Sunday, November 30, 2008

ROGUE TRAVEL STRATEGY: The geo-economics of Lviv, Ukraine

I have lived in Lviv, Ukraine for a few months now. It is one of the great cities of central Europe, having been a regional capital of the Austrian-Hapsburg empire. But due to the political situation in Ukraine it is still not part of the main stream travel circuit. In fact, most people I speak to from Western Europe or the States look at me as if I had suddenly sprouted horns when I tell them that this is where I live. Which is fine by me because over exposure is the last thing that is needed here. It is a prime location for rogue travelers. There are several reasons I chose Lviv as the base for my central and eastern European experience.

1. The architecture. Lviv's buildings exude that dreamy central European charm like few other cities. It is Prague before it was gentrified and invaded by tourists. Faded facades, shady hallways and deteriorating courtyards add to the romance of the city. The center itself is a UNESCO world heritage site.

2. The cost of living. I rent a cushy apartment in the city center with a room mate for 175 USD per month.

 1. 1 litre of local beer: 70 cents
2. fresh baked french baton: 50 cents
3. industrial size roll of Soviet toilet paper: 20 cents
4. 1 pack of Chesterfield Reds: 70 cents
5. 14" inch carry out pizza with extra cheese: 3.0 USD

3. Regional location and logistics. Western Ukraine borders Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. These countries are only hours by train. I book night trains to and from each destination to save on hotel expenses. Germany, Lithuania and Czech Republic are reasonable distances by rail. Soviet infrastructure is dated but cheap, extensive and reliable. And I didn't mention the Carpathian mountains...

4. Parallel histories. Ukraine is one of the last places in Europe where agrarian peoples still play an important role in an increasingly industrial and post-industrial society. For example, the following scene is typical: peasant farmers from local villages sell their vegetables on the corner in front of an internet cafe or call center, which is set up in a converted warehouse.

5. Rich historic past. Lviv has been a flash point between east and west for many centuries. The geo-political realities of this location are reflected in everything from the cafe menus to the musical background. But perhaps it is most clearly written in the architecture, which is a whirlwind tour of styles: the center of old town begins with its medieval Armenian and Jewish buildings, which radiate into Polish-Lithuanian, Austrian-Hapsburg, Polish and finally ends in a Soviet wasteland.

ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: "Vanishing Point" (1971) Richard C. Sarafian

Plot: A benny-chewing car delivery driver (Kowalski) tries to get a super-charged 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours; mayhem ensues.

How closely tied are the characters to the road? 100%. In fact, the road itself is a major antagonist in the film. Many ariel and long tracking shots are effectively used to emphasize the desolation of the highway cutting through desert.  

Is the film vehicular or character-based? It is vehicle porn with slight pretensions toward character development. The Charger acts as a memory machine bringing back traumatic events from Kowalski's  past. But these are just padding for a film loaded with squealing tires, close-ups of gear shifts and distorted engine noise. 

How painfully hip and articulate are the characters? It is 1971, so not at all. The driver, Kowalski, is a tight-lipped, bad ass with no concern for witty dialogue or glib philosophical asides. This stoic mutha' carries the movie.

Number of desolate mythological figures: plenty, 4. The movie plays like a deranged page from a Joseph Campbell textbook

1. a blind DJ guides Kowalski from a hick town called Kow 
2. a nude temptress on a motorcycle is denied sexual advance
3. a dusty old snake-catcher in the middle of the desert bestows 
4. a hermit in a remote shack provides the hero with special tools 
     (and chemicals) for his journey 

All of the characters are obvious but not forced and therefore it is fun to hang out with these clowns.

How much embarrassing existential content? a potentially disastrous amount. At one point Kowalski is even referred to as the last person for whom "speed means freedom of the soul." Vanishing Point is a literal application of the "road as liberation" formula. But because it is 1971, post-Altamont, the prospect of fulfillment is grim, and the ending is fatal. Thankfully, the movie's grindhouse naivete keeps these themes playful rather than becoming overbearing. 

Can the word quirky in any way be associated with this film? Not at all, it is honest 1970s grit from 42nd street. 

Does anyone play the harmonica? No. Soul music is substituted during moments of roadside reverie. 

Is it any good? Vanishing Point is a solid chase movie. The Charger is raw, the characters are colorful and everyone is doing drugs. Plus it's barren, ghost town style fulfills the expected cool quotient that Tarrantino gave it by reference in Deathproof.  

