Lucas Weismann

Kiev Part 1 – Arrival

Traveling from Den Bosch to Riga was more of an ordeal than I expected.  Because the plan left at 10:20AM, this necessitated arriving by 8am in Amsterdam, which in turn meant that it was imperative that the 6:20am bus not be missed.  As a result, I ended up with a 5am wakeup call in order to properly be ready, with sandwiches provided in part by Katja- due to her incredible skill with the bread machine.

Some day I really need to get the recipe for Katjabroodje (Katja Bread).

I was thinking slowly, being cold and having been on the road for about 16 hours at that point, my thinking was hazy like the fog our twin-prop plane landed in.

Customs was easy as our US passports got us barely an blink before we were stamped and on our way. Not so for the college-age couple who were evening denied entry even as we spoke.

The little red haired girl kept complaining that “we have no monies” as her boyfriend talked via a helpful local, trying to explain heir situation to the unsympathetic guard.

Flew into Kiev from Riga in pea-soup thick fog and was greeted by the driver like you always see in movies. The only other time I remember experiencing something like this was when I first arrived to teach in the Netherlands at the first Crash: The Delft Blues Festival.

At that time, Daire Mac An Bhaird was waiting with a 5 foot-long banner printed on the airport’s banner machine (yes, apparently Schiphol Airport has a banner printing machine.  I was surprised to learn this too).  Of course, part of the wonderful weirdness that made the situation complete was not only the fact that at practically 6’7” tall Daire would tower over any crowd in a manner that is immediately recognizable.  No, the best part was that he was standing proudly displaying his sign holding it over a crowd that did not exist.  Really, there might have been another few people waiting, but in my mind, it was a desolate nobody-but-daire-and-me situation as if there was some other 7-foot blond, bearded giant he might be mistaken for.

I felt like a celebrity.

This was a bit different.  Not only in the quality of the sign- sharpie on notebook, but in the demeanor of the driver as well.  He was short man in his 60s who spoke a little english and was helpful and seemed like might be about to curse in impatience at any moment. This, I would later notice, seemed to be an almost congenital feature of Kievian people I would do business with, from the people at the market, to the entire hotel staff at the Yaroslav hostel, to the street merchant selling berries outside the markets.

My attempts to ask his name were rebuffed and he laughed as I gave him mine, saying “yes, I know… internet'” as he waved away my attempt at a question like some bothersome fly.

Not sure what I expected on the way into the City from the airport, but the stretch of car dealerships like those on 494 in Minneapolis certainly wouldn’t be in the top 100 sights I’d envisioned.

Birches lined the highway on either side and served to accent the fog with their gray bark and autumn yellows. Once more, I’m reminded of home. I guess something in me was hoping the vegetation would be somehow alien as we arrived. As if somehow it’s disappointing that the spectating isn’t so obviously different than where I grew up.

It’s not really of course, and if anything, it makes me feel more at home.

Every time we pass a sign in the Ukraine, this feeling is shattered. The Cyrillic alphabet is the preferred one for official things, though the Roman alphabet seems to be in use for advertisements and logos and well… there are enough of those to make any red-blooded american feel at home.

I’m not sure if it’s the fewer billboards on This stretch of highway than in used to, or possibly the fact that they aren’t lit at this time of night seems to make the road a bit more desolate. Or maybe… private is a better word.

After checking in to the Hostel and being given broken instructions on how to do things it seemed the instructions for any given thing were:

  1. (Old man) Do this thing.
  2. (Me) Pause to understand
  3. (Old man) never mind. Do it tomorrow.

This was applied to

1: filling out our passports info per legal requirements.

2: dropping off keys upon leaving (a common custom at most hostels I’ve been to)

3: paying for the hotel

Basically everything was:

Here’s the rule. Never don’t do it. Screw it, do it tomorrow.

I think I like this place.

After settling into our double room (two twins, not a double room…. common in former soviet bloc hostels) we headed down to ask his wife- whose english, he assured us, was far better than his own- for directions to food.

