Archive for April, 2009

Chernobyl Part I

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

[You can click any of the images to see the larger version.]

In June of 2005, Joshua and I spent a month and a half in Ukraine and Russia, during which time we visited Chernobyl. I’m a little late with the write-up. Um, sorry about that.

I have always been fascinated with abandoned places. In Spain we were obsessed with Las Abandonadas—ancient rock houses in deserted villages that were sprinkled all over the country, their former inhabitants having either moved to the city or died. In Mexico, we searched out old towns that had emptied after the mines went bust or the money went elsewhere. In the US there are ghost towns (hanta virus! Gak), or more frequently, abandoned factories or warehouses, like those that used to be near my studio in San Francisco (inhabited only by bums and street kids). The places are mysterious, eerie, and very photogenic. A glimpse of post-apocalyptic, science fiction-style doom I suppose. Your imagination tends to run wild when in such places.

The Grandaddy of all the places we ever sought out was Chernobyl (Chornobyl in Ukrainian), the reactor meltdown site and surrounding 30-kilometer radius of no-man’s-land, the “zone.” The reactor itself was interesting and all but what is most fascinating to me is the history and politics surrounding the disaster, and the so-called “ghost town,” Pripyat along with hundreds of small villages that used to exist inside the perimeter but that no longer do.

Getting to the Chornobyl site, in our experience, was actually pretty easy and took but a quick phone call to check our names against a watchlist of International Abandoned Nuclear Reactor Site Spies (or whatever it was they checked). There are a number of agencies in Kiev that arrange tours and they all compete with each other citing this and that difference—of course the prices vary wildly—and they make it sound like it is actually a very difficult and complicated process to get cleared to visit the zone. In addition, they all implied that they themselves did the tours. In the end however, they are all selling you the same thing because all tours within the zone are actually handled from within by a single state agency, Chernobyl InterInform. CII has one set price for everything and in our experience, they were efficient and expedient about processing requests. They pick you up wherever are, take you into the zone, provide a guide, give you a tour, feed you an amazing lunch, and drive you back home at the end of the day. So basically you can skip the Kiev agencies and arrange a visit directly through them. Our guide laughed when she heard the varying amounts we all paid our various agencies to come on the tour and the lines of bullshit we were fed. She said the Kiev Chernobyl Tour agencies are a total racket and I agree. But we did it because we only had one day in which we could fit the trip into our schedule and since that day had been reserved completely by the agency, through the agency we went.

We met up with the CII van outside a bank in Independence Square in Kiev. There were six of us tourists and a driver who spoke only Russian. The guy we sat next to in the van was a Scottish comedian from Serbia who had spent his entire vacation in the far eastern town of Dneprpetrovsk, a large dingy industrial city in the east that holds absolutely no interest for your average tourist. We of course thought he was crazy but then we had just spent a month living in Kharkiv, another large industrial city in the east that has no interest for the average tourist, and we had rather enjoyed ourselves. He had an incredibly high opinion of Bill Clinton (every Eastern European with whom we spoke politics, which is to say nearly everyone we spoke with, did) and an equally low opinion of our then current president, George Bush (as did every other Eastern European—and Western European for that matter). He told us that the purpose of his vacation was to gather material for his comedy act. I always wondered what he took away with him from the Chornobyl tour.

We got to the 30-kilometer checkpoint and stopped. Our driver chatted briefly with the guards. They looked over our passports (like, no big whoop), gave them back, and one told us something in some language that was not Russian or Ukrainian. We stared blankly at him until it was determined that he told us (in English, it turned out) not to take any souvenirs. We were all, OH OF COURSE NOT HA HA all smiles and waves, and then we went on.



Monday, April 20th, 2009

[At the park. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get good photos of Ronin as she gets faster and faster.]

Ronin’s latest obsession is the slide at the park. Alberta park has several different slides, from baby-easy to scary spiral straight out of the 80s. Ronin settles for the easier ones but covets the scary slide. She is always making a beeline for the steep ladder and protesting loudly when we deny her. We go down it with her occasionally but it is really unpleasant for larger people to go down. Like tumbling down a narrow spiral staircase until you are dumped out into the bark-a-mulch at the end.

