This is tasty sample of images to be shown later this month at the St. Paul Art Crawl. I’m excited to finally present images from my past and current wanderings through various foreign countries. This show I’ll be hitting it all with portraits, Lomo, cityscapes and the occasional abandonment-the tasty bits!  Take a look, and make sure you pop into the studio April 27, 28, 29th.

Check back here for the official show card and more details on events, parties and opening hours associated with the crawl.

Jax Building

Casa Alacran Studio-Gallery – 407-B

Lower Town St.Paul MN

(fixed *&%$ thumbnails)
Last Bell, Ismailli, AZ.  Lomo
Cityscape, Baku, AZ. Lomo
Island Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey.  Lomo
Prostitutes,  Xachmaz, AZ. Lomo
New photographers, Mingivicher, AZ. Lomo

LoMoFloColourYo! #2

March 25, 2011


Rainbow! Flat #9, Ismailli, AZ.

The 3 Musketeers! (amigos? wise men?)

Lahic (the day of the Polish/Dutch/American invasion)

No Gas! No Water! Take Random Snaps! Flat #9, Ismailli AZ.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. (5 seconds before one ran at me) Baku, AZ.

Spinning!  Novruz.

(the Israel snaps are coming…  🙂

It’s just past Thanksgiving- I’ve lived in Baku for 3 months and not once have I actually felt the desire to visit Ismailli. Harsh perhaps, but, Baku with its busyness and grime and smog still has its appeal after 3 years of calm and living at a slow pace.

Teaching: There are several things that I have realized since starting work mid September. I’m once again very glad I don’t have kids. My job, when it comes down to it, is basically corralling and taming 15 5 year olds and the odd group of rampantly hormonal teenagers. As if I’d want to return home to corral more little ones? Not that I don’t like ‘my kids’ as I call them, in fact, I adore the little ones (and teens) I teach. I just like having the separation between work and home to stay that way. Although, nothing says happy like finger painting with kids and having them create fantastic monsters. Second realization is that I actually do *gasp* like teaching. In fact, I’ve taught all my 5 year olds that the proper way to greet me is ‘Hello Ms. Colleen’ followed by a knuckle bump. This has worked swimmingly well (and confused all local teachers) until the other day I realized that due to the height difference between a 28 year old woman and a 5 year old, I had basically taught a group of toddlers to give the Black Panther Salute every time they saw me. Ooops?!

Besides teaching: The 3 months of living here have been an exercise in reorganizing my life and basically trying to do everything I missed out on while in Ismailia. For example. I’m still obsessed by the availability of hot water. All. Day. Long. Please note that the last flat I had in Ismailli only had running water for 1 hour each day. Yea, that means I NOW shower a lot. Just because I can. This has also carried into the acquisition of Wi-Fi in my flat and the presence of a wash machine. Basically it comes down to me doing ALOT of laundry and showering and faffing about Facebook/RandomNoobUberXtremeExploreSite. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that being excited every time you turn on the tap gradually wears off, that wash machines lose their glitter in a few months and that Facebook/RandomNoobUberXtremeExploreSite is highly dull once you’re done insulting people. There is always hope.

I love my flat. We managed to find digs that somehow combine high ceilings/old architecture with new appliances/wiring in a wicked location-on one of the main streets in Baku, just outside Fountain Square. My room has a balcony that overlooks an Orthodox church court yard-the other balcony over looks the main street. There are 3 yard Pshiks(cats) (collectively owned by all residences) that live in our courtyard and are without doubt the fattest, happiest Pshiks in Baku. Names for all have yet to be bestowed, but in honor of the ‘Georgian Adventure’, I have named the fluffiest black/white one ‘Mishka2.0’. 🙂 Recently we held a housewarming party with enough win on several fronts to not only receive the declaration of ‘You are so hipster’ (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the declaration of such, a negation of the compliment?) but also fund the renovation of our courtyard liquor store (who says Baku doesn’t cater to the customer? We have our shopkeeper well trained to stay open until 4am and keep Baltika9 in stock), break my bed again (Please see Mike’s statement of crushing disappointment in regards to Soviet bed construction) and restock our empty liquor cabinet-this has led to obvious cooking adventures(in honor of my favorite Frenchmen now living in Londontown): How many shots of straight gin can I take while making Hummus?(answer: I can’t count that high) How long does it take 2 people to polish off ½ bottle of tequila while eating cheese-[wait, that wasn’t cooking?!] – (answer: less time than we thought)