After taking 3 attempts to mime food, which apparently is not as universal as I thought to sign, she gave us a rapid-fire explanation of how to get to either a place with a lot of food options, or an impressive fireworks display. I’m not entirely sure which based on her gestures.

Oh and as we left to find food, I tried to give the keys to the woman at reception, per the instructions painstakingly given to us multiple times by her husband who seemed to alternate between hoarding his words and making it rain… she mimed that we should just keep them until tomorrow.

Fair enough.  IMG 9135

To the Would-Be Time Traveler

To every child who wants to go
To where the past was brighter
When men were men and lads were Heroes
Warriors and fighters

Or every girl who thinks perhaps
Austen’s England’s best
That world of balls and parties and
Talk of who’s best dress’d

A word of warning ‘fore you go
Off in your time machine
First of all your problems:
A world that’s not so clean.

You see dear reader ’s not so long
Since soap was out of fashion
Where thick-held grime and soot and mud
Kept your clothes from clashin’

That’s not to say most anything
About the germs you’ll see
You’ll have to fight off monstrous things
Like Plague and Leprosy

That ignores the problems of
your germy pedigree
For people cannot future-proof
Their immunity

All this trouble you’d have wrought
If you took this trip
To say no thing of burning ‘live
If your nature you let slip!

You see my young would-be
Time trav’ler ‘strordinaire
The danger’s far to great
To those both here and there

To be a temporal tourist
Sounds a great adventure
But there is another way
To go there I would venture.

Consider making voyages
‘cross the globe instead
Or grab a book and take a trip
Inside of your own head.

Then you’ve got a perfect chance
To go see what you’d see
Without risking loss of things like
Modern dentistry

If this sounds like a cop out
Or some unfair, unkind fate
You’re trav’ling time already
And so it’s not too late

Our time is best in many ways
Than any we’ve yet found
Finding wonder’s simple as
A taken look around

Take solace in the fact that
Time yet marches on
Changes come and changes go
And yet we linger on

The future could be so much brighter
Than the past you see
But it will take some work to shape it
Work for you and me

Our bright future not so soon
Will be some person’s past
“A simpler time,” “a better place”
But destined not to last.

And so instead of trav’ling time
I’d like to suggest
We make those future people jealous
By making our time best

Update 4/20

Heh.  Not that kind of 420 update.  Traveling with either allergies or a cold (haven’t decided which yet),  and no where to be until friday is forcing me to take it slow.  I missed two days of writing and it did NOT feel good.  Possibly one day.  I’m a bit hazy.

However, I’m slowly making my way to prague and I’m hoping I can find enough lemsip, tea, coffee and general soupy things to keep me well through the weekend.  I’m sure that once I’m around people, my pathological need to not show weakness around strangers (especially to remain professional) will cover most of this.

In the meantime I’m headed out to the Chapel of Bones on the border between Poland and the Czech Republic.  Looking forward to it.  Especially since today’s weather is perfect for this particular type of tourist attraction.  Grim, gray and threatening to rain at any moment.  This makes me happy.

I’d love to hear from anyone what strange and wonderful things they’ve encountered on their travels that was either odd, macabre or just unique to the area they visited.  What is it that made it special to you?

More updates in the hopper, talk to you soon!


On certain regional pronunciations

     “I don’t give a good God Damn about what you think.”  The fat man was livid and actually slapped the table as he shouted, his walrus moustache bristled, “If you had enough volunteers you wouldn’t have kids calling the matches for wrestlers in their own age group.”

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Writing Prompt 4 – In a Pink Room

The room is too pink.  Somehow this is the only thing that Johnny could think as he entered the second grade classroom.  Pink winged babies with weaponry he would not be allowed to use in school, pink hearts with white lace, pink streamers and altogether just too much pink.

Miss Winkler always did that.  Every day was celebrating some sort of holiday.  Finally it was Valentine’s day.  The decorations had been up for three weeks.  The unfairness of the world weighed down on him as he thought of how he’d been teased for being in the kissing classroom.  He slunk lower into his seat, wishing he could melt out of the room.

