Thursday, October 30, 2008

What To Do When The Well Runs Dry

Above: Workers assemble the roof of a stage in the Rynek Glowny of Krakow's main square in Poland on September 27th, 2008.
After the emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting visit of my grandmother last week, my creative juices were sapped. Not only had her presence been tiring, but I felt so disappointed and drained by the visit that I lacked the motivation or inspiration to photograph. Doesn't happen very often.
Next week, I will post the grandmother saga in full, a three-act drama, comedy and tragedy. I've been struggling to even write, and my journal has helped motivate me to keep penning my thoughts. What's a blogger to do?
"Writer's Block," as my creative writing teacher at the University of Iowa used to say, is a myth. There's no such thing. We think we can't write, that some math equation has left our brain so constipated that it can't even form a cogent stream of consciousness. But no, not the case. 
I had my graduate students practice what's called a "freewrite." We(and I use 'we' in the most inclusive sense) use it in the writing world as a way to break up the mental logjam plaguing the penniless author who's on deadline, or the biology freshman who can't get his term paper conclusion to evolve, or some tall, dumb polish kid who took creative writing because he thought it was an easy elective and pulled an all-nighter before the final. 
To do a freewrite:
1. Get a pen and paper, find someplace where you won't be interrupted. Quiet isn't always good, you might need some inspiration.
2. Time yourself. Give yourself 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The clock starts when you press your pen to paper.
3. Write. Don't think, just write everything that comes to mind(or better, things that you aren't thinking but magically appear on the paper), even if it's "jibberjabberwockyfoolypoolypants." In case you were wondering, that's normally what I'm thinking. 
4. when the time is up, read over what you wrote. Chances are something in this jumble of words is going to give you inspiration. If nothing else, it is going to force you to write something down, even if that something is jibberish. 
Creative writers use this in stories all the time(at least, all the creative writers that I know. Namely, me) to get things going and start writing again. That's what I do when I don't know what to write here. 

Despite doubts, I'm alive!

Monday, October 27, 2008

So, do they have internet in the Ukraine or are they still using Carrier Pigeons?

I was cooking dinner the other day when Brett walked out of the apartment and took the internet cable in our wall with him. He tripped over the 20 foot long cable and pulled it out of the wall, killing our internet. I thought "gee, I'll just have to plug the cable back in," but then realized that it was really just exposed copper wiring held together by a dirty Band-Aid. 
So yes, I do have internet, and it runs on Band-Aids. I managed to piece it back together after much swearing in polish, and connecting green wires and red wires to their respective partners. Apparently, the phone is running on the same line, so I knew that *ring ring* meant I had the right wiring matched. 
The internet at the university is wireless but notoriously slow(test by The internet at my apartment is faster, but I have more problems with the power going out than I do with the connection. The ISP throttles the internet everyday in the evening(i.e., they restrict the bandwith at high-traffic times of day, slowing your internet down) which is annoying, but it otherwise works well. I can download something from the internet at about 100 kb/s, but uploading usually runs around 50 kb/s.
Other teachers don't have internet at home, so they have to stay at the university to use it. Luckily, I don't, and my internet is fast enough to skype and video chat with people. For those of you interested in a skype chat(it's free!) you can download skype here. Just email me and let me know when you're interested. 

MMM, Pork Fat

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Enjoy these foods, and think of me

