Archive for September, 2009

Berlin is making me gay

gay berlinI probably shouldn’t be joking about this, because it’s not actually true. But I am realizing that my life would be more comfortable here in Berlin if I were gay.

First off. I’ve gone on and on about how beautiful the women in Ukraine are. I know it, human traffickers know it, and even the Beatles know it. Back in Lviv, I’d roll my eyes when female ex-pats would complain about the lack of attention they’d receive from Ukrainian men due to the enmormous amount of time and attention Ukrainian women invest in their appearance.

Sadly (for me) the same is true here in Germany. I don’t want to offend anyone here, but Berlin women just aren’t that feminine. Practical, engaging, intelligent, funny…. sure. They’re all of those things. But actual women? Not totally. Good luck getting a smile, a wink, a nod, or even a fleeting acknowledgment that both parties share opposing genitalia that may indeed function in harmony during sexual congress. Nothing.

handsome hipsterNow the men on the other hand. It’s not easy for me to say, but the dudes here are really attractive. They’re all tall, stubley with floppy hair and blue eyes radiating a calm and ease you just don’t find in North America. In many ways they act a lot more feminine than the women here. So ladies, if you want to experience an equivalent to the buffet of sexual excitement men find in Ukraine, I suggest coming to Berlin. Honestly, I find myself kinda attracted the to guys here. Not in a “I want to french kiss you,” kind of way, but in a, “if we hung out, you might catch me staring at you,” kind of way.

The only really unfortunate thing about the dudes here is that as slaves to fashion, many have adopted the 80s style swept bang haircut that I assume is popular world-wide amongst hipsters. I’m sure the ‘doo works elsewhere, but here in Germany that hairdoo has an unsettling precedent.

hitler cropmens04

I’m not totally sure where this man/woman role reversal comes from. I do have some theories.

ruined womenA friend (who I should qualify, is a beautiful women) explained the concept of “the ruined German woman.” These were the women who had to reconstruct German society after the WWII. They were widows, orphans and they had few men in their lives. To put a once male dominated society back together surely took some negotiating of gender roles. These concessions seem to have stuck around. Plus — as someone who will remain nameless rather crassly put it: After the war the only men who survived were cowards and losers. Ouch.

Another less maudlin theory. There is also the massive gay and lesbian population here in Berlin. This is the city that gave us the love-parade. While gays and lesbians work and live in pretty much all sectors of society here, their influence (by sheer numbers) can’t be ignored. As a result, men’s and women’s fashion and attitudes tend to conflate in an androgynous middle-ground. For females, this masculine aesthetic just doesn’t translate into sexy. It works better for men though. Feminine qualities just seem to be more appealing across gender lines.

But it is disconcerting when a  flash of long chestnut hair, smooth skin, or cool outfit catches my attention, leading me to throw-up in my mouth a bit upon realizing I’ve just been attracted by a bearded graphic designer named Lothar!

My man, The D, has similar complaints, and he’s been here for three years. In fact, he’s had to manipulate his own sexuality on numerous occasions. Not for romantic reasons, but rather to escape German bureaucracy.  After nearly a week of wrestling with documents, papers, stamps and permissions to have a simple STD test, he all but gave up. Eventually he discovered a gay and lesbian-only clinic offering hassle-free tests without the paperwork. All he had to do was declare that he was gay.

androWell, that’s all he thought he had to do. In order to get the test he was subjected to a one-on-one interview with a counselor who had his suspicions as to the direction of D’s sexual orientation. Amazingly, D did not waver, stumble, or break under the interrogation. In perfect German, he crafted the elaborately detailed yarn of one straight man’s 12-hour odyssey of intrigue, coercion and eventually acquiescence to man-on-man oral sex. It seemed to satisfy the interrogator and D got his STD test. But seriously, it’s shocking to think that an organization discriminates against straight people who want nothing more than to stop the spread of AIDS in an environment where orientation, persuasion and predilection is already blurred to an extreme.

I’m not actually going to go gay, nor am I asking for your pity. All I’m saying, is that a smile, a bit of make-up and a high heel or two never hurt anyone.


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Fun with German words

germanThere is just something fantastic (or fantastisch!) about German vocabulary. The common perception is that Germans are straight-forward, literal and as a by-product, not funny. I say bully to that! It’s this literal approach to everything — including language — that makes for oodles of funny. At least to me.

When a German wishes to express several concepts, ideas, titles or events at once they will simply mash the words for these concepts together; thus forming one super-word! The classic example being Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, which in English becomes four words: “Danube steamship company captain.”

Awesome. … except of course if you are a journalist being paid by the word.

I’ve been surveying my friends here to find out their favourite words. One friend has already weighed in with his pick: ordnung. Here are some others that you might enjoy. Special thanks to Lisa, Valeska, Milena and especially The D who is helping me translate basketball trash-talk into German.


This is the word for gloves. Literally it means, “hand shoes”. Pretty self-explanatory. Also, awesome is the Ukrainian word for toes. пальці ніг (paltsi nih) this converts directly to “foot fingers”.


If I was a smarter person I’d know all about the entomology of certain words found in both German and English. Since I’m not, all I can say is the single German word combining the concepts of “fucked” and “up” sounds way similar, yet way cooler than it’s English counterpart.

kenny powersVokuhila

In short, this word means mullet. It’s a stellar mashed-up abbreviation of the expression, “vorne kurz hinten lang,” or, short in the front, long at the back. I’d like to propose a new word for the German lexicon: Vogehipar. “Vorne Geschäft hinten Party.”


When I see these all I can think of is some nurse in the future rolling over her elderly ward for a sponge bath, only to be confronted by the smeared withered remnants of ass antlerswhat North Americans would call a “tramp stamp.” Over here, they’ve really out-done us on the vocab-creativity front. They call these tattoos, Arschgeweih, or ass-antlers. Bravo Germany, bravo!


Teen alienation is just as prevalent here as anywhere else where people have lots of money and free time. Most columbinerecently a young man in Bavaria lost his marbles and began lobbing Molotov cocktails all over his school. Formally we might call these types, disaffected teens, troubled, whatever. In private we’d probably reference the Columbine School shooting, as in, “he went all Columbine!” In true German style, they’ve fashioned a word for just such an unfortunate occasion: Amoklaufer. Literally this means, “amok runner.”


Literally this means “porno-bar.” Figuratively it means that your moustache is like the black bar they used to use to disguise someone’s identity in an explicit video. I think we have an equivalent in English, but it’s been so long since I’ve been bar-hopping on Ossington Ave. I’ve forgotten.


The German word for nostalgia is nostalgie. The word for east is ost. If you miss the “good old days” of communist east-Germany you’re feeling ostalgie. More than just a concept this word has become an industry. Beyond the old pins, tvs, and books from the DDR  found at flea markets, larger ventures have tapped into the sentiment. Here in Berlin you can stay at the Ostel, a hotel reminiscent of an old communist apartment building.


I’m still a little fuzzy on this one. I think it literally means, “fucked-through,” or “over-fucked.” In the context I heard it, someone was describing a concept as being over-done, done-to-death or as Adam Carolla would say, “fucked-out.” It’s a little crass I know, but when I saw this ad for NCIS L.A., I realized I needed to find as many words in as many languages of the world to describe what a lame, tired abortion of a show this is.


Again, I’m not clear if this is correct, but in Germany, Voegeln means, “to make like a bird.” It’s what you’re doing whilst getting it on with your lover. Why? I have no idea, and I don’t want to find out. Okay, I do want to find out. I’m so lonely.

man nipplesBrustwarzen

Even more confounding than, to bird someone is the word for nipples in German. Brustwarzen comprises the words, “breasts” and “warts.” Gross. Why tarnish something we can all celebrate by comparing it to a small, rough tumor, typically on hands and feet but often other locations, that can resemble a cauliflower or a solid blister.

(ed. note. I originally had a lovely picture of a woman’s chest here. I guess it got some people in trouble at work, so I’ve changed it to a pic of man-nipples.)

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One day the word “Fesenko” will be like “karaoke.” It will be something people go to bars to do for fun. I’m not sure, exactly, what it will be, but it will be entertaining. — Henry Abbott, Truehoop.

fesenko 1I love the NBA. I love Ukraine. I love irreverent comedy. Amazingly these three elements somehow conflate in the person of Ukrainian born, 7’1″, 300lbs Utah Jazz centre Kyrylo Fesenko — one of the funniest basketball players alive.

This summer ESPN columnist Bill Simmons laid out grading scheme for athlete comedy. His contention being that most athletes aren’t actually funny, but as our expectations are so low, we give them too much credit when they say something clever. Grades on the scale include:

0.0 — Comedically Dead (any PGA golfer, Marcin Gortat, Adam Morrison, Chauncey Billups, most female foreign tennis players, LaDainian Tomlinson.)

3.0 — Comedically Deceiving (Even though it seems they should be funny, they aren’t funny at all and don’t try to be funny. But yet, there’s something slightly funny about them. Just slightly. Examples: Johnny Damon, Yao Ming, Brad Miller, every NHL player, Philip Rivers.)

9.5 — Legitimately Funny (Teammates rave about how funny they are. If they get miked up, they’ll always have one or two good lines. Even their interviews are good if they’re invested. Would they be one of your three funniest friends? Probably not. But they’re still funny. Examples: LeBron James, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Webber and Gary Payton (only when together), Nick Swisher, Rasheed Wallace, Shaq, Kobe Bryant (for every Lakers fan).)

Even before he was in the NBA I’d heard tales of Kyrylo Fesenko’s comedic talents. Henry Abbott, the author of ESPN Truehoop blog all but petitioned NBA GMs to sign Fesenko (nicknamed “Fess”) just so he could keep us entertained. It seemed that every week, “Fess” did, or said something absolutely hilarious. Some nuggs of hilarity were a result of langauge and cultural barriers, but some simply came from the fact that Fess is legitimately funny.

On the Simmons scale I’d place Fess in this category:

9.0 — Unintentionally/Intentionally Funny
Self-explanatory. The best example is Delonte West. He makes me laugh and intends to make me laugh, but he’s only in control of 75 percent of my laughter; the other 25 percent comes from the fact that he’s unintentionally funny, too. Now, that ratio can sway in other ways: For instance, Ron Artest is 25 percent in control, and 75 percent unintentional. Ultimately, we’re all winners. I swear that made sense when I wrote it. Other examples: Chris Kaman, Gilbert Arenas, the Lopez brothers, Stephen Jackson, Clinton Portis, Kevin Millar.

dnews Jazz practice Rocky Mountain revue campNow Simmons didn’t list Fess in his article, but with the help of Henry Abbott at Truehoop and Ross Siler of the SLC Tribune I’d like to make a case for Kyrylo Fesenko’s inclusion in this category. If Fesenko’s facebook photo (above) isn’t enough to tickle your funny bone, check this story from a few seasons ago. One thing I’ve discovered this year is that after learning all the grammar, vocabulary and correct pronunciation of a new language,; cracking a good joke is actually the hardest thing to do in a foreign language, thus making the following more remarkable.

Did you hear this quote from Fesenko? “The Timberwolves printed on [Ross Siler’s] credential that [he] was there to cover the March 30, 20008 game. Fesenko took a look at that extra zero and asked: ‘Were you sent here to kill us all?'”

After the jump you’ll find a compendium of Fesenko comedy, both intentional and not. Enjoy!


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charlie walkingI have no sense of smell. This doesn’t mean I am disabled — though I once listed myself as such on a job application for the “zoo” in Waterloo Park. I am differently-abled. One such different ability is to tread in places so rank, so vile, so feculent, few would dare enter. I probably even wander through places that reek without even knowing it.  My only clue to whether a bathroom, outhouse, whatever smells bad are the looks and reactions of the people around me.

I’ve seen people gag, spit, cry-out, cough and swear whilst leaving a filthy restroom. But never in my life have I seen people react the way they did last month … traumatized, distant and terminally haunted by what they experienced in that forsaken restroom in that dusty little Ukrainian town.

What lies beyond this paragraph is gross. Unspeakably so. I have an obsession with both the scatalogical and the eschatological and I apologize for sharing — but as I have no sense of smell these pictures do not have the same affect/effect on me as they will you. I cannot smell flowers, baked goods and a woman’s hair but I have a certain amount of pride that I can endure… the worst toilet in Ukraine!


We were all relieved to get off the stiflingly hot inter-city bus that was taking us from Lviv to Kamyanets-Podilsky. One by one, me, my Canadian friend Peter, his new wife Miwa and my German friend Lisa all peeled our sweaty backs off of our sticky seats and hopped out into the dusty parking lot of the reststop. The bus driver said that we either had 15 minutes, or 50 minutes until the bus got back on the road (I was never great with Ukrainian numbers).

lisa and miwaI went hunting for cigarettes, Peter, Miwa and Lisa went wandering up a hill in search of a bathroom.

15 minutes later we all reconoitered on the bus. I had no idea anything upsetting had happened as nobody said anything for maybe five minutes. Then Peter, quietly, without making eye contact or turning his head to address anyone in particular, said, “that was pretty bad wasn’t it?” Miwa just nodded in agreement, shivered, then bowed her head. Lisa mumbled something about it being the worst thing she’d ever seen.

A few silent hours later, Lisa finally brought up what had happened. The all-out assault leveled against their senses by the rest stop bathroom. After some quiet reflection she could finally bring herself to relive what she had just endured. Lisa told the tale of how her and another stanger had at first recoiled, then exchanged glances of solidarity, mutual respect and resignation before relieving themselves in the cursed toilet. Lisa didn’t provide any details. She didn’t have to. Her thousand-yard stare was enough.

I was intrigued. Honestly I have never ever seen anyone react that way to smell in my life.*** They were reacting like it was more than a smell, that they were being haunted by the souls of several thousand strangers’ evacuated meals. They’d been touched by something dark, something sinister, and I’d missed out.

Two weeks later my brother came to visit me in Ukraine. As we borded that same bus for Kamyanets Podilsky I realized that we’d be on that same stretch of road, and hopefully, at that same rest stop.

wide viewSure enough we were, and as the bus rolled south I told Charlie that we may be stopping at the worst toilet in Ukraine. He seemed interested, but not nearly as excited as me. I can see why, it was sure to be an awful experience for him. But for me it was a chance to witness the acme of evil in smell form. It was my chance to go where few people could tolerate going. It was my chance to be the intrepid hero. Fearlessly treading where no one else could. Freely documenting a horror that others could not, nay, would not, describe.

I had my camera ready as we arrived at rest stop. Again the driver said we had either five minutes or 15 minutes to do our business. Charlie and I half jogged up the hill to where the toilet was. It didn’t look so bad from the outside really. Charlie went in first.

When he didn’t automatically shriek, groan or vomit I was a little disappointed. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it’d been cleaned in the time since Miwa and Lisa had ventured in. I followed Charlie inside. It was bad. It was worse than I had imagined. It had not been cleaned since.

wide view 2My brother hadn’t immediately said anything because to do so would be to invite millions of fecal molecules into his mouth. Not just one strain of feces, but a ministrone, a menagerie of expelled potatos, discharged dumplings and exiled rotisserie chicken.

I don’t really remember what happened next. I took some pictures. Charlie got out of there pretty quick and before I knew it we were running back to the bus which was honking and pulling out of the parking lot without us (I guess the driver had said five minutes).

That night we checked into our hotel, ate dinner and grabbed some beers to enjoy in our hotel room. Apropos of nothing Charlie brought up the subject of the toilet. All he said was, “It was bad man. It was like shit, on top of shit, with like baby shit in the mix. Just so many different kinds of shit.”

splatterLooking at the photos it’s hard to understand what we experienced in that small town. I mean it’s obvious that the place hadn’t been cleaned, maybe ever, but what’s with the splatters on the walls? And the holes themselves? They are obviously overflowing, but how deep are they???

I feel like you’d need some kind of fecal forensics expert to piece what happened back together. The Dexter of crap. Someone who could analyze splatters to recreate a crime.

So there it is. The worst toilet in Ukraine. Reststops like these exist all over the world, but this one, by far, is the worst I’ve ever seen.

*** I did rip a fart in a cab once. It was so bad the driver freaked out, rolled down the drivers side window and attempted to spit the smell out of his mouth. When that failed he  squealed to a halt on Bloor St., told me that in his country he’d kill me for what I’d done. Forced me to get out of the cab, then proclaimed to everyone waiting in line at Lee’s Palace that I’d shit myself in his car.

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The Rural Alberta Advantage

the-raa3Maybe four or five years ago I vowed never to write about music. I find, for me anyway, doing so tends to suck the fun out of listening to it. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a huge shout-out, as well as a mini-sorry, to the awesome band The Rural Alberta Advantage.

Thankfully they’ve finally started getting the praise they deserve, and I just wanted to lend my voice to the chorus.

I found these guys in 2006 after landing back in Toronto after my aborted attempt to cover the arctic for Up Here Magazine in Yellowknife (YK). For two years ‘up there’ I’d been held hostage by a monopolized music scene  restricted to the binary options of one very round blues man, and one thin maritime troubadour tag-teaming the two or three open mic nights around town.

raaIn Toronto I’d hoped to find a young, vibrant and experimental music scene — and I did. Bands like Born Ruffians and The Bicycles really got me back into searching for new and exciting music. The strange thing was, the band that captured my attention the most, was probably the one band that would have been the least out of place in YK.

Upon discovering the Rural Alberta Advantage on MySpace, I went about systematically collecting every recording of theirs I could find. It wasn’t easy as they had not released an album yet. What I found were loose collection songs that were honest, heartfelt and nostalgic in a way that only someone who has lost their hair could convey. Subjects include:  mining disasters, deadroads and getting out of a small town. All stuff that’s pretty Yellowknife.

hometownsAgain, I have to stop myself from describing the music itself; you can click on any of the hyperlinks above to see, hear and read for yourself. But I can say that on-stage the group is friendly and attitude free.I mean, they have the audacity to smile during photoshoots!

The band doesn’t live in Alberta, in fact they lived in my old neighbourhood in Toronto, which was great as live shows were never in short supply. The best show was probably the CD release party for Henri Fabergé and the Adoreables. It was at Palais Royale on Toronto’s waterfront. It was just one of those magical afternoons where Toronto’s Indie rock soon-to-be-stars came together to rock out to a collection of their friends. RAA was there, and I think I read somewhere that it was on this afternoon that RAA drummer Paul Banwatt met Dan Werb. The two became the organic electronic band Woodhands. Strangely I’ve yet to read an article on either RAA or Woodhands that mentions this connection.

As for my mini-apology… I actually interviewed these guys for a music website (I liked them enough to break my rule), but never wrote the story. So, sorry RAA for wasting your time.

So if you like music check out The Rural Alberta Advantage. They have a new album called Hometowns. It’s available on iTunes — and is great.

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ordnung-am-arbeitsplatzI asked my friend Jurg which word in German he thought was the best. His answer was immediate and totally awesome: Ordnung.