None of the other teachers do that, he thought as he pulled his books out of his desk and slammed them down a bit harder than was strictly necessary.

He looked over at Josh.  Josh looked just as miserable.  So did Dickie and Billie (the class twins).  It was alright for all the girls.  They were supposed to like all that kissing stuff.  No one made fun of them.

Oh well, he thought.  At least tomorrow it would all change.  Leprechauns and Rainbows and Pots O’ Gold.

“Hello Class!” sang Miss Winkler.  Johnny hated that.  People should sing when they sing and talk when they talk.  It was so stupid when people just sang everything they said.  It always made him feel like they were treating him like a little baby.

He turned to the door, bracing himself for what he knew would be one of her ‘special outfits’.  Miss Winkler always wore her special outfits every holidays.  Every kid knew it.

On president’s day last year, she dressed as Lincoln, beard and all.  After Easter Break she wore an easter bonnet and bunny ears, and a normal outfit, but glued a big cotton ball to her butt to make a bunny tail.  (Okay, that one had been funny, but only because no one had seen the tail until she turned to the board to write something).

Oh no.  It was worse than he’d thought.  Her dress was a pink Alice-In-WOnderland Dress with a giant Cupid on it.  That wasn’t the bad part.  The cupid was him.  It had his green eyes, curly brown hair and small pointed chin.  Oh no, this was not going to be good.  he had to get out of there before


Too Late.  Class had officially started. There was no escape and now everyone came to order as she started with Roll Call.  This was terrible!  Everyone was gonna see the picture when she put down the Roll Sheet and then… then… well, he didn’t know what would happen, but he knew it would be bad.

Oh no, she was halfway through the list now.  She called his name and he raised his hand slowly.  Not long now before his school career and friends were over.  There’d be no playing on the cool parts of the playground after this.

Another Winter Gone – 2

Mark.  Mark.  Mark! His head snapped up out of the book he was reading.  Which was it, Jack London or Farley Mowat?  Either way, it didn’t matter.  Books like this had been as better than any drugs to the young Marcus.  Truth be told, they still were, even now.

He turned to face his mother.  What had she been asking?  He had no idea.  He hadn’t even heard her until the third time she’d called him.

“yeah mom, what?” he asked, trying to sound positive rather than grumpy about being pulled out of the world of wolves.

I said, ‘Did you get your chores done?’

“Mostly,” he said.

“so, no.”

“What?  I did get them mostly done.  I did more work than I should have to.”

“Really?” she sounded intrigued.  Crap.  That was way more dangerous than if she would just yell at him.  “What percentage exactly do you think you should have to do of your chores?”

“well, I…”

“no, I’m really interested.  I mean, what if I only cooked you half your dinner?  raw meat and cooked vegetables.  or no meat and raw potatoes and vegetables.  What if I half-did the pancakes?”

“yeah, but…”

“how would that work do you think?”

“it wouldn’t.” She didn’t understand.  God he hated the lecturing. The telling him things he didn’t want to know and acting like it was for his own good.  it made his back muscles clench up and the hairs on his neck tingle just remembering it.

Yes.  Dishes needed washing and laundry needed folding.  But how could that compare to the magic of Jack London, Farley Mowat or Mark Twain.  The guys in these stories went on adventures and explored and found Gold!  No laundry could compare with that.  In the eternal summer of his memory, there was no greater joy than escaping into the woods with a snack, a canteen and something to read by his holy trinity of boyhood authors.

Well, that or books that taught you real skills.  Things like tying knots or wilderness first aid, or starting fires, or which plants were good for medicine.

Marcus loved the First Aid books best of all.  There was something so compelling about the idea that if someone were to get hurt (not that you’d wish for them to get hurt, but if they did get hurt and you couldn’t prevent it), that you could do something! I mean, how cool would it be to stabilize a broken arm until you could get the person to a hospital.  Or that you could staunch bleeding enough to buy the person time enough to get to a doctor or someone who could sew them up right.

How could any stupid chores compare with that?

