets suckling a peperami.

I flip back in the water, my head goes under and I try to calm myself as the surging waves and the weights around my waist drag me down into the wash. The next wave comes and I stand once more, unsteady on the shifting banks of pebbles that descend into the sea. I try to gesture but they haven’t taught us a hand signal for ‘the idiot in front of me lost his flipper!’

“He’s lost his flipper” I say, futily wiggling my foot under the water.

The swarthy dive coach stares at me uncomprehending – trying to discern whether this flabby tourist who can’t even speak Russian, let alone Ukrainian is in mortal peril, or merely demanding a pre-dive double cheese burger with twisty fries. I give up and follow him into the wash. Face down, breathe evenly through your mouth, descend. I sink too quickly, tip forward, try not to flail with my arms. I’m drowning. I am not drowning. Breathe evenly, touch the top of your mask and breathe out through your nose. Explosion of bubbles on each exhale, surely too much air leaking out? My guide is snapping photos with a chunky underwater camera. Fire engine red, it captures me flailing, trying not to make myself drown. Trying to take in something of the seaweed fronded boulders and tiny jellyfish so much less impressive than the cheapest Nat Geo doc. My flippers don’t work. Oh they were plenty big enough to trip me over and over as we stood at the edge of the water practising emergency manoeuvres. Now they’re useless spandrels dragging me back, weighing down my legs so that I move forward at a sea snails pace. I try various strategies absorbed from Gerry Anderson cartoons – the mermaid, the underwater bicycle, the stumbling goat. None seem effective. Even as I watch my guide, a lithe, superbly muscled sea creature, dart and shimmy, drag me by hand up sheer rock faces, literally swim circles around me.

Now the shore’s approaching, after what can only have been minutes and I puncture the greedy sea, falling back and over as my guide works off my flippers and the weights and the aqualung under the water then haughtily strongmans the cart full of equipment back up the ramp to the harbour. I waddle after, vacuum sealed into a rubber cast, auditioning for aquaman.



Aikendrum_001211There’s a white elephant on the Black Sea. Massive, unfinished, it looms over the green hills of Crimea like a cartoon grin. Someone flicks a laser over our ferry in the darkening evening: A piercing light from the coast.  A secret signal. A poison pen. No one is blinded. We rumble on over the cooling waves, wrapped in blankets. The vocoded europop fades into Ukrainian ballads and finally to silence. A military boat forces the ferry steer clear of a section of coast between two ash grey and salmon cliffs. The president’s house is there, modestly hidden in the trees, immodestly guarded. Further up the coast a splash of taste, Gorbochov’s old dacha and accompanying white and red chalets, like a piece of Switzerland on Chorne More. Finally, beyond a horseshoe hump of eyesore apartments – 700k euro each, says the middle-aged tourguide with the Princess Di hairdo; the vast palace of  ‘a member of the president’s family’. Unreachable by road, the colossus has the tacky pea green hue and faux Whitehouse design you’d expect from a Ukranian Tony Montana. Further up the coast at, Putin’s  built his own holiday home, with 350 million dollars meant for Russia’s health care infrastructure, and ample pools for disappearing mistresses.



‘Cock and balls!’ I cackle with delight, overjoyed it’s still here. Don’t hold it by the hat Anya tells me, you might break it. Cock & balls has been all we’ve talked about today and now here it is, wrapped in plastic and cradled in my hands, the perfect present. It’s gift buying day and we’re in Mariupol’s dodgiest supermarket. I pick out a blue policeman to take care of cock and balls on the flight home. I can only hope they’ll survive the trip. What if they push me over the weight limit? I look down at cock and balls sadly. It couldn’t contain more than a litre could it? Perhaps I could sip off the excess.

Back in Alaska we join a barmaid’s birthday party. I’m so tired I have to fake friendliness. Ireland has a reputation to earn. I jokingly suggest taking a photo with the birthday girl – a heavy woman in her forties with tear stained makeup running down her deputy dog muzzle. Instantly I regret it, as Marina runs over to get her attention. ‘Do they have women like me where you come from?’ she asks as I gurn at the camera, thumbs up, feeling like a proper cunt. Not to worry, I cock and balls it out. By the end of the night we’re slow dancing. She won’t let me leave without two fat slices of homemade apple pie. Олеся finds the words hilarious ‘Apple pi’, ‘Apple pi’ she says over and over, as we moonwalk around the table. Every city loves a stranger.



Every grave after 2004 is laser cut with the face of its occupant. Proudly defiant, they gaze at us as we drive past isometric gravestones under a Stalker skybox. Starocrimski is endless and overgrown. Many graves have a table and bench built right over the body, so you can come and eat with (or feast on) the dead. The gangster’s graves are the best, enormous marble temples to slain bosses and their mamochkas, complete with busts, statues and intricate ornamentation – one even has a crucified jesus gazebo. It’s bad luck to take pictures, but I do anyway, earning a thorn bush ripped knee for my troubles. Somehow cut and bleeding even inside my pants. I imagine memetic microbes, soul pieces of the dead, strange brain parasites suffusing the earth and the plants, inhabiting me, colonising my mind till I’m a gangster zombie with the soul of an assassinated accountant, a refugee from Mariupol.



