31 December 2006

Bandura Evening

In the U.S. for the holidays, we were nonetheless treated to a fascinating piece of Ukrainian culture at a friend's holiday party. Two of the top Bandurists from Ukraine, Taras Lazurkevych and Oleh Sozansky performed a few Christmas carols to raise funds for their project described on a leaflet as:
"...the renaissance and development of the Kharkiv (Poltavska) bandura which has been almost forgotten in Ukraine. With the help of you kind koliada donation, it will be possible to complete a much needed bandura workshop in Lviv, Ukraine."
The brief performance was organized by Oleh Mahlay, artistic director and conductor, of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (www.bandura.org). From his introductory words I learned that the bandura is an instrument unique to Ukraine. I was also interested to learn about a little-known Kobzar (Bandurist player) convention in 1934 where Kobzars assembled from all over Ukraine only to be arrested and murdered. The facts are only starting to surface about this horrible tragedy. Wikipedia mentions the event:
"In recent years significant evidence has come to light that an ethnographic conference for bandurists, specifically for blind kobzars and lirnyks, was organised in Kharkiv in December of 1934 which was attended by approximately 300 blind musicians who were subsequently arrested and murdered."
If anyone has any leads regarding this conference I'd like to explore it further. If anyone would like to help build the bandura workship in Lviv, please contact Oleh Mahlay at (www.bandura.org).

30 December 2006

Seventh-Kilometer Market (Odesa)

During a recent visit to Odesa we visited the famous “Seventh-Kilometer” open-air market. Located on the outskirts of town, apparently on the seventh kilometer of the Odesa ring road, the rynok encompasses 70 hectares that stretch as far as the eye can see. A crowded one and two-story tall city of improvised sales booths (numbering 16,000 according to Wikipidea) lies beyond an expansive set of surprising well organized parking lots, bus stops, and marshutka depots. In the distance, a hillside is covered with steel ocean shipping containers converted to retail sales booths creating a visual tapestry of maroon, dark green, and blue squares lined up like children’s blocks against the grey sky on the horizon. The booths are arranged in long rows separate by tiny aisles crawling with bargain seeking shoppers. Under the pretext of looking for a leather winter coat, we walked down an aisle of winter coat booths that was probably a kilometer long, only to turn and see yet another winter coat aisle of the same length, and another, and so on. We walked almost continuously for four hours within what seemed like one small section of the market. Our guide Masha, the Odesyt, estimated that we had explored maybe 5% of the whole market.

The booths vary in architectural approach from the garden variety steel frame covered with cheap canvas to actual mini, two-story buildings with floors, roofs complete with rain gutters, and lighting. On the hillside, the old ocean containers are opened at one end, a table is setup at the entrance, and voila one has a ready made store complete with inventory storage facilities. I am amazed at the display of ingenuity and resourcefulness evident in the way the booths are engineered. The way the inventory is stored in tiny spaces yet instantly accessible could be a lesson for any logistics warehouse manager. Standing in front of a booth with hundreds of buttons and other sewing accessories, for example, we ask for one of the belt buckles and the woman behind the table finds it instantly in her lattice of shelves, containers and labeling methods. Walking through the noisy, crowded aisles past the endless booths is almost akin to an athletic event. Periodically we make room for vendors pushing their home made carts aggressively down the aisle yelling out their ala carte menus. Hot tea, coffee, roasted peanuts, varenyky, hachipuri, lavash, lula kebab, and many other items are offered for a reasonable sum during your shopping process. The storekeepers fend off the December chill by smoking and sipping cognac from small white plastic cups. The glaring lack of garbage cans in the entire complex leads to collections of empty cognac bottles on the ground in small piles at the end of each aisle. The subsequently happy sales people often converge with each other along booth boundaries to pass the time as shoppers steadily stream past. The mechanics of the sales process, that have probably evolved very little in thousands of years, are in full swing. We pretend we don’t really need the item we're negotiating for and the store keeper pretends that he doesn’t really need to sell it. Then each side argues mightily to advance their position of disinterest while, in parallel, the price point is adjusted almost as an afterthought. I admired the inventiveness of a few of the store keepers who replaced the standard, plain awnings (typical for each booth) with colorfully patterned ones to help the shopper, and potential customer, remember the booth and possible return.

The cash based, unregulated free-market principles at play gave the market an certain energy attracting 150,000 customers daily. Products range from genuine (in my opinion), to third-shift products (unsanctioned product runs by official manufacturer subcontractors in the far east -- generally with cheaper raw materials), to out-right knock-offs. We passed through the sewing supplies section where fake Dolce and Gabana, Armani, Brioni, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, and Nike labels were on sale by the roll. When I took a picture the storekeeper smiled and asked why. We I replied that it was just out of curiosity he said "Takoho ne buvaye".

In the end, we found the perfect winter coat (factoring in our suspicions that it may be a knockoff), conducted the requisite negotiation, bought some parsley and dill from a passing vendor and left the Seventh Kilometer as satisfied customers.

23 December 2006

ICTV - Freedom of Speech Show

ICTV 22.12.06 Svoboda Slova

lutsenko standing at the podium being questioned by Kinakh, Symonenko, Chornovil, Lytvyn, Shufrych etc:

"...as soon as we returned deputy immunity we returned large scale corruption
the level of corruption now is unprecedented.

the divisions in Ukraine are false.
the current government is using false divisions to rob the country.

i don't want to lead a party, and i have been offered to run one..as everyone knows (alluding to Nasha Ukraina)

i am going to the people
i will circle Ukraine
we don't need colors.
we need blue and yellow.

ukraine is united by laws and by fairness. it is time to start talking about these things no?

i want to go to the people. it may work, it may not. but this corruption has to stop. i want Ukraine to be a country where one can walk around without security and not fear for their safety.

to Taras Chornovil: Tarase you and i did stand at the barricade against Kuchma, with your father as well. I remain there, against any kuchma, and you Taras went over to the same forces you fought earlier.

i can guarantee you that the majority of socialists think the way i do.

re: yulia timoshenko, you call her an opportunist, but she gave a budget that helped people. that doubled their salaries. yours only increases it 7%. 7% with tariffs up 350% percent. you have declared war on the people in each household.

you continue to say the country is divided
a divided country is easier to steal from.

you continue to say that you are defending us from NATO. you think NATO will be ok without us?

today all actions are in motion to make the Ministry of Internal Affairs an administrative resource again.

Kuchmism is back. It's all back. The same words, the same criminal schemes...but it won't work because Ukraine is not the same. Ukraine is different after the events of 2 years ago. If we Ukrainians have to go back to the streets we will go back to the streets. If we need drums we will have drums again.

20 December 2006

Thank You iTunes

Since I live in Kyiv my means of keeping up with music is most commonly Apple's iTunes (online) Music Store. The occasional visit to scan the new releases makes me feel somehow youthful again. Not anymore. Now that Apple has so generously decided to keep track of my preferences and my purchases in their databases, I have earned the distinction of being offered "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round - by Barney" upon arrival at the site. Please. Is there no escaping that androgynous purple monster?