Monday, January 31, 2011

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The construction site over Teatralna metro station (and across the street from the Russian Drama Theater) is very much alive again, despite various attempts to resist this odious project - and despite common sense.

There used to be a little area with flowers in front of the apartment building there - nothing special, but it's hard not to think of it as an absolutely crucial space now that it's gone - and gone in such a grotesque manner.

According to Korrespondent.net (RUS), they are building a shopping center there.

And there's going to be a protest rally tomorrow, at 2 PM: anti-construction activists are planning to appeal for help to UNESCO this time.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Kyiv:

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My father lived in this neighborhood as a kid - before the war, during the occupation, and for a while after the war as well, I guess. I don't think their building is still there. I have a vague memory of where it must have been.

It hurts when I try to remember more: instead of papa's childhood stories, I recall very vividly how I went searching this area for him in July 2007, how I was showing his photo to the people who seemed local or semi-local to me (some elderly person, and a parking lot attendant). What if papa had tricked himself into thinking he was a little boy again - what if he was trying to find his way back to his childhood home? Every step I took back then was fueled by some tiny, seemingly rational hope like this one.

For the past few years, I've been trying to reclaim Kyiv. Not all of it: I have no plans of going close to the Botanical Garden ever again, and I always feel numb when I pass Vydubychi. But then there's also this street, and a number of other places that are so much about papa's pre-2007 life that I know I won't dwell on those horrible memories forever. It just takes time, somewhat longer than elsewhere.

Yesterday, at some point, it began to feel so good to stare at all these buildings on my way up towards St. Sophia, that by the time I reached the top of the hill, I was actually thinking about my own childhood more than anything else. How steep this hill used to seem when I was little, and how easy it is to conquer it now. How lazy I used to be as a kid, and how far I'm capable of walking now. How proud papa would have been of me. (And, even more so, of Marta, who is always excited about our walking tours and can walk almost as much as I do without getting too tired.)

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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Istanbul is so overwhelming. As I was picking photos to post tonight, I felt like screaming, "Somebody, please stop me!"

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The distances we cover daily are impressive, and what's also impressive is how little effort it takes, compared to Kyiv or Moscow. And Istanbul goes on and on, well beyond the places we manage to reach.

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Istanbul seems to be made up of small towns, dozens - if not hundreds - of them, drawn really close together by some weird kind of gravitational force. And it's impossible to feel claustrophobic in these small town-like neighborhoods: there's always the next one to explore. (Very sadly, after Istanbul, Kyiv feels as if it's made up of ghettos...)

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In Istanbul, I often wish I had some really tall stilts to walk on: trees and light poles always get in the way, and it's a bit oppressive to be always looking up at the buildings, like a dwarf, and to have to climb hills that seem almost perfectly vertical, in order to be able to catch a panorama view of the neighborhood and of the rest of the city beyond it.

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On a different note, today I've heard church bells for the first time here: at 4 PM in Kuzguncuk, a neighborhood where a Greek church, a synagogue and a mosque are located very close to one another. It felt strange, in a nice way. (Now I dream of catching the simultaneous sound of these church bells AND the azan...)

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The weather's kind of horrid, so this, for now, is the last batch of Istanbul buildings photos. I promise. But as soon as the sun is back, I'll run to take more - I can't help it. (All photos from this trip are here.)

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The dark building with roses and other Art Nouveau stuff, located in Sirkeci, got me thinking about being a tourist vs being a local - and about being something in between. It reminded me of my day trip to Vyborg in 2004 (the text on this trip is still there, at the wonderful site of The Morning News, but where are all the pictures from that trip, I wonder... I can't believe I never posted them anywhere, but I do have a vague memory that I never did...). Anyway, in Vyborg, they've got quite a few buildings that are as beautiful - and as battered as the Sirkeci house (or even worse). And battered means not only photogenic - it also means big problems with sewage, nasty insects and rodents, etc. And as a tourist you go "oh" and "ah" and "how sad what the Soviets/time/etc. did to such beauty" and you take some nice pictures and go home feeling a bit melancholic but quite happy in general - while as a local you are probably cursing your mayor and that guy who runs your neighborhood's communal services (and in Vyborg in 2004 it happened to be someone I used to know as a kid, a charming person, and it hurt a lot to discover that 18 years later he was shoveling shit out of the basement of one of those beautiful buildings - it still hurts to know that, actually). And in Istanbul I go "ah" and "oh" and take some pictures - and then I think of the filth and the decay that one would find inside that beautiful building, and I think of Vyborg - but it's Istanbul, and it doesn't let me think of any one thing for too long really, so I walk on, and end up with this image of the city as a gorgeous creature that keeps shedding its skin, sporadically, here and there and then here again, and some of the new skin doesn't stick, and some ages too fast but refuses to fall off, while some of the really old skin protrudes in the unlikeliest spots, and then there's also the stuff that's buried underground, lots of it, I'm sure, and I do end up feeling dizzy and kind of laugh at myself for having managed to compare Vyborg to Istanbul - what a silly comparison, Veronica.

"The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind."

--Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

(Dec. 31, 2010: the touristy area between the Galata Tower and Istiklal Caddesi.)

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Monday, January 03, 2011

A few random pictures from a routine walk that I took on the last day of 2010 - a very sunny and absolutely lovely day. Happy New Year to everyone!!!

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