Thursday, September 30, 2010

And Furthermore...

First of all, ladies and germs, the fabulous Hotel George:

So yeah, some rather maddening stuff happened on the day of my arrival, but here's the thing: Lviv is still my favorite Ukrainian city - by far. I mean, there's not much of a selection in the first place. It's just that aside from a few language issues (i.e. people are pretty stubborn about speaking Ukrainian), things usually go smashingly well here. I'm not used to falling into the shit in this town - that usually happens everywhere else. Yes, I should be prepared for it wherever I go, but I always thought Lviv was the grand exception, but alas.

Imagine this: in 2012, Lviv will host the European Soccer Championships. Thousands of mostly well-behaved foreigners will be coming here for that. If those customs goombahs pull the same greedy shenanigans on visiting Western Europeans, then Ukraine will be written off by everyone. If they can't act like adults, then they'll be ignored. It's their choice. But really, corruption is just a minor concern. The main worry of the local government is that the far-right Nazi groups will make themselves just a little too visible during the championships. That is a completely different category of stupidity and I don't want to get into it. My point is that the rest of Europe will be arriving, expecting these guys to act like grownups. God only knows whether they will. I harbor serious doubts.

OK, so enough of that. I went to Lviv's art museum yesterday, but time constraints don't allow me to post that visit. It was like everything else in this rotten land, a bit of an ordeal. I risked my reputation as a human tourist in order to take surreptitious photos of the artwork. More on that the next time I post, whenever that may be.

Just one last thing: I went twice - twice! - to the university park yesterday to find an elusive red squirrel. I saw none. Apparently, last spring there were whole gangs of them running around. It's too early for them to hibernate. Where are they? They can't all be working at Squirrel-Bank.

Well, I'm off to outhouse country. I'm sure this wedding will be a blast. Wish me luck!

Ukraine II: This Time It's Personal

You know, I've been here nine times. I always forget what it's like. But here it is: You spend all this time in a plane. You descend down through all the fluffy clouds and everything looks placid and calm. You land. The plane taxis up to the terminal. The door opens, and suddenly, you're in the shit.

Welcome to Ukraine! Let's back up a bit.

It took three flights to get here. I started from SeaTac - everybody knows what that looks like - and changed planes in Newark:

The flight was very rough and therefore was not liked by me. Then I jumped the Atlantic and ended up in Munich:

This is Franz-Joseph Strauss International Airport, named for a fat and shameless wardheeling politician who is now dead. From there, I hopped in this cute little learjet and landed in Lviv. The airport is this post's first picture. It's also hopelessly primitive (two gates: one for departures, the other for arrivals) with a dark and gloomy waiting area. Oh yes, and some very crafty customs operators.

OK, so I'm bringing in this metal detector that my cousin has been bugging me about for the last half year. What exactly he wants it for is unknown. I've never asked him. My theory is that he wants to dig up a bunch of WWII crap. OK, fair enough, so my cousin Kathy buys one through Costco, sends it to me to take with me, which I do. It's too big to fit in my baggage, so I have to check it. Bam - fifty bucks right there at SeaTac. Yeah, I forgot that Continental charges for everything. Everything. So the flights fly and I arrive after 18 hours or so. I get through passport control just fine. But customs is another story. They xray my luggage. Everything is normal. I'm frowning. The two guys on the xray machine are frowning. I'm pretending like I don't speak Russian. And they're buying it. Then come the fateful words: "What's in the box?" And I say: "Oh, that's just a metal detector." Here's the thing: in Ukraine, there's no such thing as just a metal detector. And so began a face-off that lasted about half an hour. They explain in rudementary English that I needed a license to bring in such a piece of military equipment. I tell them they're completely nuts to think that this stupid, increasingly-costly thing has even the slightest military application. They call their supervisor. She explains (in not bad English) the same thing and says that I could take it with me when I leave. I tell her I was leaving through Odessa. She says, "Well then, I can't help you" and walks away. I call Cousin Arsen, hoping he'll tell these guys off. Remember, I'm still pretending not to speak Russian or Ukrainian. But Arsen just listens, asks no questions and then at the end, the grimmer of the two customs guys hands me the phone. Arsen says, "Don't worry about it. Just give them a bribe, but not too much."

