Tuesday, May 31, 2005

there's hope after all

Who knew I had mad chili-making skillz? Certainly not me. Yet the proof is in the freezer. And the fridge. And my distended tummy. And my apartment smells great. Fresh tomatoes and white corn, secret seasonings...for a woman who has to look it up every time she wants to boil an egg, this is exciting news.

Of course, my perception may be slightly skewed by the half-bottle of Sierra Nevada, last survivor of a long-forgotten six-pack, that didn't go into the pot. Well, you wouldn't want me to waste it, now would you?

Monday, May 30, 2005

one of my deeper posts

Research on another topic dredged up this cool site about U-689, the wrecked German U-Boat found off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. A fishing net caught on it, do you believe it? And the American government had no idea that there was this sub, complete with unexploded torpedoes and dead crew members, just off our shore. Forty-some years later. Took six years and three lives to explore the thing.

Check it out. You'll need Flash for the virtual tour and the game.
breaking the spell of the white witch

Just learned that Walden Media does hold the rights to all seven of the books in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and plans to film them all. The trailer for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe had me hopping around in my seat at the Potsdamer Platz multiplex; it looks like the girls are the strong characters Lewis wrote them as in this adaptation. And just in time for my birthday! How awesome is that?

Yes, I have re-read the Chronicles recently. Yes, the Christian subtext is even thicker than I remember. But come on, it's Narnia. And they're using a real lion and everything.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

sunday news roundup

A lot happened today, besides my eating too many overripe cherries while Thread shared the secrets of on-the-fly knitwear design. It seemed like an especially heavy newsday for a Sunday, really.

Eric at Movin' Out explains why Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish matters.

The French said non to an EU constitution, apparently in response to high unemployment figures. I may come back to this; it was a subject of much discussion while I was in Europe, but nobody seems to be talking about it here, surprise surprise. Heads are going to roll (ouch, didn't intend the reference to Madame Guillotine--but I'll take it).

Israel firing on the refugee camp at Jabaliya in Gaza (allegedly, militants were preparing to fire on the Israelis with a mortar): I'm on the edge of my seat already, what with 500 Palestinian prisoners being released as part of Friday's ceasefire and all 21 Gaza settlements scheduled for evacuation. Please please please nobody fuck this up.

Two million people took to the streets for Brazil's gay pride parade, the world's largest, which I have to imagine makes ours look small-town. Am I glad they did it? Absolutely. Could I stand to be around that many people? Argh, no.

Oh, and Hsu Hai Ching's Taipei funeral was a "Day of Peace" for the gangs there, who turned out in black shirts and tattoos for the procession. Anyone who has ever had a thing for HK actioners will appreciate the names of Taipei's major gangs--Bamboo Union, Pine Union, Four Seas and the Heavenly Way Gang. This is a film opening scene begging to be made.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

i am in a world of hurt

Despite my best intentions, I neither spent my European sojourn seeking out esoteric dance teachers nor partying all night in techno-throbbing clubs. If anything, I got less exercise than usual. Other than what some of you dirty-minded types might imagine went on, I didn't get anything like the workout my usual life provides. Berlin has excellent public transit, so I didn't walk that much. I didn't have to cater, so no lifting 35-pound crates or being on my feet and in constant motion for twelve hours at a pop. Didn't model, so not much stretching or balancing. Finally, only one dance class in five weeks and no troupe rehearsals.

And then there is German food in general and a host obsessed--obsessed--with Hollandaise sauce in particular.

I never gain weight when I travel. Never. Or at least, not before this.

Not that I care about my weight, per se. If anything, I'm delighted by the contrast between how much I appear to weigh, and how much I actually do. I am childishly proud of my density. But I keep a close eye on how far past my bustline my stomach extends, and that first number's not real high, if you follow.

Which would be why I have, ah, overdone it in the past couple of days. Last night I went to the dojo and did my first class in nearly three years. Mostly because my sensei was finally officially passing the mantle of Chief Instructor on to Lab Rat, and I felt it behooved me to be there for such a solemn occasion, especially since I figured there'd be beer and snacks afterwards. But also because I've sort of missed aikido, and felt like getting a little beaten up might be a good thing.

