sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
We rolled into Vilnius, Lithuania just before 10 pm last night after a four-hour long bus ride. It was pouring rain, which is typical for here (apparently the weather is awful in one way or another at least 60% of the time), and late, so we grabbed dinner at a vegetarian bar and crashed out at the hotel. Today, it was supposed to pour--our cab driver assured us that this time, the entire city would be flooded--but our luck held and we were able to do a walking tour of the Old Town and the Republic of Užupis.

Vilnius has a messy, dilapidated charm. I think, perhaps, my lack of bonding with Riga was due to the fact that it's kept in such good repair; letting a city crumble a bit is much more aesthetically pleasing. It's slightly less Westernized--people here speak Russian as much as they do English, though mainly Lithuanian--and just, well, weirder.

photos )
sabotabby: (doom doom doom)
Here are a few last glimpses of Riga before we hop a bus to Vilnius. We went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the Art Nouveau district, and I shot a few more pictures of the hotel.

under here )
sabotabby: (sabokitty)
I don't have a ton of spoons left over tonight for a long post, so have some photos around and about Riga.

After the aesthetic exuberance of Odessa, Riga seems much more restrained, even dour. It's impressively old (founded in 1201, and there were settlements well before that) and lovely, but also more orderly, less lively, less organic. And, of course, much more expensive: welcome back to Western Europe.

This said, it's gorgeous and fun. Everyone speaks English here, which is relaxing. I don't mean this in a chauvinist way; mainly that I don't need to bother Anya to translate everything. Actually, where we're staying in the old town, it doesn't seem like anyone other than people working here are from here; it's pretty heavily touristy.

Which also means that it's incredibly easy to find vegan food. Including an entire vegan restaurant. I was like, "GIVE ME ALL THE PROTEIN."

The most important story I learned today was this: There were two powerful guilds in Riga. One was for skilled craftsmen, and admitted every eligible craftsman who applied to join. The other was for merchants, and only admitted Germans. A wealthy merchant from Riga applied to join and was rejected on the basis of his nationality. Accordingly, he built himself a giant fuck-off house across the street from the guild building and put black cats on the roof with their asses facing the building, as if shitting. The guild immediately sued to have the cats removed, but because lawsuits take time, WWI broke out, and no one gave a shit about cats' asses. The cats were mysteriously removed anyway in the 1920s, and replaced just as mysteriously in the 1950s, this time facing towards the guild, as it is now the home of the Riga Philharmonic, and no one has any quarrel with them.



photodump )
sabotabby: (lolmarx)
Just arrived in Riga, Latvia. Thought, hey, this hotel is teh cute!

Anya is like, "This hotel is familiar."

I realize that this is of interest to probably no one else reading this (sadly it would be if I were cross posting to LJ, where there is a teeny community for such things), but I'm staying in the hotel where they shot Seventeen Moments of Spring (as well as parts of the Soviet Sherlock Holmes.) And if you think I'm not geeking out like mad over this, you don't know me at all.

Fortunately, Anya is the person who introduced me to the series so she is also geeking out and is equally pleased that Stirlitz is watching over the beds in our room, judging whether or not we have adequately sacrificed and fought for the cause of anti-fascism:


Here's the view out the window:



(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here is my screenshot recap of Seventeen Moments after I watched it and decided that everyone needed to see it. Minus the image hosting, unfortunately; I'll need to fix that at some point.)
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
So the performance sucked so hard we walked out. Like, possibly the worst thing either of us have ever seen, which is saying an awful lot. The tickets were suspiciously cheap, but tbh most things in the Ukraine are suspiciously cheap. But in this case I think it was because they knew it was terrible. We'd actually gone in to see if we could get a tour or just wander around the opera house, but the lady said that there was a show that night, so we decided to give it a shot.

She described the show as a sequel to The Nutcracker but also a crossover with War and Peace, and a musical. A "wonderful spectacle," in fact. I have to admit that we were basically morbidly curious, and it would get us inside those gorgeously ornate doors.

Anyway, we made it two songs in. The thing was in Ukrainian so we don't know what it was about but I don't think it would have made a lot of sense even if we did understand the language. It was kind of embarrassing to listen to.

