Friday, June 29, 2007

3 am, I've just finished a huge translation on what a pain in the ass it is to obtain visas to some corners of "the West."

Two stunningly long-legged, high-heeled women, dressed up in all white and tight, walk slowly along Khreshchatyk, the part of the sidewalk that turns into a jampacked parking lot during the day - but now, with these two gorgeous women on it, it resembles a catwalk. My guess is they are going home after a night out at some fancy spot like Arena Citi nearby. Goddamn pavement slabs, they are probably thinking. Goddamn ex-mayor Omelchenko. If only he'd tried to walk in our shoes here.

A police car is driving right underneath my window, on the sidewalk, in the opposite direction. The cop in the passenger seat is literally halfway out of the car - he's rolled the window all the way down and is staring back at the two women as they vanish in the distance. Goddamn chestnut trees, always in the way, he's probably thinking.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Khreshchatyk is such a noisy place: tons of cars, quite a few of them street-racing, it seems, and now, at 2 a.m., there are two guys on a bench right beneath our window, and one is a drummer, exercising on what looks like an old Soviet drum, of the kind we used to have at school during all those pioneer/Communist youth affairs. The other guy is filming him on his cell phone camera.

Marta is asleep, I'm trying to put together a translation on the Russian opposition's famous lack of unity, but I do spend some time by the window, filming a tiny video of my own. I'm not going to post it - it's too dark outside, and the chestnut trees are in the way, and the drummer's nothing special, really.

But it reminds me of Greenwich Village a little, and I like it and wish there were more crazy street musicians here. I'd probably spend all my money on them, like I almost did a couple times in the States - something I don't regret at all.

Ah, how I wish someone played the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" to me right now...

Ha! But there's YouTube, of course - here, Jerry Garcia himself, on The Late Show, 1993, what a treat...



Too bad I still have to work on my translation... :)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Surprise, surprise - we're in Kyiv!

I'm still too busy and tired to write, but here's a picture taken in front of our building - I have to add it to my Kyiv Parking site on Flickr, but I don't remember any of the login info for it, so it'll have to wait:



Nothing's changed here while we were away.

The stone on the jerk's trunk is a message from Mishah.

P.S. Judging by his license plate, the jerk is from Kharkiv.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

An item on Korrespondent.net (RUS) on a Ternopil college professor charging her students for grades:

Want an "A"? Pay $30. And there're cheaper options, of course: $20 for a "B" - or a mere $10 for a mere "C"...

In the comments, it's how little she was charging is what they find shocking.

What a gem.

I'll try to do a GV translation tomorrow.

Update: The translation is here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mishah took a few quick pics of Pushkinskaya Square for me today - the circus around the Dissenters' March was nowhere near as fun as on April 14, though:





Yahoo! knows my whereabouts, so I'm getting this BBC Russian ad in my inbox right now - only their coding is totally messed up:



"Hot news, cold analysis" - featuring Sush, Sutin, Sritain and much more.

:)

So, according to Korrespondent.net (RUS), street cleaners in Kyiv will now be making $400 a month. I've just posted a GV translation of some reactions to this piece of news.

On the one hand, you'd think that this is totally natural for a city with so many fancy cars driving around (and parked on sidewalks). On the other hand, you'd think it's kind of annoying for a country where doctors, teachers and just about anyone else are barely surviving on their "average nominal salary" of about 170 euros a month (or living off bribes, shamelessly).

I was making much less than $400 a month nine years ago, when I returned from the States and was tutoring kids in English. Then I spent a year and a half living on this new street cleaner's salary when I found my American NGO job: I started with $300 a month, got a $50 raise - ha-ha! - a few months later, and then another one at the end of the first six months, and that was it for the rest of my time there. I kept a favorite student of mine, too, tutored him till he finished school - but by then, it was no longer about the money.

