My iPhone photos went from this (taken on the outskirts of Kyiv)
This year I put "where can we go from Kyiv" into the cheap gotta-getaway generator and the arrow landed on the half-Greek half-Turkish island of Cyprus. The cheapest Europe I've ever been to--dinner for seven with wine for 60-100 euros?!--and they have really good coffee, orange trees, and gloriously blue sky. Hello Carrefour, how have you been? Wind and rain bent the palm trees sideways a couple of days, but on those days we laid around and read or painted rocks. What Cyprus doesn't have in warm weather in April it makes up for in chicken kabobs and the non-stop sound of the waves polishing rocks for you.
Easter decorations all around town, the birthplace rock of Aphrodite, the fourth most important mosque in Islam-dom and Orthodox church bells, many of the gods are on Cyprus, and they want you to wear crazy slippers so your feet don't freeze.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit we went to Starbucks (for the first time since we were home at Christmas,) and how happy we were to drink chai tea lattes and ice tea in a venti cup. Unesco World Heritage sites throw themselves at you as you try to dodge them while driving on the wrong side of the road going around a round-about the wrong way. Flamingos on a salt lake, clear water, lightning storms at night, a small easy airport, fresh tomatoes worth eating, a two hour flight from Kyiv and friendly people.
Tomorrow, back to the world of military convoys.
In my effort to be Lisa Congdon and Emily Martin, I'm taking a five week online class through the amazing art agent, Lilla Rogers. I don't know how it's possible I've learned so much it's felt like an odyssey. Maybe being in an online group with 200 generous people serious about illustration who force me to up my game? The competition of Lilla's attention? A new computer with the latest versions of illustrator and photoshop?
All those things probably. I've learned not so much from the workshop, but from being in the workshop and having to have to bring the projects to these peers, many of them professional illustrators--that I've been forced to up my layers and clipping paths game in photoshop (why did I resist?)
Lilla really is a fairy art mother--although now I'm thinking I really should have been Lilla Rogers--she has so much great advice to live by. One thought of hers I really like is "Create art to your own taste level." Because it's right in there that I think the growth takes place. The part where Ira Glass says, your taste is what gets you in the art game to start with and your taste is why your work disappoints you. I've been working on these projects, trying to do enough volume that I can see where the taste gap is. This class pushes that.
Our latest project starts with the assignment of considering our collections.
Things I collect in real life or imaginary:
matchbooks left in our house by the previous owner
(Peter had a matchbook collection that burned)
Hermes scarves (one. may be a fake, I can't tell.)
scarves in general, I love scarves
houses in Tahoe
anything by Rae Eames
art by Rex Ray
vintage tablecloths, postcards, purses
vintage clothes, especially victorian whites
violets, roses, tulips,
steiff stuffed animals
doll house furniture
jewelery from a particular store on Rue de Rivoli in Paris
Carpthian wedding chests
I like the imaginary collections. It reminds me of this song we are listening to a lot right now, George Ezra's Budapest where he lists all the things (he doesn't have) that he would give up for his love. "My house in Budapest, my golden grand piano, my hidden treasure chest, my beautiful castillo." Yeah, I collect all those thing too.
Camille is trying to make us feel sorry for her that she is going to Belgium and not back to Kenya for her school trip this semester.
We are waiting to hear back from schools she has applied for. It's not as bad as applying for kindergarten in San Francisco, but still, excruciating. Her interim math grade is a B+ -- need to let the world, or at least prospective schools--know!
Peace treaty signed last week between Ukraine and Russia calling for a ceasefire which started last night at midnight. War is not healthy for children or other living things, says my John Denver necklace. Let it stop.
It's cold, with snow on the ground, but not brutally so. The dollar is so high compared to the grivna that I got an insane new shearling coat.
I booked a trip to Cyprus for Easter.
I had a scary week as grants coordinator: for the first time, I had to present all our projects to heads-of-all-the-sections at the Embassy. But it went exhilaratingly well--hello approved young-people-teaching-old-people-how-to--use-the-internet project (and not rely on Russian-media heavy TV as their sole source of news) and seventeen other projects-- and I sneak in design projects and media monitoring when I'm not busy with grants. I'm so lucky.
