travel

Off to Mexico

For the next two weeks I will be in Mexico. As always, if anything interesting happens to me, I will blog about it.

To keep you busy here's some stuff to read:
This is a brilliant, hilarious comic about a guy so sexually attractive he bends the universe around

Here's a comic adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's short story The Situation, one of my favorites of his work.

And a fascinating article about a short story writer, praised by Borges and many others, and now forgotten.

¡Hasta luego amigos!

The Jungle is not for People

I've never been to Yosemite or Yellowstone, but I've been on quite a few hiking trails in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, and been camping a few times. I even once hiked down and up the Grand Canyon. I realize now how well-maintained these trails were, wide and relatively smooth and well marked.

Little did we suspect the ordeal that was to follow when we ventured into El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Rico.

Protesters in Moscow

In Kitai-Gorod in Moscow, we came across two sets of protesters, at either end of a long park. One set was made up almost entirely of middle-aged men from the Republic of Kalmykia, a subject of the Russian Federation on the Caspian Sea. They were only a small handful of people, handing out photocopied pamphlets and oppositionist newspapers, and generally protesting the Russian government, Putin's United Russia party, the invasion of Georgia and the general oppression of the people of Kalmykia.

sdc10343
Kalmykian protesters. There is one lonely police officer in the back, watching them. I don't know who the person next to him is.

sdc10344
The paper this man is holding up shows a picture of him being arrested for protesting.

One man in their group claimed to have been in Abkhazia during the invasion of Georgia, protesting the whole time. He said that Abkhasia is full of Russian tourists who go there and lie on the beach and completely ignore the protests that are going on and the politics all around them. He said you couldn't even buy a real newspaper in the area he was in, only tabloids, because that was all the Russian tourists wanted to buy.

Some Things I Learned on My Vacation

in
  1. Russia is cold, England is wet
  2. There exists in this world such a thing as an Uzbek restaurant/sushi bar.
  3. People in Moscow do not know how to drive, and do not care about personal safety or the safety of others while driving.
  4. Hot borsch and hot tea will warm you up, no matter how cold it is outside or in a given room.
  5. Do not try to mail things in Russia or to Russia.
  6. Meat pies + cask ale = Crazy Delicious
  7. Russia has the best metros, England has the best cabbies.
  8. There's no place like home.

Back Home

in

I'm back in New York! I have lots more blogging to do about my trip, but was too busy to do it at the time... stay tuned.

Russia is Fun

in

From the last couple posts you might think I haven't been having a good time in Russia. That is not the case.

For instance, last night we went to a restaurant called Cafe Margarita, named after the protagonist from Bulgakov's amazing novel Master and Margarita. The cafe was across the street from Patriarch's Pond (where Master and Margarita opens) covered in art depicting scenes from the book, and a live band composed of two violins and a piano played riotous Russian dance music as the increasingly drunken audience called out numbers and cheered. Though I ordered myself a Sprite, people seemed to keep buying me vodka, and the next thing I know I'm at the piano playing Ziggy Stardust.

Cafe Margarita, Moscow

We made friends with some Texas tourists who were driving their way across Eastern Europe, and some Georgians took my phone number and promised to call me when they came to America.

sdc10244
Marina in front of Patriach's Pond. I take pictures better when drunk out of my mind.

Mugging with Mayakovsky
Mugging in front of the statue of Mayakovsky on the way home from Margarita. This is a country that appreciates its writers. And builds statues of them. Lots and lots of statues. I like that.

Surviving Russia

in

Russia is not forgiving to visitors. In St. Petersburg, you're lucky if you can find a street sign. In Moscow there are more than four streets named Tverskaya-Yamskaya which all intersect. In general the simplest things are much harder and take much longer than they should.

All this cannot be better illustrated then by the trouble we've had simply finding the hostels with which we were booked. Fist there was 71 Griboedeva Hostel. One would think it would be located at 71 Griboedeva Street. However, at that location there is an unmarked door to a residential building. Fortunately we met with a friend who had a cell phone, and after calling the hostel we found out that we had to go around to the opposite side of the building, which is on a completely different street, and there we found the plaque telling us there was a hostel there, and instructions to dial up to the hostel's floor number and wait for someone to buzz us in. Why there is not the merest notice that you must do this at the address which is THE NAME OF THE HOSTEL is beyond me. And do they then give you a key or passcard to get into the building, like most other hostels I've stayed at? No, you must ring up any time you want to enter, which wasn't so great at three in the morning when it took the person at the desk about 20 minutes to answer.

Russian Beaurocracy Inaction, or How Not to Mail A Package in Russia

in

There are certain things you take for granted in America. The ability to mail a package at a post office is one of them.

Marina bought a shower bench for her eldarly grandfather, who we unfortantely can't visit this trip and lives WAY out in Siberia. She bought the bench in America, and figured it would be much easier and less expensive for her to send it from within Russia than from across the ocean. Little did we know.

St. Petersburg is Hyperreal

in

Marina in Hyperreality

Nevsky Prospect

This is not the Winter Palace

Through the Gate - Moskaya Ulitza -

In St. Petersburg, when they are doing construction on a building, the put a picture over it of what the building is supposed to look like This preserves the look of the city, which is homogenous and planned to an insane degree. In the last shot above of Morskaya Ulitza, spot the building with a picture over it in the back (it's the one in the light). The entire city is basically in the general style of the buildings in that shot, with nary a skyscraper or instance of modern architecture in site. It gives the place a labyrinthine quality, especially at night, and Marina and I spent several hours wondering around lost very late last evening.

Edit: It should be said that the city's architectural style is beautiful and also somewhat haunting. It's just weird to have a whole city built in the same basic vein, kind of like the architectural equivalent to the Japanese national style of drawing comics.