In honor of World Book Day here are top 10 book recommendations

I just couldn’t resist. Here are my bite-sized reviews of top ten books you should read. There should be something for everyone except the non-fiction fiend. For those doubting fiction, let me clarify that reading fiction can help improve some fundamentally human qualities:

  1. Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences
  2. Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experiences
  3. Fiction expands our range of experiences
  4. Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed

“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities.” Leland Ryken

And with that! Here comes a list that is STILL related to travel, because with an excellent book you can significantly improve the experience of your travel trip. Also, what else would you be doing on those train rides from A to B? Below is a list that I experienced in different places in the world… About different places of the world.

  • For a Paris filled with anecdotes about famous writers (did you know that Hemingway and Ezra Pound vowed to save T.S. Eliot’s position at the bank) and to learn that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life, read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”:  And if you travel to Paris, head to 6th arrondissement to at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, which is where he lived.

 

  • A tour de force vomit on the twisted world of fashion, celebrity & derangement, go to Bret Easton Ellis’s “Glamorama”. Bret Easton Ellis have recently become the best writer of tweets and made a lot of enemies in his lifetime, but I still find his work interesting. It flows with such hedonistic abandon and completely dysfunctional moral compasses. (This is a fucked up book, avoid if you can’t stomach obscenity). I read this book during the hot summer of 2010, in Toronto.

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  • I work in digital advertising. Which ads changed the world? If you think, none, you’re wrong. And chances are, the top ad that you are thinking is not the one that is featured here. An excellent treatise spawning from the dawn of advertising is James Twitchell’s “20 Ads that Shook the World”. I read this in Toronto in 2009.

  • On the true face of Stalinism and fallen idylls of communism, read the startling “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler. I read this dark piece of intelligent and astute writing on a sunny trip to Los Angeles in 2010. This is one of the few books that deeply shook me and made me question the past of the country I come from (Russia).

  • For a beautiful treatise on memory, friendship, ageing and life in London after the Great War, immerse yourself in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”. I first read it as a teenager back in Vancouver, but since moving to London, I re-read it and fell in love.

  • A progressively lunatic capture of LA hills, an early Hollywood & celebrity culture: Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust”. This is the book that starts sunny, full of the energy of the film industry and sunshine. Gradually, things start spinning out of control. There is a particularly gruesome description of a cock fight. There is a murder. There is madness. It spins out of control (like most of West’s books, which are only 4 because he died young in a car crash :( )

  • For a dirtier, sexier, sincere take on life in XX century Paris, read Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”. Inhibitions, be gone! This was the book that I read the moment I returned from Colombia, as my friend recommended it to me. I knew about Henry Miller and his notoriety, but I did not anticipate how much it would affect it. After reading the first few chapters, I sat down to type out angry words of my own. I had a good reason at the time. I still view this book as the bridge that transported me to London. Unfortunately, I gave away my copy to someone who probably did not appreciate it.

  • Skip “Master and Margarita” and go for Mikhail Bulgakov’s lesser known novel “Heart of a Dog”. It’s an absurdist parable of the Russian Revolution: Professor Preobrazhensky and his young colleague Dr. Bormental inserted the human’s hypophysis into a dog’s brain. Couple of weeks later the dog became “human looking”. The main question is “Is anybody who is looking like a man, A REAL MAN?” Read the book to find out for yourself. There is an excellent film based on this book, check out the Mubi page.

  • Immerse yourself in a futuristic Russia where technology & draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible rule Moscow of 2028: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik” is a straight spit in the face of what the Putin administration is becoming. This is advanced reading and requires some knowledge of the Russian history and what oprichniki were (basically, they were czar’s thugs, Wiki). There is also a lot of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll.

  • And the final recommendation to those with strong hearts and open minds: the most beautiful book ever written, and the one that made me feel more emotions than any other books: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. I believe that Vladimir Nabokov was the greatest master of Russian AND English language, for the way he wrote is so articulate, scientific, precise and trembling that it borders magic. I also realized that I did not like any covers for the book, because they convey something other than what I got out of the book.

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How I was a Hamburger for the weekend

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Hamburg on a work assignment. I asked to be flown in there a day earlier, on Saturday, so I could explore on my own for a day before getting down to business. So one fine morning, half-asleep, with a cold to boot, I ventured to Heathrow to visit Germany for the first time in 2 years (after US, I think Germany has been the second most-visited country of mine).

