That was it with California for this visit. During the two weeks we spent in
Redwood City, we could quite understand what the life in the Silicon Valley is
like. My impression is that living there is quite boring. The business trip is
over too. Now we are going to take a short vacation in New York, where I put
down my impressions about the "Capital of the world".
From San Francisco to New York
Security check at the San Francisco airport for the flight to New York includes
mandatory taking off the shoes, which along with the rest of luggage are passed
through the x-ray. The line to the x-ray is so long, that it's enough to blow
up some jackass in the crowd so that the victim count can be compared to that
of quite a big terrorist attack.
Besides, unlike the security people at European airports, the Americans don't
ask you to take your notebook out. Me personally, when there is a need to
proceed accordingly to a special procedure, I prefer to do what they tell me. I
do what they ask to do, and I don't do what they don't ask. They didn't ask me
to take the notebook out, so I didn't. That's why my backpack was checked
additionally. They said it had too much electronic stuff inside, took the
laptop and the camera out and looked at them under the x-ray one more time.
After the check was over, I noticed tens of surveillance cameras directed to
the security checkpoints.
My fellow travelers on the United Airlines flight to New York are quite a
simple couple of New Yorkers. Really big-sized lady and her husband, who was
two or even three times thinner than his spouse. Both are about 40 years old.
It was their first vacation on the West coast: first they were on Hawaii and
then in San Francisco. But they've never been in Europe. When they saw my
interest in the views on mountains and prairies, which I tried to take pictures
of, they let me sit at the window. The woman asked me how many films I spend
per day. She didn't know anything about the digital photography, so I explained
her in brief what is it. I showed her photos on the camera's screen and
explained it's possible to obtain prints by simply connecting the camera to a
printer. Nevertheless, she asked whether I develop only those frames that I
select while previewing pictures on the LCD.
We're in JFK airport in New York City. It took us quite a long time to finally
land. It's drizzly here. It looks like it was raining the whole week here. On
the runway there are lakes of water. The runway itself looks like highways in
California: uneven and patched. Then we went to my friend's place. He lives
here since quite a while and he met us with his car. On our way we saw several
blocks of buildings, which looked exactly like Saltovka in Kharkov. Saltovka is
a bedroom community. However, the real bedroom communities look quite different
from that here. For example, in Brooklyn, where my friend lives, there are
mostly two- or three-floors houses with several separate apartments in them.
The borough of Brooklyn is really huge. With the population of about 2 million
people, it is divided into smaller districts. For example, there is a district
where Orthodox Jews live. Mostly they are emigrants from Europe, who came in
the beginning of the XX century. There is also a Polish district, and also
places where mostly black people live. And of course, right on the Atlantic
ocean-side there is the famous Russian community called Brighton beach.
The famous Brighton
Among the first sights we wanted to see in New York was, of course, Brighton. I
caught myself at the realizing that before I had never thought its name could
be spelled with non-Cyrillic letters. It became to sound so naturally in
Russian, just like it was a typical locality name, just like Ivanovka or
"Little Russia by the sea", the banners on the central street of the district
say. There are many shops and restaurants with names like "Mosgorkinofilm" and
"Saint-Petersburg". I also saw quite some inscriptions with mistakes in
Russian. The backbone of the district's population is emigrants who came in the
seventies. Many of them got stuck in their times, having only slightly littered
their speech with English words like "drink". A group of such "drinkayuschih"
people we saw at a dumplings restaurant placed in the corner of Brighton Beach
Avenue and the 6th Street. Surprisingly, the place is well-known for the good
barbeque they cook there. I would have never supposed they serve BBQ at a
dumplings restaurant, unless my friend Oleg told me, for he knew the place
I used to hear before, that Russians in the States are actually Jewish. It's
indeed so. One can make that sure by simply walking along Brighton. In the 70s
and 80s only Jews could leave the USSR for Israel. However, on their way there,
they often changed their mind and went to the US or to Canada. Russian-speaking
population of New York counts about 2 million people. Out of the city's
15-million population, it's quite a big figure.
