• El Michoacano Taqueria

    Anyone can be a restaurant reviewer in Johnson County. I like reviews from this guy: he works, he eats, he complains. Once in awhile a man has to go back to his hunting roots, he has to procure his food in danger, surrounded by hostile environment and hard-to-find parking. That’s when I get out and go to the Independence Ave. to look for new lunch spots. There is probably not a day goes by without this area being in the news in connection to drugs, murders or prostitution. TV reporters spend so much time freezing in the street with their live reports which occur at least 12 to 24 hours after the event that they would be better off just renting an apartment and looking out of the window.
    On the other hand, some of the most unique, authentic and cheap places to eat are located there, albeit with metal bars on the windows. Last week I ate at El Michoacano Taqueria (listen) which is a small family-owned restaurant. I ordered three tacos from the menu below: Carne Asada, Lengua and Chorizo. They were very tasty and they even gave me a lime to go which was a nice touch. The salsa was authenticated and approved by a Mexican co-worker. It’s not a chopped-up tomato salsa you normally see in a majority of Mexican Restaurants, theirs it real thin but flavorful and hot.
    If you don’t speak Spanish please know that Lengua is tongue, Birria means goat, Tripitas is Tripe and Buche is some kind of internal part of a pig. While I enjoy a Lengua taco once in awhile (STFU Chimpo!), don’t blame me if you unknowingly eat a goat.
    If you are not afraid of drive-by’s and/or mugging please try this restaurant.

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  • Master and Margarita At The UMKC

    After reading an article in the Pitch imploring me to see the Master and Margarita at the UMKC I knew I had to go. The Master and Margarita is one of only a few books that I read more than once and discovered something new every time. It is also one of a few Russian masterpieces  that no matter how well translated could not be fully understood by a foreigner (that would be you); it’s somewhat similar to me trying to decipher Cris Packham’s pop-cultural references (not that I don’t try). The book was written during the times of the strictest censorship when even a hint of anti-Soviet criticism could literally threaten the writer’s life and that’s why Mikhail Bulgakov had to insinuate just as much as he wrote down. The average Soviet reader could easily read “between the lines” and see the satire in the most innocent dialogues and descriptions. Some of the references were to the specific characters in the author’s life and are not easily recognizable but the barbs thrown at the Soviet bureaucrats, censors, informers, dimwits, careerists, sellouts and the regime itself were obvious to the people who still encountered them in their everyday life for another 50 years after the book was written.
    Not too many people risked producing it on the stage or on the screen, it could not be easily condensed and the characters were so well-known and beloved that any such attempt would be criticized by the fans. That’s why I was pretty skeptical going to the UMKC performance. I didn’t expect the cast to have an understanding of the book required to convey it onto the stage and it couldn’t possibly be shortened to fit into the regular length of the theater performance. What I saw was pretty amazing and truly one of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen in my life – honest, funny, enthusiastic, smart, inventive and, although not very close to the book, with plenty of Blugakov’s spirit in it. Once you get past the fact that some male roles are played by girls (i.e. Koroviev and Azazello), the character of the devil – Woland is wearing hooves, and the Cat Behemoth is a black guy with the red Mohawk dressed in some kind of leather corset and a shaggy trench coat, everything else falls in place. The actors were outstanding but Patrick DuLaney who played Woland was on par with the Russian actors who played this role in the movie versions of the Master and Margarita. He was able to convey Woland’s millenniums-old age, his exhaustion with life, his disgust with people which could only be defeated by the true love and selfless sacrifice. Julane Havens as Margarita was also very impressive, as a sensitive, sensual, defenseless but determined woman ready to sacrifice everything just to be with Master. The actress who played Hella gets a special mention, nice job keeping every male eye locked on the stage!
    I also would like to specifically praise the costume and stage design. The Soviet people are all dressed in the same gray uniforms lovingly adorned by red stars; even their underwear is gray (as was revealed later and you missed it). I also liked the use of projection screens.
    During the show I (illegally) made a few videos, sorry, serious-looking-bearded-usher-guy, I didn’t spend years in the KGB school in the USSR to be told what to do by the Man.