One Lufthansa trip later (more on that in the next few posts), I got there. My first impression of Hamburg is excellent. The city is extremely clean, well-put together, lively but not overpowering, and has the overall air of undercover trendy. You gotta know places. The architecture is crisp – there are nods to the past, and pride in the future, a lot of new buildings. In fact, now that I think of it, it’s the lack of old builds (like in Brussels or Paris) that makes me think of Hamburg as a future-forward place.

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Elbe seen from one of the bridges, courtesy of Arcotel Hotels

Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and sixth largest in Europe. It’s a media and industrial centre. Largest European publishing house and largest European copper recycler are established there. Hamburg is proud of its port, which the second largest in Europe. The city was one of the key centres of the Hanseatic League in the good ole days, and the references remain to this day. By the way, German airline Lufthansa is also a nod to the past (Luft + Hansa).

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Hanseatic League cities highlighted in red. Photo courtesy of http://faculty.cua.edu/

What did I do on my first day in Hamburg. From the Lindner Hotel, where I was staying, I wanted to walk to find Cafe Paris. I asked the concierge where it was, and she directed me to the Rathaus area, saying that it’s nearby… She didn’t specify where exactly it would be, however, so I kept wandering around hoping that my intuition would lead me to it. It didn’t.But I found the Rathaus.

After failing to find the elusive Cafe Paris (without a map or even a knowledge of the street it’s on), I gave up and went straight to Currypapa for some good ol’ currywurst, which I haven’t had since Berlin, 2011. Food chain or not, it was tasty

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Currywurst, nom nom. Courtesy of: Hamburg.de

As I walked through the streets near the Rathaus square, I was happy to hear so many foreign languages. Lots of Russians and Spanish (again and again, on all my trips in the past half a year, there have been lots of Spanish and Russian). I seemed to wander around the shopping area even though I don’t like shopping. I thought that maybe Adidas originals would be cheaper in Germany, but no, they were not. Moreover, the selection was dysmal. I immeditely ran out of the shop.

Wi-fi barely exists in the publics pace in Hamburg. Beware! It’s generally a trend in Western Europe (Budapest, on the other hand, has wi-fi spots in almost every bar and restaurant). But if you like art? Boy, are you in a right place for art. I almost derailed from walking around the Old City and went into the Kunsthalle for Giacometti and retrospectives on a number of German artists. Save that for a rainy day. That being said, make sure you pop into Deichtorhallen for a peek at contemporary and international talents. It’s a beautiful building and an excellent collection of art. I enjoyed every single artists showing as part of the New Germany photography exhibit. And there was an Albert Watson retrospective.

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Kate Moss by Albert Watson. Photo from lascerezasdexondica.wordpress.com

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Christy Turlington by Albert Watson. Photo courtesy of vistek.ca

At the end of my walking tour, I noticed Joe & The Juice coffee shop, of which I only heard and knew from the sticker that my ex-boyfriend stuck on a Polaroid camera that he took with him to Copenhagen in 2006. So although I knew about the coffee shop for ages, I’ve never been, so I popped in. Even coffee shops in Hamburg play excellent music. I was greeted with mellow house sounds of Cyril Hahn (never heard of him! But since the first encounter in Hamburg, he’s been popping up on my radar, and I’ll most likely see him at Parklife in Manchester). Good-looking barista turned up the music when he saw me wiggle a bit.

After a daytime walk, I returned to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Brachmanns Galeron in St Pauli with my colleague. My German friend who used to live in Hamburg describes the restaurant as the place where cool people go for dinner. Yelp describes the place as a contemporary German cuisine. Sounds good to me. The highlights of the meal was Gruner Veltliner by the glass and a legendary Käsespätzle. I can be seen hovering over the entree in the dark here:

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My lovely collegue Anna-Lena took me around some bars in Reeperbahn and then St Pauli. While I did not particularly enjoy the former, I liked the later and in particular the Toast Bar with which we capped off the night.

Unfortunately my cold got worse the day after a Saturday outing and I spent all of the rainy Sunday trying to get better and preparing for my client presentation on Monday.

Lufthansa brings loved ones together

I always had a soft spot for Lufthansa. And I have also been watching their forays into the world of social media since 2009 when they launched MySkyStatus which would tweet your flight movements while you were in the air (hence couldn’t tweet yourself). 

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Nowadays some flights offer Wi-Fi (but it’s not worth it if it’s not free, right), but back in 2009 tweeting while you were up in the air was not the usual course of action. 

Because of what I do at work, I recently did some research into the airline industry, and some things I found is that Lufthansa is really good at adopting new technologies. For example, their mobile website experience is excellent, and, whilst playing around with it, I almost booked a flight to Berlin (I had to go with British Airways in the end, because Lufthansa sold out of the cheap flights to Germany, but no matter, I have a forthcoming review about my experience with Lufthansa). They have a great application as well, and, if I may be as bold to say it, a great browsing experience. The app never crashes. 

