Saturday, May 27, 2006

Old travel diaries: Rome, November 2004

The next weekend I, already infected by the travel bug, decided to go to Rome -– one of the European greats I hadn't yet visited. I booked the flight (via Zurich) as usual, a few days before the weekend - as long as it was paid by the client, the ticket price wasn't a big issue.

I arrived in Rome uneventfully, except an incident on the flight from Zurich, where my neighbour almost began a physical fight with a guy sitting behind him because, as he claimed, he kicked his seat continuously. In the States, such a situation would almost certainly end in an emergency landing and a couple of arrests, but here, the stewardess only tried to calm the two men down, which they soon did. Entertaining.

In Rome, I didn'’t book any accommodation, hoping to find a hotel or a hostel right at the airport. Unfortunately, the airport agencies only dealt with about 3 hostels, 2 of which were booked and the 3rd one was not in the centre, so I decided to try my luck at the train station. I took the train there, when was already quite late and dark. I got lucky though: almost immediately I was approached by a hostel tout who took me to a hostel near the station. Sure, it was pricey - 18 Euros a night - but I didn't care as long as it was a fun place and had decent beds, which it did.

The hostel was actually full of people, all crammed into a harrow corridor, all awaiting the lasagna, that night'’s treat, apparently. Good enough for me. I joined in, had a few conversations with what turned up to be mostly American and Canadian youngsters. After a while, a group of us decided to go out. But due to indecisiveness of the group, we ended up just waiting for a night bus at the bus station, hoping to find some good club. I though, fuck it, and beat it back to the hostel. There was a funny Japanese guy working at the hostel, who somehow ran out of money while travelling in Europe. The tiny hostel agreed to let him stay for free for a while in exchange for lasagna preparation and mopping around the corridors. He slept on the kitchen counter and kept saying, "I don't know - I am a fucking Japanese".

The next morning, I headed for the Vatican. To my great disappointment, I arrived there literally 15 minutes too late to enter the Vatican Museum and see the Sistine Chapel. Thus, on my trip to Rome, I missed that masterpiece. But everything else was still great to see - St. Peter's Basilica, the square in front of it, the views from the Dome, the crypt with papal tombs, including the tomb of St. Peter himself. I spent about half of the day wandering around. Met an Aussie couple, we hang out for a little while. A rather OK girl with a pretty dorky guy - the most annoying of couples, but fine, it was nice to chat with someone.

After Vatican, I just walked around Rome till it got dark. The streets of the old part, all full of elegant old-world cafes, antique shops and galleries lit up in dim street lights, and every now and then I'd stumble upon an old square with either a jazz concert or street buskers entertaining the crowd eating outdoors. In one of the galleries, there must have been a vernisage, and some free food a wine. Needless to say, I helped myself very generously to both.

When I got back to the hostel, there was a group of young drinking Aussies there. There was again some pasta served, so I ended up staying there for a while before we finally got out as a group to hit the nightlife of Rome.

This nightlife turned out to be pretty shitty. The local hotspot turned out to be a Scottish bar. Unlike any other Scottish or Irish bar I'd seen, this one had a bouncer who was maintaining a hefty crowd of Roman youths at the entrance, perhaps trying to create a bit of a buzz about the place. We were with some Latina girls from the hostel, and they got in without problem, but when it was our turn, the bouncer actually turned one of the Aussies away. After a short verbal brawl, we decided not to bother with the place. The 3 of us: me, one of the Aussies and some Czech guy decided to find a place that a hostel owner recommended. After a good 40 minutes of walking, we finally found it. It was a really ridiculous American-style bar with extremely overpriced drinks. After the bartender charged us 6 Euros per beer, we downed them and left immediately. By then it was getting late and the very few other bars that we encountered were closing, so we headed back to the hostel. Along the way, we met a rather attractive and bare-breasted prostitute. By that time the rain started pouring, and we mate it back quite wet.

The next morning I thought I'd take an advantage of Rome'’s crappy nightlife and get up early-ish, but by the time I left the hostel, it was already about noon. The Aussie from the day before tagged along as we headed for Colosseum.

Impressive it was, but it was real hard to imagine how it was in Rome's more famous times when it was actually in use. The audio guide did its best to help, but it worked only to a certain degree. Crowds of tourists didn't help at all. But the Forum was interesting -– it was weird to see the ruins of the world'’s once greatest city. However, despite the Forum'’s large size, it was really only a ruin, and apart from a few standing arches, separate columns and pieces of walls, it was difficult to imagine the magnificent palaces and temples that once stood here.

On top of everything, my camera decided to act up once again, and was not-functional for about an hour or so.

