Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some of the recent publishing treats that Mishah has contributed to - extremely tasty, in a broad sense:

Ali and Nino, by Kurban Said, published in Russian by Ad Marginem. Mishah's contribution isn't just the book's beautiful design: he was also the one to suggest that the folks at the publishing house read the novel in English, hoping that it'd get them hooked. It sure did. A huge thanks to our dear friend Polina, who gave us her English-language copy of the book back in 2000, making sure we got hooked on it as well!

Еда, a new food magazine that's making me wanna cry every time I try to leaf through its pages. Mishah is their art director.

Грузия: первое, второе, третье, a book on Georgian cuisine, with photos by Nina Gomiashvili and paintings by Georgiy and Konstantin Totibadze, published by Afisha. Mishah collaborated on the design. The book isn't just making me wanna cry - it makes me wish to be adopted by some kind Georgian family: I'd do dishes for them, I'd do anything, just to be able to partake of their feasts!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Thanks to Vitaliy of The 8th Circle, I've discovered a number of interesting papers on Ukraine presented in the past few years at Danyliw Research Seminar on Contemporary Ukraine Studies at the University of Ottawa.

One presentation was delivered in 2006 by a friend of ours, Laada Bilaniuk (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington): Language in the Balance: The Politics of Non-Accommodation in Bilingual Ukrainian-Russian Television Shows.

Here's a .pdf link to Laada's paper -

And here's a page on Laada's book, published by Cornell University Press, also in 2006: CONTESTED TONGUES: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine.

I'm still reading Laada's paper, so no comments from me yet - just wanted to share some links.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A week or so ago, Marta and I were waiting for a trolleybus near the Universitet metro station. It was raining, but Marta didn't care, and so we didn't join the small crowd taking shelter underneath the covered bus stop. A middle-aged woman with a disabled teenage girl leaning heavily on her tried to squeeze in and accidentally pushed another woman already standing there. They had a brief but rather nasty argument. The girl had cerebral palsy and wasn't capable of walking on her own; her mother had a heavy bag in her other hand. It hurt badly to hear that other woman bark at them.

When the trolleybus finally arrived, the woman basically had to lift the girl to get her inside, and not a single person offered help. But they got to sit at least, even though the trolleybus was packed.

Marta was offered a seat, too, across the aisle from the disabled girl and her mother, and I stood next to her like a wall, keeping other passengers from accidentally falling on her. After a while I started chatting with a delicate-looking grandmother of a very sweet 9-year-old computer whiz kid sitting next to us. He was running late for his first advanced-level class at some computer school and was terribly nervous about it, so I tried to calm him down a bit, telling him that all he had to do was apologize and everyone would understand. That seemed to have cheered him up. He told me he used to be as fair-haired as Marta when he was her age, and then he shared some bizarre memories he thought he had from the time he was 3 years old: sitting in some empty room, playing with some wires, thinking thoughts that were too complex for a little kid, but could have just as well been his - because he definitely seemed like an odd kid, in a totally lovely way.

I was standing back-to-back with two guys in their mid-20s, and even though I could hear them talking, I wasn't paying any attention. Until I heard the mother of the disabled girl address them very loudly: "Please stop using that word!" They had been cursing, obviously.

I still can't get over the exchange that followed.

The guys - who looked very average, not starving, not super cool, most likely on their way home from some boring office where they probably worked as sysadmins or something, though actually I've no idea and don't really care - so yeah, the guys told the woman that it was none of her business what kind of language they used among themselves. She told them they were not at home, and that there were kids around. One of the guys then told her that right, they were not at home, but on a public trolleybus - and in public they were free to say whatever they felt like. And then he specified, in a very loud, theatrical way: "I can say blyad, suka, nahui all I want - and I don't give a shit about what you think."

You know, Russian curses are way stronger than their English equivalents, so there's no use to translate what the guy said to the poor woman. But it was totally unacceptable, and shocking, and it seemed to have left everyone who heard it speechless, whereas the guys continued their interrupted conversation as if nothing had happened. They moved a few meters away when some space cleared as some passengers got off the trolleybus at the next stop, and that was it.