Saturday, November 29, 2008


13 signs Jesus Christ was a rogue traveler:

1.   traveled light with robe, staff and sandals
2.   long hair and beard indicate insufficient bathing facilities
3.   dependence on handouts and gratuities from public 
4.   kept company with society's fringe, immigrants and 
5.   slept wherever possible, an adept sofa-surfer
6.   avoided using taxis, favored walking everywhere 
7.   said to have had serious case of traveler's foot from 
8.  could defy laws of nature to find alcohol anywhere
9.  continuous indifference to authorities
10. lack of desire to find steady work
11. consumption of hallucinogenic drugs for mind expansion and 
      shrubbery communication
12. made his meals out of found objects
13. broke his mother's heart

Friday, November 28, 2008

WATCH: "Soviet Playground" (2008) by fucoid

The following is a montage of shots from a balcony in the Kharkivska district in Kiev, Ukraine. Kharkivska is a typical Soviet apartment community on the left bank. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

LOOK: "Lviv Market Vendor," post-Soviet identity project by fucoid

Lviv Market Vendor (2008) from post-Soviet identity project

I shot this in front of a gate to an industrial warehouse in Lviv. My model, Anya, is wearing a Ukrainian market vendor smock. It is cut in the traditional fashion but the garish pattern is an example of post-Soviet kitsch.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

101 ways to make a living on the road (eastern European version)

Write an Ebook about how to score Ukrainian women.

Prospects: Ukraine is the bridebasket of Europe. Many socially challenged men with too much money are scouring internet dating sites for a Ukrainian girlfriend right now. Sex tourism in Ukraine is a rapidly growing industry.  A google search brings up only one resource book specifically about the mating habits of Ukrainian women. 

What you need: access to knowledge of the field, a computer, money for advertising banners, a collection of pseudo porn featuring obese middle aged men with model grade trophies under their wing, internet access. 

Amount of peanuts earned per month: with savvy search engine optimization, this scheme can make enough money to support a liberal intake of domestically brewed lager.    

Chance you will meet the mafia: slim. One of the advantages of conducting your business strictly on the internet is that you don't need any shelter. 

Amount of actual work: this depends. Not much is necessary. Potential authors should outline the book modeled on a book of similar content, pay a Ukrainian woman to write the content and then have it translated into English. Otherwise, writing a book requires actually knowing the subject matter and this case it would mean considerable research and money spent on actual dates with real women. 

Ancillary pussy pay off: negligible. Being an author is of course good for the mojo but most people on the road are already authors (or artists, photographers, designers, insert chosen creative field of the moment here _______).  The monetary gains necessary for an increase in real pussy intake are not met here and the already fictitious life of the traveler is not enhanced by the word "author".

Number of other idiots with the same idea: I estimate the field to be competitive but not closed. There are many blogs and dating services that advertise their expertise but there appears to be space in the book market.

Chances of family back home finding out: Not good. A pen name and distance from using real anecdotal information will provide the necessary protection. It goes without saying that the English-teaching front is necessary to secretly hatching any dubious money making schemes abroad.


LISTEN: Tsymbaly music from Kiev, Ukraine

In the morning I listen to music to set the tone of my day. Coffee turns me into a coked-up werewolf, so tea and mood music are essential. When I am in Ukraine often I need to listen to tsymbaly music. Last summer I bought a self-produced cd from a street performer in Kiev and it has been like medicine ever since. The sound manages to inject a little sprightliness as I emerge from brew-induced slumbers. The sound reminds me of the Appalachian folk music I used to here as a kid on vacation in the Smokey Mountains.

The tsymbly itself is a dulcimer, a massive string instrument played with hammers. Wikipedia says that many regional variations developed throughout the old Austria-Hapsburg empire. I do not know what the differences are from culture-to-culture but I was impressed by this old Ukrainian tapping out some really complex melodies from such a dense mass of strings. It looked like excruiciatingly delicate work. He played several folk tunes and then mixed it up with a Beatles cover- "Hey Jude," in all of its solemnity.

Check out tragiedia, a Ukrainian who lives in Canada, throwing down on the tsymbaly:

Side note: Beatlemania truly does live in Ukraine.

The painting above is Thought for Dovbush by V.V. Kushner (from Hutsul Punk)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ROGUE ROAD MOVIE REVIEW: "Stranger Than Paradise" (1984) Jim Jarmusch

Plot: two card sharks and a Hungarian immigrant set off for Florida after a nice score.