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But enough of sounding like I was bribed by Lufthansa. I wasn’t, but I’m open to it in the future ;-) What made me smile today was 1) that many airlines that I was researching were doing a Valentine’s message. I suppose in our modern world where long distance relationships are becoming more and of a norm, this is a relevant message. 2) And that Lufthansa created an especially excellent experience that bridges my thirst for travel with missing my friends back in Canada. 

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What could this be? Of course I tweet my best friend’s name in efforts to see what comes up. And what comes up is an automated message, replying back to me and her alongside a “boarding pass”:

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It’s a pretty nifty thing. From a digital revenue point of view, it does nothing much. But it’s a nice touch. Whereas KLM, British Airways, Emirates Air, and even Virgin Atlantic were pushing pictures with hearts and planes in the air, Lufthansa took a more difficult – certainly more cost intensive, since some developing was involved – approach that, in my opinion, paid off in a more serious fashion. I was toying with the idea, but now will most certainly try to book a flight with Lufthansa to travel to Canada when I go home. 

Go Lufthansa!

 

The time I had a martini with Mrs James Brown at Hotel Bel Air

One time I was invited to a wedding in Los Angeles. This was back in 2007, when I was young and vulnerable, at that impressionable age when brushing with semi-famous people was pretty cool (probably still is for some people; I mean look at how they recite the names of Jersey Shore and American Idol participants – who are they anyway?).

No matter. The wedding took place at the Bel Air hotel, the day is June 1, the time is roughly 6 or 7, and it’s a perfect evening in California. The palm trees are everywhere in sight, so are dark pastels, I’m wearing a sexy white dress (is the non-bridal white a taboo? No matter) and it’s the hors d’oeuvres time in the grassy area around the Bel Air Hotel. The wedding ceremony finished, and the happy couple looked like this:

The wedded pair are doing photos, guest books are being signed, and everyone is waiting for the wedding party to get back. Or have they just gotten back? As I chomp down a cheesy puff that is also probably spiced with gold dust, I see a worried bridesmaid running up to me. Her name is Gaia and she is terrified, because she took a bite of her cheese puff and the gooey inside projectiled onto her shinyish brown bridesmaid dress (not my ideal choice).

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This was not that wedding, but you get the idea. Swans, seats, romance at Bel Air.

“Karin, can you go with me to help fix this?” she says tipsily, because the wedding party was in a limo all day, rolling around LA and drinking whiskey.

“Sure”, I say. And we walk to the ladies toilets at Hotel Bel Air.

I have to admit that I was doing a lot of eye rolling at that moment, but I was also holding a grudge at my boyfriend at the time (which is why I was at the wedding in the first place), and wanted to get away. He was in the wedding party and nowhere in sight.

We enter the toilet and Gaia excitedly talks the whole time we are there. I propose napkins, I propose water, we discuss my relationship briefly (Gaia brings it up), when the door opens and two things happen:

A beautiful, tall, long-haired redhead walks in a sexy pencil skirt, lovely top, fishnets and fierce Yves Saint Laurent heels that I immediately know were in May’s issue of Vogue. I’ve got a great photographic memory, and those heels were all the rage in 2007. She eyes me, says in a deep, seductive and velvety voice: “Nice hair”, and walks into a stall.

I melt.

Second thing: an African-American woman in a flowerful (that’s right) turban walks in. I am completely startled also by the fact that she is wearing a long mermaid skirt emblazoned with tropical fruits and flowers, plus a bikini top.

I am embarrassed to say it, but seeing the two of them together, the first thing I thought was, “Is there a gay party happening at the Bel Air tonight?” And an air of excitement filled the room.

The woman in the turban says, “Do you know who that is?”

“No”, we both say, mesmerized. I’m sitting on the bathroom counter, waving my legs in white heels that match the dress.

“That was Mrs James Brown”, says the flower lady in a loud whisper.

I immediately think “Right”, and then: wait, I’m in Los Angeles, Hotel Bel Air, it is summer and James Brown died on Christmas 2006. Where does this go now?

Mrs James Brown emerges and pays attention to us. The wedding party girl squeaks about her cheese puff problem. “Oh, we can help you,” and they shoot a barrage of stain removal advice. I have to admit that I must have been tipsy at the time or it was a long time ago and I don’t remember all this very well.

Mrs James Brown calls the Bel Air concierge from the toilet and asks her to bring some soda water and a hair dryer. This happens.

