Safe in Kyiv

The United States Department of State has increased the security alert for Odessa and it is now on the same level as Kharkiv. A local British expat blogger who has lived in Odessa for a decade predicted there might be a demonstration between 6 August and 15 August and it would happen within the same week as events in the east and thus would be coordinated  as to show the Ukrainian government and the West that they cannot a) cannot be everywhere at once, and b) can demonstrate just “because they can.”

   Despite the looming threat of an upcoming military draft, both Odessa and Kyiv seemed relatively calm considering. People ate out, strolled down the streets and carried on as usual. But what can you do? These cities have running water and electricity unlike Lugiansk right now. The UN has called the humanitarian situation in Ukraine’s east as worsening dramatically.

Meanwhile, drunks and drug addicts are conscripted in the east as a form of “punishment brigades.” The Guardian has an article suggesting that there are “increased mutterings for a new Maidan.” I wonder who Mr. Walker talked to but in the people I’ve chatted with on the train, street and around town, yes there is a weariness but I doubt there will be another Maidan. Several locals are even getting tired of Poroshenko. The local Odessa expat blogger said that while he is one who says what he means, and is passionate, the question of whether he can deliver what he promises is another. For example, there is hope that the war will be over by 24 August, Ukrainian Independence Day and Donetsk will be liberated. But realistically, whether that may seen to be true is whole other ballgame.

Another question that may be raised in the future is what will happen to the Maidan where EuroMaidan took place? Right now, it serves as a tourist attraction/open-air museum/homage to Euromaidan/memorial site and open market for related souvenirs. It is a museum in this respect but when the conflict calms down, will the local city government establish a museum devoted to Euromaidan and use parts of what is currently on display? The sponsors  of some of the photo exhibits are the Fulbright Foundation and the Ukrainian Women’s Fund.

Now the Maidan looks like this:

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I found this one eerie in an ironic way:

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Note the Mothercare shop (part of a three-story mall) surrounded by the wreckage of Euromaidan and the wall of tires on the left. One could interpret this as a motif that motherhood is a battlefield, as is life.

And some people refuse to let the conflict get in their way of pursuing love. I met a couple at the hostel where I stayed last night. The man appears to be in his late 20’s/early 30’s and is an American from Chicago-area. He had long dark hair, was quite slim and seemed like a free-spirited soul one would meet at a yoga retreat. His bride-to-be was a Ukrainian lady in her mid to late 30’s from Lugiansk region and they were planning on going back to the east to wait until they could get married. When I asked if they had plans to stay in Ukraine or America, the guy, named Ryan answered that for now they’re staying in Ukraine because he doesn’t want his wife to be a foreigner just yet. They had been dating for 11 years and the premises of how they met was “a long story.” His wife spoke very little English but understood a little bit. His Russian was maybe half a level better. And yet, despite that, the two did not seem to have any problems communicate.  Body language and speaking a kindergarten level of each other’s language was more than enough for them. Love was the answer. When the lady, Natalia learned that I was American, her eyes lit up and she responded that her “muzhh” or “man” was also American and insisted that I meet him. The way her eyes sparkled and her pride of her enduring decade-long partnership was impressive. They didn’t seem to like Kyiv all too much and are returning to Lugiansk any day now. 

Odessa, a new discovered world

I’ve been in Odessa since Friday, August 1. As my friend Michael put it, I woke up in Tbilisi, flew into Kiev where I had lunch at the well known Ukrainian chain Puzata Hata, and took the 3pm train to Odessa where I arrived at 11pm. Michael was supposed to meet me at the train station at around 11pm but because he missed the bus coming from Moldova (Chisinau)  he couldn’t make it until 11.40pm. My smartphone had died (the outlets on the train did not work) so I decided to wait there until he showed up. Curious to see how much the taxis would charge for 3 kilometers to the hotel, I tried to ask in my awkward Russian. Tired, I thought they were quoting me 700 HRN or 55 dollars. I saw a local militia and asked him if that was right. He said it was a fair price and that if I didn’t like it I should just walk the rest of the way. I later found out when Michael and I went to a shop and the kind shop owner called a taxi, that it was really 70 UHN not 700 and that I was making the same mistake again, mistaking my tens for hundreds linguistically and that I came across as a cheapskate to Ukrainian standards…thinking 4 dollars was too much to pay a driver to lug my suitcase, backgammon board, and backpack 3 kilometers. I was not surprised in retrospect when these militiamen first asked to see my passport. They probably wanted to know not what country I was from, but what planet I thought I lived on.

