Category Archives: history

News Roundup: Mid-November 2013

It’s November. That means many cold, gray, rainy days. But lots of interesting reading has helped keep me warm when it’s miserable outside. This month’s News Roundup includes some juicy stuff related to Ukraine (my country of Peace Corps service), classical music and success, the importance of libraries, sex and healthcare, and cycling. Read on, follow the links for the full articles, and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Ukraine & Eastern Europe

  • A few weeks ago, the New York Times Travel section featured a lovely piece, “Lviv’s, and a Family’s, Stories in Architecture.”  L’viv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, has a fascinating history, having been variously controlled and inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups. The article does a wonderful job of reading L’viv’s history through its architecture, as evidenced by this excerpt (it really is a beautiful city and worth visiting):

A short walk through the city’s historic center would take me past buildings that reflect contributions of its Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian and German communities, all of which had roots going back to the late Middle Ages. I saw churches from the many different denominations that shaped this city’s skyline: a squat Armenian cathedral from the 14th century with a jumble of intersecting roofs; a huge 17th-century Baroque church built by the Jesuits and modeled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome; Ukrainian Orthodox three-dome churches.

  • Here’s another interesting article on L’viv, from Germany’s Die Zeit, “Flucht vor dem Kopfsteinpflaster” (“Escape from the cobblestones”). Apparently L’viv has proclaimed itself the cycling capital of Ukraine. The author discovers that’s not saying much, but there is one man who has a dream to create over 250km of bike lanes in Ukraine by 2020. Having been to L’viv a few times, I can say they have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible to try and make cycling in the city more popular. Good for them.
  • Speaking of Ukraine, the first Sunday in October was Teachers’ Day, for which Ukrainian schools go all-out. I’ve written before about my experiences of Teachers’ Day in Ukraine. The Oxford University Press blog also has a nice article about it, “Celebrating World Teachers’ Day,” that talks about the importance of teachers and teaching literacy.
  • “Comparing The United States to Ukraine” is a fascinating look at the two countries; the former of which I am a native, the latter where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ukrainians used to ask me, “what you do like better, Ukraine or the US?” — this comparison really shows the plusses and minuses for both countries; in many ways they’re hard to compare. (Thanks to fellow Sniatyns’kyy Rayon PCV Sarah for bringing this to my attention.)
  • “The Russia Left Behind” is a moving look at the slow decline of small Russian villages along the road from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It’s also a great piece of multimedia journalism, with videos, slide shows, and maps as you travel the route along with the authors.
  • This BuzzFeed list, “17 Bizarre Foods Every Russian Grew Up With,” is great because I know many of the foods from Ukraine. The only food I’m not familiar with is #13 (kishka). My favorites are #15 (vinaigrette) and #2 (“fur coat” salad, which actually grows on you despite how weird it sounds). Salo (#7) and kholodets (#6): not so much!

Music

  • “21 of the best insults in classical music” is just a good piece of fun — I found most of these completely hilarious.
  • In more serious music news, “Is Music the Key to Success?” is a great piece from the NY Times. The author cites a bunch of famous and successful people who studied music at some point in their lives. Having studied a bit of music myself, I can agree about “[T]he qualities…high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideasMusic may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.”

Humanities

  • And the humanities debate continues…This month, the NY Times featured a set of letters from education professionals around the country on the “Role of Humanities, in School and Life.” I was pleased to see that the President of my alma mater (Oberlin College), Marvin Krislov, contributed a letter in which he said:

I have seen how studying English, history, art and languages gives our students entree into cultures and callings. By connecting diverse ideas and themes across academic disciplines, humanities students learn to better reason and analyze, and to communicate their knowledge, creativity and ideas.

[W]e have an obligation to read for pleasure…If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. […]

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. […]

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language…we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

Sex & Healthcare

  • Here’s a fascinating Guardian article on “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” The author cites some alarming statistics and notes that, “Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by…disapproval.” The entire article is worth reading.
  • Along similar lines, also from The Guardian: “Why young women are going off the pill and onto contraception voodoo.” This is so scary! Please, ladies (and gents), use real, scientifically-proven birth control. No, the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception. I leave you with a somewhat stocking excerpt:

[M]ore than half of the unintended pregnancies in the US occur among the 10.7% of women who use no contraceptive method at all…This finding comes only a few months after a study carried out by…Dr Annie Dude at Duke University. Dr Dude’s findings revealed that 31% of young women in America aged between 15 and 24 had relied on the pull-out method at least once. Unsurprisingly, these women were 7.5% more likely to rely on emergency contraception than others and…of those who relied on the pull-out method, 21% had become pregnant. Apparently, these women had never heard the old joke: you know what you call a couple who use the rhythm and pull-out methods? Parents.

  • In the US, the “Obamacare” debate and issues continue. I don’t know why so many people need convincing that it is important for everyone to have healthcare access. Nicholas Kristof, in “This is Why We Need Obamacare,” says it better than I can: “While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.”

Cycling

[T]here is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.” If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.

Living London, Writing London

In mid-October The New York Times published a piece called “Lessons from Living in London,” written by Sarah Lyell, who spent a number of years living in London as a correspondent for the paper. Coincidentally, that same week my MA course‘s “Contexts” seminar covered Henry James’ travel essays on New York (from The American Sceneand London (from English Hours).  James’ “London” is a brilliant little travel piece; though it was written 125 years ago (!), many of James’ points about the city are still relevant today. In the following, I attempt to bring together Lyell’s and James’ essays with my own observations on living in London — though I’ve been here less than a year, I can already relate to a lot. 

One of the first things I noticed after moving to London was how the city seems to be made up of little pockets and neighborhoods that trick you into thinking you’re not living in a city of 8 million. But when you have to go somewhere, you realize how huge it is. Lyell puts it well:

Residents tend to feel more connected to their neighborhoods than to London as a whole, and because it can be an undertaking to travel to another part of town for a social occasion, geography starts to feel like destiny.

This is so true. Our little area of North London feels very neighborhood-y, and everything we need is within a 1.5-mile radius. It would be easy never to venture further afield (a-city?), and indeed it is “an undertaking” if we decide to go somewhere outside of our familiar neighborhood bubble. We have to plan ahead and take travel time and mode — Tube, bus, bike — into account. How late I’ll be coming home determines if I’ll cycle or take public transport. Whether or not I’ll even go depends on how long it would take to get there and back related to how much time I’d be spending at my destination. I never had to think about these things before, in the States or in Ukraine, where everything was within walking or driving distance.

