Ukraine- the lumbering leviathan on the edge of Europe, on the edge of Asia and on the edge of Russia. Ukraine is neither here nor there and until twenty years ago it was precisely nowhere, absolutely non-existent as an independent nation. Apart from a brief three year flirtation with existence at the end of World War One, Ukraine did not come into being as a nation until the Soviet Union collapsed. Her history is largely defined by great empires storming back and forth across her, carving her up in an endless, profligate geo-political feast. The Mongol Hordes, Lithuania, Poland, The Russian Empire, The Ottoman Empire, The Soviet Union- all sucked on Ukraine, suppressed her people and sought to permanently assimilate her. It is truly remarkable that after centuries of quasi-existence, Ukraine is now alive and tangible.
With such a motley history, modern Ukraine is understandably characterised by intense ambiguity. The country is split roughly half and half between Ukrainian speakers in the West and Russian speakers in the East. Language is a source of extreme tension in the country. Last year a mass brawl erupted between MPs in parliament, with chairs, head butts, eggs and smoke bombs used to debate a bill that would make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian. The fact that reigning boxing world heavy weight champion Vitali Klitschko is running for office in the upcoming election is perhaps indicative of the brutally straightforward machinations of Ukrainian politics.
Many see Ukraine as a schizophrenic country, and the possibility of significant boarder realignments seems ever possible. Until last weekend, I was only acquainted with the Russian speaking South-Eastern regions, having spent time in The Crimea, Odessa and Kiev. On Friday I took a trip to Lvov and discovered not just a new language but a whole new world; a carnival of brutal eroticism and fairytale chimeras.
Going from Odessa to Lvov, Russian gave way to Ukrainian and the plump onion domes of Orthodoxy were replaced by sylphlike gothic spires. Lvov is unadulterated in its medieval majesty, largely untouched by the Western trash that has done for much of Eastern Europe. The cobbled streets and cityscapes of spindling towers lend her an enchanting air. I felt like I had leapt back five hundred years, but as night fell I wasn’t prepared for quite how authentic this anachronistic ambience would become.
It turns out that Lvov was home to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author who lends his name to sexualised beatings, a.k.a. masochism. I am aware that I only have a brain once and as such I am obliged to treat it to the full catalogue of sensations that the world has to offer. So I went there to get battered.
Masoch was a dark and dingy affair. The drinks menus were bound in leather and purple fuzz. A huge waitress was lashing a small topless customer with a whip. He was screaming and his back was covered in violet welts but not once did he ask her to stop.
Max and I had a few drinks to steady our nerves and raise our libidos. I assumed this was going to be difficult to enjoy but I was determined to make the most of it. We expressed our curiosity to the waitress and within seconds the colossus with the whip had stormed over and was staring at us with hungry black eyes.
She lined up two chairs and told us to get on our knees. It was as if we had signed away all our rights at the door. We knelt and she told us to grip the chair in front of us. She lifted our t-shirts over our heads to expose our tender virgin backs.
In his book Venus in Furs, Masoch explains his understanding of sexual relationships; ‘whichever of the two fails to subjugate will soon feel the feet of the other on his neck.’ I had rarely contemplated the power dynamics of mating in such graphic terms. In fact I had never even seen power relations at work; for me mating had always been an act of union and equality- the mutual exchange of pleasure and occasionally emotion. Not anymore.
The first two licks drew cries of pain from us both. We attempted to stand but she forced us down with a brutal growl. For a moment I thought about resisting; I didn’t have to be kneeling on that dirty floor being whipped by that dirty brutette. But then I remembered that my atoms and her atoms and the whip’s atoms had all been in perpetual motion since the Big Bang and none of us could possibly be anywhere else at that particular moment in time. So I gripped the chair and put my head down.
The following blows lashed me through the boundaries of pain and I stepped into a new world. The lick of the whip was so overwhelmingly exciting as to leave me permanently changed. I will never see women as equals again. They will always be potential colossuses who set me a-tremble with fear and titillation. The thrill of being utterly subjugated by an utter brutette was the best thing I have ever felt and it has changed my life.
That was just wishful thinking. I like to think that travelling and trying new things can change your perspective, but fortunately I didn’t ‘find myself’ in that masochist bar. Luckily for my body my brain wasn’t impressed. The experience simply confirmed my belief that I don’t like pain and I learnt nothing. But I will keep trying. I will put myself in whatever humiliating, harmful position presents itself because that is probably for the best.