• Driving Missouri: Nevada

    Nevada, MO has everything I am looking for in a small town – liveliness, old buildings, murals and a county courthouse. In accordance with a Missouri State custom, Nevada is not pronounced the way it’s spelled; addressing it as anything but Ne-vay-duh  will expose you as an outsider.

    We made a stop in Nevada on the way to Bentonville, AR, because we were getting bored on a long stretch of the newly-minted I-49. The only entertainment on the previous 80 or so miles was provided by a trailer home flying a banner with a picture of an automatic rifle and the words “Come and get it!”. Ain’t nobody got time for that! 

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  • Old Photos:National Independence Day of Israel

    Yom Ha’atzmaut – national independence day of Israel is celebrated in April.

    Prime Minister Dave Ben-Gurion (6L), Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett (4R) and Labor Minister Moshe Ben-Tov (2R) at Proclamation of nationhood of Israel.
    Prime Minister Dave Ben-Gurion (6L), Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett (4R) and Labor Minister Moshe Ben-Tov (2R) at Proclamation of nationhood of Israel.©Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
    Establishment of Israel had important connections to the city where I was born and the city where I live now.

    Odessa became the home of a large Jewish community during the 19th century, and by 1897 Jews were estimated to comprise some 37% of the population. They were, however, repeatedly subjected to severe persecution. Pogroms were carried out in 1821, 1859, 1871, 1881, and 1905. Many Odessan Jews fled abroad, particularly to Palestine after 1882, and the city became an important base of support for Zionism.

    The Kansas City connection is through the President Truman and Eddie Jacobson who influenced Truman’s pro-Israely stance. A recent play at the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center covered the subject of their friendship. Truman library also has a collection dedicated to the recognition of the State of Israel. Then:

    Areal view of Tel Aviv. 1948
    Areal view of Tel Aviv. 1948 © Time Inc.Dmitri Kessel

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  • Behind The Iron Curtain: Shortages

    In my recent post about shopping in the USSR the following photo and its caption raised some questions about the shortages:

    Cheese display with names and descriptions of various cheeses. In 1983 a display like this would’ve looked like an insulting joke.©Time, Carl Mydans

    I implied that by the time when I was growing up® no elaborate displays or advertisements were necessary, items appeared in stores sporadically and people swept them off the shelves. Even everyday groceries like bread and milk  frequently required standing in line. Any imported clothes, perfume, shoes, and even toys had the lines snaking out of the door and around the block. Supplies depended on the city; Moscow where the government was located and frequently visited by foreigners was known for its well stocked stores with items that were never seen elsewhere. People from surrounding areas were making long-distance shopping trips to Moscow to stock up on food and imported hard-to-find retail goods. Those who lived too far from Moscow had to either know someone in retail or pay black market prices.

    In the early 80’s standing in line was pretty much the norm of life. Once I was walking home from school in the 4th or 5th grade when I noticed a huge line to the kiosk selling mandarins. Mandarins were a rare find, available only in winter. I didn’t have any money with me so I got a spot in line and had a number scribbled on my hand to verify my place. Then I went home, got the money and was back before too long. By then the people were worried that the mandarins will run out and people in the back of the line would have to leave empty-handed. I showed my number and got back in line, although some people where not too happy that I came back. Even with me running home I still had to stand in line for several hours. Not sure if I wanted the mandarins so badly or just didn’t want to leave half-way to the end of the line. Somehow I remember this one night and tell this story often, and, of course, I am eating a mandarin as I type this.

    The reason I remember standing in line that night is that I wasn’t exposed to shopping very often. My parents did their share of waiting in lines or found other ways of getting stuff they needed like farmer’s market for foods which weren’t that cheap or black market for other things. Knowing someone in retail or grocery store was a goldmine. These people knew when the deliveries were scheduled and could hold on to an item for their friends, relatives and people who were willing to overpay. There was also barter going on, a retail employee would trade a favor with a doctor who could in turn try to find a rare medicine, or an auto mechanic who had access to hard-to-procure spare parts. Trading favors and black market led to some items never appearing in the front of the stores for general public, they were gone as soon as the delivery truck left the dock.

    And now for some photos. Unfortunately not too many people had a bright idea to photograph the lines and empty stores; in some cases it could be interpreted as some anti-Soviet activity. Many photos floating around the internet are taken from here and I found a few more elsewhere.

    Clothing store line.
    Stores usually closed for one hour lunch break. People are waiting for the store to open.
    Line in the produce store
    Line to buy shoes, probably imported. Soviet shoes were ugly, heavy and uncomfortable.
    Another line.
    People are looking at the meager selection at the meat store
    People in line always worried that the stuff will run out and the time will be wasted.
    People are forming a line in anticipation of delivery. Many times it never happened.
    If a delivery did occur, pushing and shoving was not uncommon. Sometimes there were fights but not very often.
    Another line
    Buy lingerie first then see if it fits.
    Not so fast food
    No comment
    Bread line
    Liquor store
    Empty shelves
    Liquor store inside view
    Unwanted items

    When people think socialism, they often have these images in mind, but in all truth this has nothing to do with socialism; this was the result of many years of corrupt power, terror, breeding out competition, trying to force rules and principles on people that were going against common sense and human nature. Labels applied to what was built in the USSR are irrelevant; was it communism, socialism or just a big lie – what difference does it make. The only thing that matters is learning something from this experience. Then the years the Soviet people spent standing in various lines would account for something.

    My kid gets annoyed when I walk out of a store or a restaurant when I see too many people waiting in line. I tell her that all the time in my life that was allocated for standing in lines has been used up already and I have little patience for waiting in one.

    And then I buy more mandarins.

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  • Behind the Iron Curtain: Happy Veterans’ Day

    Somewhere in this picture there is a lot younger me
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  • To The West!

    A little worm asks his father:
    -Daddy, why do some worms get to live in apples and oranges and we live in a pile of shit?
    -Because it’s our Motherland, son…
    Old Soviet Joke

    When I was boarding a plane to Los Angeles last Wednesday I knew all about my destination.
    It was full of aging hippies…

    …who wear Birkenstocks year round…

    …overrun with crime (I am pretty proud of this shot right in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre)…

    …chronic diseases…

    …about to be washed out by a tsunami…

    …infested with illegal tax preparers…

    …where fat people are discriminated against while being taunted with snacks…

    …and skinny people are being put on a pedestal.

    But somewhere during my five days in LA, my American dream got kicked in the groin. For years I was arguing with my friends on both coasts that I live in a better place, full of parking and almost devoid of traffic, safe and with good schools, reasonable and affordable, while still having a chance to see recent Broadway shows and dine at ethnic restaurants. After every trip I returned home complaining about the crowding, overpriced real estate and horrible traffic everywhere I went, feeling good about the rush hour slowdown on the highway we refer to as “traffic” and my relatively minuscule mortgage payment.

    LA made me realize how badly I was mistaken. My friends were right, I live in a Podunk town, in a boring provincial backwater where the foodies are taking turns revisiting the same 10 restaurants and 3 markets; where the same 6 women (and probably men) are at the top of all dating sites (albeit under different handles); where finding a date with at least two degrees of separation from your previous one is almost impossible; where any chain restaurant opening is an event worthy of TV news coverage and traffic congestion; where the only bragging rights are “at least we are not Tulsa or Omaha”. Indeed we are not.

    At the same time there are wonderful magical places where it’s almost always warm and sunny but you can look up in the mountains and see the snow; where at any given time more women are dressed in heels and bikinis than the whole statistical female population of the KC Metro Area; where the people are always in a sunny mood and free of depression or PMS and are happily smiling even while being arrested; where the 52-week donut project would take 52 years and still will not be able to eat a donut at every one of them; where the restaurants from all over the world are open even in the areas that are not scary without bars on the windows; where the oranges and lemons grow in people’s backyards instead of the allergy-inducing trees that are planted here for some mystical reasons; where the produce is not an imitation food sold here; where fat people are magically drawn outside to ride bikes or walk or run so even their over-consumption of donuts or cakes from a Cuban bakery around the corner is not detrimental to their health; where driving up and down the mountain roads makes one feel like James Bond; where you “can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile”.

    So I told my daughter to pick a college in California, the only place where my American dream can make another run for it.

    Maybe I can take a ride on the “Possibility bus”…

    …or just mount my Focus on top of a school bus…

    …I can trow down my magical money blanket on the sand…

    …or pour my lifetime savings into a yacht…

    …just so I can see this…

    …or this…

    …and this…

    …and I will wait as long as I have to.

    P.S. I don’t need to know why it’s so great to live here and why it sucks in California. Trust me – I know. And learn about hyperbole.

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