Gaia, the bridesmaid, is so grateful that she exclaims that she must buy Mrs James Brown and – drumroll…. guess who we are with? Princess Selassie of Ethiopia, or so she says and I have no reason not to believe her – a drink. Princess Selassie looks suspiciously like this, and apparently she was on Real Housewives of New York (I’m not surprised):

So we all make our way to the Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar not too far away. It looks like this:

Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar

Bridesmaid recommends an apple martini to Princess Selassie and to Mrs James Brown, whose real name is Tomi Rae Hynie, and apparently they never heard of those. “Really?” I think. I highly doubt that, but hey, if the ladies want to play the part, that’s absolutely fine.

Gaia goes to pay for the drinks and she is upset that the cost is $80 for four martinis. Sounds about right, but at the age of 2o or 22, that is a huge chunk of money. Realistically, you could have bought 1.5 bottles of Veuve Clicquot at the store, so that counts for something too.

We return to the table and converse with the women. All the celebrity crap, B-A-C, whatever, aside – the women were kickass. They talked to us about the importance of career, about not letting the man trample all over you, girl power, being independent, strong and more. We also exchange phone numbers (really? That did happen, I had the Princess’s number and Tomi Rae’s number down), and we were invited to a couple of jazz shows and some other events.

I have to say that Tomi was at the time embezzled in a vicious battle of James Brown’s estate (read more here), and she was really pushing the story on us too. Which is fine. I would probably also go for the money had my late husband died and I wanted to take care of my kid, James Brown II.

What else? A great evening. The Bel Air Hotel lounge is beautiful, and it was filled with dark types that – in my young digital mind – resembled the smoky, analog Hollywood era long gone. I swear I saw a mafia guy or two.

“There you are!” yelled the wedding planner. Our dreamtime had to end. “You should return to the wedding.” A wedding planner was telling US what to do. If it happened today, I’d slap the living hell out of that woman. But we obliged and went to the wedding banquet area.

Everybody heard of our adventures by now (bless me and my BBM abilities of 2007).

The first song that the wedding DJ played?

This: 

PS. Random little observation. Tomi Rae’s hair colour darkened from the same bright that I had to a more somber color (like me). Could it be that we were using the same L’Oreal Feria brand and then had to stop?

Adventures in Lisbon with the friendliest explorers

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On the back streets of Alfama

My experience in Lisbon had been of a rather curious nature. A lot more random and distressing things happened to me there than in any other place (apart from Brussels trip, on which my companion and I met an apparently famous flutist, an old British womanizer type, and proceeded to go for drinks with him and his very strange mate).

For starters, I became enamored with soft toned buildings and laundry hanging off every window. When I was in Alfama visiting the Castelo de Sao Jorge, I counted 22+ drying sets of laundry seen in every direction.

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The houses of Bairro Alto

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Alfama streets

Cobbled paths were a bit of a challenge with a carry-on suitcase though.

I talked to and met a lot of Portuguese people, starting with Regina, my very warm and friendly AirBnB host (check out her Bairro Alto room for rent here) and continuing with her Ukrainian roommate (what a pleasant surprise, we spoke Russian most of the time), her boyfriend, friends, mother and random people Regina and I met on the street.

One of the most striking features about Lisbon (and I assume, Portugal overall) is how friendly everyone was. Portuguese are a warm bunch. They are also proud of their heritage, cultural contributions, naval achievements and geographic discoveries.

When I saw the river Tagus view from the hills of the city (Lisbon is nicknamed as the City of Seven Hills), there was no question about it: If I had to see this all my life, I, too, would want to set sail and explore the world on ship. So hats off to the Portuguese for venturing out on our behalf. Are you not surprised that Lisboa’s other nickname is Queen of the Sea?

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View from Alfama; river Tagus in the background

I arrived at the cusp of November and December and, despite the sun on photos, it was pretty cold there. But I didn’t give up. I took a cable car to Alfama to explore the Sao Jorge castle and surrounding areas. Of particular interest was the Conserveira de Lisboa, which has been in operation for 80 years. It’s full of bespoke canned seafood products, and you can watch old ladies wrap sardines, octopus and other goodies in beautifully designed wraps (which I’m going to put on my wall as art pieces):

Source: Lisboa Diarios http://lisboadiarios.blogspot.com/

I recommend taking a small picnic to the Castle and surrounding grounds so you can enjoy breathtaking views without going hungry or thirsty. I also recommend overcoming any fears of heights and climb as many stairs as you can to experiencing what it might have felt like to be a arrow-shooting guard on duty.

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Took me a while to wait for the flag to move. This is from the castle’s highest point.

