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  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:32 am on June 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alexander Pushkin, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot, Black Sea, , City Hall building, , , electricity meters, , , , Pushkin monument, , sadistic gym teacher, ,   

    Odessa Close Up 

    I own a few quality Canon lenses, but 100-400 zoom lens is my favorite. 100-400 is heavy and it needs to be swapped in for something more reasonable often because it only catches a small part of the overall picture. Yes, extreme closeup is a cheesy trick: every object starts looking more significant than it already is when the focus is on it and the background disappears in a soft blur known as “bokeh“. But more often than not I do want to get rid of the clutter and take a closer look at something, to intensely focus on one thing. Sometimes looking at an object zoomed in at 400 you find something new – like a ghostly outline of the old company name hiding behind a new neon sign or a joke left in by the sculptor or notice what is going on on the tops of skyscrapers.

    100-400 seems to add a strange, otherworldly glow to things – the glow that I associate with memory.

    Here’s a series of closeup photos of my hometown, Odessa. Beware, if you are from there this might cause some serious nostalgia.

    The postal boxes were repainted a few times, but are still pretty much the same.

    A core sample is the best demonstration for watermelons

    But you have to trust the merchant’s sign that the grapes from Tairovo are sweet!sweet!

    The dish of my childhood – a tomato salad with tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.

    The building in the background is gone, but the old horse chestnut (which is probably a few hundred years old) is still around

    Here’s what you do with the leaves of acacia: you rip them off in one motion and hold them tight in your fist. Then you let go in an upward motion and try to catch as many as you can. Then you play age old game of loves me-loves me not with the remaining leaves. Well, at least that what I remember.

    Kitteh, as neglected as the city itself voices her complaint.

    A pigeon walks around in fallen acacia flowers in front of my hildhood home. I gathered a bunch of these flowers. They still smell like the city that I lost.

    These flowers in the park are still the same.

    A terrible piece of tile grafitti sprung on a refined and sophisticated building by its new owners is now covered in even cruder grafitti. Soon the slate will be wiped clean. The act of tiled vandalism always amazed me when I saw it as a kid – it was one of the first hints as to what happened in 1919.

    The staircase that leads to the sea at 13th Station of the Big Fountain. If you were brave, you could ride it down, but it lead to more sprains, scrapes, ruined pants and mis. injuries than I care to remember. Yet few kids could pass by the opportunity to ride it down.

    Seemingly indestructable electrical poles are surprisingly free of ads, but they must have carried more of them than many newspapers.

    Pushkin’s fish is still spitting into the fountain basin full of coins left by tourists.

    Corn on the cob at the beach is as spectacular as ever

    A remnant of a communal flat: after the Soviets kicked out and mostly shot the old tenants, what is known in New York as a “classic 5“, a spacious one family apartment became a 5 family apartment. The communal spirit was not complete though – all 5 bells would have been connected to separate electricity meters.

    These sturdy cast iron garbage urns might be pre-revolutionary in origin. They always reminded me of the Pushkin monument and the drinking fountain in the park (which I’ll cover further down).

    Mercury from the City Hall building stares blankly

    The iron fence of the old synagogue reminds me the fence in front of a church on 5th Avenue.

    This is where I would jump off almost every time when visiting the park

    Bullheads!

    The laurel crown of Odessa’s beloved founder, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, looked like a kangol-style hat to me when I was little. I guess it still does.

    Poor old lion dragged from somebody’s pre-revolutionary dacha to “the old Odessa corner”. I sat on this beast many a time for a photo, and so did probably millions of locals and tourists.

    They still use homemade brooms – I’m sure these are superior to synthetic-bristled ones. At the very least they must be cheaper.

    Wild grapes are in every other courtyard. They are extremely sour when green, but rarely survive into maturity.

    This Atlas always amused me because unlike other classical atlases he wore a working man’s belt. He is in a very bad way.

    This lion appears on dozens of buildings. I guess it was on sale two centuries ago.

    It’s pretty hard to destroy ironwork.

    I bet Alexander Pushkin tied his horses to this thing. Or something. It was good for jumping on and off it.

    These trashcans were all over the place when I was a kid – I only found one in the back of a courtyard.

    I bet this kid with a cournucopia (or just a bouquet) of flowers had a wingwang at some point.

    A piece of Soviet sculptural impotence is still memorable to me for some reason. I think it’s supposed to sybolize basketball. Or the last drop of patience or something.

    The crown of one of the last remaining cast iron ad pillars

    There were a few of these things all over the city. As a kid I was told that these were for sampling gas – I remember trying to smell it at some point.

    The entrance to the park – a place to meet after school.

    A park bench

    When I was crawling around the park as a toddler this fountain used to work. It always reminded me the Pushkin monument – it might have been cast by the same company. I still have memories of my father raising me up so I could take a drink.

    Our sadistic gym teacher made us do pull-ups on these bars.

    This is another place where no self-respecting child would walk on the ground instead of skipping on the parapet

    This lamp has seen better times

    Some people say these wells were operational at some point, others say that they were simply ornaments dragged from elsewhere where they were operational. In any case, these are reminders of the time when Odessa’s major source of water was roof-collected rain and the Fountains.

