14 November, 2012

Review of Aerosvit

I decided I would best spend this flight writing a critique of the airline Aerosvit and a review of what it seems to have referred to as 'food'.

As I walked past the first seats, the condition of first class rose in me great concerns of the area I would soon enter in my search for seat 22A. I passed the divider that separates the wealthy from the proletariat and the seats became less classy and closer together but I was pleased that they appeared to still have leg room and offer some amount of comfort. And then I entered the economy class. It was like walking in one of those optical illusion houses designed to trick you when you approach the back of the room to find out what otherwise appeared to be a normal door turned out to be comically tiny, and even more comical the closer to it you get.

I continued to the very last row of the craft. Seat A was in the corner. I felt relegated to inferiority as I sat beneath a missing panel, exposed wires dangling above my head. I didn't try it, but I assume the attendant call button would electrocute me if I pushed it. I was consoled by the fact that I had the row to myself. At least for a few minutes. Two fairly loud, delightful, and laughing women sat next to me and judging by the expressions of everyone they talked to or around, their language was probably lewd and quite crass. I kept seeing other passengers give me looks of pity, next to the Loud Women, in the corner, beneath the wires.

As I look down at what I hope is the Black Sea, I see some sort of land formation that actually resembles northern Poland's Hel Peninsula, and it occurs to me that it may indeed be, in some sort of Northwest Airlines fell-asleep-in-the-cockpit gaffe that wouldn't make the news because no one would be surprised. At any rate, 'Hel' wouldn't be a far off description of the experience.

The silly girl in front of me seems to be deliberately attempting to spill my coffee as she is repeatedly pushing the seat back and pulling it forward, but I'm not sure if the seat isn't doing this by itself in some unstable reaction to turbulence. She has also dropped something on my foot (I'm not sure how it manages to go *through* the seat) on no less than three occasions. I keep thinking it is a rat or other creature crawling about, perhaps escaped from someone's lunch tray, when I notice her frantically searching until I hand her her rubber band or gum package.

While I was standing in line for the bathroom just now, the aircraft--or however you describe this particular hurtling fuselage--began heavily banking to the left and right without any warning from the captain or even indications from the seat belt light. Otherwise unsure of why we would need to turn so sharply, these could only be described as evasive maneuvers. I imagine the captain was simply avoiding other Aerosvit fuselages just catapulted from airports below. At any rate, the maneuvers seemed to have had an unfortunate effect on the aim of the gentleman before me. When I returned to my seat, I found that it had been stolen by the ladies next to me. This has never happened to me on a flight before, but they kindly passed me my bag. At least that silly girl won't drop something else on my foot and I won't be electrocuted by the wires in the corner.

Pretending to be a food critic on an airplane is admittedly unfair, like kicking a sick puppy, but this puppy happens to be particularly ugly and instead of 'sick' it's 'an aircraft.' In seriousness, I simply can't *not* describe to you what I just consumed (or what is consuming me, I'm not really sure). You remember when your uncouth college roommate found something rancid under his desk and thrust it in your face commanding, "Smell this!" not because he wanted to hurt you, but because he was so deeply fascinated that the odor he discovered in the deepest crevice of his very own room was so uniquely terrible that he felt he should not be the only one so privileged to experience it? This is effectively what I am doing to you in writing. Sit tight.

As an aside for a moment, one of my first flights on this trip was on Turkish Airlines where I was provided an elegant menu of options to choose from and served an unexpectedly delectable ratatouille as the vegetarian alternative, finished with a chocolate browny, and accompanied by a decently good wine. While I wasn't expecting a second appearance of Chef Gusteau, I can't say 'baren wasteland landscape' was a description I thought would be apt as I pulled back the strangely moist tin foil from the aluminum tray bent from having been stuffed unceremoniously in what was probably a suitcase full of dirty socks.

What ever it was staring back at me was disguised as a rectangle of egg-product topped with -- pardon the childish expression -- fart cheese. I took a picture but I won't show it to you because it does not do justice. You can't see it glisten. You can't imagine yourself walking across its moon-crater like surface attacked with white alien goo. You can't recognized the expression it used as it stared up at me, offering its discontent with its ill fate, still upset about having been microwaved.