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About to enter the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Notice a figure eyeing us from the top.

I did not go into as many restaurants as I usually do when I travel, but one particular spot that stood out was The Decadente, which recently won a Best Restaurant award. Rightly so. Make a reservation and definitely try the pork belly on the menu. More photos can be found here.

Why are all these photos taken with what looks like a film camera? Sadly, my iPhone 4S was stolen by a pickpocket. My guard was down, I was too distracted in a busy cafe (at A Padaria Portuguesa, you might want to be more careful there), and someone took it. It was one of the most unpleasant feelings in my life. I won’t go into my feelings about the loss, but I’ll say that it me a day to regroup and equip myself with paper maps and disposable cameras!

On a Monday night, my last one in Lisboa, Regina took me out to have some of the best traditional Portuguese meat at Toma La Da Ca restaurant in Bica neighborhood. Cheap and plentiful food. We then ventured out to a Library Bar (one of the few bars that allow smoking indoors – take note, smokers) to meet up with friends before heading to an amateur drag queen night, some of which you can see below:

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Things you must do in Lisbon as recommended by me:

  • Stay in Bairro Alto, which is a nightlife central; it’s densely packed, all you need is within the perimeter of 4 streets.
  • Dine at El Decadente restaurant.
  • Have pastries for breakfast and do not overestimate the freshness of seafood shops. I found excellent cod and octopus salads at a seafood shop on Rua Loreto near the Largo Luis de Camoes square in Chiado.
  • Venture out to Belem for a day: see the Jeronimos Monastery, get your contemporary art fix at the Berardo Collection Museum, and stuff yourself with the tasty Pasteis de Belem, like myself over here:
  • If you are into dancing, go to LUX Fragil club; it’s co-owned by John Malkovich and even though the club is not new, it is still high on the list of excellent interior design jobs.
  • Catch some fado especially at dinner. But try to avoid tourist traps as they will overcharge you.

Few more shots:

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Tower of Belem

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Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

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Electricity Museum in Belem. Great contemporary art exhibits!

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Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Belem

Any questions? Just ask :)

All photos copyright Karin Abramova

Past year’s travels and the look ahead

The cat is out of the bag!

There comes a time for everyone, or at least I would hope for many people, when it dawns on them what their number one passion (at least for the moment being) is. Mine has been sitting and fermenting under my nose for so long that I did not notice it until its aroma turned particularly pungent. No matter. Last week I realized that it was high time to take said passion by the horns and do something more productive with it besides an exemplary Instagram, tweets and status updates. Channel that shit, baby! So here we go. I’m doing this for myself and my own memory more than anything else, but also to maybe help inspire others to make the plunge and to explore with no fear. 

Let’s first look over the shoulder. Where did I go in 2012?

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Around Villa de Leyva, Colombia. #nofilter

  • Toronto, Canada – starting point. This is where I lived at the beginning of last year. 
  • Austin, TX, USA
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Villa de Leyva, Colombia
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • New York, NY, USA
  • …moved to London, UK and then went to:
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Brighton, UK
  • Whitstable, UK
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Manchester, UK
  • Paris, France
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Lisbon, Portugal

I have more than enough content to write a little travel book about these places. Which is what I will do. I’ve had a really great year for travel last year, and I am thankful for every moment.

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Brussels, Belgium. Happy to be here, of course. First Eurostar experience.

What is currently planned for 2013? I hope to take the following trips. What will actually happen? I suppose I’ll find out by the end of this year.

  • Budapest, Hungary (done)
  • Hamburg, Germany (surprise,for work)
  • Bath, England
  • Brussels, Belgium (tentative)
  • Brighton, England (tentative)
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bristol, England
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (tentative, still debating)
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • Vancouver, Canada (home!)
  • Vancouver Islands, particularly Cortez Island, to visit a friend’s farm
  • Seattle, USA (not far from home)
  • Portland, USA (if some friends join me)
  • Bologna and Parma, Italy
  • Bratislava, Slovakia (for a “goose party”)
  • Vienna, Austria (apparently it’s only a 30 minute drive from Bratislava)
  • Istanbul, Turkey

I also really want to go to Krakow, Poland, and Ljubljana, Slovenie, but that’s a bit up in the air. Dubai, UAE would be great to visit a couple of friends who relocated there recently. I want to go to Madrid, Spain as I have never been. 

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That’s the plan anyway. 

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New Horizons

New Horizons

I’ve spent some time dusting off my old blog, removing irrelevant content and organizing some things. I’m making a public announcement that soon I will revive this place in a more interesting and hopefully regular fashion. Let’s see how it fares.