I'd forgotten, though. There are actually some muscle groups that belly dance doesn't get at, and aikido does. Belly dance also don't leave bruises. So by the time I left the dojo, I was aware that I'd probably be sore today.

So why, I'm asking myself now, did I think it was a good idea to take both the beginning hip-hop class and then the first belly dance class this morning? Don't get me wrong, I was really happy at the time. There was some, well, emotional frustration in Berlin that I probably would have handled better if I'd forced myself to go find more dance classes; somehow I never seem to remember that being in motion is the best thing I can do for my head. And I did feel quite fine this morning, even through the burning. Jill was on more of an abs kick than usual during the warm-up, and I'd already been through a pretty serious set of crunches with Micaya, and of course all the rolling the night before...

I can't cough now. Does that give you an idea? I just got home from a play that had some funny moments, but laughing seemed unwise. I am wearing the flaming girdle. When I breathe deeply I feel it in my shoulderblades.
true or false?

Cleaning out folders, I found something my mother had forwarded from a dear family friend. Can you guess which are true and which false? Answers when I feel like it.

1. Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.

2. Alfred Hitchcock didn't have a belly button.

3. A pack-a-day smoker will lose approximately 2 teeth every 10 years.

4. People do not get sick from cold weather; it's from being indoors a lot more.

5. When you sneeze, all bodily functions stop, even your heart!

6. Only 7 per cent of the population are lefties.

7. Forty people are sent to the hospital for dog bites every minute.

8. Babies are born without kneecaps. They don't appear until they are 2-6 years old.

9. The average person over 50 will have spent 5 years waiting in lines.

10. The toothbrush was invented in 1498.

11. The average housefly lives for one month.

12. 40,000 Americans are injured by toilets each year.

13. A wire coat hanger is 44 inches long when straightened.

14. The average computer user blinks 7 times a minute.

15. Your feet are bigger in the afternoon than any other time of day.

16. Most of us have eaten a spider in our sleep.

17. The REAL reason ostriches stick their head in the sand is to search for water.

18. The only two animals that can see behind themselves without turning their heads are the rabbit and the parrot.

19. John Travolta turned down the starring roles in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Tootsie."

20. Michael Jackson owns the rights to the South Carolina State anthem.

21. In most television commercials advertising milk, a mixture of white paint and a little thinner is used in place of the milk.

22. Prince Charles and Prince William NEVER travel on the same airplane, just in case there is a crash.

23. The first Harley Davidson motorcycle built in 1903 used a tomato can for a carburetor.

24. Most hospitals make money by selling the umbilical cords cut from women who give birth. They are used in vein transplant surgery.

25. Humphrey Bogart was related to Princess Diana. They were 7th cousins.

26. If coloring weren't added to Coca-Cola, it would be green.
dude, where's my lake?

Maybe this is where the sock I lost in a Berlin laundromat went.

Friday, May 27, 2005

i don't usually follow these things

But since I just finally saw "Kill Bill" in Berlin and have Uma on the brain, I went ahead and read this article about her divorce from Ethan Hawke. And I have to say that I'm not impressed with him at all. He says, "I don't know if it's just too hard to be married to a woman that wants to be a movie star."

Uh, excuse me. She doesn't want to be a movie star. She is a movie star. With a great deal more charisma than her erstwhile second husband, and significant drawing power--she made as much for "Kill Bill 2" as he did for "Training Day", and she made more for "Paycheck".

And he seems to be suggesting that she can't be an adequate mother if she's still working, and I'm thinking, where are you in this equation, Ethan? Or was she left holding the nappies?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

where in the name of sam hill am i?

1. These neighbors wake up to loud television, not German rap music.

2. This bed feels weird, and I get all the blankets.

3. American Airlines did feed me on the longest of yesterday's three flight segments. Twice. So I really didn't need to buy those two sandwiches at Heathrow. Or more accurately, I didn't really need to eat them both.