A set back in my MFA program that I thought I was done with--my advisor wants more paintings from me before he will give me my diploma. I was sad for a while, but I won't give up. Really, more of the same as far as that program goes. And so, I paint.
Last night Stefan spent the night at a friend's house. Hopefully Kyiv is feeling more like home for him. He makes me laugh with his Sam Smith impression, room organizing, Rhett and Link watching and the fact that he can grow taller than I am on a diet comprised solely of mac-cheese, pizza, potato chips and turkey bacon.
I stopped playing Words with Friends, which I really loved, but now I'm reading again. I didn't seem to have time to do both. I joined a rowdy, international book club and I've really enjoyed their opinionated and culturally slanted thoughts about Big Little Lies and The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian.
What year is it? Because I'm not sure.
Paris Courtney, one of my daughter's friends since kindergarten, from when Paris still combed her hair with a stuffed snake, is finishing up her senior year in high school doing the wow-is-this-way-too-much-work International Baccalaureate program.
Her required senior project includes a poster of the Webster's definition of the word feminist, "A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes."
“I thought, that’s a pretty neutral standpoint,” said the artist.
But this definition turns out to be so controversial her principal, in Portland, Oregon, the bastion of liberalism, won't let her display the poster at her school.
Principal Mark Neffendorf finds the posters, "disruptive" and "subjective."
Because dictionary definitions are like that.
Like the American flag, the word feminist has been culturally appropriated, the word is now so loaded we can't even use it, or even its definition.
We get upset when ravers wear war bonnets, not understanding the meaning behind the symbol. The appropriation of the word feminist, the word being twisted and deformed until its very definition can't be displayed in a hall of education, is just as egregious an abuse.
What kind of education system does this? What kind of educator says, "I don't want you to learn the meaning of a word?" And if that word is loaded with cultural significance, what an opportunity to investigate the phenomenon.
Maybe through art, the perfect forum for exploring meaning.
Being a feminist has been maligned as a wish for selfish fulfillment by female professionals. But it's those who have the least who gain the most. We must stand up for them. Paris's principal must stand up for them.
Does he think female genital mutilation, sex slavery, unequal pay, access to contraception, domestic violence and access to education worldwide aren't issues? Does he not fear that his senior girls might be raped next year in college, but doesn't have to worry about that with the boys?
And if this principal gets fired, it won't be a statement on his entire sex's capabilities.
If Paris were a boy, studies show that she would have gotten more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often. I hope with this incident, she gets the attention she deserves.
"Feminism, the radical notion that women are people." said Dame Rebecca West.
Portland, Oregon, 2014. The word feminist is still radical.
If Camille had started building the Parthenon on the day she was born, in only two years, she would already be done.
When I was her age...I can hardly bear to think how clue-less I was. She is much more clue-full. Although no more equipped to face finishing the Parthenon. But it's not like she would have had to have built the Parthenon by herself, so never mind.
Okay, so at 17 Joan of Arc led the French army into battle and Judy Garland made $150K in 1936 dollars playing Dorothy and I think Blaise Pascal got off tumblr every once in a while or he wouldn't have had time to invent the calculator.
But there will be time for all that later in life, after she stops scrolling through instagram. I'll help her after I finish my tea, but first, let me adjust the color in this photo.
Ann Oakley was a crack shot by 15. But there will be time for that after I buy Camille a soft scarf and more minutes on her phone and we watch the sad, sad orca movie and I give her her new slippers and boots, and we get the creams for her eczema and her favorite shampoo and we sit at the gelato place on the plaza.
Later Camille will study for the art history test, review the vocabulary works for the quiz in English and finish the essay, while listening to music. I'm sure painting her nails would help her do better on the test, which do I need to remind her? Is tomorrow.
There will be time later to be depressed, maybe even while we are at Ikea. Or when we walk back from town because I refuse to pay for another $20 taxi ride. I hate Switzerland on Sundays when everything is closed and we have to buy eggs at the gas station. But if I get her gummy bears, maybe she will do the little happy dance or fill out the application for a state school in California.
Aunt Valerie was cooking dinners and working at a bank and had a successful business up her leg-o-mutton-sleeved wedding dress by the time she was 17.
And by the time Nicolo Paganini was 17, he had dazzled audiences with his violin virtuosity. But then he had to pawn his violin to pay gambling debts--so I guess splurging on Swiss chocolate isn't so bad, even if we can't get the leather Burberry pants or the new thing in a Louis Vuiton box your roommate's mother bought for her this weekend.