In other aspects, Brighton looks very similar to what it looked like in the
famous Russian "Brat-2" movie. It also reminded me of another movie of
Perestroika times. It was called "The weather is good on Deribasovskaya; it
rains again on Brighton Beach". The walkway on the sea-front looks exactly the
same, not a single change noticed. Walking along, we saw there a group of
typical Soviet drunkards. They were kicking each other selflessly. Probably one
of them didn't share something with the rest. Then I though that when moving
overseas, people take their precious things of their everyday life with them.
Some take furniture or dishes, some bring paintings and books. Someone took
their own drunkards with them, so that not to feel miserable far from the
Many things that are considered outdated in the former USSR are still popular
and actual here. Old stand-up comedy actors come here with concerts. Also,
there are still extra sense "healers", that were popular in the 90s. Nobody
believes them in the post-Soviet countries anymore. But here I saw several
announcements for sessions by Juna, for instance. She must be 100 years old
already. However, the people here still remember her and she certainly gathers
more people here than, let's say, in Moscow. Speaking of other old idols, when
passing near the "National" restaurant, we saw the singer Alexander Rosenbaum
standing in front of it.
One day, with the occasion of the 80th anniversary of my friend's grandmother,
we went to the Russian restaurant called "Da i net" (Yes and No). I expected to
see anything in such an emigrant place, except for the modern interior.
However, one could easily see the place is Russian. There simply were no people
who were not speaking Russian. On the wall there was a big plasma TV with some
Russian pop-concert on it. Decor was made in the best traditions of the modern
cafes in Kharkov or Kiev; everything was very up to date and trendy. Just like
Russians do for Russians, not for foreigners "in Russian style", with bears and
At most I was surprised by the cuisine. It was exactly like our moms and
grandmas cook for home parties. That is, exactly same dishes that are usually
cooked for everyday meals and also for different events: fried potatoes,
chicken legs, mushrooms, and fish. Remembering there are no such places in
Berlin, my colleague Andriy nearly left there to live the rest of his life in
Almost in every shop there is a guy who has a Russian name written on his
badge. Once looking for a charger for my Palm, we went to a BestBuy store. To
avoid looking through the whole store, I addressed one of the shop-guys with
the question. Afterwards I noticed that his badge said "Zorik" (diminutive for
the Jewish name Zinoviy).
We had a similar case at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Arts). To ask for
directions, we went to a museum worker, who stood nearby. His English very
extremely not fluent, what made me immediately take a look at his badge. It
said "Igor". It would have obviously easier for him to give an answer in
Russian, but to show the respect for the client, he had to answer in the
language he was initially addressed in. Despite the fact my friends and I spoke
Russian to each other.
At one hand, it's comfortable to be able to speak Russian almost everywhere.
The uncomfortable thing about it is that sometimes it's not very easy, whenever
there is a Russian-speaking someone, to distinguish him visually. Looking for
the charger we went to another store. At the cashier there was a guy of quite a
Russian outlook, with a golden chain on his neck. His badge said "Max".
However, on my question in Russian he replied with "What?" That meant I didn't
guess it correctly that time.
Not only at stores, but also at bank branches often they have banners saying
"We have Russian-speaking staff". ATMs on Manhattan, among other languages,
offered Russian as an option while choosing the interface language. One can
even buy a subway card at a machine that offers Russian as one of the
languages. While there is quite a big Russian-speaking community in Berlin too,
ticket machines in the local subway can only speak German, Turkish and Polish.
Among other Russian places, we also visited "Gambrinus", where the waiters wear
sailor's striped vests and the beer is one dollar more expensive that in
regular American bars. Next to the place there is a "Russian" sushi-bar. Above
the entrance, there was the logo of the Ukrainian franchise "Royal Card". In
Kiev they gave me a discount card for 10% off in their restaurants and clubs.