4. Someone needs to get to dance class pronto (see #4).

5. Only one plant dying/dead. Not bad. And none of the others seem traumatized.

6. My girls met me at the airport. When have I ever said that about someone? My girls. So glad to see their sleepy selves, even if I was brewing a tantrum by the time they got there.

7. Do I wash this clothing, or just burn it?

8. Only eleven phone messages, several of them automated. That's a relief. I was imagining a disaster I might have missed.

9. Oh yeah, I was going to renew those library books online. Heh.

10. English, English everywhere. Oh my yes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

all i ever got was dumb fake tattoos

Here's to Bob's sharp eye for catching this unusual langniappe.

Monday, May 23, 2005

starting to get confused

So my note-taking pretty much fell apart the last day we were in Ukraine, and I never picked it back up. And I'd been doing so well! Every time I travel I tell myself that I need to journal more carefully. And each time, I think, oh, I'll remember everything.

You know the rest, I'm sure.

Taking so many pictures is actually really helping. Once I got over my embarrassment that I had become one of those snap-happy tourists that make me so crazy, I started to see the utility in it. The photos help me keep track of where I've been and what I did while I was there.

this is from a segment of the Wall that
hasn't been torn down

The past few days, though, things have been a blur. I know we rented bicycles and rode around looking for remnants of the Wall. I can still feel the cobblestones in my tissues, if you get me. But yesterday? Last night I had to tick off what we had done over the course of the day on my fingers as MonkeyScientist laughed at me. Not that we'd done all that much. Went to a puppet show. Napped. Wrote. Walked around an area that had been rebuilt to look medieval, attempted to get into the Aqua Dome (13,5 euros per? I don't think so, unless it includes a sushi lunch), and ate cherry pastries. Oh, and a damn tasty Morrocan meal--seared tuna with salad, chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemons, peach juice.

But really, I'm falling off on my touristic responsibilities. I think I'm having Olde Worlde Charme burnout.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

another good reason to live in the bay area

This stunningly gorgeous woman used to be a member of the troupe I'm with, and was also one of my teachers. Hard as this is to believe, she is as patient and kind as she is beautiful, and I was very sad when she left the troupe. She also stopped teaching for a while, and when she started back up, it was at times that are hard for me to make if I want to train with my own artistic director.

But I may make more of an effort when I get home.

The effort I would encourage anyone in the area to make is to see Kristina at one of her upcoming performances. Besides her regular Thursday night gig at Amira in the Mission, she'll also be doing a fundraising event on June 19 to support SWANABAQ, Southwest Asian and North African Bay Area Queers. She's dancing with two other former UG's: Sami, an excellent example of why men should bellydance, and the lovely Frederique, who did the amazing duet with Jill the second night on Undulation.

All I can say is, make sure you've got fresh batteries in your pacemaker. You'll need 'em.

Friday, May 20, 2005

for the dog people

You don't often see dogs immortalized in marble this way.

Interestingly enough, this isn't the original. It's a Roman copy of a Greek original. It sits next to a sculpture of a little girl playing with some knucklebones in the "Hellenistic Sculpture" room at the Pergamon Museum, where if you believe the signs, everything is on the verge of falling apart. A protective net protects visitors from falling chunks of the Milet Tower Gate (when it was reconstructed in the museum at the turn of the last century, they used steel rods to hold it together--and it's pulling itself apart somehow). The polychromatic glazes on some Assyrian tiles are separating from their substrate. Und zu weiter. The English translations of the German text, where they exist, are clunky; drily informative, but awkward in the mouth and ear.

I stopped reading them after a while. It was making me too crazy. Easier to just drift through, imagining myself approaching the magnificent blue and gold Ishtar Gate with its lions, bulls, and dragons at sunset at the head of a caravenserai laden with trade goods. Or as an artist placing the last tile in the trompe l'oeil mosaic floor of a Roman senator, complete with elaborate foliage and a "label" peeling up at one corner.

The maultaschen at the cafe, essentially pork ravioli with a spinach cream sauce, wasn't too shabby either. And the trinkshokolade and milchkaffee come in huge bowls. I am going to be massive by the time I get home.