My father and grandmother's visit to L'viv ended yesterday when I dropped them off at the airport. They're in Rome right, and although I wish I could be with them, I need to catch up on blogs. Since I've missed the past few days due to their visit, I will be writing multiple posts to make up, keeping true to my blog comments and promise. I'll post the 3-act story on my grandmother's visit in full later this week.
My dad brought some sorely needed goodies for me to play with and/or eat. Although I eat well(the best part of my Ukrainian stay has been the food, which is incredible), I rarely eat meat, have a limited fruit and vegetable diet and usually eat carbohydrates. Every ex-pat and traveler has a list of comfort foods, like my aunt Kate who has been abroad for over 10 years and often charges Nilla Wafers, Pop Tarts and peanut butter for room and board if you visit her house in Switzerland(by the way, sorry AK- I did bring you pop tarts, but I broke down and ate them in Greece after starving for a day. They were crumbly anyway!)
My list includes: Tabasco, pancakes, maple syrup and peanut butter, among other things. My dad also brought Macaroni n' Cheese, energy bars, Clorox Wipes(which you can't get here), hand sanitizer, clean needles and medication. 
Although I do enjoy a good Ukrainian vodka, the honey beer they serve here, chocolate butter, and a good borscht with just the right amount of sour cream mixed in, I will thoroughly enjoy egg nog, apple cider, real orange juice, a cold Fat Tire or Leinie's, peach pie and turkey at Thanksgiving(which I will probably miss). If you are stateside or anywhere in the world where you can kick back with apple cider or a cold beer, make a toast and think of me, I miss it!

Friday, October 24, 2008


Above, top to bottom: one of four dogs that came out to harass us on our way into the bush; from left, Brett and Yura discuss the finer points of Ukrainian beer from the top of Bald Mountain as they pause for rest; a white flower in a field near our camp; Brett and Yura climb a hill in search of wild blackberries to eat; the view of Turka and the surrounding region from Mount Baldy.
My dad and grandmother arrived in L'viv yesterday around 4 pm. It's the first time in 65 years that my grandmother has been to the city, she left in 1943 when she was 13 years old, fleeing the communists with her family. She spent the next 5 years in Germany in a hard labor camp for displaced persons with mostly poles, where she met and married my polish grandfather(who died in 1994), who was a United States citizen. They moved to the United States in 1949 when she was 18, and had my dad in 1955. 
Now, all three generations have returned to L'viv for a whirlwind tour. I'm a bit surprised. She seems disappointed that the city hasn't been repaired and in denial about it living under communism(hence the lack of renovation) for nearly 40 years. Of course it's run-down. 
The trip has not been without twists either. Before I left for Ukraine, I asked her, point blank, if we had any relatives.
"Yes, but I don't know where they are, Michael," she said. "I don't talk to them. Besides, you don't want to meet them."
Yeah, why would I want to meet long-lost relatives that I've never seen before and might have family history? Why the hell would I come to the old Soviet Union, to corrupt, dilapidated, dirty Ukraine and learn a language that is completely impractical in my future life and try to reconnect with my family roots? Doesn't have anything to do with you, Grandma.
We arrived in the hotel, and after resolving the taxi issue, a scheduling conflict with the front desk and finally settling down in the room, she asks for my phone. 
"Why do you need my cell phone?"
"To call my cousin, I'm going to visit her."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ukrainian Village Life: you gonna eat that fungus?