Since being chased by a random dimwitted gob in Ismailli last October, I’d stopped running in my town-instead running when ever I went to visit other volunteers in other regions. Now I’m back to tearing up pavement and doing my best to get back in fighting form. I found 2 running partners who regularly kick my ass damm near every morning at 6.30-the view from the Eternal Flame at 7AM never fails to make me unreasonably happy. Against my better judgment I now run/imbibe with the Hash-and as such have acquired an unsavory nickname, the ability to chug a 33 and enough mad skill to generally dodge buses/cars/chalk wielding British men. I’d forgotten how simply wonderful running is-the endorphins are indescribable (on par with climbing) and it has helped satiate my adrenalin rush addiction.

Though that is still a slight problem. During the recent construction (clusterfuck) on my street all the manhole covers and rings were pulled up and new shiny smooth, non-crusty ones were installed. There was about a week when, along the street every manhole was wide and gaping-the Sewerfresh was everywhere-alas the smell was a tease-trust me, I peered down nearly every one (much to the amusement of all pedestrians) only to discover that the RCP was too shallow to allow anything bigger than a rat further than the shaft. Fail. Though, in my runs I’ve noticed several possibilities of underground tastiness and have heard the rushing of drain water. Let’s hope they deliver. Baku has yet to be cracked, shameful after living in this country for so long…A year without drains/underground is like… (You witty types come up with something and there might be a t-shirt in the deal) Lest you think I’ve gone legit and upstanding: while Baku might not offer up her underground, she has offered up her heights, and such lovely heights they are! (standby for the required ‘Im so hardcore gangsta sign throwing, ill posing, adrenalin spewing’ snaps that couchtoppers drool over!)

A (my partner in all art crimes) and I gave our melding of artistic genius one last airing. Leaving our fine men behind-safe in the confines of a flat, surrounded by a Zombie TV show, with no chance for making out/fights-we unleashed our last collaborative set of public art-more savvy this time ‘round, we avoided awkward 2am phone calls to security personal, mortifying sound bites from my mouth, and being hit on by Baku’s (non)Finest.

The transition from volunteer to working was/has been a tad more difficult than I had thought/anticipated. Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m tired of people referring to me as the ‘no-longer Peace Corps now working in Baku’. Hell, just say I’m a teacher and get on with it. People expect me to be bitter about PC or to have a complex. Maybe I do, maybe not, I don’t know. Besides having an epic books worth of ridiculous/asinine/shocking/horrifically funny stories, I haven’t quite sorted out how I can use my PC experience to advantage in my next adventure. What skills have I acquired: Ability to Battle rats? Check. Evade police? Check. Survive without water/electricity/heat? Check. Cuss words at the ready in 5 languages? Check….

New Adventure Awaits!

September 13, 2010

Usually, I don’t send out mass emails, or like making public personal declarations (unless its calling out someone’s dreadful fashion/or my misadventures pushing brats over on bikes) but decided to put in my year dues to mass communication by posting a tasty bit of news.

No I’m not getting married, or with child. (!!!)

But I do have a brand new, sparkly, fresh, job teaching art/English at Baku Oxford School in Baku (of course!) In fact I just inked my contract-which is rather generous, given my 3 years (38 1/2 months) of volunteering, or slumming it, depending on your perspective-as recently as yesterday, I pulled up my Izzy Town life and moved into a lovely flat in Baku-and today I finished the headache of paperwork which shows I’m finally, totally, completely, 100% done with Peace Corps. Yea, I’m quite pleased.

Lest you think I’ll never leave this glorious country, be assured once my contract ends, I have every intention of moving to an as of yet undetermined country that will likely not be America and pursuing something to satiate my adrenalin addiction.

