Saturday, June 30, 2012

River Picnic

We spent a long and glorious afternoon picnicking by the river today!

Shortly after one PM, D and I hopped on a marshrutka and headed out to Timur's place. Timur, Yulia, and daughter Alina met us at the marshrutka stop. The day was ideal: warm, slightly windy. The clouds were puffy white creatures swimming across the sky.
Our trio of friends led us on a hike along the railroad tracks, under a bridge, and through fields until we reached a green and shady spot, deserted except for a quintet of ducks perched on a log. 

It was a beautiful chance to capture more flowers of summer.

And, of course, the spread:

Let the record stand that the red wine- кагор український from Inkerman (Crimea)- is excellent. I don't care much for red wine but if that's what dessert wine tastes like, sign me up! We forgot to bring a bottle opener so nature assisted: Timur used a stick to push the cork down into the bottle. Nature also graciously provided us with an instant wine cooler (see pic on right).

At the beginning Yulia and I set out the blankets while the guys chopped branches and started a fire. Alina immediately jumped in the water and started splashing around. It wasn't until after several plates of закуски (appetizers) and several toasts that we actually begin to cook the shish kebab.

As a bonus, being around Russian speakers meant that today was a language immersion day. Yulia is probably my favorite person to talk to in Russian. She speaks quickly but very clearly and she can always explain things in a way that I understand. Some new words:
Облако = nice pretty cloud, the kind floating around at the beginning of the picnic
Туча = rain cloud, which came and sprinkled us briefly before rushing off to rain elsewhere
Шампур = skewer for shish kebab (шашлик)

This toad was hanging around us all day. And the word for toad is almost too good to be true: it's pronounced zhaba, almost like Jabba the Hutt! (Yeah, I know, it's more a frog than a toad... but everyone was calling it жаба.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

На кухне 5

Less time at work means more time in the kitchen : ) Most days it's still a struggle to dream up something novel to eat, but here are some recent summer successes:
carrot + garlic salad, a popular local dish
more pizza bread!

When it's not too hot to stand at the stove and make soup....
D soup + store-bought garlic bread (pampushka)
mine: Thai soup

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Euro 2012 (advance) wrap up

In Ukrainian: Kharkov, we thank you! (From) Holland

The soccer fans have come and gone in Kharkov. They've left some indelible memories... especially via outrageous photos and videos!

Things worth mentioning:
Need I say more? Found this picture on vkontakte.
Another picture floating around on vkontakte. Police, meet the fans. Fans, meet the police : )
The water in the local lovers' fountain suddenly turned orange- city planning or prank, I don't know...
Two fans posing at a local photo stop.
This poor reporter... she didn't have a chance as the massive Dutch crowd marched to the stadium!
Do watch!!!!!!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Money: 500 grivna

Do you remember the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Yeah, today was like that.
I went to sleep with gum in my mouth, and now there’s gum in my hair. And when I got out of bed this morning, I tripped on the skateboard, and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running. And I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I'll spare you most of the details, but it involved sleeping four hours and then operating as a zombie for the next four as the sleeping pill wore off. It involved working. On a Sunday. It involved a rushed and awkward encounter with the neighbors. And three, no, four separate and unsuccessful attempts to find a working xerox machine before class started. And the school mixing up my schedule and my boss lighting firecrackers in the office and me being late for the first class and walking into a classroom of new students on the wrong foot. And a fight with D to top it all off : (

But at least this showed up in my pay envelope at the end of the day: 500 grivna, or about $62 USD.
Сковорода means frying pan in Russian
This man's name is Григорий Сковорода, or Grigory Frying Pan. Oops, I mean Grigory Skovoroda. He was a Ukrainian philosopher, composer, and traveling poet of the 1700s, back when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.

Skovoroda was born in the same region as one of my favorite present-day Ukrainian artists and absolute favorite drag character: Verka Serduchka. One day this performer will get his own entry on my blog but not today, for today is Skovoroda's day.
Sorry, Verka Serduchka and entourage, we'll come back to you later. I wonder what a man from the 18th century would have thought of you.
According to Wikipedia, after years of wandering the country and thinking deep thoughts, Skovoroda dug his own grave and arranged for the tombstone to read The world tried to catch me, but didn't succeed.

Fresh apricots

Stopped at the neighborhood market today. This is what 150 grivna ($18.50) of seasonal produce looks like. The out-of-season stuff will cost you and an arm and a leg though. By the way, this is the first time in my life that I've ever eaten a fresh apricot!

Kyivska Metro and the Zhuravlevsky hydropark

We hit the streets this afternoon to escape the oppressive heat of the apartment. First we fled to the metro, to the coolness of the underground, and there we chose a new destination at random. Then I realized that we've explored quite a few metro stops already- what will happen when we've explored them all?
If we get a prize, cool!
But maybe it'll mean it's time to move on?... {sad sigh}

Kyivska was one of the remaining unexplored stops. It's one stop past the cosmopolitan Pushkinska so I thought it might have the same bustling city feel of Pushkinska but no, it's more suburban. Private homes are tucked behind high walls or face the street with windows of lace curtains and old newspapers. The area must feed a lot of its residents; we passed ripening apples, apricots, grapes, and walnuts. (Chestnuts too, but D says that people here don't eat them.) And the flowers, the flowers!

These two churches just begged to be captured on camera.

What to do if you get a shakedown from the police

Hmmmm..... On the off chance that this should happen to you, here's what to do:
On this bridge in the Zhuravlevsky hydropark...
...we saw this sign.
Attention vacationers! 
In case of extortion from police employees, write down all information of the extortionist: first/middle/last name, rank, place of employment, car number and other details. Record the extortion with a mobile phone and report everything to the following trusted phone number (Kharkov Police Internal Affairs) and (The Center for Human Rights).

