Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lveaving Lviv

First things first. See this place?

I would totally bank here. Here are some other gripping photos:

Yeah, any bank or place of business that uses a squirrel as a mascot is OK by me. Maybe they're trying to attract business from squirrels. Conversly, I would not buy shoes here:

Somehow, "welfare" does not inspire confidence.

Well, today is my last day in Lviv. My American cousins arrived yesterday and just when they showed up, I fell rather unhilariously ill. It was quite a long night. I'm somewhat better today, but I feel ready to erupt again - at seemingly any time. Here's what I think the problem is: in the U.S., I can eat all manner of dairy, all the livelong day. In Europe and elsewhere, that's just not possible. It's a shame because they have many delicious dairy products in this part of the world. Oh well, I'll eat nothing but cheese for a week after I return. Speaking of cheese, I understand that I'll be missing CheeseFest '10 at the Market this year. Well, drat. There's always next year.

Later this morning, we'll be meeting up with my cousin Arsen and he will whisk us away to the home village via the extremely ugly city of Ternopil. This might be my last post from Ukraine. Don't worry, I'll take lots of pictures of the village and its various amenities and share them at some later date. Until then, here is one last souvenir from Lviv:

This is Galician King Danilo, who founded this town in honor of his son, Lev. Anyhow, even with the Nazis, this town is exceptionally cool. Plus, they have a bank for squirrels.

Lviv 2

I was just going to post a better picture of the Fart Store, because, y'know, it's funny. And here it is:

OK, so there it is. But last night, I ran across a sight that was deeply disturbing. I was walking back from dinner at Galya and Volodya's. I was really tired after climbing that dumb hill. Volodya was kind of cranky. He just wanted to watch the news and groan. My language skills were hampered by my fatigue. I took off and walked back to the fabulous George. When I turned the corner at the Opera House, I heard shouting and cheering. It wasn't till I got to the Shevchenko statue that I saw what it was. Nazis. Honestly. I arrived just as they were packing up, but here are a few pictures:

Pardon all the red-eye and the disorder, but those black banners (that were unfurled just half a second before I took this shot) are the Ukrainian equivalent to the swastika. So yeah, it was a Nazi rally. There were police, but believe it or not, they seemed to be sympathetic. What is wrong with these people? They live in one of the coolest cities in the world and they've got to be all far-right. And there's no reason for it. I mean, there are few if any ethnic minorities here. To me, a Ukrainian Nationalist is somebody who will answer you in Ukrainian no matter how often and loudly you talk to him in Russian. There's one who works right here in this Internet cafe. He's always got something to say in Ukrainian. And more power to him. Someday I'll learn that retarded language and we'll converse. But those clowns in the picture are distorting their own tenuous national identity. There is no such thing as a "pure Ukrainian," especially around these parts. This region has belonged to so many other countries in the past that you need a scorecard to keep them straight. They think of themselves as non-Russians and non-Poles, but that's a joke for the aforementioned reason of dubious ethnic identity. Lviv is the center of the Western Nationalist movement, but by my own informal survey of eavesdropping, about 60% of people walking around STILL speak Russian. I just don't understand where this need to take after the Nazis comes from. After all, if I recall correctly, they weren't that nice to Ukrainians during WWII. In fact, they were dicks. Why repeat the crappiness of the past? It can only end in disaster. This just leaves me totally exasperated. These people are just of bunch of knuckleheads.

You know, in two years Lviv is going to co-host the European soccer championships. Of course, the municipal improvements such as building a stadium, enlarging the airport and fixing the roads are way, way behind schedule. But even more pressing is the fear that visitors will actually come into contact with the Nazi soccer culture. That's making a lot of people nervous. I'm a firm believer that soccer is the root of all evil - OK, I'm joking about that - but it tends to bring out the worst in people. If you add Nazis to the mix, it just gets worse. What's the government going to do about these chumps? Probably nothing. Anyhow, I just wanted you to know that Ukraine isn't all red squirrels, parliamentary donnybrooks and merry peasants. There's other, really dumb stuff going on.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Well, little did I know that when I was killing time before my train to Lviv, the Ukrainian Parliament was getting rowdy. We're talking eggs getting thrown and fistfights and smoke bombs and such. Gee, I thought that kind of stuff only happened in South Korea! Well, it's happening around these parts. Yeah, some people really don't want the Russian Black Sea Fleet here. But more people, it seems, like cheap gas from Russia more. And these guys being Slavs, compromise is not an option, so this kind of stuff happens. Funny thing, I was only a few blocks away looking for squirrels at the time. I missed the whole thing. There was also a big anti-fleet protest in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. I missed that, too. And I didn't see any friggin squirrels either.