Why, then, might you ask, is she doing something as predictable/normal/easy as teaching art/English? It is simple mater of economics, 3 years of not working does leave finances in a mess, there are cameras to be brought, wanderings to plot, clothing to purchase and savings to be pimped. Or perhaps for the first time in a very very long time (or at least since I was 6) I want consistency; consistency in received pay checks, working hours, and the general assurance that I wont be woken up at 7am/midnight by a crazed landlord/hag demanding I immediately vacate the property because I’m ‘not clean’. (Yes, that’s a euphemism for sexual purity; somehow the presence of a fiancé rendered me not clean enough and it took the landhag/lord 3 months to figure that part out and then arrive, in both cases at uncivilized hours.)

That’s not to say I don’t miss my family and friends from the states, in fact, the homesickness has crept up more frequently as of late, likely due to changes and moving and summer ending.

But this is a new adventure, so I am…Happy!

Since Murad and Elnor introduced the worthy youth of Izzy Town to the joys of biking, the trend has slowly grown in the years following the summer ’08-unfortunately, as with many sports/clothing/fun activities, biking is an activity that is strictly for males-females being in danger of losing their virginity if the road happens to be a tad bumpy-puzzling, I know.

Since the spring of ’09 I have been plagued by an army of bike riding terrors ranging in age from 5-35-this was briefly mentioned in a post a while back: Ah The Signs of Spring

in which I admitted my fantasy of taking revenge before I left Izzy Town for good.
Since I have only a few weeks left of living here; the time seemed right to start finally growing a pair (so to speak) and giving the riding twats a run for their money.

Since I was in a bad mood to start with-a lack of adrenaline has been killing my soul of late-I was just waiting, quite eagerly, for any chance to unleash my wrath.

Since it was the same 9 year old dirty, snaggletooth, Mongrel who’d been persistently harassing me-a favorite phrase, was ‘LITTLE BUNNY!!!!’ followed up with a few foul words-it took 2 near misses in the town center, outside the stately Hayder Museum, before I called him an ‘ass hole’ and pushed him and the dinky bike over.

Since the town center is paved, both bike and Mongrel landed with a good satisfying smack- for what Mongrel lacks in education, he makes up for in persistence by gamely picking up both himself and bike, giving me a look of both shock/anger and wobbling off, unhurt, to a safe distance.

Since I’m that kind of person who pushes 9 yr old twats, I didn’t even feel guilty…until several hours later, when having a moment to think, I had the sober conclusion that not only did I teach Mongrel a new swear word, I also taught him how to piss off the American with little consequences beyond a ding or two in an already shoddy bike.

Since Mongrel represented the last 3 years of harassment that I’ve sometimes lacked (ashamedly enough) the strength to stand up to on the daily, I am perfectly fine with being happy I pushed him over; however passive aggressive, wrong or bad example it might be.

  And I’ll do it again


August 10, 2010

Baku Queue

Ismailli Storm Light


2009 International Film Festival, Baku

Playground, Baku

End of the Tracks, Mardekend

Mardekend Puppy

Goychy, 6.30AM #2

Goychy, 6.30AM

Sleeping Manhole Cover, Kiev

Cave Monastery, Georgia #3

Cave Monastery, Georgia #2

Cave Monastery, Georgia

Song Zang 2009

Last Run of Lahic Bus

Gozel Salon, Ismailli

The Road Trip Begins!

The Umbrella Man

July 21, 2010

(As told by the Umbrella Man to L (of the running fame)-whose command of both Russian/English languages leaves little room for error.)

The story goes as such: He was raised in a conservative family in a village outside Ismailli center. He wasn’t particularly well educated, but grew up speaking Russian as his native language. The ideas and thoughts of the Russian writers were shockingly different from that of the Azerbaijani’s. He rebelled in school, at home, in general. He was independent. He and his father quarreled, typical. There was a girl he loved, of course. As a gift, she gave him an umbrella, a luxury item. But his family had different ideas and forced him to marry a relative. The fall out was devastating. The new bride was hateful. The groom miserable. The girl he loved had to marry someone else. Slowly over the years the sharp pain went away, leaving misery. He walks through Ismailli now, age somewhere between 70-80. People make fun of him, say he is weak in the head and has foolish thoughts; expect for the whispers, no one talks with him besides my students. He speaks only Russian now. He said to my girls: ‘I like your teacher, she is different, she is from American and she is here to help you. I have had sadness in my life, but I know that you are good students, you will be happy. Always study. Read books. Think your own thoughts. Go after your wishes (dreams). Listen to your teacher. Don’t listen to what people say about you or the American girl, they talk about me too.’ He often will pause on a bench, open his umbrella and sit for hours. Somehow there is a connection. On overcast days he can be found standing in front of the abandoned carpet factory, umbrella open, eyes half closed.