There is still time to build the Parthenon and save the semester math grade, if we get in touch with a tutor.
Maybe we will figure out how Susan Hinton wrote The Outsiders by the time she was 17, after Camille eats her pasta alla carbonara and I finish my glass of presseco.
On the forest trail near my house in Kyiv, a random display of the minimalist lifesyle
When I had a baby I wondered what I really needed to have with me when traveling. A friend gave me one of the best pieces of advice/wake-up calls ever: "All you really need is a boob and diaper. And you can probably improvise the diaper."
The following lists the essentials, and the one-level-above-the-essentials, for when we arrive jet-lagged at post, on a three-day-weekend, five miles from town, with no car.
Living out of a suitcase makes you pare down to what's really important. It's an interesting lesson. For me, the internet and tea in a real cup are the new boob and diaper.
Absolutely don't forget:
visa card/check book
Everything else is just a happy bonus.
salt and pepper
couple tablespoons of baking soda and baking powder in ziplocs
granola bars, rice crispie treats
tea, teapot (a metal one is least risky) and stevia
coffee cone, filters, coffee and grinder
My kids we're all, "DO NOT PACK THAT CHEESE WITH MY CLOTHES!" when I was scrambling for room in the suitcases. But we've all really been enjoying--and it's made the first couple weeks of dinners in Kyiv easier--the perishables I picked up last minute at Trader Joe's. Stuffed with MY clothes in the luggage:
no-nitrate turkey bacon
chicken Apple sausages
cheddar, lite jarlsburg, feta, parmasean
Sheets I bought a set of soft jersey sheets at Target. They come squished into their own little bag, so they hardly take up any room.
Comforter/blanket I am in love with my new silk comforter--lighter than down and less bulky to pack. For Stefan we brought his favorite marshmallow-type blanket. Camille is suffering with the welcome kit sheets and brillo pad blanket.
SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT PILLOWS. Or sent them ahead, they could have been waiting for us in Peter's office and even if we didn't get them until day 2 or 3, it would be better than the weeks we've been sleeping on these wads of dryer-lint.
Bought two pashmental-type turkish towels minutes before we left Washington. They are super soft, beautiful and light weight. I am much happier having them than just the extremely, uh, exfoliating welcome kit towels.
Clothing--whatever. Stefan needs more socks, but those are easy to buy if I can just get downtown. I have my summer stuff, plus jeans, plus some work clothes that I will be totally sick of by the time I get my things. It's chilly already here, it's been raining even, so I'm glad I lugged around a pair of boots all summer. Should have sent more work shoes, but even Kyiv has shoes.
School supplies packed in new back packs.
Dog leash. Some treats would have been nice too.
A deck of cards and books, kids are getting bigger and I don't need toys anymore really. Stefan packed his own juggling balls and Rubicks cubes.
In the past I have ordered a net grocer or King Arthur Flour delivery, but Kiev has a commissary, so we picked up chocolate chips and peanut butter, and the stores in Kyiv have oatmeal, popcorn and really good flour.
Some drinking glasses, (this is the second time the welcome kit gave us only plastic cups, ugh) teacups, mugs, wine glasses, the wine aerater and a vase for flowers. A couple more work outfits and/or spare shirts for Peter would have been good too.
The dog has taken living out of a suitcase to a new level. She has been sleeping in a suitcase every night. Next time, send ahead a doggie bed.
Today Camille and I headed out to one of the main walking street of Kyiv, Khreshchatyk Boulevard. I'm looking for a fabric store that a local publication wrote a raving review about, but only tells us the street, not the address.
I've downloaded a taxi app, but Uber it is not. The app can't find our street, and neither can the taxi driver. I walk a block to the gate and have the guard explain to the taxi driver where our street is. The driver finds us and in the rain, takes us downtown. Traffic is horrible. Then we discover why. The driver turns off the radio and we can hear people shouting.
The driver is doing the exact opposite of what RSO recommends: he keeps driving towards the demonstration. Drivers, wrapped in the Ukrainian flags, are getting out of their cars. A large crowd is chanting something which with my excellent Russian language skills sounds like, "Wha wha wah! Wha wha wha!"
