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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:42 am on July 29, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , army psychologist, , , Gefilte fish, Jewish cuisine, Jewish culture, Jews and Judaism in Europe, , , ,   

    Treyf 

    I find Jewish humor to be one of the best ways to explain certain situations in programming. Here are two that I find particularly funny and useful.

    The first is a true story told me by a friend. I use it when I’m told that good web developers don’t use tables. It goes like this: My friend’s aunt met her religious relatives for the first time after coming to America from the Soviet Union. Horrified at being served pork sausage, they told her: “But auntie, Jews don’t eat pork!”. She replied — “Nonsense, I eat it all the time.”

    The second is an old and racist Soviet-era joke. A Chukcha serves in the Soviet Army, and is an exemplary soldier in border patrol. There’s only one problem — he tends to eat patrol dogs, considering them a delicacy (this untrue ethnic detail must have been created to make the joke setup work). An army psychologist offers to correct this. He sits the soldier down, takes out his watch, and hypnotizes him with the words “you are not a Chukcha, you are a Jew. You don’t like to eat dogs, you like to eat gefilte fish.” The patrol dogs continue to vanish even after the hypnosis seems to have worked. Authorities send another soldier to follow the hypnotized Chukcha around. This soldier reports that the Chukcha sits the dogs down, takes out his watch and hypnotizes them with the words “You are not a dog, you are gefilte fish.” I tend to tell it when I’m told that the act of turning a hack into a Drupal module somehow makes it “gefilte fish.”

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:17 am on May 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Andy Warhol, Atlantic station, Calvin Trillin, car ready, car window repair place, computer science professor, Dandelion Wine, happy car-less years, Jewish culture, , , nearest car window shop, , , , Parking, poor car, , , Tepper Isn't,   

    Three Firsts 

    I always thought that the quote went “I’ll try anything once” and it was Andy Warhol who said it. Apparently the quote is “I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure” and it belongs to Mae West.

    Living in New York, amongst other things, pushes you to try something for the first time ever almost every single day. Here are three things I recently tried for the first time, mostly under pressure from New York City.

    Religious

    Probably every New Yorker that looks even remotely Semitic in appearence has been repetidly asked “Are you Jewish?” by the Hasidim. If you answer yes, you’ll get a Billy Mays-worthy pitch to pray/light Shabbat candles/put on at Teffilin. I will admit to occasionally denying my membership in the tribe when in a hurry, but most of the time my answer is “a little bit”, followed by a firm sticking to plain cowardly agnosticism.

    Ever since I wrote a long and rambling post about Tefillins, I meant to put one on. So this one time, after being approached by a young Hasid in the Atlantic station passageway, and customarily declining his pamphlet, I accepted his halfhearted offer to help me lay Teffilin. He was particularly surprised – I don’t really think he gets to help a lot of people perform this particular mitzvah a lot.

    He produced a Tefillin set from a black shopping bag and a loaner kipah from a pocket, helped me put it on and say the necessary prayers right there on the BMT’s Atlantic Avenue platform, amongst the hustle and bustle of people and trains. It felt strange, yet somehow very comforting – performing this ritual in one of the most familiar places to me.

    He also gave me a pamphlet in which the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains to a computer science professor that Tefillin is a symbolic representation of computers. He was very glad to be able to accomplish such an epic mitzvah.

    Culinary

    I was walking through Union Square farmers’ market, already having sampled and bought a package of organic bacon hawked by an upstate hippie (I’m not a very observant Jew as you might have already noticed in this post). I was passing by a little stall providing free samples of wine made by hippies somewhere upstate. That bit of hippie bacon called for some wine, but I did not want to fight the mob of greedy Manhattan housewifes for a tiny sip, but then I heard a magical phrase – “We also have dandelion wine”.

    I never really finished reading “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury, and always thought that there was no such thing – how can you make wine out of bitter yellow flowers? Apparently this is how. I bought a bottle. All I have to say is that dandelion wine tastes just like they say it should: like summer and childhood. I also bought some salad corn shoots that I’ve read about in New York Times. Those tasted like raw corn kernels.

    Automotive

    You know that nobody really drives in New York because there are too many cars there. I’ve spent many happy car-less years here, but the arrival of a baby forced me to buy a car (a minivan, in fact). Parking is a very sore topic around these parts. I was never willing to splurge on a garage, and had to subject myself to the indignities of alternate side parking regulations.

    There’s a whole book about parking in NYC – Calvin Trillin’s brilliant Tepper Isn’t Going Out. I bought it only because I have a friend named Tepper, but ended up immensely enjoying it. Which is what I can’t say about parking in the street.

    Well, recently, I finally broke down and shelled out $200 for a spot in a garage. The feeling on the “alternate” days is rather novel – hey, I don’t need to move a car! Also new – not worrying about what those loud teenagers are probably doing to my poor car, or if there’s a used car window repair place that just received a shipment of my car’s specific windows (did you notice how they always have a used window for your car ready, no matter how obscure, when you go to a nearest car window shop for a mysteriously shattered one?). It’s a new and pleasant feeling.

    What about you?

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:17 pm on October 9, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , beloved governor, , Culinary Heritage of Switzerland, Deribasovskaya Street, , Elephant, , Isaac Babel, Isaak Babel, Jewish culture, 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.

     
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