In a similar vein, Lyell and James both touch on a fascinating result of living in London (and in many other big cities, I imagine). James classifies London as “democratic,” by which he means “You may be in it, of course, without being of it…” (16*). Lyell must have read James’ essay, because she essentially paraphrases him when she says “Londoners wear their urban identities…lightly, living in the city but not necessarily of it.” She goes on to note that “In London, people keep themselves to themselves, as the expression goes, and this can feel either liberating or lonely.” I’ve chatted about this phenomenon with a few people recently: how it can be freeing to remain in your head as you move through such a big city, but how it can also be lonely never to smile at or strike up a conversation with any other people. The latter seems to be largely a London (or European city) thing; I’ve been told that in northern England people are very friendly and often chat with strangers. In the States, too, it’s pretty likely that people will at least smile at each other after inadvertently making eye contact.

Of course — I bet you thought I’d never get to it — we can’t talk about London without mentioning the weather; Lyell and James both know this. Lyell approaches London’s weather with a sense of practicality and as the last word in her essay: “Finally, when you leave the house, dress in layers so that you can add and subtract items according to the vicissitudes of the weather.” Layers are definitely key here. The weather is changeable; you may head to work under a clear blue sky, but it isn’t unlikely you’ll be going home in a rain shower. I almost always throw in a rain shell when I cycle to university, just in case. James also notes the weather, most memorably near the beginning of the essay when he writes about “the low, magnificent medium of the sky” and how the weather causes a “strangely undefined hour of the day and season of the year […] the red gleams and blurs that may or may not be of sunset” (7). James hits it on the nose here — the sky often darkens in the afternoon, and I wonder if it’s already evening until I look at my watch and realize it’s still early the middle of the day. Or the low clouds will hang in the sky all day, giving everything a dull grayness which makes it hard to tell how early or late it is.

A cultural quirk that Lyell (and any other foreigners who have lived in London) points out is that “there are as many meanings for the word “sorry” as there are hours in the day.” As far as I understand, “sorry” can mean “excuse me,” “I apologize [for bumping into you],” “What?”, and “Sorry for interrupting.” I’m sure there are plenty of subtler meanings that I haven’t yet picked up on. James seems to take a jab at this tendency when he writes, “It is doubtless a single proof of being a London-lover…that one should undertake an apology for so bungled an attempt at a great public place as Hyde Park Corner” (12). I chuckled at that — I guess “sorry” has been in the mix for quite a while!

There is a lot in the James essay that I would love to delve further into. In my MA course’s seminar on James’ travel writing from London and New York, our professor (we’ll call him PH) noted how the London essay is (was) a new kind of travel writing, a combination of travel essay, memoir, and meditation on the meaning of London. PH also touched on how James’ characterization of London is as an “urban sublime”: it exceeds limitations and expectations, and there’s some kind of ambivalence between the city’s cruelty — “the mighty ogress who devours human flesh” (15) in this “hideous, vicious, cruel” city (4) — and its charm, beauty, and “immeasurable” or “infinite” qualities (18, 20).

I also love the last sentence of James’ “London” essay, which basically disregards the previous 30 pages he’s written:

...out of [London’s] richness and its inexhaustible good humour it belies the next hour any generalisation you may have been so simple as to make about it. (29)

That pretty much sums it up!

———

Do you or have you ever lived in London or somewhere else as an ex-pat (or native)? I invite you to contribute to the dialogue by leaving a comment below with your own experiences. It would be great to get a conversation going. In fact, my good friend Sam also read these two pieces and was also inspired to write about them, since he’s lived in London and just moved to New York City. Look out for a guest post from him soon!

———

*page numbers from: Henry James, English Hours (1905), London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2011.

News Roundup: August Edition

I’m headed back to the UK this week and thought I’d post a news roundup so you can see what I’ve been reading and thinking about over the past month while in the States. In this month’s edition, we have some humor, some good advice, international news, thoughts on teaching, and more. Enjoy, and please leave a comment below if anything particularly grabs your attention!

Just for Fun

  • My hometown, Rochester, NY, is well-known as the home of Kodak and Xerox. Cameras and copiers are great, but the hidden gem that originated in Rochester is really Wegmans. Rather than waxing poetic about it myself, let me point you to this BuzzFeed list which pretty much sums up the awesomeness of this more-than-just supermarket.
  • Any runners out there will appreciate this “article” from Runners World, titled “The 25 worst questions to ask a runner.” I’ve certainly been asked a few of them over the years I’ve been running…

Athletics

  • A handful of studies have popped up recently on strength training for runners, and what kind will best help running economy. “How Strength Training Ups Masters Marathoners’ Economy” is a nice overview of a study finding that high weight/low repetition strength training, even for long distance runners, can improve running economy. Though the study was done with masters, I think it’s safe to say the same would be found in younger runners; this refutes previous beliefs in the running community that distance athletes should do low weight/high rep strength work so as not to get “bulky.”

English Majors & Being a Teacher

  • “The Ideal English Major” is a great piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education on why it still matters to be a humanities major, especially an English major, and what we English majors are really like. Here’s a sampling, though I recommend you read the whole article:

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are.

[…] Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form. But of course now we’re talking about more than a mere academic major. We’re talking about a way of life. We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world—what to be, how to act, how to move through time—at its center.

What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start. An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study—or at least made some significant progress on your way—then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.

  • On a semi-related note to being an English major, here’s a great essay on teaching, summed up by its title, “The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do.” In the US, it is sad that many people still choose teaching as sort of a back-up plan, as in “well, I can always teach.” Teachers are not respected enough in the States, and people think it’s easy (newsflash: it’s not) so often choose education as a career path if nothing else comes along. That’s one of many reasons the US’s rankings in education are so poor compared to places like Finland, which has rigorous standards for becoming a teacher. I’m not saying all teachers in the US do it because they think it’s easy or the only thing; on the contrary, I know many amazing, inspiring teachers who are doing it because that’s what they love to do. My ramblings aside, here’s an excerpt from the article; read the rest if you have a chance:

Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.