OK, so I got here yesterday morning. I shared a compartment with a fussy baby. Don't worry, his parents were there, too. But I didn't sleep too well. After I got in, I caught a cab, which turned out to be this guy's maintenance van. It was kind of gigantic. But he was a jolly fellow who hates Yanukovich and loves his city. I forgot that most of the city streets are cobblestones (which are in extremely poor shape), so the noise from all that compels you to scream at whoever you're talking to. This is where he drove me to:

Ah, the grand old Hotel George. I love this place. I first stayed here in 1993. It looked and smelled the same back then. Like the rest of the city, it's falling apart, but in a really beautiful way. My room is absolutely gigantic. Seriously, if I lay on the bed, I can't see the TV, because it's so far away. It's really nice to see that they haven't replaced the shuddering Soviet-era elevator. It's only large enough to hold three small, frightened people. I've gotten stuck in it twice. It has always been a worthy adversary.

Back in the days of the hilarious Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lviv was pretty much the last bastion of culture and learning until you got to the ridiculous Russian Empire, which, at the time, contained only cossacks and wild-eyed holy men. In other words, it was the last trace of Western Europe you would encounter on your way east. Here are some pictures from around town:

These last two photos are of Mickiewicz Square - Adam Mickiewicz was a Polish poet of some repute - and the magnificent Opera House. To be clever in an Austro-Hungarian way, its architect decided to build it over a stream that ran through town. As everyone predicted, it immediately began to sink, but stabilized after a few years. The architect, it was said, died of shame.

As you can see, there is a lot of beauty in this crumbly old place. I greatly prefer it over Prague. Not only do have stunning architecture (although everything needs a good scrubbing and a paint job), but there aren't any Czechs here AND all the signs are in Ukrainian. It's a wonderful place where you can make stunning new discoveries just by rounding the nearest corner. It also has something of an infamous past where my family is concerned. Check this out:

Yeah, so this place isn't quite as charming as the rest of the city. That's because it's a prison. This is where my great-grandfather spent seven years back in the fifties. He got sent up for owning a farm. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Communists are dicks. The ironic thing is that this building is located no more than 200 yards from the glorious, not-sinking-anymore Opera House. You know, I had an opportunity to go to a show there last night. It was a showcase of dance pieces from choreography students from the university. I passed. Instead, I hung out with Galya and Volodya. They're not actually relatives. Galya is my cousin Arsen's half-sister by Arsen's father, who isn't a blood relation. Volodya is her husband. He books acts for the Lviv Circus. He's a political junkie, so of course in the wake of the brawling in Parliament, he had a lot to say. So we drank and watched TV, finally settling on the Polish newscast, as Volodya believes that in general, Poles are smarter than Ukrainians. My language skills have improved dramatically in the past day. I went from sounding like a retarded phrasebook to somebody who can actually ask questions and understand their answers. I can even take a stab at Ukrainian (or the Ukrainian speaking it) and, if the answer is sufficiently un-complex, comprehend what's coming back at me. So last night was really nice, just hanging out and talking. My cousin and her husband arrive tomorrow, so I'll have be able to talk for them, since they don't speak the lingo.

This morning, I climbed up to the Vysoky Zamok or the "High Castle" and took pictures. I did the same with my cousin and his wife (at the time) 10 years ago. For some reason, we ended up getting lost on the well-marked path something like three times. Once frustration overtook us, we just climbed straight up. Zoriana, my cousin's now-former wife, was wearing three-inch heels. Well, we made it. This morning's jaunt took something like 20 minutes and yielded the first photo of this post. That's the Lviv that everybody loves. If you turn the opposite way, you see the Lviv that nobody thinks or cares about. And neither should you. Here it is:

And finally, I apologize for the quality, but here it is for your viewing pleasure. Ladies and germs, I give you the Fart Store:

If you want cheap clothes, think Fart. Well, that's all.