On a completely unrelated note: saw Revenge of the Sith last night. Yes, I'm in Berlin, I could have been doing something Berlinier. For reasons I will explain another time, I needed to see the movie in another country than my own. And I will just say this: did George run out of money when it was time to do the "prophetic dream" sequences? Shabbiest things I think I've ever seen.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

the vein the neo-nazis are tapping

Radio Free Mike has an interesting piece up at Pacific News Service on why Germany's neo-nazis are getting any support a'tall. Checkitout.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

baby's first panic attack

So this is what it's like. Hmm. Wow. It really does suck just as much as everyone says it does.
flowers for the dead

The difference between Christian and Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine is striking. The Christian ones are generally well-tended and orderly; the stone, wood, or metal scrollwork crosses that top each grave sport elaborate wreathes of plastic flowers.

The Jewish ones, by contrast, are sad. Unkempt and chaotic. On our second day of graveyard-hopping I stumbled into a damp ditch that had been hidden by thigh-high grass, and could barely see the heads of my mother, our interpreter, and the gesticulating caretaker above the waving fronds. The graveyards that have stones at all--and there is a story there, about the cemetery we thought would have Mom's answers but turned out to have been cleared thirty years ago to make way for a bridge--are often a complete shambles. The stones that have not been stolen lean at crazy angles, or lie flat on the ground, covered with lichens and snails. Rubbish lay in drifts against the stones closest to the fence in one location, a graveyard that had obviously been sited on a steep hill because the land couldn't be used for something else. That one we had to muck through mud and cow shit to get to; chickens sheltered in the bushes, making angry noises at us through the foliage. A man ran by below, chasing his wayward cow.

This is what happens when the people who would care for the cemetery are forced to leave. But if you didn't know that many of Hungary's Jews had been rounded up (the region we visited was part of Hungary when my family was there) and taken away, you might get the impression that Jews don't care about the resting places of their dead.

Which is not to say that people aren't making an effort. The caretakers of the first one we visited, a sweet old couple who looked more like an Irish fishing family than anything else, live next to the cemetery and take the best care of it they can on the fifteen dollars a month allotted by the government. And of course there is an influx of money from Jews scattered by this most recent diaspora, either folded up and handed over discreetly at the site itself, or channeled through more organized structures. Jews pay to have the graveyards fenced so that no more stones will be taken and mowed so the stones are visible. One caretaker, a very handsome man in waders and baseball cap against the drizzle, will paint the engraved letters of the stones so they're easier to read, and send you a photograph.

Because it's hard to ensure that the work gets done. One young man from New York went to Ukraine a couple of times and hired local people to clean up the graveyards the first time; when he went the second time, he discovered that the people who did the work had gotten shaken down for half their pay by the mayor of the town.

But even if the stones are upright, the grass reasonably short, the livestock absent, these graveyards feel abandoned. There are very few people left to come and put candles or flowers on the graves. Which is why this struck me.

Sometimes these things are taken care of by other means.

There are more photos, but I'm not going to blog them all. Hit any of the ones that are up to get to the photostream.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

matroyshka to some, babushka to others

The only ones I saw in Ukraine. Everything else in the shops was relentlessly modern, plastic, cheap.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

ukrainian pigeons

These things?

These are storks. They have built a ginormous nest atop a phone pole. Apparently this is very common here.

The guy who's been driving us around must think I'm a complete nutcase by now. Although he appears to make a decent living humoring Jews who want to run around in the high grass and cow shit, feeling the surfaces of gravestones so old that time has worn them back to bare nubs of rock. I'm just not sure how many of his other passengers need him to stop at weird times to take pictures of the fauna.

I was really planning to write something substantial tonight, but I've been eating substantial things all day, and the two forces are in serious opposition. The short version: we found living relatives, which we completely did not expect, and then they overfed us, which we also did not expect but should have. Had we read any of the books I bought about this country. I'll tell that story presently, maybe after I've made more of a dent in the three bottles of home-pressed grape juice and one of homemade wine they sent us home with, which we need to drink somehow before we fly back to Berlin from Budapest on Saturday.