So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.

Advice

  • Author George Saunders gave the Syracuse University convocation speech earlier this year. The NY Times Magazine‘s blog, The 6th Floor, posted his speech, which everyone, graduate or non, should read. This is my favorite part:

Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

  • Here’s a great piece from a father to a daughter, called “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex.” It’s empowering and honest and wonderful. Here’s a taste: “…I won’t tell you sex is bad, or that you’re bad for wanting it, or that other people are bad from wanting it from you if you’re willing to give it. I refuse to perpetuate, even through the plausible deniability of humor, the idea that the people my daughter is attracted to are my enemy.”

International

  • “Through the Eyes of the Maasai” is a beautiful piece from the NY Times Travel section, giving insight into the lives and society of the Maasai people in Kenya.
  • F is German, so he closely follows German and European politics. I try to keep up, but it’s not my go-to news topic. He sent me a great article recently from The New York Review of Books, “The New German Question”, that gives a good overview of German politics.
  • My good friend Sam is doing some research for his masters’ degree on measuring happiness in terms of “wellbeing” indices. Sam says, “The problem, of course, is that increased production alone does not guarantee a happy, healthy society.” Read the rest of his smart piece here: “How do we move towards a society that prioritizes wellbeing?”

———

News Roundup: Food, Culture, Taxes, & Telecommuting

There has been lots going on in the national and international news since my last news roundup. Allow me to walk you though the articles that most strongly caught my eye in the last month and a half. We’ll cover everything from economy, taxes, and class to food, arts, Ukraine, and telecommuting. I’ve tried to categorize them so you can skip sections that don’t interest you. As always, click the links through to read the full articles.

Economic Segregation & Equal Opportunity

  • Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth is an insightful opinion piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz about the near-impossibility of social mobility in America today. It’s really worth a read — I’ll leave you with his words to spark your interest:

“It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia. […] After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier, the Stanford sociologist Sean F. Reardon found.”

  • On the note of wide economic gaps, watch this short film about the distribution of income in the US. It is shocking and even a bit disgusting but necessary to know so we can try to change it.
  • And again, because of the appalling income distribution in the US, Why Taxes Have to Go Up (for the richest of the rich):

“As it happens, those taxpayers are the same ones who benefited most from Bush-era tax breaks and who continue to pay low taxes. Even with recent increases, the new top rate of 39.6 percent is historically low; investment income is still taxed at special low rates; and the heirs of multimillion-dollar estates face lower taxes than at almost any time in modern memory. […] On the spending side, Republicans are resisting cuts to defense. That implies brutalizing cuts in nondefense discretionary areas, like education and environment, which are already set to fall to their lowest level as a share of the economy since the 1950s.”

Food and Healthy Eating

  • This in an interesting piece from The Atlantic about how Americans spend money on food.
  • You’ve probably heard about how good the “Mediterranean diet” is for you. Well, it’s true! Yet another study as affirmed that a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and wine may prevent diseases and help you live longer. Mark Bittman writes this nice column about how the Mediterranean diet is really just synonymous with eating real, fresh food. In his words, “What’s new is all the junk that been injected into our foods and our diet since the end of World War II. What’s not new is that eating real food is good for you.”
  • Staying on the “real food” kick, Bittman also has a great piece in the NY Times Magazine from the weekend of April 6th. He examines fast food and asks if it’s possible to have healthy fast food. The answer? Yes, but it’s going to be tricky to balance fast with cheap with healthy.

“…there’s now a market for a fast-food chain that’s not only healthful itself, but vegetarian-friendly, sustainable and even humane. And, this being fast food: cheap. […] What I’d like is a place that serves only good options, where you don’t have to resist the junk food to order well, and where the food is real — by which I mean dishes that generally contain few ingredients and are recognizable to everyone, not just food technologists.”

Peace Corps & Ukraine

  • I will continue to advocate for the Peace Corps for as long as I live. My Ukraine experiences were unforgettable. This Huffington Post article, called “Not Your Parents’ Peace Corps” (that’s certainly true — and I would know! My dad was a PCV in Tanzania in the ’60s), mentions the impact that today’s PCVs can have, both in their countries of service but maybe even more so back at home:

“‘The impact of Peace Corps service lasts a lifetime.’ Living and working in villages and communities far from home, volunteers learn to see the world in new ways and to communicate in new languages, to adapt to new environments, manage teams, troubleshoot obstacles and organize large-scale initiatives. Put simply, the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience and launching pad for a 21st century career.”

  • This is a wonderful short film of Ukraine, made by a couple who spent some time cycling through (mostly) western Ukraine. Sniatyn doesn’t appear, but you will see shots in Kolomiya, the next biggest city, and the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. This video made me miss Ukraine.
  • In not-so-chipper news, Ukraine continues to struggle to define its position between Russia and the E.U. If you’re interested in the political side, read this opinion piece.

“…the E.U. would like to sign and ratify an Association Agreement with Ukraine by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November. For this to happen, the E.U. is looking for progress in Ukraine’s handling of three issues: prevention of selective justice, elections with international standards, and other reforms as defined in a jointly agreed Association Agenda. […] The most persuasive steps that the Yanukovich administration could take would be to free Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. […] An Association Agreement with Ukraine serves fundamental E.U. interests. It would also serve the interests of the people of Ukraine and increase the chances that Ukraine undertakes necessary political and economic reforms.”

Music & Literature

“Beethoven’s music is too often seen as exclusively dramatic, expressive of titanic struggle. In this respect, the “Eroica” and the Fifth symphonies represent only one side of his work; one must also appreciate, for example, his “Pastoral” Symphony. His music is both introverted and extroverted and it again and again juxtaposes these qualities. The one human trait that is not present in his music is superficiality. Nor can it be characterized as shy or cute. On the contrary, even when it is intimate, as in the Fourth Piano Concerto and the “Pastoral” Symphony, it has an element of grandeur. And when it is grand, it also remains intensely personal, the obvious example being the Ninth Symphony.”