The rectangular mat didn't really jiggle, but reacted more in a sponge-like manner as I pressed the knife through its rubbery layers. As I turned a piece of it over I was shocked to see that it could further shock me with its horrifying features. While the part that was originally exposed was a bumpy pale yellow with spatterings of that white cheese substance, the underside was the nondescript and stunningly unvarying color grey, giving moon-rocks a run for their money. I took another picture of the specimen, but again, there is no justice. You can't understand from it the texture of a soggy used pumice stone and a distinct feeling that makes you wish you could no longer empathize.

The bread role was not as stale as I expected, given the performance of the rectangle, and it was well accompanied with ham slices that managed to squeak against your teeth as you bit them. The area of the tray serving as a fruit cup contained small slices of what might have been a melon if it were allowed to ripen for two more months. The tray even fell flat in providing the simplest of dishes: 'apple.' There was one thick edge of apple peel next to the premature melon, but it was significantly worm-eaten.

The plane is now in its descent (or its demise, at the moment these are indistinguishable), and I'm not sure what just happened but I managed to trade seats again with the loud women next to me and am at the moment sitting inexplicably, directly between the two ladies, us having now exercised every conceivable permutation of seating arrangement the row can offer.

---I must turn my electronic device off, more soon---

The fog was so thick as we landed that I thought we were still in the clouds until we actually hit the runway. I have to hand it to Aerosvit pilots that they can handle just fine conditions lesser airlines would consider 'legally unnavigable'. Landing in much of Eastern Europe, by the way, is always delightful because the entire cabin claps afterwords, as though they didn't expect it to have gone off so well and are fully grateful for the surprise of having survived. I quite missed the clapping while traveling outside the region and indeed sometimes feel the rest of the world arrogantly taunts death by not recognizing the fortune of their survival.

As a final note, I am ending this post whilst waiting for my connection, and a piece of the Ukraine Borispol Airport just fell apart. A giant vertically sliding door both closed and opened at the same time horrifying its operator and causing a thunderous noise startling everyone and causing a large group of Jewish men to clap and burst into song. If someone is aware of the cultural nuance I may have missed here, could you please leave a comment with an explanation?

11 March, 2012

Moldovan Borsch

Ana performs the finishing touches.
Note:  This is a long post.  If you want, you can just skip to the Moldovan Borsch Recipe at the bottom.

Just as there are many different spellings of borsht, borscht, borshscht, borsch, bors, and Борщ, there are many more variations on how to make it.  There are Romanian, Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, and a billion other styles to make it, with many of these missing the key aspect or ingredient that another style claims is quintessential, lacking which makes the soup something other than 'borsch'.  

10 March, 2012

Atlantic Community - NATO Opinion Piece

Atlantic Community is an organization working to build a stronger Trans-Atlantic community, especially among the young as future leaders.  The website has an Open Think Tank that publishes opinions for review and further commentary and periodically promotes essay competitions and publishes the results.  I submitted an opinion piece for the Your Ideas, Your NATO competition (still accepting submissions for some categories) which was selected for publishing and can be found at the link below.

Gerald Gugerty:  Smart Defense through Smarter Community 

In the piece I argue briefly how NATO should work with other international organizations to discover and help mitigate the future sources of security threats rather than just 'treating the symptoms' through missile defense.  The organization should consider why defense may be needed in the future - that is, in response to food security or environmental threats and other factors.  Feel free to join the discussion and post your comments at the link above.

17 February, 2012

So what do you *do* here?

This is a question I get a lot:

"So what exactly do you do here?"

Said, of course, with the requisite emphasis on the second 'do' so as to indicate a presumption that the answer may be "Nothing", a la The Bobs.  So, six months into the program, I'll finally describe what it is I do here, first with a bit of explanation about the Fulbright Program itself.

08 January, 2012

Popcorn - Guest Blogger on 365 is a blog put on by Peace Corps Moldova to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps' existence.  Every day during the year they post an article from a guest blogger in Moldova, and I was invited to write a post for December 30, 2011.  Click the link to see my post.

365 Days of Peace and Friendship:  December 30, 2011 - Popcorn