Monday, April 26, 2010


OK, it turns out that I do have time. Just about everything I planned to do today fell through. I failed to find the elusive red squirrels in the nearby park. The Natural History Museum was closed. My subway project was a bust (more on that later). And I failed to locate this crazy modern art museum that I could have sworn was just across the street. It had the distinction of being the worst art museum I've ever visited. On top of that, there were all these grim placards around telling of how this or that artist was charged with formalism during the thirties and was subsequently shot or had his paints taken away or some such. And this was for attempting Cubism in the thirities. I mean, it's one thing to make bad art, but getting shot for it seems a bit harsh. Sheesh, those Communists were a bunch of losers! Anyhow, here is something about Kiev: even though it is the capitol of Ukraine, a country whose official language is Ukrainian and even though all the signs are in Ukrainian, very few people speak Ukrainian. Everybody speaks Russian and to hell with what's official. When I came here a decade ago with my cousin, he was completely mortified. He tried to speak to people in Ukrainian and they'd just answer back in Russian. I figured that he was just being over sensitive, so I started asking questions in my meager Ukrainian and the same thing happened. Well, things haven't changed a bit. OK, so here are some pictures:

This is the bell tower at St. Sophia Cathedral, a place famous for having an iron floor. Every time I come to Kiev, the ticket price goes up. Eight years ago it was $10; this time, it's something like $15. And included in the price is the opportunity to be badgered by all the old ladies who work there. Below is the very fine Volodymirski Cathedral:

Here's the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. You may remember it from such revolutions as the Orange. You know, the one that didn't work out so well. Observe:

Apparently, during the "revolution," around a million people filled the square. I find that really hard to believe. It's not big enough. I mean, I'm standing at the far end. The statue of Bogdan Khmelnitski is a little ways down and things just get narrower. No way a million people were there. If they mean a million people total throughout the city, then sure, it could have happened. Kiev is mostly empty space, so it's more than possible.

Whoah! It's a big woman and she looks pissed! Actually, she's mourning the war dead down by the Dnieper. Here's what the rest of her looks like:

Well, if I were a hundred feet taller and she were a hundred feet shorter, it might just work out. She is quite handsome. Speaking of the Dnieper, here it is:

Yeah, I know, thrilling.

Here's the always-disappointing Golden Gate of Kiev:

Down the street is the sun-dappled Opera House:

And wouldn't you know it, they were playing my favorite opera of all time, Boris Godunov, see:

But here's the deal: I'm still jet-lagged. I would have fallen asleep. I didn't want that to happen, so I plan to see it some other time, preferably in Moscow, but un-jet-lagged in Kiev would be just fine.

Oh, here's a fine traditional Ukrainian restaurant:

Yeah, it's TGIFriday's. It can't possibly be as popular as McDonald's. That place is super-crazy busy all the time.

Everybody's getting excited for Iron Man 2. Witness:

Both signs are in Ukrainian and the title translates as "Iron Humanoid."

Odds and ends:

Here's a guy all gussied up like a cossack playing a bandura on the Kreshchatik. He was really not good, but when you look so authentic, who cares? Tons of people were stopping to have their picture taken with him. I gave him a hrivnya for tickling the strings.

On my marathon walk yesterday, I noticed these banners hanging up everywhere, urging you, me and all our Ukrainian friends to "Love Ukraine." This stands in marked contrast to the "Hate Ukraine and die, you miserable chumps" campaign of a decade ago.

Finally, I'm no big fan of Kiev. Given its rich and tragic history, there's remarkably little to see. There's even less to do. You can see everything in two days and you'll probably see a local squirrel along the way, as I did. But I did have an intriguing idea about riding all three subway lines out to the last stop, taking pictures and then posting them. I thought that there would be something different about these end points. I rode the red line back and forth and I have to say that it was a complete waste of time. What was I thinking? Except for a few central sights, Kiev looks the same everywhere. And it's a terrible place to walk, but it's not like you have a choice. The Metro stops are really far apart and the architecture is in the Stalinist monumental vein. Buildings are often an entire block long. You walk and walk and walk and never feel like you're seeing anything or getting anywhere. Well, Kiev is no longer my problem. I'm shipping out for Lviv on the night train. Lviv has long been my favorite city in Ukraine. It's like Prague without all those pesky Czechs, with their weird-sounding language and Latin alphabet.