Ah yes, bribery. Where would the Ukrainian economy be without it? Their routine was as bad as it was hackneyed. Both of them were the bad cop. One of them just did all the talking. It cost me 20 bucks to be on my way. Look, I realize that it's a small price to pay for my freedom from that reeking arrival hall and Cousin Arsen's future as roving detector of metals, but let me say this: bastards. And I realize that public servant salaries are miniscule, but...bastards! This is why everybody hates the government - because everyone from the lowest to the highest is seen as being a crook. And guess what? They are! I really hope Arsen uses this metal detector for good and not evil. It has been a royal pain!

Finally, the cat was out of the bag. The figure out all by themselves that I speak some pretty OK Russian. I say, "Let's do this for 20 bucks." They take it and say, "Fine. Get out of here." And I was gone. But it wasn't over. I'm surrounded by a mob of taxi drivers all offering an overpriced ride into town. The most reasonable price is 10 dollars. But me, I already know there's a bus. It costs 14 cents. The drivers all strenuously argue that there's a lot of roadwork going on at my downtown destination and I'll have to walk at least half a kilometer. I tell them I can handle it just fine. After all, I walked from 2nd & Blanchard to the bus tunnel with no problem. But then, their tone changes to outright ridicule. They mock me. Seriously, what the hell? This only stops at the arrival of the bus, a rickety mini-thing that soon fills up to beyond capacity. When my stop comes, I tell the driver - in what I know is correct Ukrainian - that I'm getting out and he needs to wait because I have baggage. As I'm just to the door, it closes and he floors it. I'm slammed up against a railing and damn nearly upended into the lap of a Ukrainian granny. In a rare show of compassion, the woman who was sitting next to me asks if I'm OK and tells the driver to wait. I say that I'm fine and the driver ignores her. At that point, I'm gathering the words to really let him have it. And then we arrive at the next stop, so I get out, telling him that I'd really appreciate it if he would wait till I got out before he drove on. Thus freed of the bus and its throng, I walk to the grand old Hotel George. It's about a minute's walk away. So yeah, the cab drivers were all lying to me. Not only that, but they made fun of me based on the fact they were lying to me. Honestly, what's the point in that?? Yes, they were working on the roads, but it was nothing. Jeez.

I checked into the George. My room wasn't nearly as huge as the last two I had. You'll recall that last visit, my room was so large that I couldn't watch TV from the bed because it was too far away. What I've got now is more large closet-sized, but it's comfortable. Of course, my old nemesis, the elevator is still there, looking as menacing as ever:

I've gotten stuck in this tiny thing like three times. The way things are going, I'm anticipating number four very soon. The room may be small, but I have a balcony. Here's the view from it:

And this is what the building directly across the street looks like:

The thing I like about Lviv is that everything is falling apart. It has that "crumbling beauty" thing down pat.

Despite the very rainy weather, I've been able to get out and take some pitures. You'll be happy to know that the Opera House is still intact: is the Fart Store:

...and the Squirrel-Bank:

I also ran across some new stuff. Here's a neo-gothic cathedral of sorts:

A park dedicated to Nazi-sympathizing murderer, Stepan Bandera:

This probably used to have a statue of Lenin in it, so one murderous thug for another, I guess. For more information about Stepan Bandera, ask the Internet. All I know is that more of my relatives were killed by the Banderists than by the Nazis. I'll leave it at that.

I also ran into this very cool statue of St. George that I've never seen before. Here it is:

That's one mean-looking snake, isn't it?

Oh, and here's a hilarious typo:

Yes, I always get my coffee "fo go."