Hint: it has to do with one of my biggest passions.

And soon enough, just like these stone fellas in Belem in Lisbon, we will all set sail forth.

London Calling

 

The moment it sunk in that I am moving to London, my memory sent an electric shock down my spine. I vividly recalled my obsession with the Great Britain, Londinium, United Kingdom, Big Ben, high tea. I  remembered that from when I was 11 till I moved to Canada (where new elements started occurring to me), I was completely bonkers about Britain! I wanted to live there, I wanted to be British, I wanted to brandish the Union Jack everywhere I could.

 

Let’s face it. 

 

I am moving TO LONDON! This is happening. 

 

I am so absolutely excited about the possibilities of London. Of the busy and dynamic current of lives that it is, of the immense history, world class culture of all types, of the multicultural mix of people that I am delighted to meet, of the prime location and Heathrow, Heathrow, Heathrow that is the hub to everywhere else in the world. One of my most amazing friends (Kat!) is living there right now, and she loves the city. My other European friends are a stones throw away. This is it. THIS is the change I’ve been wanting, THIS is the godsent gift to my present situation. This is the fate grabbing me by the the collar and presenting me with the pearl of my twenties. Living in London in your twenties is probably one of the best things that can happen. 

 

I am immensely grateful to life. I am immensely grateful to my company that is moving me to work in our London office (in Camden, no less!). I am excited! 

20 Things to Do in Bogotá Before I Die

By Andres/Karina

1. Start a fire
2. Mushrooms
3. Create and/or follow a riot
4. Kidnap a Colombian
5. Exchange more dollars
6. Drink aguardiente
7. Assault a midget
8. Go to a silent play
9. Get a tennis lesson at a country club
10. Eat ajiaco soup
11. Get a tarot card reading
12. See a cock fight
13. Go to a bull fight
14. Take photos of street art
16. Go to the Botero museum
17. Find nonexistent stamps in an attempt to send a postcard back
18. Haggle over an item at a flea market
19. Buy South American music records
20. Write a list of things to do in Bogotá before I die.

A trip to Vancouver in December

I’m taking a trip to Vancouver between December 24th and January 2nd 2011.

Decided that it would be a good time to spend some time with close friends and family this year. It’s been a great year so far, and who knows if I’m going to be able to fly to Vancouver next year.

Which is why I hope to do something special for New Year’s Eve with friends. Not talking about having a party to end all parties – one can do that any weekend wherever one lives. I’d rather spend quality time with good people, and make memories for a long time to come.

I’m already thinking about the Christmas day menu. Which will probably feature fish or some kind of seafood. We are also going to be hosting my parents’ friends on Boxing Day. I can probably “get away” with cooking my master roast beef. Costco has the right sizes for 6-8 people.

I’ll check out the Aquarium again, and this time definitely go to the Charcoal grill and a couple of other Izakaya places. Oh yes, and as usual, have one ridiculous night with old friends and eat all the sashimi I can. And read a lot. And Bugs Tomato. And doing nothing all day, wearing pyjamas and watching Soviet cartoons. Yep, that’s holidays.

My Amelie-like Experience With Toy Cars in This ‘Hood

I mustered up some enthusiasm and set out to walk to my most fruit and flower stand (in my hood). Actually, it’s been disappointing me lately but I only wanted to buy asparagus, tomatoes and cucumbers. That I could find there!

I walked up my usual street, and then noticed approximately a 15-cm long toy car. And what car! Teal color, 70’s feel, and unsupervised! Whose car was it?! Who left it right on the street, and without any child in sight? I took a dreamy photo:

I continued my walk to the fruit stand, spent 10-15 minutes shopping, and started walking back. Being naturally very observant I kept looking around until my gaze fell on the bush by pavement. AND WHAT DO I SEE? Another elegant car. It was burgundy red, sleek and delicately “hidden” just enough to fall into observant person’s line of vision. Or a short child’s.

I dropped my bags and took another photo. I was on a quest. This couldn’t be a coincidence, especially considering that the two cars were a block apart! I kept walking. I saw the first car on the pathwalk to someone’s house: did a kid move it?! Where is everybody?

Walking by the children’s playground near my house I stretched my neck in hopes of catching  a sight of more cars or any indication of who this Amelie-like gamester was. No idea.

As I was getting close to my house, I squeaked when I saw a third car! What! I took a photo.

I should’ve gone out to hunt more cars in our neighborhood, because there must have been more. Cars like these probably don’t come in sets of only three, and if someone planted them around the hood, that someone must have had more than three. Yesterday my roommate saw a carcass of a similar yellow car. The children got to them and already destroyed these beauties that shoulda been on someone’s toy mantelpiece instead.