  • Another NY Times Magazine feature article, this time on “The Epic Ups and Downs of Peter Gelb,” the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager. Worth reading, if you are at all interested in the classical music and opera world.
  • As an English major, I was struck by this piece on the value of teaching how to write through literature. I love this:

“The question “What was your favorite moment in a story?” is an easy entry point for both a student schooled in the finest prep academy and a science major straight out of a substandard district. Anyone can find a favorite line. Placing further pressure on those lines — Why did you like it? What changed at that moment that brought energy to the text? — can help students trust their instincts: they were on to something! It’s a less intimidating approach to literature, free from the burden of historical background and devoid of grad-school jargon.”

Women’s Rights & Telecommuting

  • I’m sure you’ve caught wind of the telecommuting debate (to allow it, or not to allow it?) sparked by the new Yahoo CEO who banned it. I completely disagree with her decision, both from my own experience and for many of the reasons stated in the article: “[…] numerous studies show[] that telecommuting workers are more productive than those working on-site. […] a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation.” There are, of course, good reasons for working regularly in an office setting amongst other people, but there are also many reasons for a company to allow employees some flexibility in where they work some of the time.
  • A smart opinion piece urging the UN to take a stance on violence against women. I particularly agree with this: “Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion.”

Just For Fun

  • Those of you interested in languages and word origins should look at this, “Visualizing English Word Origins.” 
  • A dense but worth-reading excerpt by the late philosopher Ronal Dworkin’s forthcoming book, Religion Without God.
  • “Diagnosis: Human” is an op-ed on today’s over-diagnosis of ADHD and excessive diagnoses of other disorders. The author argues that, rather than trying to diagnose every little thing — too much energy, depression from grieving — we should remember that we are, after all, human and are therefore allowed to — and should — experience human emotions:

“Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.”

 

What have you been reading lately?

Concert Review: London Philharmonic Orchestra with Marin Alsop

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to get a daily email with Time Out London‘s discount offers on everything from sporting events to restaurant meals to theatre and music performances. So of course I was thrilled when I saw an offer for £15 tickets to a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert on a Wednesday evening. It was a steal for the excellent seats we had in the rear stalls of Royal Festival Hall.

awesome seats for only £15!

awesome seats for only £15!

The concert was part of the LPO and Southbank Centre’s “The Rest is Noise Festival,” inspired by Alex Ross’ eponymous book on 20th century music history (I highly recommend reading the book).

This particular concert was conducted by Marin Alsop, current Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who is a petite but dynamic and crisp conductor. I enjoyed watching her, and she clearly enjoyed what she was doing. Overall, the concert and the experience were fantastic. Royal Festival Hall is bright, modern, and open. The program we saw was called “The American Dream” and was all about America as interpreted through the eyes of European composers who spent time in the States around the turn of the 20th century.

Royal Festival Hall

Royal Festival Hall

The program opened with the all-black London Adventist Chorale singing three spirituals, a Capella — smooth, rich, crisp execution and tight harmonies…beautiful. The third spiritual they sang was “Going Home,” which was given lyrics and effectively turned into a spiritual after Dvorak composed his Symphony no. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”). The spiritual is based on the tune of the symphony’s second movement (Largo). As soon as the choir’s last notes died out, the orchestra launched directly into the “New World” Symphony, not allowing for applause.

It was one of the best performances of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony that I’ve witnessed (and I’ve seen it performed at least 4 times, the previous best performance being that of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood some years ago). The tempi were slightly faster than I’m used to — especially in the slow second movement — but the execution was so crisp that the quicker tempi didn’t bother me and, in fact, really enhanced the dynamism of the piece. The horns were fantastic and the low strings were brought out to reveal textures I had never known were there. Alsop conducted the symphony from memory.

After intermission, Alsop spent a few minutes introducing us to each piece (she is an excellent speaker: clear, straightforward, super knowledgeable but makes the material accessible for music aficionados and amateurs alike). She explained the influence of jazz on Mihaud when he spent time in New York City; she described how he would sit in Harlem jazz clubs trying to scribble down what the musicians were playing. Jazz heavily influenced and inspired Milhaud’s La Creation du monde, actually a ballet based on African legends but performed at this concert sans dancers. It was a cool piece, scored for an interesting ensemble that included a saxophone and drum set. Parts of it felt improvisatory.

The last piece was Egdar Varese’s Ameriques — HUGE orchestra (14 percussionists! 5 of each wind instrument! Double rows of horns!). Before the orchestra played the whole piece, Alsop explained the influence on Varese of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun harmonics (Varese takes the opening flute scale from the Debussy and reformulates it for the opening of Ameriques) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring rhythms. Alsop had the orchestra play a few excerpts from the Debussy and the Stravinsky, paralleled with the Varese, to attune the audience to the similarities. The piece itself was aptly described as “wild” by F. Loud, crashing at times, energetic (it depicts the streets of New York City in the 1920s), complete with (lots of) sirens. It took energy just to absorb all of the different sounds and motifs that are layered on top of one another. I was glad Alsop had given the introduction, because I was able to pinpoint many Stravinsky- and Debussy-esque moments throughout Ameriques.

News Roundup: Education, Equality, Health, & Human Rights

Every time I read an especially good op-ed or article, I post it to my Google+ profile. Not so much because people will find it there and read it (though I hope some do), but more to remind me of it at a later time when I care to share it with a larger audience. So without further ado, here is a collection of particularly good pieces I’ve read recently, with short summaries and/or quotes in case you don’t have time to click through to read the whole article (though I hope you do).

Health around the world

  • “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive”: You should try working in 90-minute chunks, this article advises. “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.” I totally agree, since I’ve spent chunks of time working from home on freelancing and other projects. When given the chance to schedule my own day, I find that I can only focus well on a task for 60-90 minutes before becoming tired and/or distracted. This article is worth a read.
  • “The Land of the Binge”: Wonderful article by Frank Bruni on Americans’ current obsession with binging (and purging). Can’t anything be done in moderation anymore? A favorite quotation: “Moderation. Remember that? It was once held up as an indisputable virtue, virtually synonymous with prudence. Don’t get too carried away with any one thing. Don’t become too set in your ways. That was the message from parents and teachers. That was the cue the culture gave. […] But America these days is an immoderate land of fixed opinions and outsize fixations. More and more we wallow: in our established political philosophy; in our preferred interest group; in our pastime of choice; in whichever health routine we’ve turned into a health religion.”
  • “For Americans Under 50, Stark Findings on Health”: Wow. Let’s do something to change this: “The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among [17 highly developed countries], and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.”
  • “Malawi’s Leader Makes Safe Childbirth her Mission”: Read this. Admirable woman.

