Saturday, December 29, 2012

2 AM, Friday-to-Saturday night. Cihangir, Istanbul.

I've just spent over half an hour watching an absolutely awesome bus rescue operation on our narrow street.

Two guys - I guess they were just two random guys, neat, casually dressed, driving home from some party perhaps - directed two buses that were unable to pass through a curved segment of the road.

The two guys dismantled and dragged away part of the pavement border - large, heavy stones that would've damaged the buses - and then they were yelling directions to the bus drivers - and also making sure that the numerous cabs and other vehicles driving past them up and down the only available - and curved - lane didn't collide...

First one bus, then the other.

Then they spent 15 more minutes putting the pavement border stones back. They probably didn't have to: there's some construction going on here, they could've left the mess for construction workers to clean up tomorrow - but they didn't.

Truly amazing.

Somewhat sad that none of the cars driving by stopped, that no one got out to help these guys, but it doesn't really matter: there was more than enough brotherly spirit, definitely much more than I've seen back in our part of the world in a long time.

I wasn't the only one watching the operation: an upstairs neighbor smoked four cigarettes while the first bus was being led to freedom - I saw the butts fly down past my window, all four of them.

I was filming it all, but I doubt I'll ever post this footage anywhere: too long, too dark - and I've already killed all the suspense. Those guys are heroes, period.

Istanbul's random, unsung, anonymous heroes. If I were a guy, I'd like to be like them :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The sea and the ferries of Istanbul - and now London's gorgeous parks as well: urban tranquility zones that I miss having easy access to.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Earlier this week, I took a stroll along a cordon made up of two or three rows of huge guys in black riot gear.

They were there to contain the opposition protesters inside the square in front of the Central Election Commission. They were there to intimidate these protesters - as well as those who might have been considering joining the protest against vote-rigging that night.

I walked past them, a meter or so away, at a leisurely pace, smoking a cigarette, never once turning my head to look at them.

The decision to ignore these huge guys was spontaneous, and it didn't make any sense. All of a sudden, I just felt like strolling all the way to the cordon's corner point, pretending it was just an ordinary stroll. Took me about two minutes to get there. Then I turned around and moved away, back towards to the protesters.

At one point during this stroll, I forgot that the huge guys were there. I felt as if I was walking next to a tall black fence on my right - walking all alone, in the dark.

It was a powerful, weird sensation, which didn't last too long - a dozen steps at most. I knew they were there, yet I was able to convince myself that they weren't, just by not looking at them.

But after those dozen or so steps, the huge guys' presence slowly began to be felt again. They all stood there in silence, but they were staring at me. I knew they were. The wind - and it was a windy night - was blowing the smoke from my cigarette into their faces, which was a cruel thing of me to allow.

I may have looked like someone lost in thought - but I also looked like I was teasing them.

Teasing them like that mean cat in Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful film, Whisper of the Heart: the cat that liked to drive the neighborhood dog crazy by getting itself up on a tall fence, turning its fat ass to the poor dog, and letting it try to grab its tail for a while, then getting up and continuing on its way as if nothing happened.

The cat, unlike the dog, was free to go wherever it liked. So was I, unlike those huge, armed guys.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The only comment I've got so far on my most recent Ukraine piece for GV - which mentions Donetsk a few times - is this:

Who cares about this election and other politics when we've got our girls - even in Donetsk, it turns out.
Woke up to the sound of communist marches outside. Explained to Marta that it's the day when people are a bit more eager to fight with each other over history and politics than on other days.

Opened the news to find that Obama's got four more years. Reacted with a gasp: they voted yesterday, and the results are already in today. Here, it's been ten days, and the results are some crazy mess, as always.

Later, when Marta mentioned she was helping other kids with origami at school, I said it was really nice of her. Then, for some reason, I decided to warn her that when she grows up a little and they start having serious tests and stuff in their classes, she shouldn't let other kids copy her work, because it's called cheating, and in the U.S., for example, they expel kids from school for it.

"Oh, I don't think I wanna study at an American school then," said Marta.

So I had to use their and our elections as an example to explain why schools that don't allow tolerate cheating are better than those that do.

Without any cheating, it takes so much faster to cast and count the votes, determine the winner and move on with life.

In Ukraine, however, all this cheating leaves no room for life whatsoever: few things get done properly, because they're all very busy trying to make you believe that their guy is the true winner, and then it's time for a new election, and it all starts all over again - all, including the cheating.

I think Marta found this explanation pretty convincing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Here's something to encourage myself to get up and go to the polling station:

Refat Chubarov, #111 on the United Opposition list, speaking Crimean Tatar, Russian and Ukrainian in the Crimean Parliament. I wish more of our politicians were like him.

Such a shame that he's #111, he should be much higher up - he has to be in the Parliament - and so I've decided to vote for the United Opposition because of him - and not for Klitschko's Udar - to help him get in.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Too many elections since 2004 - since Maidan - but not much effect.

Interesting to think of how optimistic some of us were eight years ago.

Sad to think of all the crushed hopes - especially the hopes of those of us who were more idealistic and naive than others.

Frustrating to think of the incurable public amnesia that we seem to be infected with - we keep voting for exactly the same people, keep pretending to expect them to deliver on the promises they've been making for the past 20 years or so, conveniently forget (or pretend to) about these candidates' faults ahead of each new vote.