At this American NGO, we once spent about $2,000 for hotel, food, drink, gifts and other expenses in less than a week in Luhansk, a nightmare trip to a nightmare city. So it wasn't like we were being starved there, no. And, as far as I know, the U.S. staff salaries differed from those of the "locals" - which didn't really make me jealous, except for when someone kept spelling the word "anonymous" as "annoynamous" and I had to clean it up for him. And then once we were talking to some "small businessman" in a Ukrainian region, and he said he needed $300 to make his business work, and that just blew my mind away somehow: if we stayed in Kyiv, or skipped our dinners on a few trips, and then donated the money saved to this guy, he'd have a BUSINESS running, but here we were, nodding and taking notes (or doodling, as some of us often did)... Our work, of course, resulted in some people being sent to the States to learn stuff, all expenses paid, which was totally awesome, but I don't think that particular guy got selected - because he didn't seem to want to learn, he just needed the goddamn $300 to be able to get started, and we weren't some microcredit place or something...

Not sure what I'm trying to say here. I hope to spend some time in Pushcha Vodytsya this summer again - I'll report on the garbage situation once I get there. Who knows, maybe the street cleaning field will now become so competitive that it won't be as futile to call the Obolon district administrtion to complain about the garbage as it was last year.

Monday, June 11, 2007

If I had more time and energy, I'd translate more of this article (UKR) by Maryna Pyrozhuk in Ukrainska Pravda - about the lousy coverage of the mysterious illness of Ukraine's interior minister:

Vasyl Tsushko is feeling better... Interior minister's condition has gotten worse... Vasyl Tsushko is better... Interior minister is feeling worse again... Then better again...

Eight times like this.

These reports were traveling around Ukrainian news agencies all day long, were being retold on radio and TV stations by the ministry's representatives and those with clear personal interest - Tetyana Montyan and Kostyantyn Stohniy. The former called herself the minister's friend and aide, and the latter was just an employee of the ministry.

And none of the reports on this subject carried voices of the doctors who were treating the Ukrainian minister, or the voice of Tsushko himself, who, according to Stohniy, was feeling better from time to time, and was even telling jokes, and managed to control the situation at the ministry, and then some more. According to that very same Stohniy.

[...]

Until now, none of the TV channels has managed to check and show a true picture of where exactly Mr. Tsushko has been hospitalized, and whether he is indeed hospitalized, what city and country he is in.

In the story of the Socialist minister Tsushko, the main newsmakers were and are the Socialists themselves, as well as friends and colleagues mentioned above. And the comrades are very active in insisting that Tsushko has been poisoned, and they've even named those who harmed him.

[...]


Maybe Ukrainska Pravda will get a full translation online later. This is one of the very few texts on Ukrainian politics - and journalism, and medicine - that I've read lately, and I liked it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

In Moscow, you know it's summer when it's been over a month since you last saw the next-door neighbor you spent the whole winter smoking with on the staircase. First, when it just got only slightly warm, he must've moved his ashtray to his balcony, and then, he probably migrated to his dacha. I'll know winter is close when I see him again, I'm afraid.

***

It's cold and rainy here now, and I miss the heat. We had bought a fan right before the heat wave departed. Many people shopped for fans that day, actually, so many that there weren't enough staff at the store to explain the difference between models - and so some customers, having spent some time figuring things out for themselves, were then volunteering as consultants to other customers. I told a friend about it, and he was skeptical - the fans, how different can they be? But they are: many come with remote control now.

:)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

On Tuesday, I did a GV translation on the situation with the LiveJournal in Russia: many people (including Mishah) could neither post, nor comment for a few days.

DPNI (the Movement Against Illegal Immigration) acted the most hysterical, claiming they were being censored by the Russian authorities.

Six Apart, the folks in the U.S. who run LiveJournal, issued a statement, explaining that the problem was both technical and political:

DDoS Attack. Official reaction from Six Apart

According to the explanations we’ve received from Six Apart this morning, a powerful DDoS-attack is being carried out against the LJ servers in California since Friday, June 1. The source of the attack is allegedly located in Russia. Servers are receiving 50,000 requests per second. The attack’s main goals are dрni, ru_рolitics и ru_nаzbol communities. To resist the attacks, the LJ administration introduced filtration of incoming packages and limited access to the server for large blocks of Russian IP-addresses beginning last Friday. These are temporary measures that had to be taken. Technical services of Six Apart decide on the specific lists of words and addresses to be blocked, taking into account the analysis of incoming requests.

These filters make it impossible to post LJ entries and comments that contain the words “ru_рolitics,” “dрni” и “ru_nbр.”

[...]