My Life According to Placebo

It’s no secret that I like Placebo. I first heard them when I was 12 I think, and I definitely didn’t like them. The Pure Morning video played on MTV Russia daily at a certain point in time.

I didn’t like it then; however two years later love appeared.

I found a year-old post with this meme. You pick a performer and answer the following questions using only their songs. Then see what happens.

Are you a male or female:
Slackerbitch

Your last relationship:
Meds

Your fear:
Scared of Girls

What is the best advice you have to give:

Ask for Answers

Thought for the Day:
Taste in Men

How I would like to die:
Haemoglobin (esp first line…)

My soul’s present condition:
Because I Want You

My motto:
Hang On To Your IQ

Describe Yourself:
Special K

How do you feel:
Bigmouth Strikes Again

Describe where you currently live:
Brick Shithouse

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:

Twenty Years

Your favorite food is:
Bubblegum

Your best friend is:
Lady of the Flowers

You and your best friends…
Every You and Every Me

What’s the weather like:
Battle for the Sun

Favorite time of day:

Pure Morning

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
Days Before You Came

What is life to you:
Running Up That Hill

My Weekend Meals: Recap

And the reasons why I should stick to salad and leafy,  non-meaty, non-carby things this coming week. Except for Wednesday night when I will be venturing out to Buca for a dinner.

I. Friday

It started with a dinner at Enoteca Sociale, which you should try visiting for yourself. It’s Pizza Libretto’s sister restaurant on 1288 Dundas Street and Dovercourt. Really worth it. They also have a cheese cave with more cheeses than regular food items (listed on the menu, teehee). Follow Enoteca on Twitter.

For wine we ordered Faraghina 2009, which was a crisp, dry white wine. Despite eating a medium-heavy meal we all agreed on trying this wine and were not disappointed. Please keep in mind that I forgot to photograph some items on the menu. That’s my fault. For next week’s recap I’ll be more careful.

We started with crispy veal sweetbreads and arugula, as well as artichoke fries. For the first round of firsts we ordered house made pappardelle braised rabbit, house made duck liver ravioli sage brown butter and raviolo (ricotta, wild spinach & peas) with porcini mushrooms.

The latter (and the above photo) was part of the tasting menu which also included chef’s antipasto, ontario lamb chop parmigiana & green beans, treviso & green salad. Here’s the lamb:

For dessert we got allegretto (thermalised sheep’s milk, quebec, sharp) and a sweetened ricotta, almond biscuit & ontario peaches:

Then we ordered three kinds of cheese from Nonna’s cheese cave. Our server let us go downstairs and see the beauties for ourselves. Annie picked a blue cheese, Hesam got sheep’s milk and I went for the goat, which apparently turned out to be Nonna’s favorite,  Chaput St. Maure. Forgot to mention the dessert wine! Moscato was a pleasant surprise, with rose petals and just enough sweetness for a dessert wine.

II. Saturday

As if pigging out and enjoying ourselves last Friday was not enough, I made an appointment to meet a friend for brunch at Saving Grace. I had an Americano from Ezra’s Pound while I waited for this brunch spot to open. I then ordered poached eggs with some potatoes and chopped chorizo and Ontario peaches. The food was good and still light enough:

After the food I remembered that I was hosting a friend that night and went to Kensington Market to stock up on delicious things to cook later that night. I bought two salmon steaks and later that night battered them in blackened seasoning for that night’s feast. I also chopped up some homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, add them to the arugula mix, diced some peppers and added chia seeds. the dressing was olive oil and some salt. See for yourself:

III. Sunday

The following day I had another brunch planned with Nadja Sayej of ArtStars whom I haven’t seen in a while. We settled to meet at Mitzi’s. I ordered the much-praised huevos rancheros and was disastrously disappointed. Not going to Mitzi’s for brunch ever again. The food was tasteless, prepared without any apparent care, and it the portion was seriously meant to serve three people. Bleh! Not again.

To make things right, I didn’t despair about Mitzi’s and instead walked back home home to attend to several things and to anticipate Meghann and our collage-making time. On Saturday I bought a fine pork chop from Sanagans Meat Locker in anticipation. I got a cocoa sauvignon spices for said pork chops, and I also added some pomegranate sauce to make things right. The following is the pork chop I made, and Meghann’s collard greens with butter. And homegrown tomatoes!

We decadently finished off the night with bacon butterscotch cupcakes from Yummy Stuff.

So yeah, I am going to buckle down this week. Excited for that!

Any questions? Holler!

