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  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:17 pm on October 9, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , beloved governor, Captain, Culinary Heritage of Switzerland, Deribasovskaya Street, , Elephant, , Isaac Babel, Isaak Babel, , Moses Zayderbit, , Roger Sterling, , ,   

    Two Elephants 

    While I visited Odessa, I had dinner at a restaurant called “Captain Morgan”. It had my first taste of absinthe there (at the time you could not buy absinthe in the US), they had wi-fi, and their take on Vietnamese salad was almost passable.

    The address of the building where “Captain Morgan” is located now is Resihlyevskaya street 17. Named after Odessa’s first and most beloved governor, Duc de Richelieu, it was always one of the oldest and most prestigious streets, sort of Odessa’s Madison avenue. (Pushkin street is 5th ave, Deribasovskaya – Broadway.) During Soviet times Resihlyevskaya was renamed into Lenin street, now the old name is back.

    There were two things for which 17 Lenin street was famous. First of all, it was Isaac Babel’s childhood home. Secondly, it housed a large bookstore unimaginatively called “Technical Book Store.” On the other hand everybody called it “Two Elephants”, which was a bit of a mystery, since there were no elephants to be found there, only a very large selection of technical books and a top-notch stationery section.

    The name came from the fact that before a renovation that happened sometime in the 60s, there were two giant life size papier-mache elephants reaching to the top of the ceiling in the store. Before the revolution it was a high end toy store.

    I recently learned that it used to belong to my great grandfater, Moses Zayderbit. He had enough sense to voluntarily hand the store over to the Bolsheviks, and even managed to get a job there.

    While my other great-grandfather looked a bit like Seth Bullock, great-grandpa Moses looked a little bit like Roger Sterling from Mad Men:

    So, last year I was drinking absinthe and checking email in what used to be my great-grandfather’s toy store without knowing it.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:34 pm on July 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , boat forward, Captain, ISDN, , , The Pilot   

    Daydreams 

    I have two recurring daydreams that run through my mind in the morning, as I’m making my way from the subway platform to my cubicle. I’ve had them for years and years.

    In the first one I’m standing inside the office tower where I work and look outside. The longboat from the spaceship I’m a captain of is hovering outside. Most of my crew is in it, the mechanic is holding my space suit, cargo master – my two guns. The air is swirling from the heat of the longboat’s thrust rockets pointed down. The pilot edges the boat forward and the window shatters. They motion for me to jump, hundreds of meters above Manhattan. We got to get back into orbit and rendezvous with my ship.

    The second daydream is not so science-fictiony. In it I own a small apartment in a tall residential tower: there was always on near every location where I worked. When I worked at 888 Broadway, a tower like that was being built, and the ad at its base promised dedicated ISDN connections for every tenant. Anyway, my apartment is unlike any that I ever lived in: it’s very high up, it has floor to ceiling glass windows, all the furniture is super modern (Design Within Reach kind). And now, I don’t really have to show up at work right away – I can go to my apartment in the sky and take a nap first.

    What about you? Any daydreams you can share?

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:39 am on June 1, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Andy Kelp, Arnie Albright, Black Bellamy, Caper story, Captain, , , Daniel Defoe, , , , , football, getaway driver, , , John Dortmunder, , , Osmeridae, Pirates!, Roe, , Smelt, Stan Murch, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Napoleon, thuggery specialist   

    Bread and Circuses 3: Smelts and Westlake; Uni and Defoe 

    This is a third, and likely last article in which I pair up food with books. The previous two did not generate a single comment, but I still want to finish the series.

    My third favorite cuisine is Japanese. The best Japanese cooking is about the ingredients. Think about it: sashimi is basically sliced up raw fish. It’s an ingredient with the least preparation possible. Yet it’s one of the tastiest things ever, if the fish is good and the chef sliced it well. Simplicity and lightness, that’s what I like about Japanese food. I’ve picked two of my favorite dishes, a fried fish and sea cucumber roe, and paired it up with two simple light reading book series.

    My father grew up on Sakhalin island, a place where salmon and even sturgeon roe were dirt cheap and widely available. Kids would thumb their noses at their caviar and smoked fish, my dad said. But there was one fish still highly prized. A humble smelt. Easily caught, it was usually full of delicious roe. Fried – the tastiest thing ever. While fresh, interestingly enough, smelts smell like fresh cucumbers. I first tasted a fried smelt in a Japanese restaurant Yakitori East, one of the few places in New York that serves them. They are also available in Japanese and Korean supermarkets, I’ve bought and fried them at home many times.

    Fried smelts are just as addictive as books from the Dortmunder series by Donalde E. Westlake. These are masterpieces of a particular subset of subset of crime fiction genre: a comical caper story. You get too root for a band of bumbling crooks led by John Archibald Dortmunder, a very competent, but extremely unlucky master thief with a beer-inspired last name.

    You know how the two Alice stories have a chess game and a card game theme? Well, Dortmunder stories can be thought of as games of American football. The characters are highly specialized, just like football players, they face constant fumbles and setbacks, but from time to time they get to score. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of Dortmunder books even has chapters based on football: “First down”, and so on to more downs than there are in game rules.

    Dortmunder’s core crew includes an all-purpose crook Andy Kelp, a thuggery specialist Tiny Bulcher, a getaway driver obsessed with New York City traffic patterns Stan Murch. Kelp and Dortmunder can pick locks, but when the job calls for it experts are called in. So are extra drivers, computer experts, and other colorful characters. Everybody except Stan Murch has long time girlfriends who take part in criminal acts from time to time. Stan’s cab-driving Mom known as “Murch’s mom” is a frequent cast member.

    The now-canceled Firefly tv series is definitely inspired by the Dortmunder stories: as a nod, Joss Whedon named one of the big Alliance ships IAV Dortmunder.

    There’s something amazingly likable about a competent, but unlucky master thief with a hang-dog look about him. I, for some reason deeply identify with Dortmunder. On the other hand, in real life I’m probably more of Arnie Albright, the friendless and obnoxious (and aware of it) fence. Arnie’s so obnoxious that nobody willingly deals with him (unless they have to). Dortmunder would much prefer dealing with another fence, Stoon who’s unreliable and pays much less.

    I’ve read every single Dortmunder book there is. Westlake is currently working on the next installment in which the gang participates in a reality show.

    ***

    Uni is a simple dish. Well, it’s not much of a dish. It’s sea urchin’s roe. You just dunk it in soy sauce and eat it. Uni had amazing taste: creamy, briny,sweet, custardy. If you watched Iron Chef at all, you probably spent hours listening to the judges rave about uni.

    What would go great with uni? Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! books. What are they about? Well, they are about oh, only the most important things in the world. Ham. Piracy. Marine mammals. Science, Philosophy, Love. Sea shanties. Ham.

    The nameless Pirate Captain leads a large group of child-like pirates and Cutlass Liz through most amazing adventures. His evil rival Black Bellamy constantly defeats an humiliates him and his crew, but the Pirate Captain does not like to dwell on that.

    If I were to trust what I’ve read on the Internet, Pirates! was written to impress a girl to leave her boyfriend (which she didn’t). Defoe also is somehow related to Daniel Defoe.

    There are three books out:

    [amazon cover 0375423214]
    [amazon title 0375423214]

    [amazon cover 0375423850]
    [amazon title 0375423850]

    [amazon cover 0375423974]
    [amazon title 0375423974]

    According to Gideon’s livejournal, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon is already out. Also he’s working with Aardman on a Pirates! cartoon.

     
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