Though, I didn't have a chance to profit from it in the US.
Best of all I remembered the "Casanova" lounge-club in Brooklyn. They say the
place belongs to a businessman of Georgian origin. He runs two more places; all
of them are called after the famous lover man. We went to "Casanova" the same
night we arrived to New York. After sushi and a small brewery in Manhattan, we
realized we wanted more impressions. At that place, there were impressions.
There also was vodka, because one can hardly stand hearing hits from the early
90s without his brain slightly splashed. Majority of the visitors were funny
people of about 40 years of average age. A guy in a sport suit was
demonstrating his friends such choreography, that the members of boy-bands like
Backstreet Boys, N'Sync and others would be quite surprised to see. The next
morning we had a terrible hangover and the whole day the hit from the early 90s
called "White roses" was playing in our heads.
In the middle Ages they used to build cathedrals, whose massiveness made people
tremble in front of the Lord and his representative on Earth that is the
Church. One felt himself a small insect compared to this colossus. One
submitted to them, paid the tithe, went to the Sunday's prayer and to the
crusade. I had a strong feeling that the sky-scrapers are the cathedrals of our
time, with the aim to impress people with their greatness.
The skyline of Manhattan is usually associated with the New York City so much,
that one can easily believe the whole city is encumbered with sky-scrapers.
However Manhattan is just one of the five NYC's boroughs. Also, Manhattan is an
island connected to the mainland with bridges. One can easily think it's
situated in the Atlantic Ocean, given that the area is called East-coast. But
that's not true: it's in the Hudson River. On the other hand, Manhattan is
often called "the City". That's why when someone says "New York, the City",
they can easily mean just Manhattan.
Not the whole Manhattan consists of lights, advertisement boards and vitrines,
like they show in the movies. Having walked all over it, I realized that not
all of its parts have lots of fancy stuff. Such areas are mostly Times Square,
Broadway and the 5th Avenue. If one turns into a smaller street, one
immediately sees trash under the feet, dilapidated buildings and homeless
Some things look like a black humor joke here. For example, on the Times
Square, right in the center of lights and big monitors with ads, there is a
U.S. Army Recruiting Office. I discussed that with an American guy, who
supposed that it could be there just out of effectiveness. It's a known fact
that many runaway teenagers, looking for a better life, come to New York.
Sooner or later (most likely sooner) they end up on the Times Square, which is
the most attractive place on Manhattan. Then out of curiosity or despair they
come to the recruiting office, which is standing just in the Square's center.
After several days of regular walks through Manhattan, I really don't know
whether I like it or not. My friend, who lives for more than 5 years in New
York, doesn't know that either. On one hand, it's a very much promoted in the
world's modern culture place, major financial and political center. Capital of
the world, in some people's opinion. Everyone saw the lights on pictures and
they look indeed so in the real life. Some people think it's a heaven where
everyone is happy and rich. Then they cannot avoid disappointment after they
come here. No one takes pictures of litter, homeless and flea-markets for
post-cards. That's exactly what they're so ashamed of in Eastern Europe. On the
other hand, the development is not only expressed through such things. The
development is mostly that, as one comes to his Eastern Europe-alike apartment
(apartments are more or less the same everywhere in the world), one can order
some stuff on the Internet. It should be possible to get a credit from bank for
an apartment or a car, which can also be bought anywhere in the world. The most
important is that the laws of the country allow all of that to be done without
trouble. For Internet orders it's the anti-fraud laws, for the bank loans it's
the functioning judicial system, and so on.
In the deeps of the Egyptian section of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts there
is a room with a pool filled with water. In the middle of the pool there is an
island with palm-trees and arcs of an ancient temple, which was brought from an
archeological dig in Egypt. The day we were visiting the museum, the island was
enclosed and the access to it was restricted. Some people brought tables and
chairs, some mounted video-cameras. Then we saw many people in traditional
Jewish clothes, preparing dishes, food and other things needed for a feast.