OK, so bye Kiev. I'm sure I'll be back, but I'm also sure I won't like you more in the future. I might even like you less.

Kiev Kwickly

OK, so I survived my flights over here. The weather was miserable my first day here, but it has since turned beautiful. I got a chance to walk around yesterday. I have many pictures, but precious little time to post them. Here are just a few:

This is my hotel, the Ukraina. It used to be called the Moskva, but they changed the name for obvious reasons.

Here's the view from out of my window during the day and at sunset:

I don't know who that guy on the column is. It's definitely NOT Lord Nelson. And finally, this is what the rug in my bathroom looks like:

Classy, no?

Like I said, I have many more photos to post (and much more to say about how I don't like Kiev), but I'll have to do it from Lviv tomorrow-ish. I'm off to find odd-looking squirrels.

Your Sunday Squirrel

OK, it's a day late and this isn't a good photo, but I wanted to show you this little guy. He's the only squirrel I've seen so far. He's red and has those insane tufts around this ears. He was not friendly. I have a really late train tonight, so I'm going out shortly to find his friends and hopefully get better pictures.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Countdown: Now!

I'm off, but I'll try to update from the ends of the Earth when I can. Take care, sweet people. Viva Belltown!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

After Hours

Françoise Hardy. Non, ce n'est pas un rêve

Here is the very lovely FH acting like a mannequin and singing a tune that sounds very much like "You're my Soul and Inspiration" by the Righteous Brothers. Actually, it's the other way around; this song came out in 1965 and the Righteous' offering was released a year later. Of course, the latter was a huge hit and it is still played on oldies stations to this day. Unfortunately, the former has been pretty much forgotten. Well, that's showbiz. Anyhow, that's it for After Hours till June, sweet people. Go ahead and watch this clip over and over. I mean, FH is quite easy on the eyes, so why not?


Doesn't this poor building look dejected? Well, if a bunch of puny humans were gonna tear me down, I'd be pretty upset. But since those same puny humans didn't build me legs so that I could run away, I guess I'd be resigned to my fate. Hence the look of dejection. By the time I get back from my "vacation," the McGuire will be emptier and even more forlorn-looking. Heck, they may even take down that stupid scaffold during my absence. Come to think of it, though, that may be the only thing holding the building up. I mean, they said it would eventually experience structural failure. What if instead of "eventually," they really meant "immediately?" Yeah, I'd want to have as much support as possible, even if the scaffold provides no real stability. Well, either way, I bid the McGuire a fond farewell. I hope it's still standing when I get back, because I'm eager to document its incremental demise. DEATHWATCH will continue in June.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

I first saw this guy in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and he was hilarious. I haven't seen him in anything else. I thought that he was also a singer, but he's not. He's just a comedian of sorts who manages to incur the wrath of the powerful. Many people hate him quite a bit, but I'm not one of them. It doesn't really matter, though, because I won't be around for this show.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

After Hours

Les Aristos. Pour toi

Lordy, what a day. You know, this may sound really strange, but I have a fear of haircuts. This all stems from a really bad time a few years ago when I was having a few troubles with all-day-long panic attacks. If I'd had any sense, I would have just let my hair grow long and not worried about it, but that wasn't my bag, man. So I endured haircuts, feeling like my head would explode the whole time. If that had actually happened, golly, that would have been a surprise for the poor barber. Luckily, the explosion never occurred. Today, already nervous for my impending 16-hour flight, I visited Rudy's for a decisive trim. I admit that I felt a little like I did several years ago, but fortunately, I was able to sit still AND make conversation with my barberess. She knew what a brush cut was. It's one notch up from a buzz cut. That's what I got. It will aid with the heat in Turkey. Sure, I'll still sweat. When it gets above 57 degrees, that happens. But less hair will make it a little less noticeable. And if I can survive a haircut, I should be fine with the flight, because both are equally as difficult.

It appears that I'm ready to go. My car is re-garaged, my insurance is suspended, my Internet is annulled but, surprisingly, I'm taking my phone with me. I'm only doing this to a) call my mom to wish her a happy Mother's Day, and b) call my cousin in case he should totally drop the ball again with his poor American relation (that's me). So anyway, here's a band from 1966 singing a song in French. Love it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

After Hours

Les Sinners. Kid Sentiment

OK, here's one more from les Sinners. Wow, it looks like so much fun riding on a sped-up motorcycle, doesn't it? Nobody does that any more. I guess it's because those two guys almost get killed like about 20 times during this video, which is less than two minutes long. And speaking of that, it kind of cuts off suddenly, leaving me to believe that there's more to it than that. But that's OK, because it's much less interesting once they're off the motorcycle.