Education

  • “The Boys at the Back”: A nice NY Times piece on how boys — especially in the U.S. — are struggling to achieve in traditional school settings. The author points out how behind the U.S. is in addressing these issues, and that it would be to the country’s advantage to check out how other English-speaking countries around the world are helping boys get through school: “the British, the Canadians and the Australians […] have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).”
  • “Ich Arbeiterkind”: Yes, this one is in German. Sorry. My boyfriend shared it with me last week and I spent a few days reading through it in chunks. It’s a beautifully written piece on how social class and inequality affects how children are treated in schools and ultimately determines their futures. In Germany, kids are tracked quite early (before 5th grade or so) into different high schools; some are for university-aiming students, while others are for (generally working-class) students who will essentially become tradespeople. The article hits home on how much weight a teacher has in determining a child’s future, and how without supportive teachers there is rarely a chance for a German kid to move up the socio-economic ladder. It is possible, of course, but extremely difficult. We obviously have similar problems in the U.S. I could go on about this subject, but instead I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotations from the article: “Ich erzähle das, weil ich der Meinung bin, dass jeder Mensch die Chance haben sollte, etwas aus seinem Leben zu machen.” (“I am telling you this, because I am of the opinion that every person should have the chance to make something of his life.”)
  • “Downton and Downward”: Continuing on the theme of social inequality, this is a nice piece by Timothy Egan on the lack of class mobility in the U.S.: “…Britain, much of Western Europe, and Canada are becoming more socially and economically fluid while the United States hardens its class arteries. […] universal preschool [and] more help for college students…are proven elevators to a better station in life. […] Short of winning the lottery, education is the best route to a change in class status. Yet, because of the obsolete, factory-like nature of high school, which fails to propel at least a third of its students, and the confiscatory cost of college, the next rung up for 18-year-olds is becoming another haven for the rich.”
  • “In Alabama, a Model for Obama’s Push to Expand Preschool”: Part of the impetus for Egan’s article (above) was probably the newest educational debate in the U.S.: that of Obama’s hope to make preschool free and accessible for every 4-year-old regardless of family income. This is such a good idea; early childhood education has shown to be one of the biggest determiners in future life success. I’ll leave you with a block quote about Obama’s plan: “…the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers. […] Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool. […] ‘We haven’t yet tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, because we haven’t yet tried to pay preschool teachers the same that we’re paying our K-12 teachers,’” said Lisa Guernsey, director of early education at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy institute. “It’s pretty hard to imagine that we’re going to be recruiting great teachers if we’re paying them a poverty-level or just-above-poverty-level wage.””
  • “Education with Hands, Hearts and Heads”, Satish Kumar at TEDxWhitechapel: My friend Sam alerted me to this; Kumar is the founder of the U.K. Schumacher College, where Sam is currently doing his Master’s degree. It’s a short talk worth watching, in which Kumar illuminates his passion for education and articulates his ideas for reforming education to employ our hands, hearts, and heads. He says, “We are not consumers, we are makers.”

Equality & Human Rights

  • “The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and her Admirable Commitment to Making us Look at her Naked”: I didn’t really like the pilot episode of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series. That said, she is an Obie (like me!) and she has done a few interesting things in the name of gender equality and breaking down barriers of expectation. This quotation aptly sums up the article’s point: “For all our talk about wanting to see more so-called “real women” in the media we consume — a problematic category itself, as all women are “real,” no matter how near or far they might be to the female beauty ideal — we are awfully quick to condemn a woman who is showing us reality in a very plainspoken, unvarnished way. […] The aghast controversy evoked by Dunham’s nudity shows us just how much of this “real women” talk is lip service, and how very far we have to go before we can socially deal with the fact that different bodies exist. Truth is, we’d all probably be a lot less neurotic about our own bodies if we could get used to seeing and accepting the natural variety in other people’s — without shame, and giving no fucks.”
  • “Is Delhi So Different from Steubenville?”: A NY Times op-ed by my all-time favorite columnist, Nicholas Kristof. He’s quick to point out that human rights abuse happens both at home and abroad, in developing and developed countries alike. He’s also an unfailing advocate for women’s rights (yes!): “Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.”
  • “Love, Marriage and Voters”: By my second-favorite NY Times op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni. Bruni writes about all sorts of issues, but he is at his best when advocating for equal treatment for same-sex couples: “We’ve seemingly moved away from conventional and naïve expectations, if we ever really had them, and in the years to come we’ll surely see, on the national stage, more proof of that: candidates without partners, candidates with partners they haven’t wed, candidates with partners of the same sex. […] And my guess is that many of them will do just fine, as long as they aren’t defensive or opaque and they permit enough of a view into their lives and hearts for voters to see — and identify with — a bedrock of common longings, a braid of recognizable frailties and frustrations.”
  • “Civil Unions V. Marriage”: This is an informative piece explaining some of the main differences between civil unions and marriage. Ultimately, the article argues that the federal government should recognize same-sex unions across the board (true that!): “Civil unions, while definitely a stepping stone on the path towards equality, are rife with error. They are not universally accepted, so once you cross state lines you are once again a single person fighting the battle to simple live your life. Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize ANY same-sex unions. That’s right. ANY.”

Language

Peace Corps

  • An Open Letter: This begins, “Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps…” It’s worth a read, especially if you have been or are hoping to be a Peace Corps Volunteer one day. I found it to be quite accurate.

Eastern Europe (aka Ukraine & Russia)

  • “A Surprising Map of the Best and Worst Countries to be Born into Today”: This Washington Post piece cites a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit that ranked 80 countries across 11 criteria to determine “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.” Now, rankings like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it was surprising to see Ukraine — where I spent two years in the Peace Corps — ranked the third-worst country to be born into: “Ukraine is a middle-income democracy […] severe and worsening problems with economic inequality, which in turn are fueling corruption and poor governance. You’re worse off being born in [Ukraine], according to the data, than you are just about anywhere else, including Sri Lanka, a poor hotbed of ethnic violence, oppressive Vietnam, or even Syria.” I can say that the economic gaps in Ukraine are huge, and that corruption is still a big problem. However, as a fellow Ukraine RPCV pointed out, it would still be worse to be born into a war zone.
  • “Why Did ‘The Ukraine’ Become Just ‘Ukraine’?”: One of the pet peeves of most Ukraine (R)PCVs is when people call Ukraine “THE Ukraine.” This article, from Mental Floss, gives a good explanation for why Ukraine used to carry an article and why it doesn’t anymore. It’s a quick, interesting read.

