Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Night at the Minsk Philharmonic(or, a night with Ronald and Natalia)

Culture in Minsk is inexpensive, accessible, and most importantly, world class. Both the Philharmonic Hall and the Ballet/Opera House are first rate venues. The acoustics and sight lines are wonderfully thought out, the seats comfortable, the audiences knowledgeable and enthusisatic.
We've gone several times without our camera, but a few nights ago our friend Natalia, a colleague from the Belarus Academy of Public Administration, joined us, replete with camera and determined to record the evening. We took pictures everywhere!
The evening's featured artist was Ronald Ebrecht, an American organist of note, and consisted of organ masterpieces by Bach, Frank and Jenkins... as well as an unscheduled photo op thanks to Natalia!
At intermission, while some of the audience hovered at the foot of the stage, taking photos as the organist made some adjustments to his instrument. Natalia, taking advantage of the opportunity, sweeping Rena along with her enthusiasm, strode across the stage and asked Mr. Ebrecht if he would pose for us. I hung back, not wanting to be exposed as 'the Ugly American,' but Natalia was not to be denied this evening as we posed for shots with the help of a stagehand (or maybe he was Security-I didn't want to know!).
Anyway, Mr. Ebrecht, in addition to being a magnificent musician, was wonderfully gracious, and we chatted a bit while Natalia, intent on her mission, posed everybody.
In the end, apparently Mr. Ebrecht was pleased to meet another American and the unscheduled encounter with a Belarussian fan. After the show, he spotted us in the Cafe Lido, and made a point of coming over to say hello and to leave his email address so we could send him the pictures.
All in all, a very interesting evening.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Seminar in Kiev

Kiev was chosen due to its central location for the local regional meeting of the English Language Fellow program. In addition to sharing ideas and success stories, we got to meet our colleagues and associates who arrived from such exotic locales as Tbilisi(Georgia), Chisinau(Moldova), Yerevan(Armenia), and Nakhchivan(Azerbaijan) as well as Kiev. The seminar was organized and led by the RELO (Regional English Language Officer)
Everybody at the State Dept talks in acronyms-since my job description is English Language Fellow, that makes me an ELF, which has a rather peculiar connotation.I guess Rena would be an ELFette
Since all work and no play would have been disappointing, we all got together for a wonderful evening at the apartment of the CLO(Cultural Liaison Officer), a huge and magnificent two level duplex.
The photo shows most of our group, which includes ELFs, SELFs, FSNs,a CLO and a CAO, as well as spouses (I haven't yet learned that acronym but I'm sure there is one).

Kiev, Ukraine

An overnight train trip (think Orient Express without the frills) brought us to the ELF seminar in Kiev.
Kiev is known as a religious city awash with golden domed churches and monuments to a variety of warriors of the past. And it is spectacular!
What we also found, though, was a great bakery tucked away on a side street, across from the Armani and Versace stores, and down the block from 'Puzata Kata.'
Ah, Puzata Kata! An endless variety of (mostly) Ukrainian specialties-outstanding for quality and freshness, not to mention value; a meal for the two of us with main dishes, beer and dessert for the equivalent of $10.
A big and bustling city is Kiev, great monuments to the past as well as high end current fashions; more expensive than Minsk, but with some nice surprises.The photos include Lou on the steps of the 'golden gate,' a partially restored remnant of an original entrance to the city; some of the domed churches; and some architectural embellishments, replete with gargoyles on one of Kiev's older apartment buildings.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Komarovski Market

Down the underpass, under Kuibyshev Street and up the stairs to Komarovski-about four square blocks, covered and open, of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy products, and baked goods, bordered by an endless array of kiosks selling imported and local packaged products, delicacies, fresh ground coffee, bulk teas of all kinds; the place to go for elegant fruit preserves from Germany, pasta and olive oil from italy, and more mundane items like juices and mineral water, dried fruits and nuts.
Overseeing all the individual vendors are a mob of attendants who keep things running smoothly and monitor all aspects of the operation. In all the many hours we've spent here, in spite of the sometimes huge crowds, despite the normal Russian lack of shopping etiquette (normal here is if you're looking at a display and somebody else shares an interest, they think nothing of pushing in front of you to get a better view), we've never seen a dispute and the vendors have never been anything but scrupulously honest.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Khoruzei Street

Looking out our window we can see down Khoruzei Street, past the Metro Station on the corner to Yakuba Kolasa Plaza (named after a popular Belarusian poet), with the Philharmonic Hall backing the statue.

The "Corn" Buildings

After four nights in the hotel, discovering a little about the city and, in our usual frantic way, hunting for an apartment, we found the place! The "corn" building, or as the locals refer to it in Russian, the "kukurudzu."
The photos make it obvious where the nickname came from, but along with the eccentric architecture comes a huge enclosed balcony with a 180 degree unobstructed view of the city. New Year's fireworks were spectacular!
The apartment, relatively recently remodeled, has more room than we could ever use, not to mention the Jacuzzi and the heated tile floors in the foyer, kitchen and bathrooms, where, on a really cold day, we can sit down and warm our heinies.
It costs more than double our government allowance, but what the heck, how often do you get a chance to live in a corn shaped building!
The photos show the series of four buildings. Ours is the first, adjacent to "Mir Sumka," (World Handbags), across from Kamarovsky Market, of which more later. The photos show the front of the market on a quiet day and part of the market plaza with its bronze statuettes.