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більше не горить, але вже не дихає 11/01/2012

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Urban Renewal

Fate had sunk us deep within the roots of Kyiv to end our trip. Primordial Slavs crawled forth from the mighty Dnieper to claim this narrow strip of riverfront as the center of their civilization. Janice and I wandered through Podil towards that azure gash, a natural fortification protecting the annals of history from encroaching concrete communist blocks laying siege to the far shore.

The merry magic of trade and commerce conjured dockyards, warehouses, tenements and offices. Cobblestones sprang forth from the fertile soil and horses hauled foreign delights to the burgeoning gentry of Uppertown. Roughnecks, stewards, butchers and their squalling families slapped together timber slums and worked anchoring ships. A city was being born and Podil was the heart, a densely packed and infested engine pumping life through the fetid gutters. (more…)

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проникли самозванці 16/10/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
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Mihaylivskiy Zolotoverhiy

Rag pickers held the gates, their eyes prowling a majestic expanse of flagstones. Hardened professionals with no affectations of serving the unprepared or groveling for sympathy. City-wide, lurking near the entrances of hallowed ground, scarf hawking women demurely proffered their ways in silent desperation that heedless tourists would find themselves blasphemously naked under the gaze of God. Banshees had spawned these sentinels clustered at every gateway, eager for confrontation.

Reconnaissance made contact while we watched hidden within the anonymity of a milling crowd. Savage jabbering assailed the ears and arms flailed with violent spasms. The skirmish was on the verge of the physical when suddenly the din subsided. Tourists slipped through and enraged beggars regrouped, digging in for the next assault.

No one outside the third world can ignore a man drowning in his own shit on the sidewalk like a born and bred San Franciscan. Our home has been corrupted by outsiders, our ranks infiltrated by impostors, our lives a ceaseless torrent of imposed bullshit. Yet this firestorm tempers the soul, wrapping our hearts in chainmail in which we walk impervious to the parade of lunatics, wannabes, con artists and yuppie scum.

No one except Ukrainians. (more…)

багажу і беззмістовність 02/10/2011

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Displaced

Hopelessness and despair had shattered my mind, leaving me unfit to lead our band onward. Janice, grizzled road warrior and freshly settled Eastern European that she is, saw our rattling wagon’s destiny with a chasm and ripped the reins from my lifeless hands. Hostel Yaroslav witnessed our plight and offered salvation, in English and with online booking. Elbows sent morning commuters scattering and saddlebags were heaped onto the blue line heading towards Podil.

Sunk beneath the tangled convergence of streets which comprise Kontraktova Ploscha is a subterranean warren of twisting corridors, fluorescent tubing and grim storefronts. Frequent excursions through the underground passages of Khreschatyk had not prepared us for the intensely claustrophobic rat-maze in which we had been deposited. A lower-class of street vendor populated this den already narrowed by walls. Directions to the hostel had been provided, but the piece of paper on which they had been copied proved useless. Exits to the land of sunshine and air lay in all directions, but which direction did they lead?

Métro stations in Paris can sprawl. They twist and turn. There are multiple points of entry. Conscious of the displacement caused by traveling beneath streets the RATP as chosen to number and identify each stairwell as well as to provide the essential Plan de Quartier.

Metro stations in Kyiv force you to crawl from the depths of hell into a frightening and unknowable realm of shysters, cops, cheap consumer crap and impatient masses. (more…)

з усіх сил, питання 11/09/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
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St. Sophia's Cathedral

Floodgates burst when the Soviet Union dissolved and freedom spread through the east. Freedom is a heady wine, one which quickly went to the head of many Ukrainian factions long bent under a cultural yoke. Ardent Christians freed from state-imposed atheism it must have felt as like the second coming.

Riots erupted in 1995 outside of St. Sophia’s Cathedral. At issue was the final resting place of Vasily Romaniuk, or Patriarch Volodymyr, a gulag survivor cum exile who led the newly founded Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Due to multiple claims (drunkest of the bunch are the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches) of ownership the government retains possession of St. Sophia’s and allots different faiths different periods of liturgical access. The state refused the burial of Patriarch Volodymyr and barricaded the monument. (more…)

відволікатися особи були введені 29/08/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement, Leçons Culturelles.
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Where Is The NGO?

Number 28 Khreschatyk sits recessed from the main drag, cresting steps from where you can watch proselytizing acolytes and aging sleaze drip hair gel on teenage girls. Innumerable entries open into foyers where suspicious citizens watch silently, ignorant to western rules of eye-contact.