Ukraine – Part 1

In Transit
Detained in Charles De Gaulle, all of us refugees of security theatre. Held en la atrium, locked – by one way funnels of scans and pat downs – out of the consumer concourse. This luxury itinerant camp is bedded with brown tongues, leather chaise longues on which we loll like Jean Paul Marat. We lie sleeping and colouring and cradling our young, behind a smoky glass promenade, stocked with plastic pandas and liquorish black shoots of steel bamboo.

In the super luxurious future all of us are imprisoned in indolence – trapped in liminalities; half light, jet lag, the susurrus of wakeful children excited just to be away from home. Sir Alfred Mehran  spent eight stateless years stuck in this airport, Tom Hanks plays him in the movie. Under these high gauze carpeted ceilings and gill pleated metal columns, driven mad slowly by the fridge coolant hum and the never never sleeping, who will play me?

From Kiev we share a tiny sleeper carriage with an enormous woman and her haunted looking husband. At each stop she bangs his bunk and makes him climb off to look for a concession stand. He changes her socks and helps with her insulin injections. They are travelling from Munich. All night she toys with her iPad, every now and then switching on the cabin light to pour out another bowl of pistachio nuts.



The Irish start out ugly. We’re born with extra sets of teeth, flaps of skin between our toes, cleft pallets, duck toed, buck toothed, cock eyed. Over time we improve – diet, exercise, most of all money, play their part. Ukrainians are just the opposite. Their children are beautiful, their devushkas heavenly, their women worn and thickening, their babushkas like Baba Yaga. Here the eloi live under the earth and only slowly turn to morlock.

Sergei carries a handbag: A tiny case, like any responsible business woman. ‘Men have them here’, Anya tells me. Mariupol is a pleasing intrusion of nature into a remnant of Soviet utopia. Everywhere public parks spill into the streets. Chestnut trees and weeping willows burst through the cracking pavements. Its the walkable city, arrived at not by enlightened urban planning, but neglect.

In babushka’s apartment there’s a carpet on the wall and the balcony looms twelve floors above a barren quadrangle. All she remembers of the holodomor, is missing sugar on her bread. Mariupol is by the sea, and ‘didn’t suffer as much as other places’. I ask her why the people here are so forgiving, while we Irish hold a grudge over a famine a third as bad, twice as long ago. ‘Other places suffered too’.

Inscription reads 'A man chooses, a slave obeys'Today the coast plays host to heavy metal factories which cast a brown fug over the city and make everything taste of iron. Babushka serves us coldcuts and peppers with rice and meat and cooked liver and pork with mashed potatoes and calamari and spiced cabbage and mushroom salad and smoked salmon and celebration champagne. For desert there’s chocolate mousse with blackberries and raspberries for mixing and profiteroles with buttercream. She packs a leftover feast in buckets to take with us, scuttling back and forth between the kitchen and the living room.

I am a bloated tourist in a Hawaiian shirt. The local dentist scolds me – ‘you must get your teeth cleaned professionally every year’. She reads a war history in my gums: Braces, fillings, scars from the surgery I needed after a lip piercing caused permanent injury. I don’t tell her the cost of a dental check up back home is two weeks wages here. I don’t tell her that it would be cheaper to catch a flight to Kiev and the sleeper out to Mariupol than to get a LUAS from the Phoenix park to Charlemont St for a filling.

As the rain falls on Sergei’s Lada on the journey to Crimea, I am reading. Sergei has rented an apartment near Yalta, at the very southern tip of Ukraine – closer to Iraq or even northern Sudan than to Ireland. Marina has baked pastries with chicken and mushroom and packed them together with leftover beef-chicken burgers and cream fried aubergines from our second and still more opulent feast in baushka’s cramped and cat ridden apartment.


At a bar called Alaska we drink vodka out of espresso cups with sailors who look as though they may be gangsters. I adopt the persona of the garrulous Irishman abroad. The gombeen armature of ‘slainte’ and ‘conas a ta tu?’. The locals watch in horror as I mix vodka and alcopops. ‘Da, it is like water now, but tomorrow you will wish it was water!’ I race  against Олеся, giddy with sugar, down a slope built for skiing in Winter and for those mad transparent plastic balls which you strap yourself into and go rolling and rolling, sometimes forever. But the ball has broken and so we run instead under the floodlamps into the darkness  at the foot of the slope where it breaks into another steeper cliff. We stop and stare into the dark at the belching factories out over the edge of the water, then stumble back up hill. The girls eat tiny prawns from an enormous plastic bag, tossing them under the table to the stray cats that writhe about our feet like possessed scarves. Night falls on Mariupol.