    A lamp of the Soviet vintage

    A horrible Soviet-era mosaic that is nevertheless burnt into my childhood memory

    The soccer stadium lights always made me sad for some reason

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:15 pm on December 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Almond paste, Almonds, Black Sea, Carl Steinway, , , , , , Marzipan, , of catching in the Black Sea, pens ala officer, Philippine cuisine, retail store layouts, Sorenson, , , , Steinway Tunnel, Swiss cuisine, Theodor,   

    Marzipan 

    When faced with a lot of stress I employ several coping techniques. There’s collecting pens ala officer Sorenson, watching New York’s pigeons(overweight and disheveled they remind me of myself), meditatively looking at cornucopias of goods in various retail store layouts and fixtures, and then there’s food.

    Happiness derived from material things is fleeting, especially in the pursuit of the American Dream. But I grew up in the Soviet Union where the Socialist economy greatly restricted variety and quality of just about everything, and I have a slightly different perspective on materialism.

    My friends who visited Cuba told me that people there are much happier than in the US: they have very little to aspire to in material goods, and thus live a life that is much less busy, and as a result much more relaxed and happy.

    I frequently quote a paragraph from a letter by Carl Steinway to his brother Theodor in Germany:

    “I cannot advise you to come here if you are able, by diligence and thrift, to make a living in Germany. People here have to work harder than abroad, and you get so used to better living that you finally think potato soup tasted better in Germany than the daily roast here.”

    Carl and Theodor are two of the “Sons” in Steinway & Sons. Steinway Tunnel is named after the third one.

    The variety of food that I had access to growing up was not that great, but I certainly had better fruit and vegetables than the majority of Americans have these days. I’ve asked my younger co-workers, and they are sure that strawberries sold in American supermarkets taste like strawberries. It’s a bit of a Matrix moment there (supermarket strawberries absolutely do not taste like real strawberries).

    I had a childhood in which I only experienced hunger when dieting and cold when fishing in bad weather. On the other hand, my grandfather, who went through WWII, remembered the real hunger and the real cold. He was very glad that me and my father never had to experience hunger, and every time I would refuse to eat kasha, he would say – “so, you don’t want to eat kasha that your grandmother made you – what do you expect – marzipan”?

    I would ask him what marzipan was, and he’d say – oh, it’s a very tasty French candy. He must have remembered marzipan from NEP times or maybe from his early childhood before the Revolution.

    I always though that marzipan was something amazing and heavenly, the tastiest treat possible. I was also pretty sure that I’d never taste it. It was the gastronomic equivalent of the “sea rooster” fish (a very rare fish that I dreamt of catching in the Black Sea).

    These days I mutter curse words when I catch “sea roosters” – they are considered a throwback fish in NYC. And marzipan – well, it turned out to be yucky concoction of almond paste and sugar that appears on store shelves around Festivus. I buy it from time to time to remember my grandfather.

    marzipan

    And when I want to taste a tomato or strawberry that tastes good I have to spend a lot of time and money at farmers markets or take a trip to my hometown.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:00 am on February 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Black Sea, fiddler, , , , Fishing tackle, , , links, , Recreational fishing, , search rankings fall, Surf fishing, technology changes, ,   

    Deadsticking 

    Let me tell you about web development and fishing, my two great passions. Here’s a fishing story. When I was a kid, i fished off the long piers in the Black Sea. I did not catch all that much, and I mostly thought that was because of my lack of skill and resources: I though if I could cast further, have a better fishing rod, or be able to go out on a boat, maybe I could catch more. Then I noticed that one fisherman was catching huge quantities of fish.

    He had an interesting technique. Instead of using a single rod and switching from a place to a place, he’s bring ten. Each one was cheap and simple bamboo rod. He’d bait them, and drop the hook in shallow water in clear water, where the sea floor was covered with concrete blocks with holes used to stabilize the sand. I tried fishing near those holes before, but never caught anything. He’d set up his ten rods, and then just wait. An interesting thing happened: after about an hour the fish started biting, and were mostly just catching themselves: all he had to do was walk from rod to a rod and take off the fish. Sometimes just a single hole would be producing, then he would take that rod and catch fish after fish from the same place.

    This technique is called deadsticking: you leave the bait motionless, and thus exposed to the fish for much longer periods of time. Most fish grab the bait and run: you don’t even need to set the hook, the fish catches itself. When on the boat the same technique often works. Having a number of rods fishing all the time gives you two benefits: it shows you the hot spots and exposes your hooks to more fish.

    I see this again and again: a company redesigns a website, changes the core technology used to build it, spends a lot of money, and then the traffic and search rankings fall, and thus revenues fall.

    I am pretty sure I know the cause of this: broken links. Any redesign of a website of just about any complexity, especially when technology changes breaks a lot of links. Search engines are like fish: they do not like things moving from a place to a place in an unnatural manner. A fisherman once told me: hey, do you think a Tautog (a kind of fish) ever seen a dead fiddler crab jump three feet up and down? Fish do like movement, jiggling the bait often entices them to bite. But the important thing is, the jiggling can’t be too vigorous and take the bait out of the view! Google likes to see changing content, but if the location of the content darts around – you betcha boots you are going to see your Pagerank take a hit.

    The best thing to do when faced with with less traffic from Google is not to redesign the site again, but to dead stick: fix all the broken links, keep the site stable, and better yet, bring in more rods – build more sites.

    In my time I’ve seen a large number of websites and careers that were set back by CMS switches and redesigns.

    Further reading: The Russian Tea Room Syndrome and Deadprogrammer’s Hierarchy of Web Needs.

     
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