I mean, as soon as he was able to, Marcus planned to head away into the woods or the mountains so he could be a mountain man like Jeremiah Johnson.

Then he would live in his own cabin and not have to do any stupid chores.  He’d just live off the land and be free.  A free man (boy), not constrained by other people’s schedules or rules.

It’s strange how some lessons only become obvious after you learn them.  It’s also strange how much and how little we know about the future when we’re that age.  How hold had Marcus been?  Five years old, six maybe?

The longer he lived, the more the crayons of his memory melted together in the slow heat of time.  Eventually unusable and amorphous, but still pretty in an odd way.

A test.

I’ve been tested.  Immediately.  I’ve been up for 22.5 hours now, and drove across the midwest from Stillwater, Minnesota to Westminster, Colorado.  I enjoyed the ride (except for the part where I was in a construction zone I could’ve bypassed and had to go to the bathroom).

The whole way, I listened to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and resolved to attempt classical stoicism for my dealings with people.

Upon reaching my house in Denver, I parked the truck and trailer in front of the crotchety old woman’s house across the street, ferried my things from the truck to the house and unlocked the door.

The smell that reached my nose was hard to place at first.  Then it hit me.  I mean it really hit me.  Waves of garlic, stale sweat, unwashed dog and cumin wafted in.  Then I detected a hint of marijuana.  None of these things are smells that a sleep-deprived Luke wants to run into after being away from home for a year.

I had been expecting someone there.  My dad mentioned that he had a scuba friend who would help out and wondered if I minded if she and a girlfriend stayed there.  I said of course not.

When I arrived, I found there was a tiny mowgli-aged girl child sleeping on the couch.

No problem!  I’ll just go downstairs to my nice bed, with the clean sheets.

Nearing the door, I heard a dog growling and then it hit me.  For the first time, I could totally empathize with Papa Bear.

“Somebody’s been smoking pot in my kitchen.”

“Somebody’s been stenching up my house.”

“Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed!  And there they are?!?”

So far, the count is not two women.  It’s a woman, her boyfriend, their daughter (I hope), their dog, and possibly the other woman.

I reclaimed the futon mattress from the top of my bed and a pillow and hunkered down in a free room.

I’m not sure if it’s the delirium talking, but I’m pretty sure I’ve decided to find this funny.  Though, I’m a bit worried that protocol might demand I eat them all up.

PS.  I even found cold porridge left out on the table in the kitchen.

Another Winter Gone – 1

Marcus sat by the window, looking out over the clearing.  Another winter thawed outside.  He’d seen 92-odd winters come and go in his lifetime, plus a few he didn’t remember.  Just the essentials.  That’s what he’d told the reporters who’d snowshoed in to report his 95th birthday for the Echo.  That’s what kept him alive and fit at the age of 95.

He had his house on the lake, his tools in his shop and plenty of firewood for the winter.  No need for foolishness.  No need for make-work projects, when there was enough real work to be done.

It had been a surprise when the reporter came up the path, audible before she’d been visible- her snowshoes crunching on the top layer of crusted snow.  He recognized her of course.  Her was printed next to her column in the paper.

Marcus kept a newspaper subscription for three reasons:

  1. He liked having something to read in the outhouse (especially if he was snowed in and couldn’t get to town for *ahem* other papers he might want in there)
  2. He liked the excuse to walk the 400 yards to the end of the driveway every morning.
  3. It was nice to have an alernative source of kindling in case birch bark supplies were running low.

The last reason wasn’t really that strong he reflected after he realized he was following the “rule of three.”  It wasn’t strong, because he couldn’t remember the last time that he had actually used birch bark or paper to start a fire.  Sure, he kept some around in case of emergency, but he also had as much white gas as he was ever likely to need in the small cottage he’d built all those years before.

Despite the reputation he had (and was largely unaware of) of being the last of the old-time trappers, sourdoughs and voyageurs, Marcus had no pride at all when it came to the practical matter of starting a fire.

He’d happily use a lighter if one was available, but generally preferred to make his own kindling bundles use a steel whenever possible.  Small bundles of moss and Jack Pine twigs that would go up like kerosene even soaking wet.