L was thrilled the first time the man told her the story and henceforth, its considered a lucky day if one sights the Umbrella Man. Ever since Song Zang and the emptying out of the school yard he now sits in the shade on a concrete block.  Many days, angry beyond reason, I’ll pass through the town center, only to be greeted by Umbrella Man, who will pause in his daily rounds of benches and factories, to either flash a grin and thumbs up or bring his hand to his heart and nod, bending a bit at the waste, to greet me, respectfully, kindly, enduringly. I like to imagine what he is thinking, or what we would talk about, if by chance I spoke Russian. I like to think that the thumbs up is a way of saying: ‘I know, they think I’m odd too, but we know we are the smart ones!’

Novruz landed in AZ with armies of pavlaka, gogal and sekelbura-formidable advisories of the health conscious, they launched their sugary, buttery goodness with precision, taking no prisoners; for the those lacking will power, they left a wake of calorie comas across the country. Having experienced the cooking/preparing/indulging last year-this season witnessed an epic influx of my favorite usual suspects from Baku and a few new partners in crime. Opening the door, I was greeted by no less than 9 Europeans. It was the largest concentration of non-American foreigners that Ismailli had ever seen-the reaction of ISM people was both surprisingly nice and laughably odd-take for instance B, who’s dreads were petted and fondled on numerous occasion by a enamored water at the TeaHouse-who, we guessed was thrown into confusion deciphering B’s gender and thought him to be a 6+ foot tall species of killer fembot. After returning from a short wander around the elegant town center of ISM, K wanted to know if I had taught the children the following phrases: ‘Ohhh, Myyyy, Gooooodddtt’, ‘Ello my name is!!!!!’ ‘Marry Me’ and ‘F*&% Youuuu!’. –as the sight of 6 foreigners had sent the young population of ISM into uncontrollable yelling spasms.

One day found the lot of us descending upon Nic to photograph the abandoned Christian churches and partake of pork kebabs-again, its certain that our entrance was epic-as we received no harassment only unmasked curiosity in the form of unwavering stares with people going out of their way to say hello (nicely) and ask if we needed help. One man, in charge with guarding a lovingly restored place of worship even went so far as to transport, in his tiny Lada, our 10+ packs to a resting area, allowing us to enjoy wandering around unencumbered. He refused payment, asking only that we give accurate accounts to the outside world of the history of Nic. The small market offered little else but frosty cold bubbly piva (luxury!); cans in hand, wandering down dirt roads in afternoon light, the elusive contentment of life was bit nearer. Taking over a roadside cafй, we settled in for a feast of pork kebab. I had heard tales previously (from the group of archeologists I had spent several days with in this region last fall) of the absolute superiority and medicinal power of the locally made Zoqal Vodka and indulged in a sizable bottle for the picnic. The group toasted several joyous rounds, the drink not disappointing and being quite honestly the best vodka I’ve had! Sedated and happy and with the assistance of a newly made friend, we found cars to drive us through the stunning glacier carved valley between Qabala/Oquz on the way to Mincivicher. This stretch of road is perhaps my favorite in Azerbaijan, on a clear day one can stand at the lowest point and see the foothills and higher Caucuses Mountains, a vista that even for those weary of landscape, is breathtaking. The little story of how I first visited this area with an archeological team will make its way to the blog eventually.

Energy draining, talking, tea drinking, frustrations, stress; characterized the countdown days to certain homelessness. Oh, there were options, yes. A xanim showed me her kitchen, and promised ‘you can sleep here whenever you want, when we are not eating, only 60AZN each month.’ It seemed irrelevant that said kitchen lacked a bed. A man showed me a shed whose previous occupants (I was sure) had been of the barnyard kind. The selling point was the shed possessed a telephone line. (Smart cows, yea?)