    (By the way, in the bottom part of these videos you’ll see a jackass who didn’t feel it was necessary to take his stupid hat off in the theater; maybe the usher should have concerned himself with this view-obstructing clown instead of making sure I can’t record a low-quality video.)

    After the show I overheard  one lady ask her friend if she enjoyed the show, “it was too weird” was the reply. It’s hard to convey the whole complexity of the book on the stage to an unprepared viewer, but to people who understood it was an amazing effort worthy of a professional venue.

    P.S. Alan Scherstuhl is my new Facebook friend on the condition that I will never have to pronounce his last name.

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  • Old Photos: Hitler

    I know, I know, these are pictures of Hitler. And maybe it’s not the best idea to put them here, me being who I am. But these photos are amazing, shot by Hitler’s personal photographer Hugo Jaeger in color and such close proximity that as a fan of historic photography I cannot just pass them by. And yes, I know what was happening while Hitler was greeting adoring women, checking out cars and watching parades, and I have these photos too. If anything these photos make one wonder how a grim, plain-looking and not extremely bright individual could achieve absolute power over a civilized country.

    (L-R) Ferdinand Porsche, Adolf Hitler and Robert Ley with Hitler's 50th birthday gift, the Volkswagen Beetle. ©Time Inc.Hugo Jaeger
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  • What’s My #ish

    The Jewish Federations of North America are conducting a campaign under the title “What’s your #ish”:

    Being Jewish means something different to everyone. Whatever it means to you is your #ish.

    (For those who are not familiar with Twitter, “#” denotes a tag that they can easily track and display the content on their website)

    Cutesy marketing but the question is something I think about often. What does it mean for me to be Jewish, or Russian-Jewish, or even Russian-Jewish-American as the top of my blog announces to the visitors? This post has been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks, I thought how to make it non-offensive and given up; I made some mental notes, then some written ones and I am still not so sure what it will look in the end. All I know at this point that it will contain a lot more “I dont’s” than “I do’s”.

    Here we go:

    • I don’t believe in God, I don’t do anything religious, I don’t attend a synagogue and when I do on some occasions like weddings, I feel uncomfortable seeing how people are asking and thanking God for things. I don’t feel superior, I just don’t get it. I grew up with the notion that the “Religion is the opium of the people” and so far haven’t seen anything to change my mind.
    • I don’t cover my head, I work every Saturday, I go out on Friday nights (if I am lucky); I spend most of the Jewish Holidays at work, and fast on Yom Kippur mostly to see if I can stay away from food for a day. Long time ago when I still lived in Ukraine, I went to a synagogue with a group of friends during a holiday, I think it was Simchat Torah; a group of men was dancing there like it was the best day of their lives. We looked at each other and left. Since then (late 80’s) I only visited a synagogue once (without being invited to a wedding or Bat/Bar Mitzvah)
    • I eat whatever I like. My kitchen is the opposite of kosher. At any time I have enough pork in it to make a small pig. My Dad used to pack a slab of salt-pork when I went on trips – it didn’t require refrigeration. I like ham and cheese sandwiches; I mix meat and dairy at will. I have no interest in finding out which foods are kosher and what’s not allowed and why. If it’s tasty I’ll eat it, kosher or not.
    • In my whole life I’ve only dated a Jewish woman for two months; I never made a point of looking for one (which cast a lifetime of not-so-well hidden-sadness on my Mom). My short experience was filled with drama, but I am sure both of us being Jewish had nothing to do with it. Sometimes I think it would be neat to try, but so far it didn’t work out this way. Lately, I’ve been thinking that only a Vietnamese woman who knows how to cook Pho can be my true love. Every week I go to the Vietnam Cafe hoping to get noticed.
    • I don’t get conversions to Judaism. Things like this (watch the clip) don’t make me tear up with joy. To be fair, I don’t get any religious conversions; sometimes I try to guess the reason, most of the time I just shrug. Maybe we need someone to observe the rules we don’t like, pass around those righteous “I stand with Israel” emails and fight our battles on Facebook and Twitter. Whatever.
    • I don’t stand with Israel, I don’t feel that it’s my country even though I have relatives and friends there. Israeli Independence day does not invoke any feelings in me. Let me correct that, I don’t stand with Israel automatically because I am a Jew. I stand with Israel because I am a thinking person who can see through the provocations and lies which are so transparent, you have to be an idiot not to see what’s really going on. I can go back through the last 100 years reciting episodes like this for hours. There are less and less people like me even among the Jews. It’s everybody’s loss, not because I am so smart but because the rest of the world may see it when it’s too late, but what’s new. In the meantime, I do what I can, just little things.
    • I still prefer the sound of the Yiddish language to the Israel’s official Hebrew. I remember my Grandma speaking Yiddish with her friends in the little town where she lived and although I don’t speak and hardly understand either, Yiddish with its schlimazels and meshuggeners sounds like music to my ears, while Hebrew sounds foreign and cold.