 

  We arrived at our accommodation and after some much needed beer and rest, started the day Saturday with a walking tour. Last summer our guide Yuriy gave 120 tours. This summer, we were only his third tour and the summer is more than half gone. He was not the first one nor the last one to be surprised and baffled as to what brought us to Odessa during the conflicts and possible war. It was a long story, but basically I was supposed to go to Konotop, Ukraine to visit a friend but that friend and I had a falling out and I was left with a one-way ticket from Tbilisi to Kiev. Instead of crying over spilt milk, I decided to keep my ticket and meet my friend Michael in Odessa instead of Kiev because Odessa has always been in my top five cities to visit one day. And he found hostel prices at a 5 star hotel so the rest is history. There are a few things to note about Michael. One, he’s Australian and thus was born with an innate love to travel. Two, he’s extremely frugal in an ingenious way which means he travels more than a spy or secret agent. This month, Ukraine, next month Poland and the Carpathians, October Italy and November Lebanon. And he’s already met me in Poland on his way to Israel, took a fourth trip to Georgia (the country) and we did have a week long tour of Belarus during the hockey championships. So you get the picture. We both have a love and fascination with former Soviet and Eastern European countries so that’s how we both met up in Ukraine. As for myself, my maternal great-great grandmother a Gitl Tsipperbrun (Brown Bird in Yiddish) was originally from here. According to her husband’s family story, he took the train from Dnepropetrovsk (formerly Yekaterinoslav) to meet her. She loved her Odessa and was proud of this cosmopolitan city and told her children and grandchildren on summers swimming in the Black Sea, going to the opera, and how wonderfully multicultural this town was (and still is).

 

  I soon saw for myself the beauty my ancestor saw in this place. The balmy summer evenings one can see many locals and Ukrainians walking in pristine breathtakingly marvelous parks surrounding the supposedly  most beautiful opera house in the world. The tree-lined streets are occupied by cafes. Sushi bars are in vogue as are night clubs and elegantly dressed ladies. The beach Lanzheron was packed and had sandy shores a nice contrast to the stony shores of Batumi where I was a week earlier with another friend.

 

I love bazaars and markets because it’s how you really get a feel of the place. It’s heaven for people watching. I went there to buy certain Georgian and Central Asian spices for friends back in Poland and we encountered quite a few Georgians who weren’t just Georgian but a minority from within Georgia: Mingrelians.

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This lady was selling Churchkhela a Georgian fruit snack that is basically nuts soaked in fruit juices. Michael bought the ones soaked in kiwi but after I recited a Mingrelian tongue twister that my friend Tina’s parents had taught me that probably sounded like this; the lady refused to charge us. It turned out that she and her two friends were Mingrelians and they weren’t the last ones we ran into in Odessa that day. My friend Tina is Mingrelian and after meeting some of her family and other Mingrelians around Tbilisi, she taught me how to tell if one is Mingrelian or not. Maybe it’s body language or features that this group shares but this group, closely related to the Laz minority in Western Georgia/Eastern Turkey is immensely proud of their heritage as they should be. My friend speaks probably as much Mingrelian or understands as much of it as I would understand Yiddish or Hebrew expressions. It’s her parents and my great-grandparents’ generation that can/could have spoken these respective languages fluently. 

 

We went the above stand at the famous market called Privoznaya. The market was the perfect site for people-watching and spice shopping. I not only met Georgians there but we chat with Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Persians there too.

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The spices were endless. They ranged from Georgian ones such as khmeli-suneli, adjika, Svanetian salt, to more Central Asian ones such as barberry, coriander, and custom-made mixes for manti and plov.

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Going to open air markets in foreign countries never ceases to fascinate and excite me. When I was in Tbilisi, the people were just as friendly and lovely.

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It was too easy to spend all day in the Privoz market where we sat and drank some Bessarabian wine and sampled the local nectarines. We stopped at a cafe along the way where the owner was too happy to practice his English and refused to speak any Russian with me. A foreigner coming into his bookstore/cafe on a Sunday afternoon was probably a big surprise. His cafe was not even in the touristy parts.

He was born in Sloviansk which I found out while admiring the Turkish copper and clay coffee pots. He pointed out that these were all made from Sloviansk which was famous for their clay craftsmanship and nearby rivers and nature, which no one would know normally because now his hometown is known for being part of the conflict zone. This young man’s name was Eugene or Evgeniy and he moved to Odessa when he was just a month old and thus considered himself more of an Odessan than anything else but still took pride in his birthplace.