U.S.

  • President Obama’s Inaugural Address: It was excellent. Here are some of my favorite parts: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet […] We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. […] It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

All-American Foods: Apple Pie + Macaroni & Cheese

The inspiration for this post came to me a few days ago. My dad and I were discussing dinner plans sometime in the afternoon, and he suggested “Grandma’s Mac and Cheese.” When I got home from Christmas shopping in the early evening, I found Terry making another household specialty: apple pie. We ended up in the kitchen together, preparing the pie and mac and cheese. “What an all-American combination of foods here,” I thought to myself. “I should blog about this,” was my next thought, as a way to expand my food posts from purely recipes to short narratives about culture and food. (As a bonus, I’ll include the mac and cheese recipe at the end of this post.)

So what can I say about these two dishes? First and foremost, they are delicious.

Many cultures and countries have their own version of apple pie: some use a double crust, some use lattice, some use crumble topping, some are crustless, some are more cake-like (but then that would be apple cake and not apple pie). Somewhere along the historical timeline, Americans adopted apple pie and it has become a national dish of sorts. Maybe it’s just because I’m from the northeast and so many apples grow here in the autumn that we must come up with creative ways to use them. In any case, apple pie is great year-round and is popular both at 4th of July (Independence Day) celebrations and Thanksgivings around the USA. My dad makes a killer crust and uses plenty of cinnamon and a light crumble topping in his apple pie.

my dad's delicious apple pie

my dad’s delicious apple pie

Now on to macaroni and cheese. The idea is really quite simple: cooked elbow macaroni mixed with a white/cheese sauce and baked. Though Italy is obviously the king of pasta, mac and cheese has come to be primarily associated with American — especially Southern — cuisine. Many Americans grow up eating boxed mac and cheese (just add butter, milk, and that weirdly-bright orange “cheese” powder) on nights when the parents go out and a babysitter comes. I ate my fair share of boxed mac and cheese as a kid, but my brother and I were also lucky to grow up with parents who love to cook and have a great homemade macaroni and cheese recipe that we call “Grandma’s Mac and Cheese” (“Grandma’s” because it’s the recipe my maternal grandmother always made when my mom was growing up). For some reason we always eat frozen peas (reheated, of course) alongside — or mixed into — our mac and cheese. It is also delicious with leftover ham chunks mixed in. Read on for the recipe, and happy American cooking!

Grandma's mac & cheese

Grandma’s mac & cheese

Grandma’s Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 8oz = 1.75 cups elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup = 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp (or to taste) pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8oz = 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

Procedure

  • Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a casserole and distribute half the parmesan around the bottom and edges. Cook the macaroni as directed and drain it.
  • Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan or double boiler. Remove it from the heat and stir in the flour, salt and pepper until smooth.
  • Gradually stir in milk. Return to the heat and bring to boiling, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer mixture 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 1.5 cups cheddar cheese and the cooked macaroni.
  • Pour entire mixture into the casserole and sprinkle the remaining cheddar and parmesan over the top. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is golden-brown.

Highlights of the Month: March-April Edition

Long time no post, I know — it’s been a busy and exciting month. For time’s sake I shall provide a bullet-point list of highlights from the past month or so, with links to follow, where appropriate.

  • In the past month or two my Peace Corps Partnership Grant has begun to be implemented at my school here in Sniatyn. Thanks to many wonderful donors, the grant was funded and my school was able to buy multimedia equipment for the English classroom. We bought: a laptop; speakers; laser printer-scanner-copier; a projector & ceiling mountings; a projector screen; a dry-erase board with markers & magnets; a teachers’ table; and various connection cords. It’s amazing how far just $1800 can go here in Ukraine. If you’d like to see pictures of my classroom’s transformation, click HERE. It has been so wonderful to be able to use the projector and screen for my English clubs and classes — it makes learning English so much more fun and interesting for both the pupils and me.
  • At the end of March I set off on a week of travels to London and Prague (with an overnight stop in Warsaw on the way home).
    • In London I spent four days catching up with good friends Sam (a high school classmate now living in London) and Hannah (a fellow Obie studying abroad in London). The weather was gorgeous the entire time, so I walked between three and four hours every day, exploring different areas of the city and falling in love with the bustling-yet-relaxed vibe and beautiful architecture. Hannah and I went for a lovely run in Regent’s Park and cooked some tasty kale-based lunches. I was also able to tag along on her history class’ walking tour of South Kensington / Exhibition Row and got to attend part of her English class — it felt so comfortable and fun to be around Obies again. Sam and I spent a great day together exploring Greenwich and the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea; we also had delicious fish & chips at the third-oldest F&C establishment in London. I could go on and on about what I saw in London, but instead I’ll let my pictures narrate the trip.
    • Prague has a totally different feel from London, but is an equally as fascinating city. The city’s architecture is astounding and almost fairy-tale-eqsue: red roofs, tower-topped churches, a castle on a hill. I took a great (and free!) walking tour with a pleasant Czech guide; she told us a lot about Prague’s history and taught me what all the Czech letters sound like. (The Czech language is not dissimilar from Ukrainian/Russian; I could understand quite a bit.) My main reason to visit Prague, however, was to run the Hervis Prague Half Marathon (along with 10,999 other people!). The race went up and down the Vltava (Moldau) River, across cobblestones, tram tracks, and bridges. The energy from so many people was amazing. So amazing that I ended up running a 4-minute personal best for the distance: my finishing time was 1:47.01. I met some great people at my hostel — including an elite (sub-1:20 half marathon) runner and three girls traveling through Europe after studying abroad in the UK. Pictures HERE.
    • The above link also has a few pictures of Warsaw, where I spent 20 hours on my way back to Ukraine. If I’d been there longer and not on a Sunday, I would’ve loved to explore more and visit the Warsaw Uprising and Chopin Museums. As it was, I walked to the beautiful Old Town center and ate some tasty dumplings.
  • I’ve been perfecting my soy-lemon poached chicken recipe and have cooked Ukrainian borshch twice in the past week — I’ve updated the recipe HERE.
  • This week, the whole town — and country — has been preparing for Orthodox Easter, which falls on 15 April this year. Today is chystyy chetver,” or “clean Thursday,” the day when everyone is supposed to clean the house and bake paska, the traditional Easter bread. I’ll celebrate with Halya and her family on Sunday.
    • At school this week, in preparation for Easter, the pupils hosted a yarmarok (market). Each class sold cookies/cakes/buns and handicrafts like Easter eggs (pysanky) and embroidered towels. The money they earned will go to the school.
  • Today Tamara, the TEFL Lead Specialist for Peace Corps/Ukraine, came to my school to talk with my director and English teachers about how to apply for another Peace Corps Volunteer for after I leave. She asked my colleagues for their impressions of me/my work, and I was extremely flattered by their kind words and appreciation of my work here. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do nearly enough, but it seems that they are certainly happy with what I’ve done. Of course, I’m also their first PCV and so they have nothing with which to compare my work. But I was flattered nonetheless.
  • I played some table tennis with two 11th-formers this afternoon before playing volleyball at school. They taught me the proper paddle grip and it was fun to whack the ball around a little (though I am not good by any means).
  • I continue to write periodically for Full Stop. You can read my latest book review HERE.
  • The Literature GRE approacheth! I’ll take the test in Kyiv on 21 April and hope not to totally bomb it. You can see what I’ve read over the past six months HERE — feel free to leave book recommendations in the comments section.