Oh, and here are some random architectural cool things:

And finally, are you curious as to how Eat. Pray. Love looks in Ukrainian? Well, here it is:

That's Yisti. Molitisya. Kokhati.

Anyhow, I'll try to post tomorrow, but if not, it may be a while - like a week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Parting Shot

This was the scene at 2nd & Bell:

At first, I thought this guy was a dummy. But no, he was just a security guy staring at nothing. I would have taken another, better picture, but he looked at me. OK, so I'm off to Ukraine and beyond. I'll blog when I can.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

I don't have cable, so I have no idea about this show. All I know is that Chelsea Handler looks great from a distance, but is quite scary close up. It's kind of a wonder that she's still alive. Apparently, this gig features some of the comedians from her show. But probably not her. Who knows? From what I've seen of Chelsea Handler, I kind of admire her quick wit, but, at the same time, she frightens me. Anyhow, I'm not gonna be around for this, so it doesn't really concern me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Your Sunday Squirrel

It's a classic Sunday Squirrel! With my departure date looming, I haven't been able to make it to Denny Park much, so I thought I'd feature one from the past. I really like this shot. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Well, guess who's still around! Yeah, apparently their latest effort is quite palatable. I saw the video on VH1. Well, I commend them for not letting teen idol-dom utterly destroy their lives. I'm pretty sure that somebody like Justin Bieber won't be so lucky. I'm still trying to understand the appeal. He's got that extra-dumb haircut, he can't sing and he's Canadian. Can anyone explain? I mean, with Hanson you could see the scream appeal. Plus, their music wasn't completely stupid. So now they're all grown up and out to prove something. Good for them! I wish them luck.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Here We Go Again!

I just thought I'd give both my readers a heads-up about my impending plans. It seems that I'm going to Ukraine again. Well, imagine that! I may have mentioned it a while ago, but my cousin Ivas is getting hitched in early October and I want to get in on the festivities. When I first started traveling to Ukraine, Ivas was seven; he's 24 now. And my Russian is only slightly better, but it'll be way, way better than it was for the trip this spring. My mouth and brain both refused to work without vodka. As for my Ukrainian, let's just not talk about it. I will try to speak it, but success is in doubt. That's really not an issue. I'll be out in the Old Country for only a few days, but I get to pass out gifts and moolah like freakin' Santa Claus, so I'll be welcome everywhere I go. After I've sobered up enough to find the train station, I'm off to that wretched city of Odessa to catch my flight to Turkey, where I'll be for three lovely weeks. I will very likely do a fair amount of blogging. I got back from the last trip on June 1st and it seems like my mind never made it back. It's still somewhere in Istanbul. That's the reason for the rather tepid blogging of the summer. Belltown just can't hold my interest while Istanbul's Sultanahmet neighborhood is haunting my memory.

So that's the score. I get to go back. Hooray! I take off soon, but I'll try to put up a few more posts, because, hey, that's what bloggers are supposed to do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Stranger Genius Awards

Well, the Moore was the scene on Friday night as the Stranger handed out its annual Genius Awards: $5,000 and the respect of one's peers, but most importantly, 5,000 bucks. I always find myself feeling extremely socially awkward at these events, as I don't like to talk about my creative endeavors with those I don't know. And since my life consists pretty much of creative endeavors, I don't have much to talk about. But thanks to the magic of alcohol - they had an open bar onstage (ahh, "open bar," the two sweetest words in the English language, my friends) - I was able to engage in conversations about different things with various interesting people.

That's what the stage looked like after a few visits to the bar. Incidentally, the bartender was super-nice. Anyhow, I'd say the attendance for the ceremony was over 500. The point was later made by one of the presenters, I think it was, that if everyone in the place disappeared, Seattle would become a true cultural wasteland. Honestly, I've always felt that we were already there. But equally as honestly, the work done by most of the recipients persuades me that we aren't quite there yet.