Above, top to bottom: from left, Sasha Yasinsky and Brett McCaw eat breakfast at the Yasinsky home in Turka, Ukraine on October 18th, 2008; Yuri Yasinsky with his siamese cat; an outhouse in Turka; panorama of the countryside around Turka(Best viewed large); and Yura at 8 am on October 19th, as we descend Bald Mountain.
With a severe case of the numb-butt, I stumbled from the lemon-yellow mashrutka bus to find a smiling young man with shaggy hair and a bicycle grinning at me. The three and a half hour ride from L'viv to Turka in a vehicle designed only for short distance(30 minute) trips meant no sleep, no lights or reading, and no food except for the greasy, smoked kovbasa domashna(home sausage) I stuffed in my pocket before we hopped on. I spit the processed bones and un-chewable parts out on the floor, but couldn't stifle the stench of greasy sausage seeping from my pocket.
The guy with the bike was Yura, our host who was picking us up, which I assumed meant a car. That's what you pick people up in, cars. But this is Ukraine, and we walked the mile or so back to Yura's home using his bike light. Brett's friend Sasha, a student at the L'viv Polytechnic University and one of the most humble, generous and gentle people I have ever met, was putting us up for the weekend in Turka, a small village on the Ukrainian border. The "Carpati," or Carpathian Mountains, are revered by everyone in this region, both for the identity, beauty and culture they provide, and because UPA(the Ukrainian resistance movement of WWII) operated in the Carpati. The Carpati form the wildest region of western Ukraine and the heart of village life.
I soon realized that everyone in Turka owns one of those dogs that never shuts up. We climbed a muddy hill till we reached Yura's gravel road, and were immediately introduced to Sam, the family german shepherd. I wanted to pet Sam, as I haven't petted many dogs since leaving the states and I miss my dog, but sensed the cuddly guy was more interested in chewing my hand off than in affection.
Sasha and Yura live with their mother on a hill overlooking the city of 10,000 at the foot of Mount Baldy and several other small Carpathian mountains. I admit, my stereotype of 'village life' included toothless neighbors chewing on bones, an anti-indoor plumbing epidemic, and huts made of twigs and mud. I was only right about the outhouses.
The family we stayed with was delightful. This was, by far, one of my most rewarding cultural experiences as I got to experience Ukrainian culture firsthand from a good family. They took us in as their own and immediately made us at home. Not wanting to impose, Brett and I had brought enough food to feed us for the weekend; we were expecting to camp out. Within 15 minutes of walking in the door, we were seated in a warm kitchen, tea made from freshly picked leaves in hand, stuffing ourselves with fish soup, a warm mushroom sauce, bread and cheese. 
We were given our own room and beds, and were invited to take more clothes to keep us warm. My only complaint was the outhouse, something I hadn't the pleasure of using since my boy scout days. Luckily, Sasha escorted us outside to let us 'do our business' and held Sam back as we took turns going inside a 5'x5' wooden stall with a tin roof. The terrible stench of latrine smacked me across the face as I realized there wasn't a hole in the ground, it was really a pot. This thing had to be filled, then pulled out by hand and trucked away to God-knows-where. I've been through much worse in the toilet department, and after my gag reflex I felt a little more comfortable.
We were awoken in the morning to Sasha's mother cooking a full breakfast for us and their siamese cats rubbing against our bare legs. Although it lacked indoor plumbing, the house was surprisingly cozy and warm, and felt like more like a Swiss chalet to me than a village home. There was running water and a modern kitchen, and I sympathized with Yura when he spent the next morning deleting viruses from his computer. He made it a point to show us the best spots on the mountain to play paintball. 
I don't usually eat meat, rice, cheese and mushrooms for breakfast, but I would eat anything Sasha's mother put in front of me after that weekend. And the best tea, I learned, is picked fresh from the mountains, boiled, mixed with a scoop of sugar and wild blueberries which are stirred in as sweetener. 
Something Ukrainians have taught me is that the human spirit has an incredible ability to overcome adversity. The dilapidated infrastructure of Ukraine, leftover from the Soviets, has left the roads in terrible condition, houses full of failing Russian wiring and centralized heating(which has to be turned on by the city at a specified date), pollution and people with little faith in their government. Yet life still flourishes and people still find ways to be happy in the everyday. Villagers, by far, are some of the happiest and most at peace people I have ever met. The know the meaning of a life well lived. 

