Friday 27 February 2009

Opulence in shades of red

It's not so much that people remember things differently- certain generations will never forget certain generational markers, it's perhaps more a case of how memories are made public for the here and now.

Maybe that doesn't make sense so here's a comparative example. Berlin and Moscow were perhaps the most important political centres of the 20th century. What happened within the halls of government in these cities decided the fate of billions of people. On the whole, it was a terrible fate and pretty much the entire world lived with the consequences. In Berlin, Nazi locales are marked ever so modestly - often with just a small plaque. They're not forgetting, but they're not going to enshrine, either. In Moscow, there aren't any long queues for bread, but if you fell into a coma back in 1982 and woke up in Moscow today, you might think Communism simply melted into some sort of bureaucratic-consumerist hybrid of itself- and is a great success. Odes to Communism's opulence for the people - best seen in the Metro - are artfully riddled with insignia and what was, more or less, propaganda. Are Russian's today simply reclaiming these things from the days when they were used against them? Or, did Communism fall in a kind of half-hearted way? Remaining at the back of the collective mind as a 'plan B' should capitalism fail? Anyway, that's just some stuff I thought about as we walked through the chilly grit of the city.

One day I'd like to go back to Moscow and make a point of stopping in every metro station. On this trip, the incredible mosaics in Novokuznetskaya Station were my favorites. On the platform were massive moldings depicting ancient Russian military heros and along the ceiling of the hall separating the platforms were said mosaics with a more contemporary theme.

Chandaliers hung in some stations, others had these 'hammer-and-sickle' pendulum lamps.

We took a chilly evening walk around and through Red Square. Where, as our hosts mentioned, nothing really changed. Here's Aidan paying his respects to Lenin.

As you enter the square you are reminded that you are at the centre of the universe.

A shot overlooking the Moscow River.

Perhaps even the fathers of Communism had a 'plan B' at the backs of their minds as the many domes of ancient churches still stand on the perimeter. St. Basil's being an obvious focal point.

Our meandering through the city also brought us to the park on Bolotnaya Square, home to Mihail Shemyakin's 'The Children - Victims of Adult Vices'.

It was a battle getting here and we couldn't do it without these two ladies.

Big props and большие спасибо to Zalina and Marusja.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Serenades in the Ether

Sometimes, like today, it's just so dreary outside that it seeps into my insides. Thank heavens for free video calls. I chatted with my sister, Esther, for a good hour and entertained her with some billowy chords on my little accordian.

She thought it hilarious enough to transcribe, then sent the pics to me.

Who's up for an online jam?

Saturday 21 February 2009

Angst is a German word

I was really hoping Vice's 'DOs and DON'Ts' would be in German - the rest of the magazine is and reading trash is the best way to learn because it's simple and predictable.

Message driven lecture-readings are not the best way, but I hobbled my way through last night's by hardcore punk veteran, writer, and artist Al Burian. We assumed it would be in English as he's American and his last reading was in his native tongue, but this Chicagoan has really brushed up on his German. I've picked up a bit of German so I was able to get the gist of what he said- but, a lot was lost on me. I do however, hold some such writing close to my heart (Erick Lyle aka Iggy Scam is a bit of a moral compass for me) so I picked up his book.

I will say that I give him a ton of credit for addressing a German audience so completely in their tongue. He even put together a German comic zine and gave it out to everyone in attendance. Maybe penance for calling the ISBN the sign of the anti-christ, whilst having an ISBN-sullied book for sale.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Stuff I Made

It seems another coldsnap has the city gripped in it's callous, soul-less claws. It snowed, so it looks pretty, but the cold is seeping in and we had to stay warm if we were going to get any work done. So I made soup. I'll admit that I don't usually cook. Aidan does 90% of the cooking, but every so often something motivates me to prepare our sustenance. This time it was a tetra-pak of coconut milk and the promise of two-days-worth of food. It was spicy and delicious and went really well with our daily weissbier selection. We're making like Beliners and ingesting a lot of local beer. So far, my favorite is a cherry porter (not a weissbier).

Also, my hands are cramping as I stitched up some maybe kinda silly new Nadja patches. Do they look even remotely sinister? The bat - yep, it's supposed to be a bat - is gocco'd and then I embroidered the rest. The fabric is either a piece of old curtain with a bark-like texture or bits of ends I picked up in the last month. The still need to be trimmed and backed, but here's a sneak peak.

One other thing I made this week: my first pony-tail in a long time. I've decided to grow my hair out because short hair is just too expensive and I'm too far away from one of the only people I trust to cut this mop.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Russian Saga

Is there really any other kind?

Today we submitted our Russian visa applications so that we could re-schedule our show in Moscow for later this month. We tried to look serious for the photo, but the result shows the transparency of our true feelings- anxiety with the Russian authorities and this whole experience, in general.

There's relief in now knowing it's completely out of our hands and up to the various consulates, so we could concentrate on the other pressing matter at hand: finding our own apartment here.

There are no for rent signs here in Berlin. It comes down to agencies, luck, and nepotism. We've almost exhausted them all and we'll have to make a decision by the weekend, but we're easily swayed. Coming from more than a decade of Toronto-dwelling, neighbourhood snobbery has a foothold in my criteria. Almost everyone we know and have met in this city lives in either Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. We've stayed in both neighbouring hoods since we arrived and we know our way around. The lady at one agency urged me to take a look at places in Pankow and Wilmersdorf- we did and they were just sooo far away- and too small to justify it.