Monday, April 19, 2010

After Hours

A Couple of Ukrainian Chicks Singing in Russian. Mashina

OK, I hope this makes up for the lack of trashiness in previous weeks. I know it does. Please enjoy.

Limited Blogging This Week!

As far as I can tell, flights to Europe will resume sometime very soon, so I'm still making preparations for departure. For example, today I buy socks, cold medicine and dental floss. As a result, I'll be posting a bit less. But don't worry, this blog will still be crappy. It'll just be crappy in smaller portions. In the meantime, I suggest to Icelandic officials that they might want to look into human sacrifice as a way to appease the volcano god. Heck, those people believe in invisible elves, so why not just toss somebody into that crater? That somebody doesn't even have to be a virgin. Lord knows, one of those would be tough enough to find in Iceland. I'm just saying they should consider it. I'm currently quite looking forward to going simply because there's a possibility of it not happening. If there wasn't any of this volcano business, I would be dreading the approach of Friday, what with the looooong flight, my uncertain Russian/Ukrainian and my lack of planning for Turkey. But this volcano threat dispels my apprehensions a great deal. I actually really want to go now.

Paint Job: Complete

A few times in the past, I've mentioned a few things about the Bell Tower's new paint job. For one, it's really good. It stands in direct contrast to the monotonous white of its previous incarnation. Seriously, it looked like a multi-story gravestone. All of my other posts were written when work was still under way. But now it appears to be finished. Check it out:

Notice the cool racing stripe between the first and second floors. Spor-TAY! Yes, there's still a scaffold up on the west side, so work isn't completely done, but this side meets with my approval. I like it even more than the Security House's new look. They don't have a racing stripe. Well played, Bell Tower, well played.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Your Sunday Squirrel

There were very few squirrels around this week, so this is one from the vault. It would be really nice if it weren't for that spent petal right in the middle of things. Ifd I knew Photoshop, I'd totally eradicate it, but alas, I know nothing that can help me. So you get a nice closeup of a squirrel with a little bit of a visual distraction. Oh well, it's still a nice picture, I say! I took it almost a year ago, so this little guy probably isn't with us any more. But while he was, he cast a handsome profile.

Friday, April 16, 2010

After Hours

Ben Webster & a Bunch of Jazz Guys. Flying Home

OK, aside from Ben Webster, these are the guys playing on this track who I can identify: Billy Taylor on piano, Benny Morton on trombone, Buck Clayton on trumpet and Mundell Lowe on guitar. The bass player might be Bill Crow and I couldn't tell you about the drummer. In addition, the guys sitting in the sax section who aren't playing are Tony Scott (not Ridley Scott's brother) and Paul Quinichette. It's a pretty good performance from the early sixties. This was back when television was trying to delve into the roots of jazz, as it had been grudgingly accepted as American popular music just a few years before by the majority of this nation. In order for this to happen, there had to be some shout-out to black people. That's why it took so long. Anyhow, this is a fine performance by a bunch of guys who didn't play together regularly.

Security House Scaffold-Watch: Week 26, Part 4

Very, very, very nearly done. There's just a bit left at the bottom...

Speaking of Ass...

Old news and not in Belltown, but it's worth noting that the Lusty Lady will soon be closing down. Yes, the profit-sharing peep show will be no more. I've never been there, but a friend of mine who went for a bachelor party said that after the experience, the smell of Pine-Sol always made him queasy. The thing I like most about the place was that even though huge buildings went up right, left and in front of them, they always stood their ground. But it really speaks to the nature of these times when people aren't interested in nudity. I thought that was a recession-proof industry! Apparently not. Well, for all of you interested in naked ladies with lots of tattoos and piercings, you have till summer to get your fill. After that, it'll just be you and the Internet.

I Just Saw Kick Ass

And here's your proof:

The best thing about this film? The homicidal, potty-mouthed 11-year-old. The second-best thing? Nicolas Cage's Adam West impersonation. Go see it. McLovin is a bad guy.