Longing for Weekend Visits

Last weekend my roommate went to Oakville to stay with her parents. She visits them every almost every weekend, and I admit I am wee bit jealous, because I wish I had the opportunity to see my family as frequently. Of course, if we all lived in the same city, I probably wouldn’t be able to see them absolutely every weekend. But I would appreciate the opportunity itself.

I imagine heading their way straight from work, and making it in time for dinner. Upon seeing me, the ever excited Bugs Tomato would leap to me, and then actively jump trying to lick my face once I kneel down. Seconds later, this affectionate little animal would experience problems breathing – chihuahuas are known to have respiratory problemsб – because he gets so excited. After I massage his throat for a bit and wonder how he can be so ecstatically excited to see me, he’s back to normal. I wish I could tell him to take it easy at times.

I would go on dropping my bags and situating myself in the kitchen, either helping mom to prepare dinner (something Russian that I asked for), or more likely, making the whole dinner myself. I love cooking for the family.

In the sunlit dining room (or the balcony, rain permitting) we’d share the food, laughter and recent news. Later we would most likely watch old Soviet movies, or 90’s Russian films. Sometimes mom and I itch for animated shorts of the olden days. Whatever we watch, we enjoy the time spent together.

For the rest of the weekend I would most likely preoccupy myself with either making food for the family, walking on the Promenade along the shore, or gearing up to take my mountain bike for a ride. Last time, instead of biking, I opted out for a hike in the neighboring forest. I definitely appreciate the West coast flora, especially the trees.

Really, I wouldn’t do much while visiting the parents. I always try to be in the present moment, to be calm (doesn’t work, I’m too excitable!), and patient. After the first few days I start to experience a sharp sense of melancholy, because these beautiful days will have to come to an end. I play with Bugs Tomato – he’s oblivious to my upcoming expiry – and I randomly hug either mom or dad. I desperately want the clock to slow down, but it is ruthless.

On the day of my scheduled flight to my other home, I mean it when I say “I don’t want to go”, and already foresee the blue week ahead. Upon the arrival, en route to my bed, I already long for my warm family home, laughing together and the ever ebullient Bugs Tomato.

On Spontaneous Eloquence

“My vocabulary dwells deep in my mind and needs paper to wriggle out into the physical zone. Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions

In May I spent more (than usual) time worried about the words I choose in everyday language. I became acutely aware of the differences in my written speech and my spoken one. I noticed that I had opted out for simple, quick words that popped into my mind like fireworks, instead of selecting the vivid and precise boulders of usually longer and mostly unpopular words. Words that communicated the meaning exceptionally, but words that also don’t spring into action at the slighted fancy of the brain. The words need mining. While I wanted to give them some spotlight, I ended up using the simplest normal words.

The more chipper, satisfied and energetic I was, the more my speech resembled a basic soap opera set. Exaggerating, I’ll even say, my speech was caveman-like! Sentence structure, all sorts of exclamations and exclamation marks. Well, the usual me, I guess, hehe.

Having learned English as a second language, I’ve always paid attention to my vocabulary, words I use, metaphors I create and more. Knowing more than one language makes you appreciate the variety of expressions that already exist and that could be created. Writing was not a problem. Writing allows for apt word selections and swollen metaphors because of the comforts of time and editing options, while speaking in person demands mental dexterity and immediate responses. I also couldn’t understand the incongruence between my written language and my spoken one. What the …!

So I entertained this worry until I ran across the aforementioned quote by Nabokov in Strong Opinions. That definitely relaxed me. Consulting with a couple of fellow lovers of words and letters, I found out it’s not an usual concern. Moreover, it made me consciously make an effort to give some air time to words we sometimes only see in print.

Progress! Yesterday for the first time I noticed that, while telling Meghann a story, I deliberately thought about colorful metaphors to employ. I took the time to summon a lengthier and sometimes even more pompous word where a simple one could suffice. I realized that ever since I consciously made an effort to decorate in-person parlance with more book-like words, I’ve been making some success. Now the only task is to continue to collect and use more of these epic words ;)

Fun Update: randomly searching the web, of course, yielded this paper: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly” . I smirked. Tell that to the author himself!

I’d like to say that I believe there is a difference between literary, fiction-oriented writing and to-the-point writing style of the everyday (journalistic, business, too). I just like my goddamn language, so I will savor every word I can.

On the other hand, I, too, was annoyed when students mindlessly employed long words to add potential zest to papers. But never in my life have I discounted someone’s intelligence just because they used complex words. And knew when to use them. More often than not, their speech was also more entertaining, with puns and humor, jokes and various references.