Later in the evening, I visited the Trevi fountain once more time -– the biggest tourist trap in the city, it seemed, and the Spanish Steps. Also passed by the Maltese Order headquarters - world's smallest sovereign state, as I remember reading as a kid.

The rest of the Rome stay was uneventful. The Aussie and I had some cheap pasta on the street, then a quick pint and then– back to hostel. On Monday morning, I had to catch a 7 am plane out, and almost missed it due to the train's slow speed.

And that was Rome -– historically and architecturally very curious but dull as far as nightlife.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Four-years old in baby-GAP pajamas
Playing with his Legos and computer games
Smeared in chocolate and Coca-Cola stains
America's demanding future

He'’s not the same as me, thirty long years ago
Spanked by the teacher for losing my Lenin pin
Ten minutes at the monochrome TV, and then to bed at eight
Without the stone-hard icecream from the sombre street

And yet we both had our laughs and tears
And our shares of happy and unhappy days
For none of us, on either side of curtain
Knew life could be in any other way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Years – sweet memories
Too bad you didn’t taste so great
At the time you were lived.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

With them, without them

One of the differences between American women and women in the rest of the world seems to be the chosen condescending attitude American ones display towards men.
Not only men are no longer respected; they are treated with suspicion and mistrust, unless they prove themselves otherwise. Presumption of guilt, if you will. You are a man – hence you are probably dishonest, a bigot, potentially a jerk, cheapskate, womanizer, sexaholic (or maybe even a serial rapist).

During the first few days or even weeks of acquaintance, women subject men to various tests, each one of which is scrutinized under microscope and endlessly discussed with her girlfriends afterwards. Where did he take you out? Did he pay for everything? Did he open the car door for you? Did he talk about his ex? Did he stare at your cleavage, which you intentionally left half-exposed as a test? Did he look at any other woman during the date? Did he kiss you goodnight? How did he kiss?

Women even openly admit that they have points system for men. When men do things women consider positive, points go up. One misstep or faux pas, and the rating goes down, and then they may just give a man another chance to “redeem” himself.

While all women in the world look out for themselves and seek out good and bad sings when meeting or befriending a guy, young American women have taken it to the point of extreme, placing themselves on the pedestal expecting every new guy to all but worship them. And why not. It was, after all, American women that indoctrinated feminism so firmly in the modern life, so surely they deserve some credit for that.

Surely their mothers, grandmothers, aunties and teachers must have been right when they told them they were the best of the best, and that any guy would be so lucky just to breathe the same air with them.

Faced with reality, where looks as well as character still matter very much to men, these women had a hard time reconciling their mother’s dithyrambs with the brutal truth, namely, that they are very average in terms of looks, and that their twisted self-absorbed personality had never had a chance to compensate for that.

Yet with enviable stubbornness, these women continue living in an arrogant illusion that they are still the best of the crop and that men should just flock to their side. Worst is,… some men do. The very men who allowed being treated like petty hooligans by women all their lives. The very men who panic about the impression they produce on women. The men who try their hardest to be “nice” and bend over backwards for a woman.

So it is no wonder that in America, women do not respect men no matter what these men do. They are, after all, the source of all evil. They are flawed by design and definition, and the fact that women agree to deal with them is a godsend gift to these pathetic souls. Because women – women can never do anything wrong. Women are the superior race, sublime breed that is best viewed on a pedestal, and only by the lucky selected few.

Even the biological clock’s a-ticking, when it gets a little louder, sometimes does not cure this self-elation of American women. And when it finally does - men, watch out! She'll no longer be drifen by selfish pride - she will finally remember all those tricks and tools of flirtation and seduction that were below then for all their young years. Few will find happinness this way, though.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Old stump - remember
How the sun caressed your leaves
When you were a tree?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Chernobyl 20 years on

As Belarus (and Ukraine, and Russia) are marking the solemn anniversary of the world's worst technogenic disaster, I read and watched a lot of articles and photo reports, all terribly shocking and revealing the facts about the catastrophe that have been left to be forgotten. For example, the incidence of thyroid cancer in Belarus has multiplied by several dozens since Chernobyl, and although it happened 20 years ago, most polluting radioactive elements in the soil, such as cesium-137, have not even reached their half-life, meaning there's more than half of them still left to emit radiation.

About 10 years ago, I wrote an article for my college paper about the impact of Chernobyl on Belarus. Here it is, on someone's web site (it's OK, I don't mind):

It's a tough topic which unfortunately still needs to be brought to attention very much, in my opinion, of only as an acute example of how horribly we, humans, can affect the nature when our own monsters are let loose.