She often makes a little “woo” sound right when she is ready to go down. It’s awfully cute.

Here she is on the fast slide at the school a block away (we have a lot of playgrounds to choose from).

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We usually go down the bigger metal slides with her for fear she’ll capsize and bonk her head on the sides. If she’s wearing overalls though, we’ll send her down solo on her back (without overalls, she risks slide-burn, which: oooouch).

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[Again! Again!]

So now she’s decided that our yard is sufficiently steep to slide down as well. She sits on her butt at the top, scoots over the edge and (saying “woo”) slides on her butt down to the sidewalk. (She figured this out on her own.) We tried to get her a piece of cardboard to facilitate the slidey part since really, the grass is not terribly slick, but she did not understand what we were getting at and just got pissed off at us for meddling. So, butt slide down the grass it is. Woo!

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Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Happily, the projectile vomiting episode was a solitary occurrence and not a precursor to a week-long episode of misery. Ronin slept fitfully but more or less “through the night” (as we like to call it—haha—around here) and ate minimally the next day. So, basically back to normal.

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[Ronin is a climber. See if you can spot all 295,738 ways she nearly kills herself on the way up. She climbs down sometimes too, which is even scarier. I think our camera is on its way out; you can hear it laboring over the zoom. We’ve had it since before the boat trip so it has been through a lot really for just a little camera.]

We decided to take advantage of $2 Tuesday at the Portland zoo and acquaint the baby with some real monkeys. Zoos are always a bit weird and I felt sort of bad about all the animals in their strange little pens with a bunch of gaping kids pointing and making mooing sounds or whatever.. but Ronin was pretty into it. When we first got there and started looking at different animals, it was like she was going to explode. She was bok-boking, moo-mooing, omf-omfing at the animals, and rrrrrrrrr-ing at all the little battery-operated mini trucks the zoo workers zoom around in (seriously, she was just as excited over all the little “Dluh! Dluh!” [truck truck] as the tigers or chimpanzees). She wanted to be held, then put down, then walk, then held, then down. We saw polar bears, which she called “Die-dah” (Nigel, in Ronin-speak) and she was big into the chimpanzees, to which she said “oo ee oo ah ah oo.” She also really liked looking at the big Amazon fish tank exhibit where she could get right up to the glass eyeball to eyeball with the huge fish. We were there two hours and probably barely saw half the animals; however, I wanted to get her home by naptime and it was insanely cold. My lips and fingernail beds were blue by the time we got back to the car. Damnit Portland!

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[Joshua tries to teach Ronin the Jedi knock-down (Joshua gets to be the Jedi and Ronin has to play the battle droid).]

This morning Ronin got it into her head that she wanted to take a bath. She dragged her little tub around, grunting and staggering, and whined at me saying “Dah! Dah!” (which is the word she uses for her water sippy cup… maybe it means water?). So I started the bath and set about gathering her toys and when I got back to the bathroom, she had chucked not only Nigel in the water, but “Green Eggs and Ham.” Argh. Nigel can always use a bath (he’s white, or used to be) but “Green Eggs and Ham” is now a ruffly mess. Once I got the baby in the bath, she was happy and I was able to sip my coffee in peace without anyone clamoring at me to read them “Are You My Mother?” another twelve times.

We think she may be teething again though we’re not sure which teeth exactly are giving her static. She has been sleeping fretfully, waking more and having trouble napping, or rather waking from naps (meaning she is a total wreck when she wakes). She has been on a horribly short fuse lately and when she is even mildly irritated at something, she bangs her head (or face) on the floor/wall/side of the crib and cries. She also has a tendency to play with her hair when she is upset or tired and lately, this has turned more into pulling and she’s actually pulling out a lot of hair at times. She will holler and run up to the side of the chair (wooden chair) and just bite the side of it, banging her mouth over and over on it. Of course all this hurts and so if she wasn’t already totally crying to begin with, she is near hysterical by the time I can get over to her to stop her from doing damage. I think she needs to learn some better anger management techniques.