He knew how to use a bow-drill of course and other “primitive” means, but fire was too important to survival for a person to stick to honorable methods like Flint and Steel or even a one-match fire.

Hell, he’d even started a fire using a ball made of thin strips of duct tape he’d ignited with steel wool and a 9-volt battery once.  It stank to high heaven and was smokey as hell, so it was probably for the best that he’d pulled it from the one Fire detector that weasel of a bureaucrat Amos Johnson had insisted upon.  Damn thing went off half the time when he cooked his bacon, as if he wasn’t perfectly aware it was smoking him out of his own cabin.

In reality of course, Amos was amiable and capable, it’s just that among other duties he was responsible for making sure things were up to code.  The way Marcus saw it, code was fine.  It was for people who didn’t know how to build a house properly so the damned thing wouldn’t fall down.  It didn’t need to apply to people who know what they’re doing.

There was one other objection Marcus had to Amos.  He talked too much.  Any time they ran into each other in town, that damned fool said nothing in as many words as possible.  He had a nervous manner and talked too loud.  Especially outside.

Over the years Marcus had come to realize the truth of silence.  Understanding that the bigger the space, the quieter one should be in it.  Not space per se, but more like what you get when there’s space and it’s not filled up with people.

Being outside in a city requires a person to be louder to make themselves heard.  So, being inside with that mentality, one needs to to remember to be quiet.

Being outside “on the loose” as one of the old campfire songs from his youth had called it, meant that you didn’t need to be loud.  Your very presence there was an intrusion, like a stranger at a wake.  Everything in the forest is so aware of any human, that there’s no need to be loud.  You have the floor, as it were.

This is what that damned fool Amos never seemed to understand.

The reporter had been better.  She knew how to listen at least.  Well, sort-of.  She knew how to listen to people, for what they said and what they said when they didn’t say something.  It was a start.  Maybe in time, she’d learn to listen without needing to hear words in the silence.

The questions for the article had covered a range of topics.  Mostly banal, but some sparked memories he’d forgotten for a long time.  Where was he from? The past.  What did he do?  The work in front of him.  (How can you explain to someone the rhythm of living on your own off the land?  How can you explain that every day is the same and each day is unique?  How you know when to find mushrooms or run trap lines or hunt deer?)  The questions had continued for awhile, until she asked her last question.  What made you move out here away from everyone? I came seeking silence and a place to think.

At that point, she’d understood his meaning more pointedly than he’d meant to say it, because she started to pack up her notebook.  Quickly.  “Well, thank you for your time and I’ll try not to intrude on your silence any further.”

Her snowshoes finally agreed to being used, after a bit of wrangling and she was out the door.  He was surprised at how tired he felt tired after she left.  Probably just a reaction to an uninvited visitor making him use the long-forgotten courtesy parts of the brain.  Janet.  That was the name on the columns.

It’s funny how someone can look like a name, he thought.  As if the appellation a parent gives a child somehow shapes their character.  Then unbidden, memories of his son, his Jack, were called up against his will.

There was no question what he needed to do next.  He picked up his axe and went to split logs for firewood.

Meditations 3 – Determination

A quote about determination I remember from wrestling:

The point is no to go until you can go no further. The point is to keep going while you can go no further.

This has been true so often for me.  I also realize that my physical ability usually outstrips my mental fortitude.

Over the last few years, there are ways that I’ve allowed mental lassitude to become a norm for me. Usually, by not exerting myself enough physically or testing myself and my actual limitations.

From today, I’m reinstating my habit of saying that “I’m choosing X over my health, or want (some short-term happiness) more than (some long term gain).

Last time I did this, I lost 30 lbs of fat and got back in shape. Looking forward to seeing what it does this time.

Where are the areas in your life that need shoring up?  The areas of slack that you’ve allowed to come into your life?  The areas where you’ve forgotten to do your maintenance?

What would your life be like if you chose them instead of the easy things?  What if you made what you say you want a priority in what you do?

What would you do next?

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