But! It meant that we got to sneak out and take unobstructed photos of the glory that is the Odessa Opera House, and that was worth the ticket price alone. I hope you appreciate how hard it was to narrow these down. They don't half capture the actual, real spectacle that is this building, but I've given it my best.

pretty! )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
We went to the Odessa Opera House, one of the most famous and beautiful opera houses in the world.

behold! )
sabotabby: (coffee)
I feel like this needs to be a separate post from the OMG ODESSA IS SO PRETTY post. For one thing, these were taken on my shitty cell camera and not my iPad. But also they're pictures I've taken when I've seen something hella weird and immediately need to inform social media.

Let's just say there are some, uh, cultural differences between Ukraine and everywhere else I've ever been that take a bit of getting used to. FOR EXAMPLE:


What is this, some kinky sex thing? Maybe in that masochist bar that we didn't get into because your kink is okay but not my kink?


No! It is the café in the Lviv airport. Why do they have chairs like this? No one knows. But to answer a few questions:

1) Yes, we sat in them.
2) Yes, they are actually quite comfortable.
3) No, no one else seemed to think they were out of the ordinary in any way.

To answer a question no one asked:

1) Yes, the Americanos in that café are quite good, especially by airport standards, would totally recommend. Though, granted, it was like 5 am and I would have drank lighter fluid if it would have woken me up.



Our hotel in Lviv, while cute, had no elevator--a problem, since our room was on the 5th floor. (I may be an obsessive step-counter who never goes on an escalator when there's the option of a staircase, but at the end of the day when you've been walking/carrying bags? Less fun.) We were relieved to see that this hotel does have one. In fact, it has all of the regular floors you would expect to see in a building, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, and crab.

1) Yes, I know what's on the crab floor.
2) No, you'll have to wait and see until tomorrow if it's any good.
sabotabby: (magicians)
Sorry-not-sorry, but you will be getting a load of pictures of Odessa because it is fucking magical. My intention at the moment is to retire, sell my house, buy one of the dilapidated old buildings and restore it to its former glory, learn Russian (it's another city where most people speak Russian, not Ukrainian, much to our joy), and wander around the glorious streets at night in a fashionable dress, drinking an open bottle of champagne.

Life goals, amirite?

In all seriousness, though, not for nothing is Odessa called Paris on the Black Sea. It has all the architectural splendour and literary tradition you could hope for, it is cosmopolitan and fashionable, and it is lit. I have never been to Paris, granted, but from what I understand Odessa is much cheaper and not as crowded. In Kiev and Lviv, people are pretty much the same as anywhere else, except with a penchant for wearing poorly translated English t-shirts bearing inspirational but nonsensical slogans, expressions of general hatred towards anyone viewing the shirt, or just vague weirdness (my favourite so far was a picture of a cat made out of ramen noodles sitting in a bowl with the caption "Pet Food").

Here, though, everyone looks like a model. The women are all tall and thin and wear flowing striped dresses, and the children prance around in tutus at all hours of the night. The streets are alive with music and performers and what I'm pretty sure is a unicorn (i.e., incentive to look at the pictures under the cut).

plz appreciate how much I had to narrow these down )
sabotabby: (lolmarx)
We're in Odessa, about a 10 min walk from the !!!!!!!! Potemkin Steps.

Expect incoming photos for every day I'm here.

Srsly, I didn't even like Battleship Potemkin but I don't think a movie needs to be enjoyable to be arguably the most important movie ever made, with which we would not have our current cinematic vocabulary. I mean. I teach film. So naturally the first thing I had to do (well, after we had lunch and coffee because we were up at 4 am to catch the flight from Lviv) was brave the 30°C weather to bring you the following:





Don't mind me, I'll be over here geeking out hard/memorizing the angles in the scene so that I can do horrible imitations of them amongst all the tourists.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Today we were incredibly productive. We hiked up to High Castle, which technically is neither a castle nor very high, but I am still proud of us, dammit. It's quite a view. Some of the original castle remains, but it's not particularly impressive compared to the sight of all of Lviv.

there are cats and other things )

In Lviv

Jul. 18th, 2017 07:13 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
This is a gorgeous city, maybe even more than Kiev. It's also very much a City Of Coffee, and I highly approve. There's a café where, if you go into the basement, you can "mine" for coffee in the walls, but besides that, when we asked the hotel guy where to get good coffee, he looked at us weirdly and said, "it's ALL good coffee." A random selection would suggest he's right.