Odessa is known for its opera house, the Potemkin steps made globally famous by the baby carriage scene from Sergei Eistenstein’s Battleship Potemkin

 

 

Green Adjika

Green adjika

adjika

Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic
2 bunches each of parsley and coriander
2 to 3 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons salt

Use a hand mixer a like in the picture or electric food processor if you are into efficiency.
fresh for up to 3 weeks in fridge. use for meat , bread, salad, soups, or as a simple summertime dip.

Spring in Krakow

Here, in this corner of the world, things have looked up for expats, particularly for that of students like yours truly. According to the Krakow Post President Komorowski’s signing a new immigration law will ease the process for students and non-EU nationals to live and work in Poland for 1-3 years.

English is the hottest language in demand in the IT and BPO (Business-Processing Outsourcing) sectors. Additionally, Krakow has repeatedly been considered one of the most attractive and desirable cities to invest in in FDI.  The national average salary is roughly between 3800-4100  zlotych, or about 1200-1300 dollars a month. A colleague once got a job offer for 4500 zlotych a month which is roughly 1500 USD/month or 1100 euros a month.

For the longest time, I used to feel that Poland was the “promised land” as it once was to Askhenazic Jews once upon a time. In fact, Casimir the Great bestowed many privileges on Krakow’s Jews and even invited more to settle from Western Europe where they were being persecuted during the Crusades and following Spanish Inquisition. Additionally, Poland, if not Krakow is one of the most educated and cultured places per capita I’ve encountered here in Europe. In 2000, Krakow was Europe’s “capital of culture” and in two year’s time, Wroclaw, the capital of Silesia, will hold the title.

Krakow is also very much a student city. It is home to roughly 100,000 students and one of Central and Eastern Europe’s oldest universities, Jagiellonian. I believe that only Prague’s Charles University is older.

The city population is just under 800,000 and yet the compact walkable center evokes a charming “small town” feel.

When I graduate this year, I shall miss Krakow dearly. There is no other city in the world I’d want to spend a spring in.

 

 

Around Armenia 2

 

 

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This monastery is of Noravank Monastery that we stopped at on the way to Tatev Monastery.

 

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This is Noravank Monastery.

 

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It was a lovely sunny day. Despite the harsh land and arid climate, there was beauty to be found in the sand dune like mountains and rolling hills.

 

Around Armenia

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First day of Spring in Krakow

11 April 2013

 

Spring in Poland has finally come after a miserably long winter of six months. Buildings have had their colors returned to them. I can see that the building that hosts Alchemia is a faded daffodil yellow and the neighboring one is a lovely burgundy brick red. Winter was a grey slumbering fugue. Krakow has returned to life.

 

The flea market at New Place today was rather daunting. One stall sold anti-Semitic cartoons, art, and caricatures from the early 20th century while the neighboring one sold a mish-mash of Jewish memorabilia and dusty swastikas and various Third Reich artifacts. I wondered to myself whether Jewish tourists would be willing to buy questionably antique Judaica from the same person who is selling an authentic photograph of somebody hanging from the gallows in Auchwitz, one of the more shocking objects I saw for sale here.

 

I was not surprised at seeing swastika and “Jude” armbands available for just anyone to buy as I would have been two years ago. Living in Eastern Europe is not only an educational but a jading experience. 

 

Out of curiosity, I asked how much these objects were. These two caricatures together cost 150PLN or 50 dollars. 

 

The caricatures depicted a happy Rabbi carting home a keg of beer in the first panel, followed by an unhappy Rabbi in frum garb, looking down wistfully on the street at a broken beer bottle. 

 

 I asked the vendor what this all meant and he said, referring to the Jew in the caricature, that he “had many problems.”  I wasn’t quite sure if he was referring to this particular Jew, or rather, the entire group. 

 

I asked him where he acquired all of these objects and like many other vendors, he replied vaguely that he got them from “people”, in particular, “older people.” I felt that while I may have appeared tactless, and often am chided by my friends for asking too many “probing questions,” I wasn’t accusing this man of grave-robbing. I merely wanted to know.

    

   

Christmas in Sarajevo

Christmas in Sarajevo

 

My two friends Erik and D’juan and I arrived in Sarajevo, 6am on Christmas Eve to gift Bosnia with our loud American presence.

 

Christmas in Sarajevo is more of a secular multicultural event than my friends and I had ever seen before. Midnight mass was the opposite of a “silent night.” Instead, it was observed as a lower scale version of New Year’s with firecrackers being set off to the background of clanging church bells.