I have the driver stop. It's raining and there is a demonstration. What a perfect day to sight see!
Chocoladitsa provides us with a warm covered terrace in which to drink melted-candy-bar hot chocolate and fresh mint tea. This costs $8 including tip. Camille and I sit there for a long time, planning our Christmas holiday. It's always good to have something to look forward to is my policy, demonstrations on the street or no. And when we go back out, the crowd has left and the sun is out!
We stroll along until I realise we have come to the end of Khreshchatyk Boulevard, and wow-- look at that statue! I remember seeing it surrounded by fire on CNN back in the spring. This quiet park-like square witnessed the world's most recent re-revolution. And to prove it, you can pick up some souvenir toilet paper and door mats printed with poltitians faces.
So we stand in Ukraine's most dramatic spot and marvel. Never did find the fabric store though.
For the first time ever, as soon as we walked into our newly-assigned house, the miracle of the internet was all set up and ready to sink into. But for the first time ever, we walked in to no living room furniture. If I had to choose, I would pick internet, but one week later, we are all ready for some embassy-issued sofas.
Surrounding our house: apple trees, grape arbors and pear trees full of fruit. That's how far out of town we are: we live in a neighborhood of dachas.
Maybe because I'm not working, not in the middle of an MFA program, not in the land of shopping, don't have teeny kids, am not working with a contractor on the house, don't have any of my stuff to take care of, organize, clean or use-- or maybe I have just forgotten how to amuse myself--I am at a loss for things to do.
Or all this internet is making me boring. Tomorrow I will try knitting, reading and staring at the apple tree in our yard and see if that helps.
On Saturday, Peter and I had nothing better to do, so we went on a six hour stroll around our new city. We walked past parks and metro stations and the most obvious evidence we are back in the former Soviet Union: kiosks selling kvass, everyone's favorite beverage made of fermented bread.
We walked down one major street all the way to Saint Sophia, the cathedral in the very center of the city. On Sunday, Ukrainians celebrated Independence Day; on the square in front of Saint Sophia's--built in 1027--stalls were set up with handmade items for sale, and everyone was wearing embroidered national dress. Down the road was a street fair, with tons of paintings I wouldn't wish on my worst hotel room and many that I regret not buying.
Along with sofas, the house lacked another crucial feature: wine glasses. Peter and I bought a crystal pair on the street for a dollar from someone selling old stuff, then had a cup of tea from another kiosk--it's fun to be back in a country that understands my constant need for cheap crystal and non-stop tea. On the way home the taxi driver kept saying, "You walked all this way?" --more than seven miles.
The three-day Independence-weekend was a nice bonus, and this weekend is another three-day weekend! If you have to show up with jet lag and a mostly unfurnished house with pillows as fluffy as one cotton ball each--two three-day weekends in a row is a good way to begin.
We pass the four day work-weeks wandering around the bare herringbone-style hardwood floors, listening to Good Mythical Morning all day long and waiting for our lives to start. At night, we lay awake, feeling like it's dinner time. One particularly bad night, I was awake until 7:30 am.
A couple nights ago, at 2:30 am, not feeling tired at all, but knowing I should go to bed, I made the mistake of checking my email one last time. I found an urgent note from our neighbor in Tahoe. A bear tore down our front door and rummaged through our kitchen. It's the same issue as in Ukraine, someone wants his territory back. Next thing you know, the raccoons who work as guards will be leaving because they've been drafted.
This bear didn't touch the vodka, but did eat tofu corn dogs (delicately leaving behind the sticks), no-nitrate bacon and frozen shrimp. Clearly a Californian and not a Russian bear.
Yesterday I went to the Embassy, which made me miss everyone at U.S. Embassy Bucharest terribly. I started weeping in line in the cafeteria, wishing for the faces of darling people who work in the cafeteria in Bucharest.
In Moscow, I remember telling my friend Erica: When you find yourself crying remind yourself, it's the jetlag.
I honestly don't remember feeling like this in Moscow. (Or Bucharest, or Niger. Did I?) I must have, or I wouldn't have been so full of wise advice for Erica. But in Moscow I had the metro right outside my door and didn't have to think about learning to drive just so I could buy a wineglass! Camille didn't leave after just a few days! Bears didn't break in! We had sofas!
This has been the most exciting, boring week ever.