We did a walking tour, saw various churches, the Catholic Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, all of which seem very close together by contemporary standards. Lviv has changed hands over its history, and the references to Galicia made me do a Google and feel like an idiot because Lviv was in the heart of what had been Galicia, and that's where my grandfather was from.

Anyway, here is the new friend we made:



more pictures )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
We took the overnight train and got in at 6 am. Our hotel booking isn't until 2 pm, so we've just been wandering around and taking pictures of all the pretty architecture.

click to embiggen )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Our last day in Kiev until the end of our trip. Here's a few quick glimpses of things we've seen, as we walked and walked. This is going to be a bunch of tiny pictures 'cause I'm writing from a café before we get on a night train for Lviv.

click for larger versions )

Mezhyhirya

Jul. 16th, 2017 04:37 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Viktor Yanyukovitch was president of the Ukraine from 2010-2014, until he was fairly dramatically deposed and fled to Russia as he is currently wanted for treason here. By all accounts, he was incredibly corrupt, and acquired the massive Mezhyhirya estate with public funds. As wealth and corruption is no guarantee of taste, when asked which architectural style he wanted to build his massive palaces in, he must have replied, "fuckin' all of them," because when protestors walked in and took over the place in 2014, they were appalled not just at the excesses (which included a car museum, a zoo, a golf course, several tennis courts, and orchards), but at his alarming taste in decor.

It now belongs to the people and is a destination for Ukrainians to have weddings, bike around, and generally point and laugh. Also there are gigantic thrones and Greco-Roman ruins for no apparent reason.

pictures! )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
I admittedly did little but eating and sleeping, as everyone is exhausted. We're staying right behind Maidan Nezalezhnosti, though, and even the laziest traveller could not fail to be moved by its beauty.



Post-2014 demonstrations, it is plastered with photos and memorials to the dead. No one goes out in Kiev this time of year except at night, when the fountains explode like fireworks and street musicians busk and young couples laugh and dance in the streets.











We grabbed dinner at an adorable café that, shock of all shocks, had food I could eat: mushroom kasha and vareniki stuffed with sour cherry, and sour cherry infused vodka.







Then exhaustion got the better of us and I probably slept more than I have in months. Awake bright and early now to do proper exploring.

P.S. Sorry for the size and quality of the images; DW's image hosting + being on my iPad makes for an unfortunate combination.







sabotabby: (doctor who)
Hot damn this was the best series of NuWho. But the finale was kind of a typical finale, in that it was a let-down from the incredible penultimate episode. Which is not to say that it's bad, so much as I'm just really glad we get one more episode with Capaldi because if he has to leave (*tears*) it should be on a high note.

And the thing is I dislike almost all the season finales, because they illustrate the biggest flaws both Moff and RTD have with writing arcs, which is EPIC SET-UP followed by not knowing how to conclude all of the plot in a narratively satisfying way. 

The problem is that I figured out a way to fix it.

spoilers obv )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
 You know when you finish a book and you're sad because you know you won't ever write anything nearly as good?

That.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
GUYS!

Remember that hilarious story about the Parkdale gentrifiers? Did you think that after Jesse Brown tweeted the Parkdale Tinies that the story couldn't possibly get any funnier?

parkdale tinies

How long can Toronto keep a thing going, you might wonder. Surely not this long...

How my family came to be the most hated family in Toronto (at least for 24 hours)

By Julian Humphreys


You owe it to yourself and your lulz to click that link and read the whole thing. It is GLORIOUS. It is 10,383 words long. It quotes ADORNO AND GOETHE and my buddy Todd and I can't breathe through my tears. It is full of not-very-subtle digs at his wife and even worse digs at his editor, who really can't be blamed for not turning down this pile of comedy gold because tbh no one was really reading Toronto Life before and now everyone is in the hopes that there will be more of this kind of thing.

Some choice quotes:

"Back when I was in academia and enamoured by writers like Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler, I was particularly in to the idea of origins, and where exactly we can trace origins back to."