Would be great to be able to revert to one's 20-year-old self every time there is an election here: the results are likely to be rigged and protest would seem like the only decent option - and the "younger generation" is so much better at dealing with it than the rest of us (until most of them turn into "the rest of us" themselves, that is).

In the past eight years, however, we've seen far too many 20-year-olds taking part - for a fee - in staged protests, and maybe I should finally stop generalizing about and idealizing those "new kids on the bloc"...

A strong sense of déjà vu: I've come to Kyiv to vote - will stay for two weeks or so. In 2004, I also came to Kyiv for just two weeks, but ended up staying for two months. This time I'll go back as planned.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce: not sure about the "tragedy" part, but there's been plenty of farce lately.

The latest farcical episode - which reminded me of our seemingly legitimate fears eight years ago - features the arrival of tanks and other military vehicles at Maidan last night, a day and a half before the vote. There was some initial outrage on Facebook and elsewhere, until someone reported that the tanks were old, that they were part of a WWII-related exhibition. Then some folks chose to ignore common sense and went on screaming about the imminent bloodshed - while others discussed the all-too-obvious symbolism and timing of these antique tanks at Maidan, and the message that the bastards up above seem to be sending to the masses: don't even think of coming to Maidan with your protests on Sunday.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

[I need more space than Twitter and Facebook are giving me. More air. I'm tired of counting characters and words when I write. I need to relax. That's why I'm back here, at least for a while.]

In the afternoon, I read this Ukrainska Pravda text [ukr] about the crazy mess on Trukhaniv Island, where the Euro 2012 camp for Swedes is (or was?) supposed to be. There're enough shocking pictures in this text to make everything clear for those who don't read Ukrainian.

Then I saw a couple of people discussing the text on Facebook, including a Swedish friend of ours. And when I went outside, I took a picture of the Swedish Corner on Khreshchatyk for him:

(As far as I can tell, everything looks okay inside the Khreshchatyk Fan Zone so far. Especially if you compare it to the rest of the city.)

Anyway, then I decided to walk to Trukhaniv Island, hoping to see something at least a little bit different from what the Ukrainska Pravda reporters had seen.

Unfortunately, everything did look pretty terrible. The camp's opening is scheduled for June 7 - but there's too much construction still going on to consider the place livable.

Right after I crossed the Pedestrian Bridge, the sky turned black and it started raining, so I had to run for shelter to the only place nearby that had some roof and some walls around it. I spent over an hour stuck there, listening, among other things, to bits of conversations of some nervous, skinny construction workers.

I have a feeling that they and their bosses are somewhat nervous, while the bosses' bosses aren't - because if the Swedes don't show up, the money saved on this pseudo-construction project would feel even safer and more comfortable in their pockets than it is now. No man, no problem. But it's just a feeling that I have. (Oh, and how does this booking thing work? Is there a way for the Ukrainian side to keep the deposits that the Swedes pay even if they find the conditions unsatisfactory and refuse to stay there? Do they get their money back? I hope so.)

When the rain was over, it was already past 8PM, and it was a bit too dark and a bit too cold to walk around the place.


Some pictures are here, with a bunch of my comments.


And here're my tweets from the cafe where I was hiding from the rain:

Huge, scary thunderstorm got me stuck at a shitty little drinking hut by the Pedestrian Bridge at the so-called Euro-Camping for the Swedes.


If I were a Swede, I'd go elsewhere. No camp here, no facilities, no easy way to get in or out. No wifi. Stinky mess & construction.


Ukrainians are brave. Lightnings are striking right next to us, but a couple dozen folks stand outside, smoking. I wouldn't mind a cigarette


No bathroom at this cafe, of course. A girl who asked the bartender was pointed outside, some drunk told her that "toilet's all around you."


Still raining, I'm still stuck at Trukhaniv :) Not much fun. Other people are drinking, I'm not. All in all, a hopeless place.


"Swedish Camp" construction guys are skinny, look like Kyiv's average drunks. Curse a lot, under much pressure, now that time's almost up.


Taking shelter from the rain at Trukhaniv Island:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

As part of my attempt to do some spring cleaning online, here's a list of my "stray" blogs.

On Blogger:

- Moscow Snapshots (the most recent one, and the only one that I'm updating every once in a while)

On Wordpress:

- Cities 101 (just one post so far, plus a list of books; a dream project, never to be fulfilled due to short attention span and lack of free time)

On Tumblr:

- Quick photos and notes (June 2010-February 2011)

- Quotes on writing, mainly from The Paris Review (used to have a soothing effect on me in January, February and April of 2011)

- Marta on Otok Vis (Marta's photos from the Island of Vis, taken in July and August 2011)

And now there's also Pinterest, of course - but that's not a blog.

And I'm doing more blogosphere translations and overviews on Global Voices again - and, as before, store them on Work Log.

That's it, I guess.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

They did lots of awesome things together when they were younger. She was always ahead of him, always in front of him, he says, when they skied, biked, kayaked and hiked all across the country. He was always following her.

He sits in our kitchen, telling us about her last days. He is my husband's uncle. His wife was 74, just like my father, when she died on Dec. 30, 2011.

First, she stopped eating. He tried to give her some food, but she refused, ordering him not to argue with her. "Не перечь мне," she told him, and the firmness with which she said this surprised him.

A little later, she bid him farewell: "Ну, прощай."

Then she lay still for two days, just breathing.

During these two days, when he was asking her if she could hear him, she was nodding in reply.

Then she was gone.