Odessa: a close call...

It's been pretty much a given for at least a few thousand years that port cities around the world suffer from crime rates above and beyond those of their inland cousins. The oportunity for smuggling and contraband, sailors to be serviced by charming young ladies and the general wealth created by trade all add up to an irresistable temptation for the underworld.

Marseille in France is one example - and have I got a few tales to tell of my experiences in that place in the late 1990s - but even that roguish French port pales next to Odessa, which can lay fair claim to being one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. Mind you, tourists and normal people can feel fairly safe most times (though pick pocketing is common). But the organized criminal underworld - roughly divided into Jewish, Russian and Ukrainian groups - is something else.

A few months ago I purchased a very nice apartment in the city for a very low price. As it turns out, the previous owner had to leave in a hurry, namely due to owing money to some unpleasant individuals...the type of individuals who believe that a baseball bat to the kneecaps whilst carving your face off is a far more effective way of ensuring loan repayment than a first reminder letter. I had some of these gentlemen pay me a visit and even though they quickly knew I was not the person in question, they felt that I had an "obligation" to surrender the apartment to them in lieu. Hmmmm....needless to say, I saw things differently...nevertheless, I also like to be able to walk.

Cutting a long story short, I ended up having a chat to the "local businessman" to whom the money was owed, and as so often happens he indicated that the debt had been settled and he was not going to take the apartment away from me...in a way that made me feel the temperature suddenly dropped to below zero. As it turns out, it soon became clear that this guy had a knack of resolving problems in a way that ensured there were no unhappy parties left to complain. I was lucky.

This time.