I have to say that the Moore smelled really nice on that very rainy night. It was probably because of the legion of art-people's collective rarefied scent. Either that or the Moore staff has been using a lot of Febreze.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was only acquainted with the work of a few of the winners. For a complete rundown on everyone's work, go here. I knew Jim Woodring's stuff best. He managed to give the best acceptance speech. He was quite funny. Here he is midway through accepting:

That's Paul Constant, one of my all-time favorite Stranger staff writers, looking on.

As for the others, I'm vowing to take in a Marya Sea Kaminsky production and rifle through the Internet to find art by Susie Lee. On the other hand, I'm probably not going to see the film by Charles Mudede and Rob Devor. I dunno, but when it comes to sex with horses, I draw the line at Equus. As for Shabazz Palaces, I came home and looked them up on YouTube. I must be missing something. I'm not a hip-hop fan in the first place, so I think that has to disqualify me from proffering my opinion. It was a bit odd that performers supposedly of their caliber weren't able to assemble any kind of acceptance speech. OK, their joke about giving Charles Mudede a ride five years previous in exchange for a this year's Genius Award was pretty much their saving grace. Still, nobody could outdo Jim Woodring.

After all the loot was handed out, I hung out for a while talking to people and left before Shabazz Palaces took the stage. Just one last thing: in the past, I've ridiculed The Stranger for their self-importance and clubbiness. But, whether or not, you or I agree with the worthiness of the winners of this or any year, this award proves that the paper is much more than a bunch of critics giving thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I salute The Stranger for giving the Seattle arts scene, such as it is, this level of support and exposure. So congratulations, all winners and thanks again to The Stranger for the open bar.

As usual, your move, Seattle Weekly.

Your Sunday Squirrel

It was a sad week at 2nd & Blanchard. The rumor about the squirrel getting hit was quite true. So true in fact that I could see the poor little fellow from my window. He came to rest in the parking lane. By that time, he was quite flat, but still very recognizable as a squirrel. I didn't know what to do. It was a very somber sight. Someone finally took care of him on Wednesday. I still look at the spot at the side of the road where he lay for the better part of the week and regret that I didn't do anything about his situation.

I'm positive that the guy above wasn't him. And speaking of squirrels, I was at Denny Park on Friday and I saw one of the colony running around. I offered him a peanut. Here was the trouble: he already had a peanut in his mouth. This turned into a cool experiment into a squirrel's memory. It seems that they can't hold conflicting ideas in their little squirrel brains for more than about five seconds. But because of the predicament, our subject went into a kind of feedback loop that lasted about two minutes. It's like he would think: "Ooh, a peanut!" scuttle up to it only to realize that he already had a peanut in his mouth, then scuttle away a few feet, then he'd spot the peanut again and the whole thing would start over again. It was quite hilarious. I'm not sure how the situation resolved itself. It's a shame that I didn't have my camera with me. Anyhow, not everything is tragic from the squirrel world.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Once Again, the Cinerama Remodels

Here's something that I'm sure everybody already knows about: the Cinerama is on hiatus. It seems like they remodel every few years these days. The last time I was there, everything seemed quite ship-shape, so I'm guessing that the modifications might have something to do with showing 3D movies. I saw Avatar there for the first time, but then caught it in 3D Imax at Northgate. There was no comparison. The 3D version was vastly better. If the Cinerama is indeed refitting for 3D, I say great. Beginning last year, I've seen about 10 3D films and most have been pretty spectacular in unique ways. And I'm sure that, as usual, even terrible films look good at the Cinerama. However, if they're just getting gum off of the seats, de-stickyfying the floor and replacing the bulbs at the candy counter, then I wish them luck in their endeavor. I'll continue to go even if they don't have 3D capabilities.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