Monday, April 13th, 2009

We had a very dramatic “First” tonight: our first projectile puke! (My heartstrings!) Sources close to the victim (aside from Ronin, Nigel and I–not to mention the entire bathroom–were thoroughly doused) disagree as to what might have caused this evening’s mishap but we do agree that the volume of puke was truly fantastic for such a small being. I say it was the bizarre (though inventive) combination of dinner items Joshua fed her that proved to be her undoing. He maintains that the sheer volume of sippy contents + dinner compounded with nursing immediately afterward did her in. We both fervently hope it is not a stomach bug. Poor Ronin had such a surprised look on her face when it happened, then she started to cry pitifully. We chucked Nigel into the tub and peeled off her clothes, then I climbed in with her for a colossal hose-down. I had puke in my ear. Weirdly, she was very quiet and calm after we washed her off and she fell asleep with a mostly empty stomach clutching a stuffed dog (Nigel was out of commission for the evening). I hope she’s okay.

Of course, she puked all over her last pair of clean wintry (yes, we’re back to “wintry” again here in Portland) pajamas and so we had to put her in summer pajamas with sweaters and sweatpants over them. In the end we had a confused (possibly sick) baby with a roiling belly, an hour overdue for bedtime, a wet head, the wrong teddy bear, and a seriously messed up pajama situation. The whole scene was truly pathetic.

So, the plus side of all this is that she is obviously eating enough to puke it up afterward. Who are we to complain, right? (Also, the bathroom is spotless!) Some current–and I hesitate to call them “wins”–are waffles with maple syrup, and a little something Joshua likes to call “Prunerice,” which is (drumroll) Prunes Mixed With Rice. Some day Ronin will bring a guy home with her that she really likes and we’ll all be sitting around talking and I just know something like this will pop into my head and I’ll be unable to control myself. “Guess what Ronin used to eat when she was a little baby?” I’ll say.

And ignoring the eye-daggers continue, “Yup, she even puked it into my ear once.”


Monday, April 6th, 2009

There has been one major *win* on the eating front. BROCCOLI! She is actually eating it. More than once! This is seriously the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. Of course, after brief initial enthusiasm, she now shuns ravioli, things sausagey, carrots, sweet potato, pasta, and blueberries. 90% of my daily mental energy goes into inventing new foods for her to try (and, after a brief honeymoon, discard forever). The latest brilliance: carrot/zucchini muffins; after initially picking suspiciously at the orange strings in the muffin, she seemed to decide it was something from the Treat family and ate the muffins without a second thought.

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[Note the extended unedited video is of a Grandparenty nature.]

As you can see in the video, animal sounds are a big hit. Curiously, her pig sound is “hOM hOM”–not sure how that happened but it cracks me up. She’s similarly obsessed with her books. Current favorites are “Are you my mother?,” “Sheep in a jeep,” and “Hop on Pop,” all of which we read fifteen billion times per day. Then there’s the Big Book of Baby Animals, which she goes bananas over. Another good deal of the day is spent on the floor with the book propped up against the couch, Ronin manically running back and forth flipping the pages, oh look there are the kittycats meow meow, and the ducks quack quack, here’s a lemur … um …, oh look the baby horse neigh neigh. Often there are tears when the big book goes away (and it is a difficult book to hide; it is maybe three feet tall).

[Another obsession: things in ziplock bags. Or outside of them, as the case may be.]

She walks unassisted to now. Not very often, but she can. She is absurdly unsteady and it’s a miracle she still has her teeth with the number of face-plants she’s taken. Yesterday she stumbled on the concrete steps leading up to the house and just rolled all the way down. I expected to see blood but amazingly she managed to only bump her elbows and forehead. Catastrophe narrowly avoided, somehow. She wasn’t pleased with the fall and has since been a little more cautious with the climbing.

The weather here turned insanely beautiful the day before yesterday and we spent the day playing in the grass. We mowed the yard with a nearly seized-up push-mower (a workout) and tried to keep Ronin out of the dog poop (a battle lost, tragically). We have a space to put a garden and we might also build a raised bed in the front yard where there is more sun. I’m pretty excited about it; I’ve never really had a chance to plant a “real” garden.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell