Archive for October, 2009

Writer’s Bloc

So it seems I have nothing to say these days. Until I do, here are my favourite posts from the past 5 months.

charlie walkingHaunted by the souls of a million departed meals

“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.”

kfc bucket of chickenSammy’s Choice: Auschwitz or KFC

“To spend the day educating and improving my understanding of the human condition in the haunting remains of one of this centuries most iconic testaments to the depths of human malice… or… spend the day devising a strategy to eat KFC with both my hands and my feet just so I had more digits for lickin’. What to do?”

canadian-flagCanada: Good, but boring

“Close to a month ago I was interviewed by a friend of mine from the local newspaper here in Lviv, Високий Замок… The [translated] text has some absolutely hilarious mis-translations. For instance, the title of this blog converts to, ‘Downfall in Ukraine,’ I describe myself as an ‘ignoramus,’ and complain about racist remarks from ‘acute groggy Belgians.’

parage of beautyUkraine is not a brothel


I'm sorry. Won't happen again.Ukraine… I’m sorry

“Why is your blog so insulting to Ukraine?” she said. Before the comment even registered she then proceeded to tear me a new one, asking me if I thought Ukrainians were just barbaric cave people, why I came here if I thought this place was such a joke, and that I was basically a pampered ass, ignorant of the effect that years of genocide, war and colonial subjugation has had on the people here. …Before I could even defend myself, she said that she still respected me, but that I should, “mix some clean water with the dirty.” She then jumped on a streetcar and left me to marinade in my own shame… as well as a peculiar pride for having taught her proper use of the word mix hours earlier.”



Welcome to Moldova


Spring Break Siberia: The frozen T-shirt contest

“For years Ukrainians could move with relative ease between the borders of their former communist comrades. Ukrainians who once took summer vacations in Prague, went skiing in Romania and hit the beaches of Slovenia now find these doors slammed in their faces thanks cost-prohibitive visas and a plethora of other humiliating requirements.”

Y IsraelIf every man on earth dropped dead…

“If every man on earth died instantly, we would have new slang like “fatherf#*ker!” Air travel would grind to a halt and the Israeli army would instantly become the most power military force on earth. “This “gendercide” exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 29 billion men. 495 of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are now dead, as are 99% of the world’s landowners.
In the U.S. alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains died… as did 92% of violent felons.
Internationally 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction workers are now deceased though 51% of the planets agricultural labor force is still alive.”

ukoarmyThe Ukrainian Army — Get Tanked

“Here is a recruitment commercial for the Ukrainian army (an Army of один). It speaks for itself, but the jist is basically this: The Army — get paid, get laid and get tanked (pun intended). Enjoy.”



Dressed for a better world

May Day — Mayday!

“When I left my house early that morning I had a feeling I wouldn’t see too much in the way of craziness.  What I didn’t know was that I would find myself standing right where the fuse meets the dynamite in the worst riots this city has seen for years.  I was hit with glass, shoved by an armored cop, and teargassed. Strangely though, it was my feelings that were hurt the most.”


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365px-Coat_of_arms_of_Berlin.svgThe coat of arms for the city of Berlin is a bear. But considering Germany’s troubled history with the beast, it may as well be a starfish, a unicorn or a Rabbi.

For one; there are no wild bears in Germany. Not one. Prior to this decade the last known wild bear in Germany was gunned down by hunters in Bavaria in 1838.

In early 2006 a bear named JJ1, became the first of his kind to set foot in Germany in nearly two centuries when he wandered across the border from Austria. Technically the creature was a “brown” bear, but I feel that in the age of Obama we’ve moved beyond such labeling.

The environmental set was thrilled that such a noble animal was once again enjoying nuts and berries in the woods of Bavaria — hailing the adorable killing machine as a symbol of the success of brown bearendangered species reintroduction programs. The press affectionately named the critter Bruno.

The joy was short lived. Upon illegally emigrating, Bruno may have wandered into the hearts of Germans, but he also wandered into a country that had absolutely no experience with a real live wild bear.

Predictably Bruno, acting like a total animal, embarked on a ruthless 300 km killing spree, mercilessly dispatching any creature unfortunate enough to cross his path..

The body count from Bruno’s swath of destruction included:

  • 33 sheep
  • 4 domestic rabbits
  • 1 guinea pig,
  • Assorted hens and goats
  • A bunch of bees defending their honey (probably)

It seems that Bruno’s taste for blood emboldened him to the point where he even brazenly taunted his human adversaries. Bruno was spotted strutting down main street in the town of Kochel, even stopping to take a breather on the steps of the police station.

dead sheepThings went from bad to worse for Bruno when Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber labeled the once-loveable poster-bear as a Problembär, or (problem bear). You know you’re fucked when a German bureaucrat conjoins words to make a concept out of you.

Much to the delight of local farmers, who claimed Bruno enjoyed killing because he typically killed sheep without eating them, the bear was ordered killed or captured.

finns vs bearsIn an effort to be humane the German authorities enlisted a cross-species international all-star team of Finnish bear hunters and their Karelian Bear Dogs to capture the hairy menace. Amazingly the Finns and their hounds proved totally useless and were unable to catch the bear over the course of several weeks. Frustrated, and increasingly concerned about the safety of local sheep and bees, the local government sought a final solution.

On June 26th a shocked German public awoke to these words from Spiegel Online,  “Bruno the wandering bear is dead. The notorious creature was shot by hunters at 4.50 a.m. on Monday morning, near the Bavarian town of Zell in southern Germany. “The shooting has happened, the bear is dead,” said Manfred Wölfl, the Bavarian government’s bear expert.”