I'm actually going to this tonight. My friend Jim scored tickets to the pre-event thing. It should be interesting. Out of all this year's winners, I'm only acquainted with the work of Jim Woodring. I find his stuff very good and trippy. I'm slightly suspect of Charles Mudede. I mean, these awards are sponsored by the Stranger and Mudede has written for them for years. Isn't that a slight conflict of interest? On the other hand, he has written a movie - one that sounds very disturbing. So maybe the award is merited. I've also never heard Shabazz Palaces. I'll get to hear them tonight. OK, then.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Your Sunday Squirrel

A few days ago, my neighbors told me that a squirrel was hit and killed right in front of my building. Yeah, at 2nd & Blanchard. This made me reasonably sad. As I've mentioned several times, squirrels have it tough. They've evolved dealing with threats that moved no faster than a cat or an owl. Cars are completely beyond their pay grade. So they don't deal well with them. As I've found, it's not a matter of feeding them in order to keep them in one place. Like all rodents, they're very curious about their surroundings so they light out on adventures that sometimes do not end well. I hope the poor departed squirrel isn't this guy in the photo. He seemed fairly on-the-ball. Then again, when you throw cars into the equation, all bets are off.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

20 Freakin' Years

Well, it was 20 years ago that I moved into this dump. I had previously been living in Ballard - if you call that living. It was my mom's birthday in 1990. I was 24. It took me all of 45 minutes to lug my meager gear up the steps to my new place on the 3rd floor. My rent was a very reasonable $255 a month. A year and a half later, I took a one-bedroom on the 2nd floor for $310 a month. And there I have remained all this time. Gosh, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I've always made it a point to escape Seattle. That certainly hasn't happened. OK, well, most of 1993 was spent in either Russia or Ukraine. Otherwise, life, such as it is, has been here. The reason why I moved to the neighborhood is that I found Seattle so profoundly boring that I felt compelled to locate myself where things were most likely to happen. And as we all know, even Belltown can be that dull and more - especially if you're poor, which has been my predicament for quite a few of these last 20 years. But as much as Belltown annoys and vexes me, I wouldn't live anywhere else in this rotten town.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Et Tu, Tribunali?

Last week, I was going to meet up with a friend at Via Tribunali for their very reasonable happy hour. Just one problem: they were closed. I figured that everybody has a right to not open on a Monday every so often. The next few days, I walked by and peeked in. This is what I saw:

I took this through the window, but you get the idea. It looks like they're renovating, but this is the weird thing: the place is just over a year old. Why would a new restaurant be renovating? There's another, more plausible explanation: they're closed. If you check on their site, the Belltown location no longer exists. This is surprising, since every time I've gone in, it's been very busy. There is no other news on the matter. I really did like them and I tried to go there as often as my budget would allow. Well, even if this location is dead, there are other four other Tribunalis in various neighborhoods.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Yeah, that Asia. You know, even back when they first made the scene in 1982, they were looking kind of old and sounding quite Eurotrashy. Lord knows what they look like these days, but I'm sure they'll play a fine version of "Heat of the Moment," a catchy tune that makes little or no sense. It doesn't matter. Seriously, I remember the time and the place when I first saw the video (1982 - while I was recovering from an appendectomy in Edmonds, where I was living at the time) and it seemed every bit as dumb as it is in this day and age, but hey, everybody said they were a supergroup, so it was OK. I just never figured out which groups they came from. I did some research. In no particular order: Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Buggles and some other band. So yeah, impressive, but Asia was so much more than that. They were slick, predictable and supremely bland. Plus, their lyrics didn't quite make sense; they generally sounded like they were written by someone whose first language wasn't English. They were just right for 1982. I'm glad they're still touring. They were much better than many other bands.

Your Sunday Squirrel

Sorry for the non-focus, but I always like it when squirrels do this hanging upside down thing. My camera was totally not feeling the same way. Anyhow, this guy was trying to figure out what I had in my hand. He eventually decided that he was partial to peanuts and had a few. And he was glad he did. The end.