Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ten Positive Surprises about Kharkov

This week has been more than a little tough....Margarita was sick most of the week so I didn't see her, and nobody called me back on my jobs, nor did I manage to get any of them on the phone, either. And with my VD plans ruined by Margarita's temperature and cough, I have spent some time wallowing in self pity. But I have learned a few things along the way about cheering myself up, so I thought I'd do one of the tried and true: A list of positives. So, here are the top ten positive surprises about living in Kharkov after one month:

1. House slippers. I knew I'd need to have house slippers over here, if only so I didn't look like some kind of clod who didn't have any manners. After traipsing around the city sidewalks for just a few minutes, your shoes are coated in ice and dirt and schmuck, so it stands to reason that nobody wears their shoes inside. So when I get home, I slide off my dirty boots and slip into a pair of $6 Belsta faux-alligator leather slippers. They keep my socks clean and my toes warm. 

2. Ukrainian catsup. Yes, it really is better (at least everyplace but McDonald's, where it is identical to every other McDonalds in the world). It is thick and rich and a little sweet--almost like home made! Of course, it comes, like everything here, in a bag rather than a bottle, but at least it has a screw-off top. This is what keeps my motivation up for making french fries...more on that later (this is the positive blog!). 

3. My apartment. I think this might be the nicest apartment I've ever rented, anywhere, and it costs less than a mediocre place in the suburbs. But my apartment has been recently renovated, with good heat, good windows, a security system, balcony, new stainless appliances (even though I can't quite figure out how to run the dishwasher!), and is located less than 10 steps from a good pizza place. Which brings me to...

4. Pizza. It's not quite like American pizza, but they always have "Pizza Margarita,"  (cheese pizza) two words which I can recognize in Russian and Ukrainian, and comes thin like NYC pizza. I smile every time, too, because my GF has the same name ;) 

5. My Red Oxx Chica (aka Chico). Yes, it really is a man purse...barely big enough to fit A4 sized books in it, but light and convenient and still big enough to carry a camera in when I need to be discreet. I still prefer to think of it is a miniature messenger bag, but regardless it's no embarrassment to carry one here because about half the guys do.

6. My French Bakery. It's just around the corner from my flat and has amazingly good breads of all sorts--cibatta, regular white bread, black bread, croissants (even chocolate....for just 50 cents), and even though I can't pronounce anything on the menu, the staff is always pleasant and gets me what I want. Oh, and a good loaf of bread costs $0.80. 

7. Tolerance for my Stupidity. Every day is an adventure here, and I make so many mistakes that I can't keep track of them all. For example, I bought some blini at the supermarket last week, not realizing that the clerk behind the meat counter had to weigh them and put a sticker on them before I could take them to the cashier. But when I went through, the cashier looks at me in that way that says, "You stupid American, don't you know these need prices?" and then she smiles and takes them back to the meat counter herself. 

8. iTunes. Okay, so technically this isn't even something in Kharkov, but after I got my internet working and realized that most of the free downloadable content I was expecting (I'm talking to you, Hulu!) wasn't available with a foreign IP address, I realized that if I wanted to watch ANYTHING in the English language besides BBC news and English Club TV, I had to get it from iTunes. It's been a lifesaver--I've watched every episode of The Wire at least twice (and a quick shout out to my old college dorm-mate Jim True-Frost, who has a great supporting role in the show)!

9. My fuzzy, leopard-print blanket. Sure, I'd never have even considering buying something like that in the US, but Margarita and I were at this giant outdoor market (on one of the coldest days of the year), and she pointed it out, so I said, cool. And it is the softest, fuzziest, snuggliest blanket I've ever had. 

10. Margarita. I'm not surprised by her in every way, but I have been positively surprised by her general helpfulness and patience with me. She laughs at my language screw ups, is tolerant when I can't stomach some traditionally wonderful Ukrainian food (pickled tomatoes and this disgusting cold salad come to mind), and has been integral to my getting anything much done. She sometimes takes me shopping, cooks for me, found this great apartment, found the slippers, the blanket, and, even though I don't see her as much as I'd like, she has made this first month bearable at worst and wonderful at times. 

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