"My mum emigrated to the UK in 1939 from Germany. Yes, that’s right, she was a Jew, or at least somewhat Jewish."


"[My counsellor] then proceeded to give me a lecture on cell biology, including how many bookshelves it would take to hold all the information contained in a single human cell. The lesson being, we are endlessly complex beings, and attempting to oversimplify both ourselves and the world is foolish."


"I did try to clean myself up at one point, attending a 10-day silent retreat in Southern Thailand. But the switch from partying on a Thai beach to sitting quietly for 12 hours a day in a Thai monastery was too dramatic, and I only lasted 5 days before I was back to Bangkok and their opiated grass."


"So let me explain what really went down during our reno from hell. Not that my wife mis-represented the facts – for the most part, she didn’t. But a) she was at home looking after our newborn for most of the year of our reno, so doesn’t know first-hand what really went on; b) she was constrained by a word limit of 4000 words; and c) she was working closely with an editor at Toronto Life, who clearly had his own agenda that overwhelmed her own."


"I had concerns about how I would come across in the piece, but I was prepared to put my ego aside for the sake of a good story and in support of my wife’s career. "


"Looking back on that telephone conversation now, I realize that Malcolm never did assure me that he would look out for my wife’s best interests."


"Although I could see the literary merit of these additions, a mean-spiritedness was entering into the article that was not in the original draft."


"I also didn’t like the photo because in reality my wife is much more attractive than she appears in that photo."


"Criticisms of capitalism presented by the bourgeoisie are nearly always duplicitous, masquerading as in solidarity with the proletariat while cutting off real protest at the knees. And this was exactly what was going on here. By seeming to sympathize with the downtrodden, Malcolm was hoping to humanize us just enough to avoid a revolution, while dehumanizing us enough to garner clicks."


"We could have called an ambulance, I guess, but that, in my mind, would have been a gross invasion of his privacy."


"My wife does, however, say that we were ‘a young family without a lot of money’ and whether this is true or not depends on what you consider ‘money.’"


"[O]n the one hand yes, I made some bad decisions. And yet we came out ahead. Was this luck? Or strategy?"


"It’s better to move forward without all the answers in place than to not move forward at all, an assumption best expressed in this quote attributed to Goethe..."

"His gift substantially changed my life, and I show my gratitude by honoring his generosity as best I can. I could have snorted $100,000 of cocaine, but instead used it to prepare myself, however tangentially, for a career in which I feel I make a positive difference."

Oh, just read the whole thing, trust me.

Bonus: Here is his Twitter.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Apparently I am not completely desensitized to horror, which comes as a relief in a strange way. I'm just full of rage—at the acquittal of Philando Castile's murderer, at the barring of Black Lives Matter activists from testifying about the impact of cops in schools, and, most acutely, at the completely preventable tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The latter is, to me, the starkest depiction of austerity and late-stage capitalism in action. The residents called for repairs. Labour called for tighter safety regulations. Boris Johnson literally told them to go stuff themselves. The cladding, which was probably a major factor in the deaths of 100 or so people, was installed not to protect the building's tenants—low-income, many of them racialized, many of them Syrian refugees—but to hide the unsightly nature of the tower from wealthy neighbours.

I kind of get why people lose their shit over terrorist attacks and mass shootings, but this gets me more. There's a lot we can do as a culture to reduce terrorism and mass shootings, and of course we tend to do the opposite of that, but even in a perfect world, not every act of senseless violence would be preventable. Norway still produced Anders Breivik—even a utopia would have its madmen.

But a situation where you have people saying, "this tragedy is going to happen if you don't fix the thing," and those in charge do not fix the thing, because money is more important than human lives—that is totally preventable and entirely foreseeable. There was an obvious, simple way to prevent those 100 deaths, if our civilization valued people as much as it valued profits.

There are death tolls to tell you how many people died because of communism. There are no tallies of deaths under capitalism, as if starvation because of collectivization is somehow less preferable to starvation because of austerity, or a firing squad is worse than a fire.

This is the very heart of my politics. This is why I fight, even though it doesn't affect me, even though I don't really know how to, even though I'm exhausted. Sometimes fury is the only thing that keeps me going.

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