Monday, January 20, 2020

They run in Brooklyn 12 mile (22Cong.Rec.)

I haven't been posting much lately because I am back in DC, so I am not jetting off to a nearby country every long weekend. However, I do want to take advantage of my domestic posting to travel within the United States, so I agreed to my friend's invitation for a weekend trip to Brooklyn -- even though it meant running a half-marathon. We drove up on a Friday night after work, but the race wasn't until Sunday, so we had some time for sight-seeing. On Saturday morning, we did a shakeout run from our place in Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Brooklyn Bridge (left). We had planned to run to the Manhattan side and back, but the path was too full of selfie-takers for that (right).
 
We ascended from the span into the Dumbo neighborhood (top left), where we started a walking tour of beautiful Brooklyn Heights buildings (top right). It was a lovely day to wander the tree-lined streets, a peaceful juxtaposition to the high-rises of Wall Street (bottom left). The highlights for me were the house where Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood and the greenway of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which provides amazing views of downtown (bottom right).
With the run and walk, our muscles were sufficiently stretched, but we had to do the same for our bellies with some pre-race carb-loading. We headed to Henry Public in Cobble Hill, decorated as an old-timey saloon, for a late brunch (top left). I opted for eggs benedict over Johnnycake, accompanied by a beer; unfortunately, they didn't have any coffee stouts on taps, so I went with a hydrating hazy IPA (top right). The night we arrived, we followed our AirBnB host's recommendation to try the famous Southern-style chicken sandwich at Peaches HotHouse (bottom left). After the race, I felt I had a good excuse to overeat again, but I simply could not finish my full plate of the Senegalese specialty mafe at Joloff (bottom right).
When I told people I was running a half-marathon in Brooklyn, they it was THE Brooklyn half-marathon. But it wasn't. This was the much more low-key NYCRUNS Half-Marathon, which is four loops around Prospect Park. I thought I wouldn't like the repetitiveness, but the weather and runners were so agreeable that I had a smile on my face at the end (left). In fact, the course apparently was suitable for me, as I ended up taking second place in my age/gender category, as did the bestie that talked me into doing the run (right). Thank you, RC!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

To assist Ukraine's democratic transition, and for other purposes (S.3543)

I know, with all the sightseeing and eating, it seems like I was a tourist in Kyiv, but I did actually work sometimes. But I have to be honest, quite a few of my duties were fun enough to feel like a vacation. It wasn't a holiday, but a special day nonetheless, on Bike to Work Day, when I rode from the Maidan to the embassy to promote safety, fitness, and sustainability with a commuting alternative (top). It involved a little more effort, but still a lot of fun, to join the embassy team for the Nova Poshta Half-Marathon (middle). Well, kind of, considering I only ran the 10K option. Sometimes, work can feel like a grueling rat race, but it was a rewarding and enjoyable sprint to help facilitate a speech by former Secretary of State John Kerry at a side event of the YES (Yalta European Strategy) Annual Meeting (bottom). 
Other times, my duties took me out of the capital. While monitoring the Ukrainian presidential election, I got to spend a weekend in Kherson. The city is located on the Dnieper River, on the mouth to the Black Sea, just 75 miles from the Crimean peninsula, which has been annexed by Russia for more than five years (left). As a port, Kherson is a prime spot for sailors, as shown by its Monument to the First Shipmen (right). Our final election-monitoring stop, where we watched poll workers count votes, was at a maritime university.
Another time, for a consular outreach visit, I touched down in Chernivtsi, a cute little college town (top left). The trip also took me to Kamianets-Podilskyi, which I accidentally visited due to some car trouble on a previous personal trip. But this time, I stayed in hotel right across from the town hall (top right). I also got a second look at the city's famous castle (bottom).
That allowed me a good source of comparison when we stopped by Khotyn, which is perched above the Dniester River (top left). In many ways, the 13th-century citadel is more structurally intact, especially its outer walls (top right). But for some reason, it is less well-known to tourists, perhaps because fewer of the areas, including the bell tower, are accessible to visitors (bottom left). It was enough for me to wander around the vacant fortress, soaking in the atmosphere and history (bottom right).
 
But by far, my favorite assignment was assisting with an American Music Abroad tour. For a few days, I basically got to be a groupie as I accompanied Seth Glier, Ryan Hommel, and Joe Nerney to a series of jam sessions and public shows (top). Since returning to the States, I have been hoping for an opportunity to see them play again because I really enjoyed their message and their music (bottom left). Ukrainians certainly shared that sentiment, and all three musicians epitomized graciousness when greeting numerous non-English-speaking fans after their shows (bottom right).  
I joined the band's tour in Melitopol, a transport and education hub, which is home to three universities (top). Nowadays, the city is known more for industry than arts, but it clearly has a history of public engagement with performance. The Soviet-era venue where the group played that first night was straight out of a time machine (bottom left). A quote from Lenin -- "Art belongs to the people" -- was even inscribed above the stage (bottom right). 
 