Nothing like a little blackmail while you're relaxing on the river bank!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Watch out!

Things to watch out for in Kharkov:
Roving pigeon gangs
Rival pigeon gangs!
Sleeping dogs

Falling bricks and building materials. Be careful about walking directly underneath buildings and balconies! You may see a sign like this one...
...or you may see protective fencing like this.  During the winter, keep an eye out for falling icicles.
Alien abductions


MMM 2012: It's a fact!

Let's do a little test...

Test of American and post-USSR pop culture

How many of the following do you know?
  • M&M's
  • Eminem
  • MMM
Well, how did you do?

If you could correctly identify the first two as tasty chocolate candies and a hooligan (that's what my Russian textbook claimed in the chapter titled "Professions"), congrats. You are an American pop culture expert! 

Did you have trouble with the third one, MMM? This was the post-Soviet Union question. It's not 3M, the scotch tape company. It was- and is?- a massive Ponzi scheme of sorts, operating first in the USSR, later getting shut down by the Russian government, and then popping up again in 2011 and yet again in 2012.

"Don't miss your chance!" "100% a month" "It's back, everything is like it was in 1994!"

Check out the front page of this Ukrainian newspaper from last fall:

"We got cheated again" "New Mavrodi pyramid has started falling apart; people are complaining that they're not getting their money" "Investors shared how they got involved in the scheme, however Mavrodi stated that 'everyone is getting paid, all accusations are a lie.' "
Since I'm not a professional historian, I'm going to give you the edited-for-excitement, colorful version of the story... which actually isn't that far from the truth.

1. A man named Sergei Mavrodi starts a company called MMM.

2. After the USSR disbands, he turns start airing alluring "get rich!!" tv commercials.

3. These commercials become a MEGA HIT. Everyone is following the protagonist, a folk hero named Golubkov who first buys a pair of boots for his wife before going on to buy a fur coat, furniture, a car, a house... The fourth commercial shows the hero talking with his tattooed, vodka-drinking older brother. They eat pickles and talk about making money honestly. And after that- after that they go to America, see the sights, and share their impressions of 90's America: "The beer is excellent, but our vodka is better!" "They have a nice system, but ours is better." Soon a Mexican telenovela star is hired and starts showing up in the commercials, speaking Spanish and dancing with the now-respectable older brother. Anyways, the plot just gets better and better. You can watch for yourself!

4. Everyone and their grandmother and their second cousin twice-removed starts buying MMM shares. The first people do, of course, make money, which fuels the fire. According to my local sources, MMM starts counting money by rooms: one room of money, two rooms of money, etc.

5. The pyramid starts to collapse, thousands of people begin clamoring for blood. 1994: The government shuts down MMM for tax evasion. 1996: Mavrodi becomes a politician and tries to run for president of Russia. 1997: MMM declares bankruptcy. Mavrodi escapes! Leaves the country. 2003: Mavrodi is arrested. He is given three years to review the charges against him. 2007: Mavrodi is convicted of fraud. Four and a half year sentence. However, he's released almost immediately for time served in custody.

And that brings us up to now. If you were Sergei Mavrodi and found yourself looking for work in the year 2011, what would you do?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grigorovski Forest (Григоровський Бор)

There's a big forest in Xolodna Gora that we escaped to this afternoon.
It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest!
The weather had finally cooled off after a recent massive thunderstorm. Clouds dotted the sky and a welcoming breeze blew the heat away. We'd seen this forest once at night. It was a menacing black wall in the dark but as you can see, it's a completely different place during the day.
We went down paths at random, passing by families laughing over a picnic lunch. Mothers and grandmothers pushed expensive strollers and stopped periodically to fuss over the stroller's occupant. D and I got a chance to catch up and talk about what we've been reading lately and some Great Work we have planned for the summer. Oh, and look for giant snails. D picked one up and examined it and then wanted to hold hands....eew! :p It was nice to just relax and listen to the sounds of the forest on such a pleasant afternoon. The forest is large enough to get lost in and we did briefly, before stumbling across a pond surrounded by cattails and guarded by an embracing teenage couple and then finally catching a glimpse of the road out.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Shish Kebab Palace, Bier Gasse, and Timur's

A new friend and I meandered through Gorky Park last week- it was actually an attempt to use the cable carts to cross over to the Sarzhin Ravine but the carts were closed again. They'd even disassembled part of the overhead track so it may be a while before that attraction is up and running again. We turned back in search of a snack, a search that led us to the Shish Kebab Palace.

The summer patio is now open, so it was possible to enjoy the breeze and look out into the remodeled section of the park. It was also nice to talk with this new friend, a transplant from Texas, while we waited for our order to arrive. I'd gambled again on a Caesar salad and this time the gamble paid off: the most authentic Caesar salad I've found here so far! Look at that- REAL lettuce!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orange, orange, orange

You know this is a big event when even Snickers changes their label!
and the Tic Tacs are the colors of the Ukrainian flag
Speaking of colors, the Euro 2012 fan zone in downtown Kharkov is a sea of orange. Beer-drinking, cheering, singing, sun-burned orange.
The Dutch are here en masse. Loudspeakers in the fan zone blast Dutch pop, party songs, and patriotic hymns. I heard the lyrics of "another one bites the dust" changed to "you're never gonna beat the Dutch." Orange volleyballs are tossed into the crowds and kept afloat with the hand not holding a beer. Fans dress outrageously- a man may dress as a woman, a carrot, or a king. Snack wagons advertise Dutch delicacies. The red, white, and blue flag of the Netherlands flies everywhere. It appears on people's backs, cheeks, collarbones, and braided into their hair.
Notice the other guy is drinking beer, haha
The Dutch are really