How closely tied are the characters to the road? a third of the film is on the road and the rest takes place in transitory locations: a one room tenement in the Bronx, a relative's home in industrial Cleveland and a roadside motel in Florida. 

Is the film vehicular or character-based? character-based. But it is an anomaly of a road film in that the characters are the focus but they do not undergo any miraculous transformation. 

How painfully hip and articulate are the characters?
They are hip without inducing a cringe. The film was created at the very beginning of the indie film movement when self-styled characters were still fresh. No one quotes a famous philosopher.

Number of desolate mythological figures: only one. Without much of a narrative push, an ending involving a drug dealing keymaster is tacked on to close off an otherwise episodic film.    

How much embarrassing existential content? Thankfully, none at all. The characters are each facing psycho-social paralysis but there is no magical cure for their stases.

Can the word quirky in any way be associated with this film? Yes, but unfairly. It is an honestly unconventional film versus the contrived post-1990-indy-Wes Anderson tripe so common now. 

Does anyone play the harmonica? No, but one character ironically plays a cassette recording of Screamin' Jay Hawkings' I Put a Spell on You whenever it is time to consider the freedom of the road. 

Is it any good? Stranger Than Paradise is an unassuming masterpiece; sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, at its core is an alternative way of thinking about travel. It offers relief from the unrealistic expectations of travel ingrained by traditional narratives of heroism.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

THINK: Towards a definition of 'rogue traveler'

"The sum of the phenomena and relationships arising from the travel and stay of non-residents, insofar as they do not lead to permanent residence and are not connected with any earning activity." 
-definition of tourism by Hunziker and Krapf

A tourist can be defined by many different interests, ecological, urban, health-related, traumatic, ethnic, sexual etc. but one characteristic remains the same: they always go back to where they came from and do not intend on earning money while they are away.

I think this is the key difference with a rogue traveler. For the rogue transience is a way of life. And this has some consequences:          
1. money must be earned to prolong travel
2. there is no clear direction home
3. residency is ambiguous
4. occupation is temporary
5. heightened cultural engagement and appreciation
6. the necessary exploitation of globalization 
7. social and economic dependence on the internet
8. concurrent use of the gray market
9. a bohemian ethos, including mind expansion
10. the obsessive pursuit of novelty to inform creativity

The result is a certain 21st century nomad, in the technomad family. But it is not to be confused with a "perpetual traveler," who has the primary concern of avoiding taxation. The rogue traveler is opportunistic; her path is rarely pre-meditated. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

WATCH: Photo shoot in Lviv, Post-Soviet Identity Project (11.14.08)

..this is a quick montage from video that was shot of our photo shoot on Friday. Bill, my model, was brilliant. He showed no fear topless, with lipstick and painted nipples. We shot within a small 19th century courtyard near old town. Entering these courtyards almost always draws questions from the locals. A few heads were peeping from behind curtains but no one came outside. Our Weirdness is no doubt appalling. The final images will be part of the Post-Soviet Identity Project. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just Checking In, Saturday Morning 11.15.08

...I am editing video from a photo shoot yesterday into some footage I shot in a Soviet block apartment complex last winter. There is so much video to wade through. When I lived on the left bank of Kiev I shot and shot and shot because it was the most repellant urban area I had ever seen. I will finish this clip today. Until then, enjoy this photo of a ripe butternut squash.

Friday, November 14, 2008

TASTE: Баструма (smoked horse meat), a tasty beer snack in western Ukraine

Баструма. Horse meat. How could I eat Seabiscuit? Because his bittersweet meat is tender, low in fat and tastes good with a light lager. I admit, I have developed a habit of eating smoked strips of equine with my evening brew. It is a common beer snack here in eastern Europe. I see it quite a bit in Poland and here in western Ukraine it can be found in most convenience stores next to the pretzels and peanuts. 

I have been curious about horse consumption since starting this sinful habit and have been collecting bits of information as I go. After a few wiki clicks and some drunken conversations in broken English I have learned that:

1. Horse meat is resistant to transmissible diseases such as Mad Cow 
    and E. coli.
2. Horse meat is not exotic unless you are from the Anglo world.
3. Americans only eat horse when they are really, really hungary, 
    like during WWII.
4. France and Belgium are the world's filthiest horse consumers.
5. Horse meat tastes better than Kangaroo meat.

Side note: a British expat told me that Kangaroo is being bred for food in Australia in an effort to help global warming. As it turns out, the iconic marsupial has eco-friendly farts but sadly its meat s a little bit stringy.