Exactly on that day it was the Jewish holiday called Sukkoth, which means the
Exodus from Egypt. I think that if I wanted to celebrate, let's say, the Soviet
Army day among the Egyptian antiquities (to make the ruins more ruined :), most
likely I'd got a refusal. The Jewish community in New York indeed is a very
The neighborhood where religious Jews live in New York is called Borough Park
(sometimes called also Boro Park). It looks pretty similar to the rest of
Brooklyn's neighborhoods. There is the main street with a subway line and
two-floor buildings. Secondary streets deviate from the main street under right
angle. Such streets are usually quiet, narrow and there is nothing on them but
houses where people live.
On many stores there are inscriptions made with Hebrew letters. I cannot really
tell which language it is: Yiddish or Hebrew, because both of them use the same
alphabet. However the thing that makes the biggest difference between Boro Park
and the rest of the neighborhoods is the very vivid population. Their wardrobe
contains only one type of clothes. They always wear white shirts, black
jackets, black pants and hats with brims. Ropes from the traditional shirt they
wear above the regular white shirt stick out the jacket.
That's how the usual citizen of Boro Park looks like. Mostly they belong to the
Lubavich branch of the Orthodox Judaism (Hasidism). Besides people in black
jackets and hats, on the streets of Boro Park there are people from some other
direction, also Orthodox. Their hats are made of fur and they always wear white
socks. This way they copy their rabbi, who founded the confession they follow.
Oleg told me that once he discussed this kind of clothes with his colleague,
who is also Jewish. He had no idea, but proposed a very American name for them
- Super-Jews. To make pictures of them, one day we went for a photo-hunting
session with a car and nearly chased them with the car. Oleg was driving and I
tried to take pictures from the open window.
As for the name of the folks in the fur hats, I think they are Haredi. Here is an article about them in wikipedia, while here you can read about the Lubavich and how surprised they were
when their rabbi Shneerson died in 1994. They considered him the Messiah and
theoretically he shouldn't have died.
After the Brooklyn Bridge on the right there is the China-town. Despite its
openness to the rest of the world (anyone can walk its streets), China-town is
a quite an isolated place. While the specific features of Brighton beach are
not likely to be understood by an American who doesn't speak Russian, one can
still feel there the presence of the American state. In China-town it feels
like a different country. Everything is so authentic, that is even the
McDonalds restaurant is built as a traditional Chinese palace.
The restaurant, where we went to have some dim-sums (I was still impressed with
what we tried in San Francisco), was exactly on the border between China-town
and the neighborhood of "the little Italy". The advertisement for the place was
in every tourist guide, but none of the Chinese ladies who worked there
actually spoke English. To order some food, we had to circle numbers of the
thing we wanted to order right in the menu. Every time I wanted to ask
something, the waitress replied with gestures. First we thought she was mute,
but then some Chinese client came in and she spoke with them.
There was a very unlucky tall American girl with black painted nails. She came
to get some food to take out. The Chinese lady saw a one dollar bill in the
girl's hand and said "no dollar", probably meaning there was something to buy
for that less. This way to react would be understood if the girl looked like a
low-class or something. She tried to explain that she didn't want to buy
anything for one dollar, but the Chinese lady insisted. Then the girl with the
black nails said "It's not my day", and went out to the street to her
boy-friend, who awaited her outside.
In the rest of my notes I wrote about two trips: to the nearby New Jersey, and
to Pennsylvania, which is a bit further from New York. In Pennsylvania, there
is a town called Intercourse. During our whole stay there we laughed at its
name just like Beavis and Butt-head would do.
However, the people who live there only get involved in intercourse with the
aim of conception. These people are called Amish. They don't use electricity,
central heating and sometimes even medicine. They meaningly renounced the
benefits of the modern civilization in favor of what they consider right -
faith and hard work. Also, they don't have any computers or internet, so they
will never be able to read what I wrote about them :)