If Marta and that cute boy hadn't been there, I might have said something to the assholes. Or maybe not. Because it only seemed possible to respond in curses to them, and that would have made things worse, regardless of whether there were any kids around or not. So I just stood in silence for a minute or so, and so did everyone else around me, including the grandmother and her brilliant grandson, and then she and I resumed our own interrupted conversation.

I continued with a story of my early childhood memory - of a 1976 or 1977 earthquake in Kyiv, which I somehow remember very vividly, even though I was either 2 or 3 years old then (our lamp was swinging like crazy that night, and even now, especially in Istanbul, I keep looking up at the ceiling to check for an earthquake). The woman told me that she loved Kyiv, had many friends there, but wasn't feeling too safe to visit them, because, you know, the situation in Ukraine is so crazy, so chaotic, etc. - all the basic stuff that I'm already used to hearing here. I told her not to worry - and not to believe everything that the Russian TV was telling her. She smiled and gave me a knowing glance, I guess - which was nice. But I also find it wild that she could bring up the mess in Ukraine after the ugly conversation we had just overheard. Like, it's paradise here, but utter hell over there. Right.

Anyway, I keep thinking about those two sissies. When they are home, their mommies probably kick their asses for innocent words like zhopa ('ass'). But when their mommies aren't around, they can curse all they want. And then, I guess, their mommies come home from work, exhausted and, quite possibly, humiliated, hurt and shocked, because someone else's sissy boys have been cursing at them on those public buses, a platform of free speech in our part of the world, as it turns out.

I don't really mind cursing - I do curse, too. But I prefer a selective approach to cursing.

What upsets me about all this is something else.

A few days after the trolleybus incident, I ran into this post (RUS) by LJ user semiurg, in which he was defending his own and everyone else's right to tell people to fuck off:

One of the principal human rights is pravo na nahui [the right to tell someone to fuck off]. [...] Nothing is more humiliating than not having a chance to tell someone to fuck off when you really feel like it. If some total jerk is standing in front of you, saying all kinds of offensive bullshit, and you can't even tell him to fuck off - because of political correctness, or subordination, or just out of fear - this is worse than getting hit in the balls [...]. [...]

The post goes on and on and on like this, and it spent some time on the Top 30 list at Yandex Blogs portal, and has generated four pages of comments. One woman wrote that she was currently re-reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and thought that the message of the novel was the same as the message of pravo na nahui post.

Me, I thought that the trolleybus incident was a good illustration of how this pravo na nahui gets implemented here and why this part of the world often feels like an asylum and a minefield at the same time.

And I also thought about my dear friends in Iowa City: a gay couple, the sweetest people in the world, they've spent over 20 years together and have raised two wonderful kids. What a great way to tell everyone to fuck off, no? Without actually saying it, by simply living their lives the way they wish to. How practical and how subtle. And how human.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I had a dream about my father today - and he was happy in it. This is probably the second or the third papa dream that I've had since he left, and the first one in which he was smiling and talking. I woke up smiling, too. And then I realized that today is Oct. 19 - one year and three months since he died.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Got a message from a U.S. reporter researching a Ukraine-related story. Among other things, he wrote:

SBU has an English-language website, with a button for a 'press centre' but there are no contacts or information listed. I can't find any names or contacts for spokesmen for at the SBU, either. I've tried the Ukranian embassy here in the U.S., as well as the Ukranian consulate in New York, all to no avail. That's why I'm writing you.

So I went to SBU's website. Locating their contact info in Ukrainian wasn't difficult - it's here. Their English-language site lists different phone numbers than those on the Ukrainian page, and it took me some time to find them: the trick was to look at the page titled "Phones of attendants" - whatever it may mean - in addition to their "Press Center" page, which is indeed blank. Getting through to them and then getting anything out of them wouldn't be an easy task, either, I suspect.

Then I decided to look for contact info for the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The website listed on the government portal - - refuses to open. They do list some phone numbers, though - but no email.