Turka, foothills of the Carpathian Mountains

Above: Star trail exposures taken on top of Mount Baldy in Turka, Ukraine on the Polish border. To shoot this, you'll need: 1. a reliable tripod, 2. a camera that can expose for at least 30 seconds, 3. a wide angle lens, 4. a cable release cord or remote, 5. a cigar, maybe a beer, warm clothes and free time. 
I exposed these using my D300's 'Multiple Exposure' option, allowing me to take up to 10 exposures at 30 seconds each and then combining them in-camera to make a single 5 minute exposure. Quite efficient. If your camera can also shoot at intervals, it will save you the trouble of having to press the shutter each time, which can shake the camera and ruin the image(I had several failures). If you have a cable release, this will solve all of your problems. I didn't, so I used the 'shutter delay' option, which delays the shutter by a second after the mirror is raised in order to reduce shake. This also let me press the shutter release each time without shaking the camera. This is surprisingly easy to do once you get the hang of it, like fireworks photography. Dress warm.
I swear I'm sitting in someone else's spit, but in the freezing wind on top of this mountain, I don't really care. Puffing my cuban, I force my icy hand through 7 layers of clothing and light a match inside the tupperware container I use to transport cigars. Yura takes his first-ever puff of a cigar, and in the near pitch-blackness of the Ukrainian night, over the howl of inhumanely icy wind, I swear I can hear him smile.
"Dobry," he say, his face glowing orange with each puff. 
Hearing my camera click as the shutter ends another time exposure, I roll back and press the shutter release. I'm trying to nail the star trails on my left, but the men are getting restless in this terrible cold. 
"We go sleep now?" Yura suggests for the fifth time. Yura, a diminutive(nickname) form of Yuri(Ukrainian for "George"), came grappling up the mountain with a machete he must have borrowed from Rambo(he actually made it himself, which made me even more afraid of him), full camouflage, two sleeping bags, pork fat and potatoes in a tiny sack. Brett and I, being Americans, weren't going to put up with any of this 'amateur' B.S. No, no. 
In addition to my 20 pounds of camera gear(body, 2 lenses, flash, video camera, tripod and tripod head), we managed to pack enough clothing for a week, a pot, food for 4 days(we stayed for 1 night in the woods), a frisbee, sleeping bag, hand sanitizer and three cuban cigars. I can hear my scoutmaster saying "be prepared," and "laugh and scratch," his unique term for "goofing around." Laughin' and scratchin' was exactly what we did around the fire when Yura's brother Sasha arrived. 
Sasha brought a bottle of wine and promptly announced he was going to boil its contents. OK, Sasha, I just digested half a pound of pork fat. You do what you want. 
They cook the wine with cinnamon and squeeze an orange into the pot. The spicy, aromatic liquid that came rushing over my tongue a moment later like a pack of wolves redefined my reasons for coming to Ukraine. It was possibly one of the most thrilling things I have ever tasted, best described as a liquid form of Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberries and jello mixed with real eggnog on a Christmas morning.

Insides burning from the hot wine, I curl up in a wheel rut and flatten out on the ground to hide from the wind. I'm surprisingly warm, and although Sasha reiterated that he'd prefer we come down the mountain and stay another night in their house, we stubbornly stick to our mountain defenses. The tent we have is only for two people, and we learned later that night why they don't usually squeeze 3 people into a two-man tent. I never thought spooning could be considered a survival method. 

Taking full advantage of the crystal clear, moonless night on top of a mountain, I reach over to the camera and click the shutter again. I pray the wind won't shake the camera, and roll into a ball. Sure is cold. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Leaves and Berries

Above, top to bottom: Delicious blackberries picked on Bald Mountain in the Carpathian Mountains outside of Turka, Ukraine on October 18th, 2008; "Edible?" I asked Yura. He picked a small piece off the stalk and put it on his tongue after smelling the fungus thoroughly. "Ta, Edible. But not very good," he said, before tossing my precious mushroom into the forest, where it shattered into a million pieces over a log; Blackberries and many fruits are readily available and easy to pick, but you have to know what you're eating. Some are best for teas and boiled, while others are safe to eat right away. Mushrooms are even more difficult to distinguish, but if a small piece burns or irritates the tongue, it's generally not edible; Juniper Berries; these red berries are the first ones described below. They have a hard outer shell and are ripe in autumn. 