And then, because I have no sense in my pointy little head whatsoever, I decided to try the "Transcarpathia Party" special at the Star Hotel restaurant. With a side of beet salad and a nice cold beer from the hotel's own distillery, which I imagine is hidden somewhere near the pool and Jacuzzi I have yet to find. LaE, are you reading? I was thinking about you, and how stupid I was not to bring my camera to dinner. The plate was beautifully arranged, but I am not, repeat not, ordering this again because twice in one week Will Kill Me.

1. (4) Special skinny sausages, spicy.
2. (1) Special thick sausage, very mild, with lots of rice built in.
3. (1) delicious pickle
4. (drum roll please) Salo! Smoked pork fat, the best-known Ukrainian dish after borscht, traditionally eaten on black bread (made with honey and almost flowery-tasting) with salt. AX, stop reading here, you'll hate this part: it is not at all what I expected, white and flavorless and squishy. It's more like eating bacon--without the meat.

If you can imagine that.

I can, but more importantly, I can feel it. We've been avoiding all the usual typhoidial suspects, raw things, milky things, questionable water, things washed in questionable water, things grown with questionable water, etc. Which means I'm going to need vegetables very badly when I get back to Berlin. Very badly.

Although I am completely set for grape juice.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

ukraine: end of the world, or not? asks monkeyscientist

So enamored with the fact that I can finally blog, from a working keyboard, without paying a million Hungarian forints a second, that instead of writing a new post, I'm just pasting a response to an email. Sorry everyone. Any moment now, this dream might end and the computer disappear.

Not. But very, very strange in some ways. Mom and I just came back from "Royal Pizza"--the first meal we've taken outside the hotel, where the menus are in English (sort of) as well as Ukrainian. And we managed okay, the pizzas (small individual ones) were pretty much what we asked for. Although we didn't realize that "ketchup" was literal. And we sort of had this idea about our food being hot that was also, apparently, off-base. I have a bit of a tummyache, but I was working on that before the food even came, so I suspect it may be related to the juicebox I had just before we left the hotel. Strawberry, not very good. Hoping to have better luck with a larger container of apricot juice I bought today from a store where all the shop ladies were wearing little lace ramekins on their heads.

Also: roast chicken-flavored potato chips, lots and lots of good bread, and Nutella for 18 hrivna and 90 kopeks, which is very expensive for food here. 5 Hrivna=1 dollar. I LOVE kopeks; I'm trying to save them up so I can drill holes in them and sew them onto my coin bra/dance belt. We are avoiding all dairy products because Mom's travel clinic said so; something about pasteurization. I actually snuck some butter onto my bread this morning.

Don't tell, okay?

It's 10 degrees C outside right now, and it was bitterly grey all day. Not even the kind of overcast that makes for good photography. Not a good day for shooting. There seem to be some celebrations of the anniversary [of the end of the war] going on here--something at a theatre (there is at least one stage, possibly two, and a 'kinoteatr' showing the latest Vin Diesel movie and 'Sahara' with Matt McCounaghey). At the Biblioteka there is a display in the window of old books about the war, and today there were fresh flower arrangements on the monuments in the central area, which is a pedestrian mall.

Ouside of the downtown, all freshly cobbled and planted with young trees, the storefronts painted bright colors at street level, things get a little more Communist. I took the stone bridge across the river (I *think* it's the Tsiza), where a woman was selling bunches of lilacs from a square plastic food-service bucket and a yellow dog kept running in and out of the street, chasing cars, which nearly made my heart stop. If you keep following that street--attractive old apartment buildings on one side of the river, one massive ugly Stalin-era one on the other with dirty facade, washing hung out, and some satellite dishes--the street eventually ends in a church. I stood at the corner in front of a closed store and pet a little black cat with white paw tips and a star under her chin and watched the babushka waiting across the street for a bus, with her bicycle and plastic bags of things.

The babushkas fascinate me. They all sport headscarves, sensible shoes, and monumental bosoms that start just under the chin and end somewhere at the junction of shapeless cardigan and earth-colored skirt. I bought a small bunch of lilies-of-the-valley from one today for Mom, for 2 hrivna; they were bound together with red thread. Lilies-of-the-valley had been my maternal grandmother's favorites, the grandmother I'd named after. Tomorrow would be my grandmother's 90th birthday, had she lived; she died just before my parents married, so I never met her.