Today, however, we took a look at something we both kinda love. A huge one bedroom with massive living room, sunroom off the kitchen and a balcony on the edge of Kreuzberg, near Gorlitzer Park (and a few other parks). It's in the process of being renovated and will have nicely cleaned up old wood floors, original doors and ceiling moldings (yep, I'm one of those people that cares about that), and pull out sofa bed in the living room. There's one catch. It's a little bit more a month than we were looking to spend.

So we've got to decide if we want to live the bohemian dream in a dream apartment while we're here in Berlin or take a little more dough home and end up paying double for a probably not nearly as nice a place in Toronto. hmmm...We've got a couple more leads to follow up on so I'll let you know by the weekend if you have a balcony to take your coffee on when you come and visit.

Monday 9 February 2009

Riga, again (or, tracking nerd-dom)

Miks, our super kind host not only promoted the show in Riga three nights ago, but then drove us to Tallin and back, and then put us up for another night so we could see some of the city before our flight back.

There was a very specific Riga souvenir I thought I might try and track down for my friend Becky, but it seems that it's just too elusive a prize. You see, there's a certain Latvian mathematician named Daina Taimina who discovered that she could better teach theories of hyperbolic space using crocheted models. Crochet as method is extremely sculptural as you're essentially building a form out of a series of knots. By exponentially increasing stitches, you can hypothetically recreate a hyperbolic space. Oh my, I can go on and on. Instead, you should look here for some stellar examples and here to learn more!

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. I found out that Professor Taimina hasn't actually taught in Latvia for quite a while. She did write a couple books and I was looking for either her original text book or a short essay she apparently wrote on geometry and aesthetics- fascinating stuff, for sure. Sorry I can't birthday surprise you with a nerdy treat, Becky. I haven't completely given up, though.

A trip to the university not in our cards (people actually answer phones when you call Riga University), it was time for some good old fashioned sight-seeing.

Saturday 7 February 2009

An evening in Estonia

By the time we found ourselves on the street in Tallin(Estonia), it was evident that my Parker Brothers prejudice was way off. There's not a lot going on along the highways between major cities here- except some seriously precarious ice-fishing, but the city's old centres are pretty beautiful, and just plain neato.

On the walk from the club to our lodgings I was pretty mesmerized by the wintry ambiance of the old architecture in the city's centre. Every corner we turned was equally photo-op worthy.

Another full house of a show, but man, the pressure of expectant fans is really nerve-racking. Post show drinking continued until the wee wee hours for most people - light weights such as ourselves packed it in around 2 or 3. I learned my lesson of drinking on an anxiety-ridden stomach in Poland and I didn't want a repeat.

Friday 6 February 2009

After a four hour bus ride north...

Tonight, we played in Riga. Today, citizens of Riga got a heads up about our show in the local paper!

Miks, our gracious host, set the show up in the Eduard Smilga Theatre and Museum. This is place run by very politely stern elderly ladies- one of whom scolded me in Latvian for something, but I'm not sure what. Anyway, I rarely post stage shots because they're usually grimy and unbecoming; also, pictures of bars and clubs and the realization by my parents that that is where I spend a good percentage of my time probably doesn't sit well with them, so I give Mom and Pop this:

We, and locals Tesa packed this beautiful little room with tons of people and a whole heck of a lotta racket.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I built Riga up to be pretty great. Thus far, I haven't seen much but, we've scheduled time on Monday before our flight back to take in the city a little bit.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Warm hearts in the chilly Baltics

For weeks I'd been anticipating our trip a little further north to the three capitals of Baltic states. From the little research I did, I knew that Riga (Latvia) was a beautiful medieval city that was later heavily influenced by art nouveau, but I didn't know what to expect when we touched down in Vilnius (Lithuania)- our first stop on this wee whirlwind tour.

(I should give you a little background on our states of mind as we took off from Berlin this morning. It looks like our show in Russia next week will be cancelled. We are both very frustrated and very angry about how it all went down. I won't get into specifics here, but it's an understatement to say that I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to go Russia.)

It was nice then when we got shown to a great little apartment where we were fed and got a chance to talk with our hosts about something other than touring - we talked about poetry and zines, fun!

We took a mini tour of the city's centre on our way to the venue when two things struck me about Vilnius - the absolutely impeccable shape they their keep their oldest facades in and the number of churches (there's probably enough seating in Vilnius' churches for the entire population of Lithuania).

The oldest church in Vilnius was right outside our apartment. I took a picture of it when we got home after the show. Dramatically lit...

It's not all orthodox onion domes here, but, of course, there's some of those too.

One of the most striking buildings we passed was on the university grounds. The walls are pristine and the only clue to building's age are seriously patina-ed frescoes at the entrance.

The show was great with many people surpised at our presence in their ancient little city. One guy came up to the table where I was selling cds and asked which one was the most popular - it might convince him to buy one. He returned a few minutes later and asked, "You're THAT Nadja?" and then, "What are you doing here?", and then he bought four more cds. It was a good night.