March ended one morning with my entire flat packed up and sitting near my door in 4 boxes, 2 small suitcases and a backpack. Moving house due to getting the boot is one of my least favorite pastimes-right up there with visiting the dentist, dancing at Toys and explaining why I don’t have babies. Later that day, I learned that, alas, my landlord, in a supreme display of chain yanking, had just decided to not kick me out-for now. I stood looking at the pile realizing that, while I had too much stuff, I was, at that very moment, living the clichй of all packed up and nowhere to go.

Shaking off the Titanic doom cloud wasn’t difficult-good parties/conversation/wine having a tendency to do that-and I tripped into Monday with enough optimism to annoy the generally dull.  This lasted until Tuesday mid morning when upon answering the door, I was greeted by my landlord and had the following conversation:

Landlord: (looking down) Can you move tomorrow morning? I have just sold the house to another family.

C: (shocked) No.

L: (exasperated) Why not?

C: (scarcastic) I don’t have another house.

L: (confused) Why not?

C: (exasperated) I didn’t know I needed another one, I live here.

L: (stubbornly) This is my house.

C: (internally screams ‘no s@#$ Sherlock’!) I know.

This comedy of each of us having a separate conversation on different topics carried on for 20min-L refused to believe that I didn’t have another house and I refused to just leave after having paid the March rent. Eventually, as it happens in most conflicts, each side thinks its won by letting the other side thinks it’s won. We parted on pretend compromise with him promising to help and not kick me out until another flat was found. Closing the door, I was oddly enough not thinking about where I would eventually have to move, but that, it was certain now, there was no hope left for the laptop; how could there be? 

L told me that my co-worker had indeed died in Baku.

Computer Whiz Russian Guy wasn’t on hand when I walked  in to collect what I hoped to be a marginally functioning computer.  It was alive, in the sense that Zombies are alive- lacking any brain activity but a desire to consume my data and make unintelligible error messages.   Its worth noting that was the first time (and everyone hopes the absolute last time) I cried  in public in front of AZ men; men who’s leers quickly became looks of confused puzzlement -common reaction among men of both AZ/USA citizenship when females unleash the eye fountains.  Sheepishly embarrassed I mumbled something about ‘very bad cold allergy tired much have’ whereupon the confused trio of geeks fell over themselves to rummage for napkins-I left soon after, clutching a wad of snotty napkins and my computer bag.

What to do?  Running clothes in ISM.  My headlamps as well. The ability to smile reduced to an annoying desire (developed in the 30 min walk back to TheFlat from the computer repair shop) to verbal vomit my woes to anyone within ear shot. Adrenalin. Heights. Fine Men. Running. Photography. Public Art(aka graffiti-before you get the shap-shaps in a bundle, lets be clear, I’m not talking about scrawled genitalia  on phone booths,  various scrawled nicknames for genitalia, cuss words rendered abstractly on already dirty surfaces or any of the piss paint ‘’ that clutters every reachable surface- I’m talking art. Good art.  In public.) All the top choices to let my troubles go are usually/mostly inaccessible in Baku and AZ at large.   However upon returning to TheFlat and digging out my sketchbook, a solution presented itself that could include at least 3 of the previous mentioned stress reducers.  A and I had planned for just such a time (in case life was going arse over tits or swimmingly) by making sure we had various pieces for a collaboration (the genius spawn of creativity) at our fingertips.

Gathered around drinks and taking stock later that night/early the next morning around 5am, we were pleased to discover that Adrenalin, Fine Men and Public Art combined nicely, though not in the way we, or our Fine Men had expected.

Thanks to Eye and Ear Candy from my Frenchman, the next weeks were a downpour of fresh sights and sounds covering up (in the waking hours of down time) the demented chickens and crying puppies occupying  the rubbish heap outside my kitchen door. Feril animals who have precisely timed the launching of their rows to occur between 2-6am at 30 min intervals.   With spring springing, my dreams have been fussed up wildly by visions of chickens with fangs, dogs in flack jackets and screaming shadowy figures.   The upside to this is that my outpouring of creative juxitiposions of images/objects (in photography/college/drawing) has expanded to include a new series highlighting my absolute distaste for fowl and the mistreatment of animals.  Coming soon to a public place, where you are not.


