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стук радіатора гастрономічних пригод 14/09/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
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Table Service

Put on a dress– we’re going dancing! No, that’s not true at all, but we are going to step out into the bright lights of Kyiv’s night and succeed where we’d once failed.There will be no blunt knife scraping at a tired brick of cheese. No glasses of vodka, bottles of beer, a plastic jug of water and Russian TV tonight. The four walls of Hotel Khreschatyk shall quake and crumble into dust, leaving us free to waltz the streets and dine like royalty.

Earlier fits of desperation had driven us to the depths of dissonance. Although the fare provided by our friendly neighborhood sushi emporium had been surprisingly exquisite, by enjoying delights of The Orient we had succumbed to the despised tactics of tourists. Yes, pictures on the menu afforded us the simple pleasure of ordering food. Yes, expensive sports cars crashing through shantytown walls next to a poker club had lent an authentic air to the meal. Yes, we drank domestic beers instead of Japanese imports. But we are in Kyiv and we must dine as the locals do. (more…)

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втоми і недоїдання 19/05/2011

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Maydan Nezalezhnosti

Hotel Khreschatyk had become inundated with weekend revelers. Sleazy businessmen sat sweating in suits around drinks next to Russian couples dripping jewelry from their track suits and Bebe slut-chic dresses. Cackling from the corner betrayed a pack of randy Australian girls getting loaded, urging one another along into a state of oblivion capable of quelling anxieties about what the local nightlife held in store.

Cheese and bread occupied our half-sized fridge while we sat through a course of beer and vodka. Fatigue and malnutrition had devised and signed their rendition of the Warsaw Pact, aligning themselves against our collective sanity and urging us to flee the bunker. We’d not seen a cooked dinner since Tarnów, and although Janice had been taking advantage of each morning’s humiliation at the buffet my meals had become reduced to granola and coffee.

Two days prior, staggering through the streets in search of grocery, we had passed what Janice calls a potato house. Common throughout Eastern Europe these fortifications of frugal feasting boasted a menu heavy on starches and boiled vegetables. Through collective memory and a divining rod our steps were retraced, leading us to the restaurant’s welcoming minstrel poster featuring a fat-lipped black woman smoking a cigar and holding a cat. As Ukraine has no legacy of slavery and segregation I assume this sign mirrors Japanese pop-culture’s affection for misunderstanding Americana.

Except the Japanese hate black people. And I’m sure Ukrainians aren’t far behind. (more…)

Салат з куркою 14/10/2010

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Breakfast

Dinner was prepared by cutting slices of cheese on the sewing kit box in our room. There was vodka and there were half-liters of strong Ukrainian beer, but by morning malnourishment sent us scuttling for a late breakfast with eagerness battling dread. What horrors lurked in the sushi-restaurant down a flight of stairs from the poker club doors?

Russian music videos played on a muted flatscreen while legions of uniformed waitresses circled the few remaining tables. There were no steaming bowls of miso or rancid vats of nato amongst the buffet tables. Sweetbreads clustered near the cutlery and meats crowded a sad collection of vegetables. Salad with a chicken? Oatmeal congealed next to a bubbling bin of hotdogs bordered by blintzes. I elbowed staff away from her cabbage tossing.

Janice and I are both vegetarians which made the concept of free breakfast a culinary crapshoot. Thankfully this culture has been so deprived there’s no expectation of bacon and sausage, accompanied only by sprigs of parsley destined for the plate’s edge. My granola pined after plain yogurt instead of the saccharine strawberry slop provided, but it would do. Sugary juices and tea, however, would not. (more…)

Głupi Projektów Rolniczych 27/08/2010

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
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Shopping Center

Point Break did not happen. The surge protector blew when I plugged in my power strip and instead we were treated with the worrisome stench of fused plastic and wires. Lights worked but all the plugs in the apartment were shot and we could not find the breaker inside, in the stairwell, in the catacombs below.

Sitting between the communist blocks and old town is Zenit. It looks like your average warehouse retailer, until we walked inside and became rats in a behavioral sciences experiment. The interior is a labyrinth cut from seven foot plexiglass display cases. Perfume is here, t-shirts over here, watches are here and each department is autonomous.

Janice negotiated murky vocabulary with a patient woman hawking junk drawer electronics in the back. There were no crowds of bargain hunters, but our wandering was limited. The company’s website leads me to believe, by virtue of fractured google translation, that the retail spaces are leased to independent vendors. Either everyone is selling black market goods or they’re receiving some serious government stimulus to run their glossy flea market stalls.

Apparently Zenit also has a grocery, plant nursery, laundry service and “production activities in the field of carton packaging”. They say that 80% of their work force come from an employment program for the disabled. Someone’s gotta get their hands caught in the cardboard cutting machine. (more…)

Puste Stoły Były Przewlekłą Chorobą 26/08/2010

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Świętej Rodziny

Church tourism creeps me out. I’ve wandered into places of worship, watched the faithful shrink from finger-waving docents, followed Giulietta Masina down the-can train in The Nights of Cabiria. It’s not the iconography or bloody history that makes my skin crawl, but the shawl wearing, tear-stained old ladies aggravating their rheumatism to pray. Is it worth the mockery of their devotion to gape at the architecture or feel the heat from a thousand candles burning away years in purgatory?

We scattered like roaches when grandmothers turned in the pews. Fresh incense choked the air harkening an impending mass and the only sound competing with our echoing footsteps was the cracking knuckles of an organist preparing to testify. (more…)

Skąpane w Zielonym Odcieniem 09/08/2010

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Deeper Into Hell

Tarnów was officially recognized in 1330 by King Władysław the Elbow-high, capitalizing on the town’s position as regional hub for trade between L’vov and Krakow. Portions of the old town wall remain, encircling the twisting streets that have weathered countless wars and atrocities. Expanding outward buildings grow and streets broaden. Seven hundred years pass in a half hour to where the lost ideals of middle America and Soviet communism collide. (more…)

na wschód młody człowiek 05/08/2010

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A Little History

I needed beer and coffee, preferably in that order. This was the only thought to occupy my already sodden and battered brain which had begun to suffer at six in the morning several countries away. What kind of beer? Whatever’s written on this huge umbrella. Is it rude to point at the word and make drinking motions? I let Janice handle the ordering. (more…)

Cuisson á la Maison 09/12/2009

Posted by brendan in La Vie en Paris, Leçons Culturelles.
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Devenir Indigéne

If you asked someone to name three French foods one response is guaranteed to be crêpes. These thin pancakes are as much a cultural symbol as berets, the Eiffel Tower and wine, and much more prevalent than questionable attire or hulking steel sculptures. Tormented views on class structures have prevented my early adoration, even after every third-rate coffee shop with a griddle began frying them up.

Paris is thick with crêperies, from fancy full service restaurants to over-priced stands crawling with tourists. Last spring Robin hauled our jet-lagged carcasses through the city streets and propping us up for vegetarian crêpes and cider. It was delicious, not horribly expensive and the proprietor talked about the organic origins of our meal.

More recently we celebrated Armistice Day by crowding Julie’s apartment and smearing Nutella everywhere, which was mostly disgusting. This second event coincided with Shannen’s arrival in Paris, jet-lagged and wide-eyed but sharp enough to pick up a box of crêpe mix for our house. (more…)