"Can I eat this?" I said, holding up a red, diamond-shaped berry.
He chatters something in ukrainian at Brett, and eventually I get "nie recomenducja" out of his slur. Brett nods and confirms: "sure, but I told you so." I bite in anyway, and Yura was right, it is bitter, dry and falls apart in my mouth as if I had bitten into a packet of flour. 
Using the forest as your grocery store is a practicality that takes some getting used to. I love eating out of the woods, it's the closest thing to childhood. My teeth stained purple by blackberries, I bite into another mountain fruit Yura has selected: a red, orb-like berry bunch that he says goes well in "Chai," Ukrainian for "tea." No Starbucks here. It pulls my lips into a pucker faster than a lemon, and I spit out the pit and skin on the ground. 
Near the peak of the cliff, Yura explains that the next delicacy is quite expensive in stores. Brett and I recognize the pea-sized, stiff, purplish balls to be juniper berries. The juniper branches are prickly and sting in the cold, but it's worth a handful. Yura slaps his stomach and explains in Ukrainian that these are good for your liver. Don't eat too much, they'll make you sick. 
Along the same path, Brett and I gorge ourselves on blackberries, push a dead tree down for firewood, and find a giant mushroom. While hauling the wood back to camp, a local man comes running up the mountain and jogs past us. We realize he's hiding an 8-inch Bowie knife look-a-like in his right hand as he runs past. Yura's machete, which looks more like a scimitar, is home-made and gruesome, but our only defense in case the mountain man has seen Deliverance. Yura hold up the blade handle and laughs, he shattered the blade on a tree stump. I munch some juniper berries and hope the wolves find us before the locals do. 

A weekend in the Mountains with Brett

My first memory of Brett was from the top of the slide in kindergarten. I was checking out the Montessori school to see if I liked it, and while standing on top of the slide, I watched as my future best friend ran down from the school doors, hands in the air, screaming "RECESS!!!!" We were six. We've been best friends ever since. 
Above: 1, 4, 5- Brett at 7;30 am in the freezing cold wind of Bald Mountain in the Carpathians after camping out for a night; 2- Brett pretends to eat a beetle we found on the ground while picking wild blackberries to eat, all were delicious; 3- Brett mugs for the camera. He hates this picture, but since he keeps making these faces when I take his picture, I will keep posting them on my blog. Love you, Brett.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How to take great fall color pictures and UPA, The Ukrainian Resistance

Above, top to bottom: fall colors on Lychakivska Street(see below for explanation); the moon right after sunset from the Wysoki Zamok(high castle); dog owners let their bulldogs socialize in the park on a sunny day; the faithful waited in line for over 30 minutes to get holy water after Tuesday's mass, many of them drank the water, an Orthodox tradition; a woman holds a portrait of Christ to be blessed while taking part in the procession around Pokrot Church in L'viv, Ukraine on October 14th, 2008.
I was supposed to cover a pro-life event on Tuesday, the anniversary of UPA, a national holiday in Ukraine. Instead, I never found the group, took pictures of the baptism, watched Ukrainians drink the holy water, and wandered into the adjacent woods. I especially liked the one of the fall colors, and in response to some recent comments asking for photo instruction, I explain the shot below.
UPA, or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, began as a resistance movement in the spring/summer of 1943 and developed into a guerilla force. They fought in the best interest of the Ukrainian people, according to Wikipedia, and challenged the Nazi Waffen SS, Wehrmacht, the Polish Underground Army(Armia Krajowa), and a variety of Soviet forces including the Red Army and the NKVD. They also fought with the Germans against the soviets and the poles.
Tuesday was the anniversary of its founding, and the leader of UPA, Stepan Bandera, is a huge national hero. For Ukrainians, this is like the Alamo, the Revolutionary War, and the resistance all rolled into one. I find it fascinating since my grandfather fought in the polish underground. The UPA was unique because it fought the Nazis with no foreign support, unlike most resistance movements. UPA was most active in the Carpathian mountains and in Western Ukraine, near to where I am living. Another reason why Western and Eastern Ukraine are entirely different worlds. 
In order to take a zoom photo like the one above, you need a manual zoom. I used a 17-35mm lens, but you can pick anything that isn't fixed(so no 50mm prime). Then you set it to either extreme(17mm or 35mm) and then set your exposure to somewhere around 30 sec-60 sec. It can be faster or slower than this, depending on the desired effect. The top photo was shot at 1/40, f/8, ISO 200. Before pressing the shutter, begin zooming in or out and then press the shutter button simultaneously. The camera will expose the zoom and create an effect similar to this. 
Be careful how you use it. It can be used to bring emphasis/life/action to an otherwise dull subject, but it's also disorienting. Here, I wanted to emphasize the color of the trees, not the details. Zooming helps me do that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is this blog any good? Readers' review!