These troubles failed to impress Alexa, who no doubt finds the doorway of Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund as unique and distinguished as the people making a difference inside their one-room office. Distracted faces were introduced and I wondered which of these women had been victimized repeatedly by my increasingly frantic phone calls. No one had the energy to stand and slap me across the face. (more…)

не купую, що це лайно 26/08/2011

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
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Underground

Ivan the photographer agreed that Vlad was nuts. We occupied the cafe like refugees examining dwindling supplies: we had no car, we had no fixer, we had no inclination to wander hours northward and find ourselves in a situation involving shifty-eyed exclusion zone border guards. As our business meeting slid onto the table stillborn Janice and I nursed a social outing to life, coaxing tales of Ukrainian life from our newfound friend.

Despite the ponytail and bright backpack Ivan proved to be a charming guy who could traverse the world’s network of youth hostels and ride-shares without losing a kidney or being held hostage. He stared bug-eyed and incredulous at our picture of headless midgets and declined an invitation to a second espresso. My caffeine queen was nowhere to be seen, presumably drawn and quartered for screwing up the previous day’s tab. (more…)

раптової пірует 20/06/2011

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Outdoor Theater

They honored silence and the passage of time. One or two created self-contained picnics in their laps. One or two clung to beers praying for some distraction from their festering minds. We were all scattered throughout rows of long wooden benches which rippled forth from some modernist caricature of an amphitheater. Jean Nouvel has finally escaped his space-age polymer nightmares through the divinity of Eastern-Orthodoxy and had become infatuated with Norse mythology.

Chairs were shuffled and instruments deposited beneath a creeping tongue of polished wood. Stagehands clustered for idle chatter in an open doorway, basking in the knowledge that any spectacle slated was hardly imminent. The audience was content to wait for someone to eventually pull a rabbit from a hat.

Trees lined a wide walkway perfect for promenading in big, funny hats. Janice trained her camera on a wall which had been repeatedly victimized by reverent, although indiscriminate, fans of MTV rock. A teenager powered past on skates, interpreting the soaring melodies of his Walkman through twirls, knee bends and smiles. Off he would disappear into the distance, skid into a sudden pirouette, then come rocketing back to encircle his humorless babushka. (more…)

Україна ще не вмерла 07/06/2011

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Coffee Time

Jets of foaming water danced to the pixie’s delight, charming a hapless pack of aging tourists who thought Janice and I could lead them to further enchantments. The monkey grinder plied his trade in gracious silence, the dragon slayer hesitated his delivery of death. Plastic bubbles drifted through the surface scum of their tank, failing to tempt any of the carefree teens eagerly anticipating their elevator ride underground. No horses roamed the carefully tended paths and no evidence betrayed any act of violence towards drunken imbeciles rich with brilliant ideas.

Atlantic City, our convivial breakfast companion given to preemptive fits of hiding ashtrays, insists Kyiv is European. On those rare occasions when my perpetually fractured internal clock aligned with the stars I entertained notions of a Parisian existence while propped against the counter of Cafe d’Albert. There was always at least one older gentleman in a slightly shabby suit beginning his day with a Pernod or Ricard.

The morning drinker at Cafe d’Albert soothes his shakes browsing Liberation or l’Humanité, orders a tartine beurrée, and steps away from the counter before gravity becomes adversarial. Khreschaty Park ends with a small counter bar turning a brisk trade at ten in the morning. Patrons had settled into a spread of tales with half-liters of draft, including a couple decorated members of the local law readying for their shifts. There was little talk and no newspapers. There was no food. (more…)

коло всередині квадрата 28/05/2011

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Kontraktova Ploscha

White knuckles through Rome or London attest to the conflict between centuries of architecture, urban design, and transportation. Haussmann’s geometric exuberance dragged Paris into broad roads and grids but drivers still face Place de la Concorde and Place de l’étoile. Kontraktova Ploscha is a circle inside a square, a tangled convergence of streets, rails and crosswalks bereft of lane markings or discernible right-of-way.

Beneath the buttes of Kyiv’s founding lies the ancient riverfront neighborhood of Podil. Merchants thrived along the ports and artists starved on the slopes of surrounding hills. The square, named for the administrative offices where civic contracts were formalized and signed, is besieged by history: monuments to Cossacks and poets sit amidst footpaths and trees of a park; Kyiv-Mohyla Acedemy and a children’s theatre watch through traffic; spires and steeples from several religions pierce the immediate skyline. Thousands of homes, government buildings, over a dozen churches and monasteries burned in 1811 during a severe drought. Bolsheviks razed much that had survived. (more…)

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…)