    That should be enough for now. The “I do” part is not nearly as extensive:

    • I like Jewish food, more precisely Eastern European Jewish food, and even more precisely my Mom’s cooking. I am sure some of these recipes were passed down through generations, others were made up on the spot to use what little food was on hand, but it’s my comfort food. I don’t think I ever identified it as Jewish, just like I never identified spaghetti with Italian. And most of the time there is a box of Matzos in the house.
    • I play the Jewish national sport – guessing who else is Jewish. It was a lot more fun in the USSR since many famous people hid their Jewishness as well as they could and during movies and concerts every Jew in the country was pointing them out.

    I can’t think of much else. In my childhood it was easy, my Jewish nationality was stamped right there in the “fifth line” on my passport. Tens of thousands of people strove to have this line changed to something else, so their kids would not be subjected to the antisemitism and discrimination. Then the same people paid big money to change it back so they can emigrate to Israel or the USA.

    I think about it a lot. Do my multiple “dont’s” betray the memories and dreams of my ancestors, who carried their Jewish identities through a lot tougher times than I could imagine? Would they be proud of me? I don’t know. When I think about my connection with my people, there is no place where I feel it more than at the Jewish cemetery. I wrote about it before, but the Kansas City cemetery I was writing about is faceless and sad. The Jewish cemetery in Odessa, Ukraine where some of my relatives are buried is full of life; it has faces, it tells the stories. Life stories, love stories, tragedies, achievements, accidents, births, deaths, emigration, relationships, memories. My Dad took me there once or twice and we walked around visiting our relatives, his college professors, famous restaurant singers, doctors, teachers, criminals; he knew many people there, too many. Now during my rare visits I walk around as well; I don’t know anyone, but it doesn’t matter: I come to feel my roots, or as some marketing schmuck would put it “my #ish”

    My Grandparents. The plate on the left at the bottom is for my uncle who died in New York

    Maybe it’s better that my parents let me figure this out on my own. It’s taking me a long time but some day I’ll get there. My daughter is a lot more decisive with these things, I never push her one way or another but she seems to have a pretty good idea who she is.
    Maybe this #ish thing is just skipping a generation.
    *I knew this would turn out long, and I didn’t even get to include the video of dancing Jews.

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  • Rogers, AR Spits On Funk’s Front Porch

    Being my own awesome tipster I took this picture of the billboard recently placed around 17th and Jefferson facing the southbound traffic on the I-35.

    Not only this billboard is in direct view of the few coveted Kansas City visitors who are probably attending one of the “bored meetings”; Mayor Funky himself can probably see it from his vantage point high atop the City Hall. City of Rogers, AR is poaching guests straight from the Funk’s Front Porch.

    It’s not unusual to see signs like this on the highways but they are mostly located in the middle of nowhere so a person may be convinced to visit a city down the road. But as any tipster with a map knows – Rogers is not on I-35; in fact I-35 doesn’t even pass through Arkansas.

    The fact that this billboard wasn’t burned down to the ground by the few remaining employees of the Kansas City Convention and Visitor Bureau shows a complete ineffectiveness of the Funky Administration and is probably somehow racist, but I am still working on this part.

    Visit Rogers, it’s only 218 miles away on a different highway!

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