Above: Traffic has increased substantially in L'viv over the past few years as Ukrainians finally have the income to pay for cars. "There was barely any traffic here 10 years ago," said Matthew Matuszak, an UCU employee. "Now they don't have the infrastructure to deal with the cars. Glad I don't own one." 

As of today, I have been in L'viv 44 days, or 1 month and 2 weeks. In that time, I've been keeping this stellar blog going by posting photos, stories and videos every day I've been here. I haven't missed a day I've been in L'viv. Thanks to all who have sent compliments on facebook or directly on blogger, it means a lot.

I asked my friend Mark Kane if I was posting just to get more traffic, if this was the real deal. Ever so frank, Mark said,
"No, you're actually doing your job. You post every day with real material that is interesting and I actually want to read. Your not just posting every other week, you're doing it every day. You're doing what every blogger should do."
Thanks, Mark. 
Some from facebook and emails:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The First Lady of Ukraine is a White Sox fan *sigh*

Above, top to bottom: Me with Kateryna Yushchenko, First Lady of Ukraine on October 11th in the Hyatt Kyiv Hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine; Yushchenko and the Ambassador from Lebanon(notice the awkwardly smiling woman in the background who ruined this picture); the most attractive Ukrainian woman I have ever seen; and the posh Hyatt Kyiv Hotel, which will run you about 400 euros a night($600 give or take). 
"Those are olives," I said to Petro the Video Guy as he stabbed a toothpick into a bowl.
"Ahhhhh!" he smiled with delight and nodded vigorously, his face suddenly puckering as he found the pit. "And this?" 
"Those are rice wafers," I said, pointing to the bowl with the white, cup-shaped crackers used to cleanse your palette.
"For spitting!" he mumbled, hawking an almond-shaped olive pit into the rice wafer and tossing it on the table.
I tried to tell him it was for eating, but I was buckled over in laughter under the table in front of a dozen millionaires, choking on my olive.
"In photography business, we must have no serious," said Petro.
"A sense of humor!" I said.
He nodded his approval of the new phrase and waved a hand towards the auction room. Photo and Video made their way back into the auction room and began documenting the handshakes and blank smiles of politicians, millionaires and VIPs . After a few dozen pictures, I slid out and made my way to the door to await the arrival of the First Lady of Ukraine.
"You know, you're not exactly dressed to be standing there," says an older woman with the university. "You're going to be the first thing the first lady sees, we can't have you standing there. We don't want to give a bad impression. You should move over there, stand in the corner. No offense or anything."
"Oh, none taken," I said, plastering a wry smile on my face and biting my tongue, knowing I hold no weight at the university. "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name."
She's an american, about 60 and looking it, and I instantly understand that she enjoys what limited power she wields. Having been up for 24 hours, being anxious for the First Lady, and already irritated, I pop a brilliant question: "is that Mrs. or Ms?"
"Honey, you just don't ask that question in 2008, that's so rude," she said and walked away.
I decide that if ever given the opportunity, I will duel with her to the death. She ranks right below a few high school classmates on my revenge list, but a glass of champagne quickly erases her from my memory. 
Kateryna Yushchenko was born in Hyde Park, Illinois near Chicago where she went to high school(this is per our conversation) and is married to Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine. She mentioned her last trip to Chicago, earlier this year when she attended "a sox game." I take this as her being a fan of the Chicago White Sox, which is unfortunate. 
Although the night was filled with donations, pictures of donors, donor awards, donor auctions, donor recognitions, and a donor dinner I stuffed my face with, the spotlight seemed to always be on Yushchenko. I waited until there was a free moment, handed my camera to Petro and walked up to her and introduced myself. Since we are both from Chicago, we had much to discuss, and she remembered a friend of mine who translated for her(Kate! where are you?!). I had a pleasant conversation with her, and I felt she meant every word. 
Even in the posh Hyatt Kyiv Hotel, she has the grace to mingle with the upper crust of Ukraine, talk to every millionaire in the room and still have a down to earth, meaningful conversation. I was genuinely impressed with her, and she was sincere. I told her about my career dreams, and that I'm a volunteer at the university she donates to regularly. 
"Good luck to you, Michael," she said, squeezing my hand before she left. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Big Blesz," holy man of the east