Very frustrating. And this is just the tip of the messy iceberg.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What our public bathrooms do to those poor unsuspecting foreigners... Pawlina of Nash Holos had to wash not just her hands, but her feet, too, after failing to "consistently aim straight" during a pee in Kaniv. Oh boy.

On a different note, this same post has some really nice pictures from the Taras Shevchenko memorial museum.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This basically stopped me in my tracks a few days ago:

"They fought for the Motherland"... this year's Olympics in Beijing...

Hajimurat Akkaev, weightlifting, bronze medal...

Mixing of genres done in very poor taste - because the phrase "they fought for the Motherland" is normally used when writing about soldiers who didn't survive the war...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I was looking for some info on Ukraine's budget, found myself at Verkhovna Rada page, discovered an entity called MP's Club "Parliament" instead (info in Ukrainian is here, info in an imitation of English is here):

The public organization ‘MP’s Club Parliament’ is an unprofitable non-governmental association of members of Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) of all convocations. The main goal of the Club is to create an effective discussion place for parliamentary and business elites of Ukraine. Club was founded on 1999th and since that time is working in format of discussion panels and round tables, also on the international level.

These people don't seem to be affected by the current political and financial crisis: on Sept. 27, for example, the club's members and their families were having a good time in the Carpathians - fishing, playing pool and football, and test-driving cars as part of the "'Parliamentary Family' collective recreation day."

Last year's crisis wasn't an obstacle to holding a similar event, either - a few pictures of our glorious "elite" enjoying "friendly interaction" in October 2007, sometime right after the election, are here. The official Land Rover and Jaguar dealer in Ukraine was one of the sponsors of this gathering, and so was the Nemiroff vodka company, with one of their wonderful products, LEX, "the vodka for the Great, the Successful, the Courageous, for those who change this world and hold it on their shoulders" - "EGO SUM LEX: for those who create their own world, where I am the Law." A 1-liter gift edition of LEX - "which can make a good VIP present" - costs around $30. No wonder we have what we have when it comes to law-making.

To see more pictures of the pool-playing, vodka-drinking guys we keep re-electing, click on the links on the right-hand side of this page.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It didn't start in 2005, it's been going on like this forever: since independence, they've been switching alliances and talking bullshit, counting on the people to quickly forget, so that they could start it all over again. Maidan seemed to have sorted things out, opened a new page, whatever. And then it all got mixed up again a year later, in September 2005. And then they blew it again last fall. And now, yet again. Yushchenko is blaming Yulia, Yulia is blaming Yushchenko, whatever. One of the things I don't understand is what those fundamental differences between them are that have prevented them from settling down and doing some actual work this time, this year, managing the country as efficiently as they would manage their own businesses. An overall impression is that they've no idea what to do about the country, except for how to plunder it, and the whole circus is there to keep us entertained as well. As for the newest election, a survey (RUS) conducted in early September showed that if Yatsenyuk, Hrytsenko and Klichko joined forces, they might get into parliament pretty easily. This same survey, however, also showed that nearly 10 percent of the voters were planning to vote against them all.

I'm not sure if Marta did this to McCain deliberately or by accident - but this is what he looks like in our kitchen right now... :)


I wanted to embed a small opinion poll here - was curious who my readers (if there're any left, of course) were planning to vote for in the States. But the polls feature on Blogger doesn't work and I've been too busy to look for alternatives.

The thing is, I've been in touch with a few old friends recently and realized that their political preferences haven't changed. They seem to have become a lot more passionate about it all, but that's understandable, right?


P.S. Marta doesn't know anything about McCain or Obama. But she does know a little about Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Putin... Actually, with this last one, we realized about half a year ago that it was time for us to get used to self-censorship, because what Marta was saying about him - in English, of all languages - was, well, somewhat embarrassing... :) With Tymoshenko, she insists on calling her Yulka...
So many things I'd love to write about. And even more that keep distracting me from writing. Sometimes I'm not even sure whether I'm capable of writing anymore. I mean writing as chatting here, I guess. So here are a couple pics, to fill the silence:

Oct. 2, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Sept. 30, 2008