Ordnung basically means order. It’s the concept from which nearly all German stereotypes originate — and it’s real. So consider this an introduction to a concept that is sure pop up frequently on this site.

ordnungEveryday I see ordnung manifest itself in hilarious ways. For instance I found myself standing at an intersection with maybe eight other people waiting for the light to change. I snapped out of my trance and noticed that the intersection was closed to traffic due to construction. I “boldly” strode across the deserted street. Three of the remaining eight cautiously followed my lead.

ordnung 2Unlike some ex-pats living here, nothing about that scene annoys me. I love order! It’s made Germany the economic powerhouse of Europe and it prevents chaos, corruption, mayhem and genoci…. shoplifting. What’s kind of strange is how automatic this adherence to order is. Robotic, as my friend says. It is clear that Germans have been conditioned from an early age to behave in a way that respects the rules. But how do you condition kids to subscribe to ordnung?

Spielplatz die Straßenverkehrssicherheit! Road safety playgrounds.

ordnung 5Several parks near my crib have the usual assortment of swings and shit, but a few also have these mini road courses, with mini cars, geared at instilling the rules and virtues of road safety into their little Prussian brains. I just love this. Germans, order, kindergarten, and cars. It’s like (almost) everything Germany is famous for rolled into 50 sq. metres of pavement, paint and traffic cones.

Here are some pictures of one such playground. They’re not great. I probably should have asked someone if I could take pictures before entering because the staff got a little amber alert when I got out my camera. But once I explained that I was impressed with the course they let me continue as long as I didn’t take pictures of any kids. Fair.

Also, for anyone who listens to The Adam Carolla Podcast (the most popular podcast on earth), this lends some credence to his ongoing assertion that some societies (Germans are his favourite example) just value good driving more than others.

ordnung 3ordnung 4

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don smoking

I am a damned idiot! In my last post I confidently procliamed this:

It’s been 36 hours since I last had a puff. You may not think that this is a long time, but it’s actually much worse than if I’d said, 72 hours, or 144 hours.

I’ll tell you dear friends. 72 hours is much worse.

I also wrote this:

I’ve wrangled tens of gigabytes of True Blood, Mad Men, Entourage, Rescue Me and various movies — blue and otherwise.

The fuck was I thinking!? Why didn’t anyone warn me? Mad Men! It’s the show where every blue curl of smoke has its own lighting guy. Ugh.

And why the hell did I think Berlin — while enduring the Kafkaesque nightmare of applying for a student visa — was the right situation to stop.

Berlin is the smoking capital of Western Europe. Folks can still smoke in bars and restaurants here. It is against the law, but somehow the order-loving Germans here have refused to give up indoor smoking. Someone told me it’s because Hitler was a vehement non-smoker and this disobedience is sticking it to his legacy. Who knows?

tv towerWell, I did cave. I smoked half a hand-rolled cigarette on Wednesday night. I was enjoying my first drink in four days on rooftop patio overlooking Berlin’s iconic TV tower. So, like whatever. I haven’t had a puff since.

I mentioned the boiling pot feeling in the last post. That feeling has  evolved into something much more sinister.

About every 45 minutes I get a pang that something is missing from my life. I don’t automatically or consciously realize that thing is a cigarette, it’s just a buzzing that something is gone from my life. The fucked up part is there is so much missing from my life right now I’m forced to confront this stuff systematically.

rubyEvery 45 minutes I wonder if that thing in the back of my mind that I am craving is my parents, or my dog, or my friends (all-a-ya’ll).

My brain tells me that maybe I miss Tacos, of which I haven’t found a decent one in 6 months. Or maybe that giant nagging hole in my life is the unconditional love and support of beautiful intelligent women — something I have a habit of tossing away carelessly. Or maybe I miss Herdez salsa.

NBA Basketball? Shit… I know I miss that. I miss that in between games during the regular season. I miss the thick hair I had when I was 15. I miss the slightly burnt tiny patch of fabric the size of a cigarette on my favorite shirt. sex-lifeGone. I wonder if I miss sex and other assorted sexy business.

I don’t miss the softdrink Wink. They have many drinks like it here and they do a great job of curbing my cravings and quenching my thirst thus stalling all of this ‘missing.’

But most of all, on top of everything, right now, in 45 minutes, and 45 minutes after that, I miss cigarettes. I miss them so goddamned much.

I’ll be rid of this demon by Monday, and the blog will get back to normal. I promise.

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