Outrage over Bruno’s death spread far and wide — including Italy, where environmentalists recognized Bruno as JJ1 — one of 10 Slovenian bears introduced in that country’s Trento region.  In an effort to retrieve their murdered bear, Rome declared JJ1 as state property, and demanded that his body be returned to Italy. The Bavarian government pushed back, claiming that any carcass on German land is German property.

karate-bearsThe story grew even more tragic when details of Bruno’s troubled family history eventually surfaced. As one of several progeny of bear-parents (bearents!) Jurka and Joze, Bruno/JJ1 wasn’t the only problem child in his family. Nearly two years after JJ1 was slain, his brother, JJ3 wandered into Switzerland and was also murdered — without nickname. Though in keeping with German/Swiss historical tradition, Switzerland’s wrong-doing went underreported.

We don’t know if JJ3 was out to extract sweet vengeance from his brother’s executioners and simply got lost, or if he thought he could seek asylum in the oft-neutral nation. We may never know. What we do know, is that it turns out pathologically poor parenting was the root of the original problem.

Soon after JJ3 met his end, Jurka, Bruno’s mother, was incarcerated by the whichever Italian authorities are in charge of disorderly bears. It was revealed that 50% of all bear related crimes in the region were caused by Jurka and her offspring.

stuffed brunoThere were few winners in the tragic tale of Bruno. Two bears were killed, their mother tossed in prison and Bavarian environment minister Werner Schappau’s reputation was seriously tarnished after environmentalists called for his resignation. I suppose the only silver lining is that we can all enjoy the irascible Bruno everyday of the week, as he’s been stuffed, mounted, and put in display at the Museum of Man and Nature in Munich. And the world now knows not to trust Finns to catch a bear.

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Release the doves!

lviv august 035Weddings are kind of how I picture the afterlife. Free food, free drinks, various Gods, grandparents, spiffy wardrobes. On the flip side they can be hell. There is endless planning, terrible music, awkward conversations, pesky in-laws and everything seems to cost a fortune.

That’s why Saturday mornings in Lviv were always a little slice of heaven for me. Around 11:30am the church bells from the local Dominican cathedral would ring, summoning brides, grooms, well-wishers and babushkas from all across western Ukraine to gather beneath my windowsill to celebrate the joyous union of two lovers.

lviv wedding 1The bells would also summon me to get a strong coffee, a pack of cigarettes and take up my perch high above the festivities to ogle bridesmaids and bask in the warmth of the confluence of everything I love about Ukraine.

As my friend Peter would say, “the wedding industrial complex,” is a driving force in Ukraine. Bridle shops are everywhere, young couples set their sights on getting married long before most Canadians have even fallen in love for the first time. The age of first marriage in Ukraine is 22.2 for women. That is the lowest age in Europe. By contrast the average age of a Canadian woman’s first marriage is 31.7.

perch2The reasons for this rush are manifold. Religion, tradition and economics all play a part. Most Ukrainian youth live with their parents until they are married. In their case, getting hitched allows them to pool their money, get their own place and ultimately make sweet love away from the prying eyes of God and grandmamma. Undoubtedly mom and dad are happy to have a little more room at home as well.

Watching these wedding parties was better than TV. They have it all. Beautiful women, dressed up beyond belief. Music, traditional dresses and suits, food, and of course the gratuitous taking of photos with the bride and groom in ridiculous poses. I’ve mentioned before the Ukrainian pastime of taking sexy pictures of oneself. In front of fountains, castles, churches synagogues, stray dogs, trees, opera houses anywhere in Ukraine really… you’ll find giggling groups of girls posing, pouting and puckering for the camera. On their wedding day, husbands get dragged along in this enterprise and it’s priceless to see their resigned expressions as they feed swans, release doves and basically pose for whatever ridiculous stuff their new wives desire.

All of this stuff happened right beneath my window as the Dominican cathedral right next door is one of the most photogenic spots in Ukraine. Plus it has a parking lot. I’d love to know how many wedding albums, have a shirtless me or Eddie, replete with coffee, cigarette and shit-eating grin gawking at the happiest day of their lives.

swan weddingBeyond the over-the-top photos, there are a few other wedding customs in Ukraine that are pretty cool. Firstly, when the groom arrives (with his groomsmen as backup) at the brides residence to pick her up for the wedding, he is confronted by a coven of frosty bridesmaids.

Now begins a process called Викуп or “buyout.” Sometimes money and vodka are involved – a groom offers money for a bride, and they bargain. You can see how it happens here. Nowadays people tend to make it more romantic and less about “buying” yourself a bride. So the bridesmaids mandate the groom complete tasks instead.

First, he must prove his bride actually lives there, so they ask him to describe her, say nice things about her, why he loves her, etc… Then he must complete some physical challenges, mental challenges and challenges to his masculinity. His backup — the groomsmen — must also plead his case to the coterie of bridesmaids.
When the bridesmaids finally agree to give the bride to the groom, they show a fake bride first, usually some man dressed as a woman. Then the groom says his bride is more beautiful. The bridesmaids try to persuade him to take the fake bride, telling him she is better and trying to make him believe he is missing out. Only after he is tired of giving reasons why he wants this particular bride and not any other, he gets to see the real bride

charlie pete miwa 020Once the union is complete, the bride and groom make their way to a bridge and fasten a padlock engraved with their names to the railing. The symbolism is pretty obvious, but it’s a great tradition none the less. Suddenly any bridge crossing is a great exercise in imagination — just picturing that each lock as a couple, and to think where that couple is now, and that their lock will probably be there longer than they are alive (or married).

star_wars_wedding_36Of course, not all weddings are traditional. Behold the following. A Star Wars themed wedding in Lviv. I can just picture the babushkas sitting around with WTF looks on their faces. The best part though… the groom mixing a traditional cossack hairdoo with a wardrobe from a galaxy far, far away.

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