Nasty business, but to call it censorship carried out by Putin's regime is an exaggeration, definitely.

Well, on Wednesday, Reuters ran a piece that further promoted DPNI's distorted view of things:

Russia monitors Internet to dampen ethnic violence

By James Kilner

MOSCOW, June 6 (Reuters) - Russian authorities for the first time blocked nationalists from using a popular Internet blog to organise anti-migrant demonstrations, one of the leaders of a nationalist group told Reuters on Wednesday.

In January President Vladimir Putin ordered the security services to stamp out growing extremism and racism partly fuelled by envy towards successful businesses run by Caucasians and Central Asians and two wars in Chechnya from 1994.

Authorities monitoring the livejournal Web site made it hard to organise protests on Tuesday against Chechens in the southern city of Stavropol, Alexei Mikhailov, one of the leaders of Action Against Illegal Immigrants (DPNI), told Reuters by telephone.

"I think we should organise a protest but in Stavropol everything is under police control," he said.

In a fight between Russians and Chechens on May 24 in Stavropol, a city of 350,000 bordering Chechnya, a Chechen man died. Ten days later unknown attackers killed two Russians in what many think was a revenge attack.

On Tuesday hundreds of angry Russians gathered in the city's main square after the Russians' funerals.

In September Chechens fled the northwestern town of Kondopoga after Russian rioters avenged two murders by torching their businesses, homes and cars.

DPNI, which says it is against violence, has organised marches in Moscow and helped the demonstrators in Kondopoga.

Media said Stavropol had all the hallmarks of another Kondopoga. But in Stavropol the police were organised and DPNI were missing.

"It's a southern region with more immigrants and relations are more tense and more explosive than Kondopoga," Mikhailov said.

Police detained 50 protesters at the rally and Mikhailov said police held another of DPNI's leaders for nine hours when he arrived in the city, preventing him from reaching a meeting.

Crucially, Mikhailov said, the authorities had extended their watch to the Internet and any blog on livejournal containing DPNI failed to be posted.

"It is a significant part of our work and the most politically active people read livejournal and write there," Mikhailov said. "This group is a priority group."

[...]


Nowhere in this piece do they question what this Mikhailov dude is saying about LiveJournal. They also fail to point out this contradiction: Chechens are not illegal immigrants in Russia, they are this country's citizens, which undermines DPNI's cause - and their credibility, if there was any - a great deal.

And this being Russia, it's hard to guess who is behind what: the regime may be attacking LiveJournal, but, in some murky kind of a deal, it may also be behind DPNI, who, on April 14, were allowed to rally and scream all they wanted, right after Kasparov's people and anyone who happened to be nearby had been detained. And maybe I'm as wrong here as DPNI is about LJ - but hey, this blog ain't Reuters, right?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Called my mother, but she wasn't there: papa picked up the phone and we spent half an hour talking.

I don't understand about 90 percent of what he's saying. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Of what I do understand, he is very happy for me, because of Marta and all that I'm doing and seeing (which isn't a lot, but still). He's still the kindest person in the world - his three strokes in one year weren't able to change that.

Here's a picture of him 27 years ago, at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow - he's the one in the center of the picture, smiling into the camera:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bought kumis ("a fermented drink traditionally made from the milk of horses") at a store yesterday - what a fake.

Or perhaps the kumis at that vegetable store on Yalta's Embankment all those years ago was a fake - but boy, was it delicious. The real thing, I'm sure. Or almost real.

It was one of those (many) things that made Yalta a different world for me as a child, the only place in my universe where they had kumis, which I, for some reason, loved so much. Because it's not a drink you'd expect a child to like - it's not sweet and it is said to contain a tiny little bit of alcohol. Though that probably explains why I loved beer so much in later life.

Anyway, this bottled kumis here in Moscow seems to be fake - but it reminded me of Yalta and my childhood enough for me to write this note, which is good.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A free public bathroom at Neskuchnyi Sad ("The Not Boring Garden"). I've no idea what this whole thing means. "Meeting of the return" is what it says.

Moscow, rush hour, Thursday evening:

So busy and exhausted, wish I could be writing more, here and elsewhere...

***

Marta turned 18 months old (1 1/2 years) last Friday, on June 1. Poltora goda... :)