But I was talking about the babushkas. Everyone is very careful of and respectful of them, and it dawned on me today that they've seen everything--some of these women must have been children during/just after the war, and during the years of the forced famines, when Ukrainians were forced into cannibalism (this area was Hungarian until '45, when it was ceded to Russia, and the monster Stalin). They worked on collective farms, they stood in line for bread, you name it. I can't imagine what all this looks like to them, the young women with their ultra-pointy-toed shoes and tight jeans, the boys in American sports clothing, cell phones everywhere.

Did I mention the market? In the thing that looks like an airplane hangar? Butcher stalls around the outside, produce and sweets and moloko (milk, if you haven't read 'Clockwork Orange') products in the middle. I negotiated the purchase of several small packets of paprika to take back to my mother's cousin in Long Beach, IN GERMAN, and that of two greenish bananas (Mom likes them that way) in English and Ukrainian. HA!

Up on the hill, there's a medieval fortress. We may or may not get there.

And I must point out the wonder of this thing: I am sending you email from a place that just twenty years ago probably wouldn't have let me in. Mom and I sit in a little room in what was once a duke's residence, the nicest (and only) hotel in Mukacheve, a four-star hotel with a towel warmer in the bathroom and a Jacuzzi and pool somewhere (haven't found those yet) and three restaurants, all of which, apparently, play loud, goopy music at all hours. At breakfast (jam fritters and big orange caviar), it was Muzaky versions of everything from No Doubt's "Don't Speak" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" to some European metal ballad I can hum but not name. With wave sounds and chirping birds covering the transitions.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

got some photos up

Three hours in the train station at Chop, Western Ukraine. The border crossing. Thought we'd need all that time between trains to have our stuff shaken, but the woman at Customs was so irritated that she couldn't make herself understood that finally she just waved us through, as the other five or so Customs people sat by and watched.

I believe she called us "idiots", too. But maybe there's a word in Ukrainian that sounds just like that?

Friday, May 06, 2005

trying to blog in deutsch from magyar

Ouch, ouch, ouch. My head hurts.

Made it to Budapest in one piece yesterday, but am probably going to get kind of sporadic. Have bought, of all things, two pairs of festive socks with little toes knitted right in. Tenderloin with brambleberries (mom) and so-called Mexican chicken coated with corn and "chilli" (me) for lunch. Deutsches Bahn owes me for two train tickets from here to Zahony that I cannot use, a fact that took a couple of hours and quite a bit of traipsing up and down stairs at Keleti Station to ascertain. New German SIM card in phone means I am receiving many, many text messages from the company that I cannot read.

Great dogs everywhere. You dog people would be jealous.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

there's life underground

Not even sure how I got from palynology (the study of ancient plant spores) to this very cool page about the little freight trains that used to run through tunnels under the streets of Chicago, but I had to share it with you. Especially I know that some of you are really into the urban exploration thang.

Not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Seen in Prenzlauer Berg, somewhere between one intoxicating bookstore and another.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

houston, we have a problem

Shit. I think I knew this already. Did I need to be reminded?

Thanks, in a roundabout fashion, to La Entropista's roommate--who was actually linked to a test that suggests I should live in Los Angeles or Chicago. Huh.

Your Inner European is French!

Smart and sophisticated.
You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.

bookmark this

Just found a wonderful site--the Ancient Library--where diligent scholars (laboring no doubt under fluorescent lights) are painstakingly scanning in every page of such works as William Smith's 1867 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. All three volumes, 3,700 pages of Greek and Roman historical, literary and mythological figures worth. And Jean Nicolaides' 1889 Les Livres de Divination Traduits sur un Manuscrit Turc Inédit, a French translation of Ottoman Turkish works of divination, most or all of which are translations of works in Greek.

Just seeing the old text is cool. But I can see this being a great resource--or a great time-waster--for fans of antiquity. If you read dictionaries for fun, you need this site.