Cliff Gardner

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I've read 35 books since I've come to Ukraine, not counting the National Geographic Movie Version of Guns, Germs and Steel and the audio version of Obama's The Audacity of Hope , and I thought I would summarize at least my most recent reads. The last five books I've read are:

--Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick. This book is AMAZING and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a thorough account of the last few years of the Soviet Union.

--Brainiac by Ken Jennings. Ken Jen was my desktop background during the Summer that he was on Jeopardy, so it's no surprise that I would love his book on trivia--a very easy and interesting read.

--Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. A hilarious book, and a great read for anyone who's struggled with a foreign language while living abroad, though it's less of a novel as it is a loosely connected series of short stories. Still, really funny.

--Theodore Rex by some great author I can't remember. This book got me hooked on Presidential Biographies--it was really, really good. It's also the 2nd in a 3-part series on Teddy--the first, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt , won the Pulitzer Prize, and I'm going to try and get a copy of it when it comes out. Also, if any of you have a copy of The Reagan Diaries, send it my way, I want to read it.

--The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Mock me if you want. Go ahead. I still liked it.

Now I'm reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by the author of Kite Runner and so far it's amazingly depressing but very well written. I should finish it in the next week, and then I'm going to start in on the thousand-page epic, Roots, that my folks sent me. I feel like I should read that one if only becuase I love Lavar Burton and "Reading Rainbow" was my favorite show growing up. Butterfly in the skyyyyyy!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ben Franklin in kind of a sleazebag

Television Shows! So, one of the best parts about the Peace Corps Ukraine community is that we're really good share..ers. Whenever 2 or more PCV's get together, we bring books and DVD's to loan/trade. Shows or movies that I hadn't ever had the time to check out back home are now great, if only because they're NEW. I have a pretty extensive movie collection by PCV standards (thanks to my wonderful parents who continually send me packages!!!), but even then, I've still seen every movie and television episode I have roughly 4,569 times. Also, the upside of my friends in Group 29 ending their service is that I get to take all their stuff they can't afford to take home with them...I felt like a pirate, but a pirate rich in new books/DVD's.

This has obviously forced me to diversify my viewing habits and I've gotten to watch shows that would be good even if they're the first non-Sorkin show I've seen in the last two months. Among them are House (AMAZING, even though I've only seen/been able to get ahold of 4 episodes! I should have listened to the dozen people I know who had tried to sell me on this show before I left), Entourage (hilarious, Jeremy Piven rocks!) and Weeds (Mary-Louise Parker can sell me anything). I've also watched a few seasons of South Park and Simpson's which are a few years old but were new to the third season of the office, which my awesome parents just sent me!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I've been doing lots of train travelling lately, almost all by "platscart," or the "half the price of a regular ticket" method. The only difference between a platscart trip and a regular "coopee" trip is that in platscart, everything is open--there are just lines of little compartments with beds and no doors. This is normally ok, but I've been doing so much of it lately that I thought I would characterize the different types of people I am usually with in my compartment.

1) The tired babushka. I love tired old people because they usually go to sleep almost immediately and are quite for the rest of the night. This lets me go to sleep and wake up 8 hours later wherever I'm going, which is what I really want. They're the best!

2) The loud drunk guy(s). I don't understand why anyone would drink heavily on a train given that the bathrooms are usually pretty bad and the constant rocking back and forth sometimes makes even sober people sick. These folks keep everyone in the car awake with singing, jumping and rough-housing.

3) The entire family. They might be on their way to a wedding someplace and have purchased four seats together. These folks spend hours eating, talking, laughing and doing each others' hair/makeup for the morning festivities. They don't bother me so much unless they have...

4) The little screaming kid! Remember on Delta Airlines flights when there would be a little screaming toddler, per FAA regulations, right behind you on every 6 hour flight you took? Well it's like that, only for 12 hours and when you're trying to sleep.

5) The politician. I have a strict "radio silence" policy on trains, meaning that I don't speak unless I have to because the second I do, everyone will know I'm a foreigner and someone in the vicinity will try to talk to me for the next 6 hours about every political event that ever happened in the history of the former Soviet Union. Normally discussions like this are great, but not when I'm trying to sleep.

As you can see, there's only a 1 in 5 chance that I'll get a good night sleep. Whenever I ask someone how their recent night-train trip went, and they reply "uneventful," they really mean "perfect." I'll be criss-crossing the country a few times over Winter Break, so let's hope that I get lots of sleepy old people! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!