What have you been up to this Spring?

“Don’t Get Trammed!” — Emma & Michael Visit Ukraine

On 7 January – Ukrainian Christmas – instead of sitting at my counterpart’s dining table for the Holy Supper (Святий Вечір), I found myself at the airport in Kyiv to meet two friends from Oberlin, Emma and Michael. They’d been planning to visit me in Ukraine ever since I arrived here. Still, it was hard to believe the plans were about to be realized. But there they were, walking out of the customs area at Kyiv Boryspil International Airport, Michael in his fluffy ear-flap hat and Emma in her big green coat and fuzzy white hat.

Their visit started without delay — after a Chinese dinner in Kyiv, we hopped on the overnight train to L’viv (sorry about those train bathrooms, Emma!), where we arrived bright and early on Sunday morning. In L’viv we climbed vysokyy zamok (високий замок – high castle), wandered into and out of churches, walked a lot, saw The Nutcracker (лускунчик) at the opera house, and met up with my Ukrainian language teacher (LCF) from Training, Natalia. She took us to one of the various themed cafes in L’viv, Dim Lehend (Дім легенд – house of legends), where we enjoyed banosh (банош) and conversation in the library-themed room. As it was Ukrainian Christmas weekend, we heard lots of caroling (колядуванняkolyaduvannya) and strolled through the Christmas market while munching on poppyseed-filled pampushky (пампушки – donuts).

We arrived in my beautiful town of Sniatyn early on Tuesday morning, after a cold but mercifully short train ride. In Sniatyn I introduced Emma and Michael to many of my favorite people, places, and things: Natalia and her shop; Natalia my colleague; Diana Dmetrivna; the Olympiad girls; my English club attendees; the clock tower; the river; horishky cookies… Emma and Michael were a great help and hit in English Clubs, as they taught some traditional rounds: “Row Row Row Your Boat”; “Are You Sleeping?” (in English and French); “Black Socks.” Everyone loved it and loved Emma’s beautiful singing voice. (Michael has a nice voice, too, and they, like me, enjoy turning regular statements into sung ones. We definitely sang our way through the week.)

After lunch in Chernivtsi on Friday with many of my favorite Americans-in-Ukraine — Kristin, Kate, Janira, Brandon, Andy — we were off to Kyiv for Emma and Michael’s last couple days in Ukraine. Lots more walking — this time in light snow and later slush, as winter seems to have finally arrived in Ukraine. Falafel from one of my favorite places in Kyiv. Dried fruit from another favorite place, the besarabs’kyy rynok. A great production of Bizet’s opera, Carmen, at the Kyiv National Opera Theatre — we were singing statements to Carmen tunes for the rest of the weekend. Churches, Andriy’s Descent, and souvenir-gazing. Pretty soon it was Sunday night and time for my wonderful guests to head to the airport for their 5:30am flight home.

It was a blast to play tourist and tour-guide for a week — thank you, Emma and Michael, for making the journey to see me! I gained a new perspective on my adopted country and now I know that my Ukrainian is good enough to get around with two non-speakers for a week.

(Speaking of Ukrainian, read the next post for more…)

Some pictures from the week (click to make them bigger):

 

See even more pictures from the week HERE and HERE.

Highlights of the Week: Mid-November

  • I’ve been featured in an Alumni Profile on the Oberlin Athletics website. So proud to be an Obie!
  • My Peace Corps Partnership Project (PCPP) grant has been posted online! Please consider donating a little money so my school here can get some multimedia equipment for the English classroom.
  • I was asked on Wednesday by my school director if I could teach some English to my town’s police in preparation for the 2012 EuroCup that Ukraine is co-hosting…starting on Thursday. (I didn’t actually end up having to teach today, but we went to the police station to meet the vice-director.)
  • I introduced the game UNO to my English clubs this week — with an English-task twist. They loved it and were all amazed that I can shuffle cards what I see as the “normal” (“poker”) way. (Ukrainians shuffle by holding the deck in one hand and mixing the cards in that way; the “simple” way.) I told them most Americans shuffle the way I do — that’s how we learn. Funny, the little cultural differences that appear out of nowhere.
  • I’m reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and it is awesome. Dense but fascinating, and Milton’s writing is gorgeous. I’m learning a lot of religious/biblical history (though it’s slightly fictionalized/Milton-slanted).
  • I found dried cranberries at my grocery store! Those of you who know what I eat for breakfast almost every morning know that this is a big deal.
  • My school director said my hair looked pretty when I had it scrunched to be a little wavy. A compliment on appearance is a tall order in Ukraine — I’ll take what I can get!
  • TODAY IS MY DAD’S BIRTHDAY. IF YOU SEE TERRY PLEASE GIVE HIM A BIG BIRTHDAY HUG! LAST WEEK WAS MY BROTHER’S BIRTHDAY, SO FEEL FREE TO GIVE DANA A BIG HUG, TOO.