 

We chat with two local girls Amina and Sara. Amina is Muslim and Sara is Catholic but both celebrate each other’s holidays from watching people set off firecrackers and releasing balloons to exchanging traditional holiday cookies. Muslims, Amina said, had a different kind of holiday cookie than Catholics or Christians. She and her friends were excited about their pending exchange this year. But the firecrackers being set off is not a tradition–it is rather just a local habit that occurs from time to time, depending on how festive some people are.

 

Instead of there being your typical run-of-the-mill Christmas market like in other European cities, Sarajevo had a more modest “Holiday Market” that sold plastic toys to fake holiday ferns. After midnight, my friends and I heard the upbeat melodies of local ex-Yugoslav pop-folk. A huge white tent was packed to capacity and security guards were only letting in the same number of people who exited. While we waited for our turn and my friends were introduced to such classics by Halid Beslic, Ekaterina Velika, and other household names that may trigger yugo-nostalgia, they remarked that Sarajevo, and Bosnia was incomparable to any other European city or country they had ever been to. Figuring out how to enter this dome of a tent presented a challenge. We did not know where the entrance began and thought of climbing over some gates and sneaking ourselves in. One of the security guards looked at us inquisitively for a second and in a serious tone, warned us, “There”, pointing to the bushes we stepped over, “are mines.” We took him for his word at first but then he flashed a grin and started laughing. We had just encountered our first example of dark Bosnian humor.

 

 

Earlier that day, we began our day walking around in search of burek and cevapcici. For dinner, we went to a steakhouse and while D’juan ate steak, Erik and I nursed some of the local slivovitz or plum brandy. I believe our server was also the owner as she was very attentive and hinted to us that the restaurant had a trip-advisor page. This had happened during lunch at a “sausage restaurant” or “cevabnidza” when the owner took a picture of us and said we could find our pictures on the Facebook page, dependent on whether we “liked” his establishment or not. I’ve never before seen such a coincidental but clever use of social media before.

We followed this with souvenier shopping. We felt like we had potentially gotten ourselves into something akin to that Tarantino scene from Pulp Fiction when Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames’s characters enter a gun store for safety only to come across two twisted neo-nazis, when we saw several prominently displayed swastikas. There was also a commemorative wine bottle with Hitler on it. The owner said that Hitler was a “good man” who tried to make the “world calm” and also a very good businessman. We exchanged glances and I tried to whisper the word “Tarantino” but was not heard. When D’juan entered the shop, unaware of what had just been said, there was a pregnant pause for we did not know whether to politely leave or stay to look at the treasure trove of old Yugoslav currency that attracted D’juan. It was a hard call as it was hard to discern whether to take this owner seriously or not, especially when he said, “Mamma Mia!” and “Heil Hitler!”

There was a wine bottle with a wine label of Hitler’s picture and text “Fuhrerwein Schwarertaffel.” Erik surmised that this bottle may be a gag, or “maybe Nazis were just that cheesy.”

We will find out soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda

My grandfather writes:

Dear Maia:

In sadness I must report that poor Linda of late just got worse and worse.
She would lie down but then could not get up.  she whined in pain very
frequently despite all the meds.  she could no longer navigate the doggy-door
so I was carrying her down and up the stairs  usually at 11PM,  Midnight, and then
1AM and 3 AM … but in between she could no longer control herself so she was
shitting on herself and her bed and it was a sad  mess.
Her two Vets : Dr Michele Fuller and Dr. Zoe Ramagnano   had both
 been suggesting that despite all we tried for Linda they could no longer restore her to health and she
was in decline. and ” it was time ” Near 17 years is a long time for a little doggy.
Sadly , and with many tears and pains I took her in at 6PM last night to The Village Vet
and had her put down. Dr. Fuller handled it and there was no pain  for Linda… I’m starting to cry
now as I think about it. I kept putting this off, but finally …  She was so much part of my  life,
 I shall miss her terribly. she kept developing new habits. Towards the end she’d come up to
me and put her nose under my knee — asking to be petted.  She never did that  before.
Decided to have her cremated by an outfit Dr. Fuller  recommended:  www.veryimportantpet
mortuary.com … Tracy Victor.   They are giving us a nice little chest with her ashes plus
a plaque with her two front paw prints and words mentioning Cathy and you and myself. — and
Linda’s name, of course. should have all this come early January.
Dr. Fuller was so kind and gentle and did all this for no  charge.  She is the best Vet we
ever had, my opinion. She asked me to drop in from  time to time and say hello. Maybe
I can do this …
Sorry for this sad message, but TIME  has her ways , does she not ?
Richard Merrill bought me a book PROOF OF HEAVEN in which a Doctor who it seems died
and then came back did mention that he saw Dogs in Heaven … Let’s hope … Maybe Linda
will put in a good word for me ?
Linda was named after this song that played on the radio when my late mother had just picked up the two month old shaggy black and white terrier mix from the shelter. We knew she was special from the beginning. She was one of two puppies in her litter to survive a major dog-killer: distemper. She would drink leftover coffee if left unattended and go crazy over cigarette bums she encountered on her twice-daily walks.
  My mother taught me the value of life. When I saw the movie A Walk to Remember and cynically commented on why the protagonist, dying of leukemia needed so many hats, my mother chastised me. It wasn’t about whether or not she was going to die: it was all about enjoying those hats when you were still alive.
  Linda was also inspired by my fascination with the Wizard of Oz and how I liked the Glinda the good witch. So combining Glinda and Linda’s new namesake,  Linda joined our family.
   Being a terrier with the natural instinct to dig holes, Linda found things to bury in my collection of stuffed animals and barbies.
Out of all the stuffed animals that she enjoyed to play with, she took a special liking to that of stuffed possum. This one she kept intact. It became her security blanket. Whenever she experienced separation anxiety or wondered where we were, she would drag it around the house and wherever she was, her possum friend would follow her. Though it missed an eye from 20+ years of wear and tear (it was given to me when I was merely a newborn) it was her “teddy bear” so to speak.
Linda was only 11 when my mother passed on and months of confusion followed. She would sit by “the pain chair” or the leather reclining chair my mother would spend a great amount of her last days in and occasionally let out a mournful howl. Other times she would stare into space. My grandfather remarked hopefully that this could signify my mother was still with us in spirit and being an animal and sensitive to things that humans cannot always perceive, Linda was just “hanging out” with my mother’s spirit. My family is very creative and spiritual, so we welcomed this possibility.
Months turned into several and several turned into years and in her old age, our family dog developed strange new habits and behaviors which my grandfather would record in his emails with amusement and mild annoyance. She always was used to eating leftovers and my grandfather on his healthy diet of steamed vegetables, started giving the dog half of his dinner to her. Linda adapted to this and when he “forgot” to feed her half of his dinner (even though she had her gourmet hypoallergenic dinner still not 100% eaten) she would stare in dismay and even start growling. If Linda were a human, my mother liked to say, she would be a high-strung skinny 60-something chronic smoker with a penchant for bananas, walks to Starbucks, and constant companionship. But she was loved not just by our family but by the entire neighborhood.
She scored an “extras” scene in the late 90’s Madonna film “The Next Best Thing” After two hours of 20-something outtakes, and six months of eager waiting, our 15+ dollar trip to the multiplex resulted in my mother being horrified half-way through the film when the silver screen was dominated for 2 milliseconds by her behind. And an innocent unaware black and white dog trailing gingerly ahead. I think, if I recall correctly, my mother said something like, “Did they have to make my ass look that big?!”
Linda became a regular at Silverlake Wine where women would just crouch down and kiss her on her fluffy forehead after immediately recognizing her. Through walking Linda, my grandfather got to know the neighbors as did our downstairs neighbors. Through Linda, we became acquainted with beloved dogs passed, Bucky, Jake, all now greeting her in an infinite green landscape in how we like to imagine Doggy Heaven. Maybe my mother is waiting up there for her, asking her, “What took you so long?” and clucking her tongue at how much my grandfather pampered her and loved her. But she was loved. And we were loved in return.
I wish I had one more walk with her. Or just another morning of greeting her in the morning and getting her excited over something so simple: a can of wild salmon.
In Linda’s memory and in my mother’s memory, I beg each of you, this holiday season to open your heart to bringing home a mixed-breed dog from your animal shelter, or fostering, volunteering, donating, and just spreading the word that your run-of-the-mill shaggy terrier mix can make one extraordinary heartbreaking pet. She will fill your life with joy and love. A dog’s life, no matter how long or short is a blessing. And we were blessed.
My flatmate insightfully said that one death brings up all previous losses. In grief and in death, we celebrate life. In the Kaddish, there is not one word or direct mention of death: it is only about life.
To doubly honor Linda, I ask you all to celebrate life and hold those most dear to your hearts and remember those you may have lost.

Serbia and the EU

Latest article I co-wrote with my colleague Lana Ravel for New Eastern Europe

Serbia and the EU after the Acquittal of Ante Govina…

 

It is our interview with Professor Branislav Radeljic. He is also the author of Europe and the Collapse of Yugoslavia.

More posts on the Balkans to come.

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