During some down time, I got to explore the everyday side of Melitopol. A short run took me past orchards in full bloom (top left) and promenades with bright landscaping (top right). I ended at the market near my hotel (bottom left). After checking out all the stalls' options, I settled on a snack of cheburek, eastern Europe's version of the empanada (bottom right). 
The next night, the band played in Berdyansk, at another brutalist-inspired performing-arts hall (left). The city is a small summer resort as it sits on the Sea of Azov (right). Of late, it has lost some of its draw due to a "hybrid war" nearby. It lies directly north of the Kerch Strait, site of a dispute that resulted in the detention of Ukrainian sailors. The region where an actual war is ongoing -- the Donbass, which is also the title of an excellent film about the conflict -- is off-limits to embassy personnel, except for approved official business. I never got to see the situation at the front line, but I am grateful for the experiences I had, such as the music tour, that revealed the nature of the war's reverberations.
 

Friday, November 29, 2019

As they serve their Ukrainian food to the people (163Cong.Rec.S1586)

Hopefully, my last post convinced you that Ukrainians are humorous, melodious, and generous. I like to think I share a few of these traits with people from my former, temporary home. But if I'm being honest, the characteristic we have most in common is being gluttonous. Food and drink play a central part in daily life, but especially in celebrations.

I was invited to a birthday fete where I was told tMadagascar characters would make a special appearance. Was this a party for a child? No. Was this party at an establishment much like Chuck E. Cheese's? No. Did I still go? Yes. The adults-only event was held at one of the swankiest restaurants in town, Alaska (top left). I almost didn't pass face control when I showed up in shorts, not realizing it was a place where VIPs mingle with Furries (top right). But trust me, I am not judging. I can dig an over-the-top dining-out experience, especially when it involves using a tarot deck to choose a cocktail (bottom left). My sexy card foresaw a bourbon-based drink in my future at Lysa Gora, which is translated to and named after Bald Mountain, a site of witch gatherings (bottom right). 
 
When it comes to beverages, witches don't have anything on lunatics. At Palata No. 6, named after a short story by Chekhov about an insane asylum, the staff serve up some crazy-complicated concoctions, many of which involve fire (top left). If you prefer not to risk singing, you can be strapped into a strait jacket and be forcefed a shot by a nurse-cum-server (top right). By far, most people opted for a display that made no sense at all; it entailed wearing a helmet, so you could be smacked on the head with a keg (bottom left) before being shielded from the flamethrowing spit of a bartender (bottom right).  
 
If you're looking for a tamer theme-restaurant experience, the place to be is definitely Last Barricade, an underground restaurant that requires a password to enter its hand-covered doors (top left). At first, the interior presents as a typical hip, chic dining room (top right), although with the addition of a moving bar. The restaurant, however, is also a museum, displaying artifacts from the country's recent history, including the Orange Revolution (middle). Surprisingly, considering its clear patriotism, the restaurant's menu doesn't really showcase Ukrainian dishes. Sure, my table shared traditional toasts with salo on rye bread, washed down with horseradish vodka (bottom left). But then, the meal turned more continental. Many people had steaks, the restaurant's signature dish. I had some burrata, which as far as I know has no roots in pre- or post-Soviet environs (bottom right). 
 
Probably my most authentic meal was my going-away dinner at Pervak. Much like at Last Barricade, my friends and I shared salo on rye bread accompanied by vodka, this time sans horseradish (top left). I followed that up with okroshka made with kvas (top right). We had ordered a flight of tinctures, which I finished with my entree of deruny. When I got back to Ohio for home leave, I re-created the dishes for my dad, although I made the okroshka with the more easily attainable yogurt instead of kvas (bottom).
I hate to say it, but I'm not the biggest fan of Ukrainian food, especially its inexplicable emphasis on dill. So I was certainly happy that Kyiv offered many tasty ethnic options. There were the usual suspects -- Chinese, Indian, kebab -- but there were standouts as well, such as Smorrebrod (top left), named after the traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches it served (top right). During my time there, Ukrainians were definitely buying into the American burger craze. Unfortunately, one enticing food truck disappeared shortly after I arrived, and shortly after its namesake left office, so I never got to try an Obama burger (bottom).
I did manage to sample a spookily-styled sandwich with blood-red cheese at Punkraft (top left). As part of its Halloween party, the gastropub also offered complimentary old-lady fingers (top right). The bar was a perennial favorite of mine, due to its fulsome, free bar tastings (bottom left). One presentation, by Mad Brew, featured 14 plentiful pours! Multiple places were making inroads in the burgeoning craft-beer scene, but one establishment dominated the wine set. Sadly, the degustations at Good Wine were far from free and provided much more limited liquid (bottom right). 
 
Overall, the best bets to sample food and drink alike usually were culinary events, like a Mega Market-sponsored beer festival that offered a mix of imported and domestic brands (top). Outside on the patios, in the shadow of St. Andrew's Cathedral, the grocery chain set up stalls hawking its store-made products (bottom left). A selection of bread, cheese, and charcuterie complemented any of the many brew styles (bottom right).