I leave you with some autumn colors:

Kosiv, Ukraine. “Pre-Carpathian,” Hutsl land.

My walk to school.

Fall colors, church. Sniatyn.

School no. 1, Sniatyn.

Вже Українка?

“Did Vika tell you to come to my shop with her now?” asks Natalia.

“No, but I will come.” I answer.

Tea and chocolates with Natalia, Vika, & N’s mom in the fabric shop.

“Now let’s go on an excursion to the Черемшина museum where my husband works. We can have a photo session!”

“Okay.” (Why refuse? I have no immediate plans. I wonder what this photo session will entail…Ukrainians love a good “foto sesia” (Фотосесія).)

At the museum I am introduced to Petro, Natalia’s husband, and his mother, who shows us around the museum. Marko Cheremshyna (1874-1927) was a famous lawyer — he rubbed elbows with the likes of Vasyl Stefanyk, Ivan Franko, and others — who came to reside in Sniatyn (hence the museum dedicated to him).

“Who will put these on? Tammela?”

“Okaaay…” begrudgingly, but with a smile.

First, the long nightgown-like under-dress. Then the cloth wrapped around my waist folded up in front and secured with a woven belt. Next the fur-lined leather vest (to be changed later for the full coat version, and then for a light vest in a Sniatyn-specific pattern). On my feet go the clunky wooden shoes — how could they walk in these? The clothes are heavy, too.

Natalia tells me where to stand/sit as she snaps photos and laughs happily.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

20ого День Незалежності України

Date: 24 August 2011. Event: Twentieth Anniversary of Ukrainian Independence. Location: All over Ukraine. Location of Recorded Event: Sniatyn, Ukraine.  Celebration Components: Town parade; embroidered shirts (вишитій сорочці) & other traditional Ukrainian dress (Hutsul [гуцульські], Cossack [козачий], etc); Ukrainian flags (українські прапори); the entire population of Sniatyn plus neighboring villages; Soviet-era rides; big concert with lots of Ukrainian song and dance by different performers (I sang in a teachers’ choir)…

I’ll let the pictures and video speak for themselves:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

And here’s an interesting set of “Twenty Little-Known Facts About Ukraine” from this week’s Kyiv Post.

In other news, I’ve had a week full of PCV visitors in my town: my friend and fellow runner Julia stopped by for a day and night on the way to her COS (Close of Service) conference, and my good friend James from training has been here all week (his first time out west). It’s been fun catching up, walking, and cooking delicious food with friends — a good way to recharge before the school year starts.

Berlin

From L: me, Terry, Fabian, Dana, Dianne, Colette

I’ve just returned from Berlin, where I met my parents and brother for a week’s reunion after not seeing them for almost a year. Our European “extended family” also joined us for a weekend: Dianne’s Belgian exchange-student sister Colette, and our German friend Fabian. Where to begin? We did so many things throughout the week that I may revert to lists, but I hope they’ll give you an accurate picture of the trip.

→ We rented an apartment for the week in a fantastic location: a 2′ walk from the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Tiergarten (400+ acre park with lots of paths and gardens and ponds), and Unter den Linden (central street of the city — wide, open avenue lined with shops, cafes, etc).

→ Berlin is a really flat city (the marathon there is one of the fastest courses in the world), so it’s easy to walk/run/bike around. And if you know my family, you can guess that we did our fair share of walking! We walked for a total of 2-4 hours every day, which was wonderful. One day we took a Fat Tire Bike Tour of the city, which was 5 hours of easy biking with plenty of informational stops. We had a great and hilarious guide, Francis from New Zealand who studied German history and so had lots to tell us.

→ Berlin has about 160 museums. We did not go to that many but did see some great collections: on Museumsinsel (a little island in between branches of the Spree River that holds five museums and the Berliner Dom, a gorgeous Protestant cathedral) we visited the Alte Nationalgalerie, which had 19th-century paintings, and the Pergamon Museum, which had an incredible collection of ancient Greek/Roman pillared gates, sculptures, friezes, and more. One could easily spend an entire day in the Pergamon, strolling through while listening to the excellent audio guide. Another favorite museum was the Sammlung Berggruen, in Charlottenburg, which was a small collection of great Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti interspersed with black-and-white photographs of the artists and their workspaces. We visited the Museum für Fotografie, which had a strange Helmut Newton exhibit but also a great Abisag Tüllmann collection. We visited the Charlottenburg Schloss (palace, home of the Prussian royal family when they lived and ruled in Berlin) but didn’t go inside and opted instead to explore the gardens. My dad, brother, and I checked out the Erotik Museum on our last day — drawings and sculptures depicting sex (often in an exaggerated way) throughout the ages; lots from the 18th and 19th centuries with many from China and Japan. Checkpoint Charlie has an outdoor museum of sorts — panels lining the street (Friedrichstrasse) with photographs and descriptions of periods when the Berlin Wall was up. The Neue Nationalgalerie is a cool building across from the Berlin Philharmonic near Potsdamer Platz — the exhibit we saw was works from 1900-1945, including some fantastic Kirchner paintings and some interesting sculpture.

→ We ate well and diversely. Delicious breakfasts — some out, some in our apartment — of pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, coffee. I got my ethnic food fix that ought to hold me through winter in Ukraine: we ate Indian, Turkish (at Hasir), Moroccan (at Kasbah), Italian, German (at biergartens and cafes), and Vietnamese food. Coffee and tortes in Berlin are delicious. We enjoyed late dinners and strolls near Hackaescher Markt.

Architecturally, the city is an interesting mix of old and new. Berlin was 90% bombed during World War II, so most buildings are new-ish. Some survived the bombings or were reconstructed. And the newest parts of town were built up in the ’90s after the wall fell. It’s a diverse city with lots of little cultural pockets and historical tidbits to explore.

I’ll let the pictures say the rest. Click HERE to view my photos from the week (you don’t have to be a member of facebook to see them).

———