Above, top to bottom: Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, or "Blesziniscie," of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and me at the banquet in Kyiv on Saturday, October 11th, 2008; Cardinal Husar reacts to a question from an interviewer after an interview for UCU on Sunday, October 12th; Husar and the Archbishop of Kyiv, center, and an archbishop from Rome at the Hyatt Kyiv Hotel on October 11th; and Blesziniscie in his home outside of Kyiv after the interview on October 12th, 2008.
His black cassock sweeping the floor, Blesziniscie(bleh-zih-nee-shee), "Your Beatitude," silences an entire room of Ukrainians by lifting his hand in blessing, then rumbles a greeting beneath a snowy white beard. An icon of the Virgin Mary swings from his neck by golden chain, like a pendulum pitching back and forth with each plodding step. He is already tired and weary at 6 pm, and only lasts for a couple of hours till his speech. He doesn't disappoint.
He is a warm man, and even though I reiterate what an honor it is to meet him, the leader of an entire faith, he insists that the pleasure is all his. Born in Lviv, Husar fled with his family to Austria in 1944, and eventually settled in the United States where he attended St. Basil College Seminary in Connecticut. He later taught there, and eventually returned to Ukraine where he now resides. 
I was impressed by his humility and sincerity as many church hierarchs, I hate to say, emanate a political savviness and elitist air that is less than charming. Although a minority church, the majority of western Ukraine is Ukrainian Catholic, and it's the only eastern church that is in communion with Rome. I feel lucky to have been in the same room with him, and even luckier to have met him in person. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kyiv, Kiev or however you say it

Above, top to bottom: Fr. Ihor Boiko watches the Ukrainian countryside pass as he sips his Chai, or "tea," on the express train to Kyiv on October 11, 2008; tourists and passerbys hurry past the main square in Kyiv, where the Orange Revolution took place in 2004; a couple poses for a wedding portrait, imitating a statue in front of St. Michael's Cathedral in Kyiv; two men light cigarettes while walking out of St. Michael's Cathedral in Kyiv; the escalators in Kyiv's subway are especially long, taking several minutes to descend to train level in some areas. 

I shot a "grab-and-grin" as we call them in the business on Saturday in Kyiv(pictures to come). It was a fundraising banquet for the university in Kyiv. Easy gig, but lighting can prove to be the bane of an evening. I had the opportunity to meet both Cardinal Lubomyr Husar(Or Blesziniscie as they call him, "your most blessedness"), head of the Greek Catholic Church, and the First Lady of Ukraine, Kateryna Yushchenko. More on that later this week.
Anyway, Kyiv(Ukrainian for "Kiev," the capital of Ukraine) has a population of about 3 million. It's a nice town, but bizarre in the same way that Istanbul is; it's a cultural cocktail of eastern and western cultures. It reminded me a lot of Istanbul, and if I could compare it, I'd say Kiev is something like a version of Paris that has lived under communism for over 100 years(which it has, and is thus run down and has Russian "classical" architecture, think concrete beehive) crossed with modern Istanbul. I do miss Istanbul. But they serve Kebabs in Kiev, too. 
You pronounce it 'Keev," but quicker, and you don't pronounce the syllables as you do in English. There's a ton of money in Kyiv, and I saw more Mercedes there than anywhere else in Europe. The banquet was held at the Hyatt Kyiv, a ridiculously expensive and elaborate hotel that runs you 400 euros a night(about $600). 
Kyiv is worth a visit, especially for its historical significance and role in the Orange Revolution of 2004. I had a great conversation with the First Lady of Ukraine and with Bleszinisie, which I'll post in the couple of days. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yushchenko dissolves parliament, calls for reelection: What to do when the country you're living in falls apart

Above: A Ukrainian man waits to cross the street near my apartment in L'viv, Ukraine on October 6th, 2008. The yellow bus approaching, called a Mashrutka, are a popular means of transportation in a city that doesn't have the infrastructure to deal with the surge in vehicles per capita in the last decade. 
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved the legislature on Wednesday and has called for new parliamentary elections on December 7th. The Ukrainian stock market has fallen 30 percent  and the Ukrainian Hryvna has fallen 20 percent as the economy continues to falter. The decline of the hryvna has outpaced even the devalued American dollar, the exchange rising from approximately 4.80 UA to 5.80 UA to $1 USD in less than 2 weeks. 
In short, the economy here is doing worse than the US economy, the currency is devalued, the government destabilized and everyone is really, really ticked off. Ukrainian sentiment has generally been to fix things as fast as possible in a country trying to stave off the political influence of the Kremlin. Although this could mean an even poorer Ukraine, political catastrophes in a troubled government and an even unhappier populace, I'm excited that heated politics could make good pictures.  
In short, there's a huge power struggle going on between the president and prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Both were strong allies just a year ago, and both worked together in 2002 to take control of the government and put a pro-western coalition(of their two parties) in power. That coalition fell apart last month, leaving Ukraine out to dry. Now both are trying to win the presidency, and with the election coming in 2010, Yushchenko is running out of time.
I leave for Kyiv(Ukrainian for "Kiev") early tomorrow morning to photograph a banquet for the university(I'm trying to learn "smile please" in Ukrainian and Russian). I have no idea what's going to happen before the vote in December, but things are likely to get heated with more political demonstrations and confrontations happening across the country. 
Yushchenko's party, Nasza Ukraina(Our Ukraine), will probably lose seats in the revote, and Tymoshenko said that Yushchenko is trying to force her from office. My students didn't know this was happening on Thursday, the day after the president's announcement, but I'm certain to get an earful of it Kyiv. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ukrainian Countryside

Above, top to bottom: Seminarians and UCU students pray and sing psalms as they walk the 11 km from Rudno Seminary near L'viv to the town of Stradch on October 4th; villagers digging up potatoes stop to watch as the procession passes by, best viewed large; a Ukrainian woman shoos her geese into a shed outside of Stradch; the forest near Rudno was surprisingly lush and colorful despite the cold; this yokel didn't even know I was taking his picture, I'm not sure he knew what my camera was until I asked if I could photograph him. I liked his cows.
While walking to Stradch, we tromped through the muddy Ukrainian countryside, which is quite beautiful. I was particularly struck by the villagers we encountered on the path, from digging up potatoes to moving house siding via horse-drawn carriage, they were a welcome introduction to village life. I've heard good things about the village life in the countryside(where the Ukrainian culture and language has been preserved in the fullest), but you are really going back in time. This feels more ancient than Romanian villages I traveled through in June, but the transportation isn't as bad.