March kicked off with Little Troll Poo and Mr. Grumpy Pants visiting Izzy Town-the weekend didn’t disappoint: tripping wildly across a frozen rope bridge suspended above a river basin, jumping freezing streams, pulling ourselves in a little trolley car across said river (again) and placing our lives in the driving hands of a half drunk but unshakably friendly ‘professional driver’ of a basterdized combination dump truck /tractor.  All good things do end, of course. 

Next morning I woke to the computer blasting the following message across its screen and into my brain via my blurry eyes ‘The Group Policy Client Service has failed the logon. Access Denied’. Nothing hits you in the gut like a machine denying you and failing, all at once. On a Monday morning. Possessing the annoying American trait of ‘do it your self’ I spent several days combing the interwebs (courtesy of the local stanky net café) in hopes of finding at least a minimal instructions on how to CPR the machine. It’s a moot point now, but my computer wasn’t backed up on an external hard drive preventing any sort of re-boot. (Sometimes my stupidity astounds even me.)
Savoring the last bits of music on my dying ipod (Atmosphere and Doomtree) I proceeded to drop by L’s (of the running fame) house to catch on the local gossip-an activity relished with infinite patience: who’s selling watered milk, what boy is looking at which girl, the latest follies of the school director, the drama and joy of text flirting and the cost of a kilo of rotting green beans sprayed with petrol (seriously). So much to be learned. Anyway, this day, the gossip was centered on one particular topic and surprisingly enough, my name was in the mix. G (L’s mother) related that the night before (while the trio of PolishDutcAamerican were drinking beer and flirting) my co-worker from the library had tried to killer herself by swallowing acid and then vinegar. It was a botched job, she had been rushed to a hospital in Baku and was, at this moment hovering somewhere between a painful life and the unknown after. Summing up the irony of the situation, G looked at me and said ‘it is too bad, she is still alive, if you want to die you must, it is awful to be here and in pain’. This information took an appropriate time to settle in and left me confused and numb. I couldn’t even remember said co-workers face, an extraordinary feat, as the library staff is less than 10 and sometimes more than 5-numbnes was replaced by awfulness, both that I couldn’t remember her face and that, when she lay in horrid pain, I was having an internal winge about being so typically passive and justifying my name/face forgetfulness by recounting the daily insult of being called or mistaken for ‘Amy’ and/or ‘Rachel’ – ladies who left a total of 5 years previous and of whom one was a 6 ft tall Amazon and the other a Jew. This internal tussle brought me round to more sober thoughts of the transcendent nature of life and the hidden lives of those I/we so often take for granted. 

Shortly after this I made my way to Baku in hopes of finding competent males to assist in fixing the computer. Alas, one bright Saturday I found myself with M, among the shops of 28May, resigning computer to 3 males-my heart sunk when, having just taken the machine from the bag, they fumbled around for 5 minutes trying to figure out how to plug the laptop in-fighting back panic (parents must, must, feel this when a teenager goes on a first date with another hormone swirly teenager) M and I used Russian/Azeri/English (and pleading looks on my part) to explain the situation. The computer whiz Russian guy (who looked 15 and could have been a ‘she’)gave a charming full smile of brownish teeth (ok maybe 20 years old) and promised to have it all done ‘ok, no problem’ the next week. 

Deciding that the best way to deal with computer related anxiousness was a multinational festive gathering, I rushed back to the ‘The Flat’ and found comfort in making hummus with my favorite Frenchman and readying the ev for a party. Caught in a swirl of people/friends/enemies and a deluge of wine/smoke the computer was soon forgotten. In regards to the gathering: on one balcony a Germany and American argued theology/psychology on the other a Frenchmen and Spaniard coolly took drags off Davidoff’s’, the Polish held on to their clothing, the Swedish poised, the Americans looked, a ShoreDitch Twat pulled, a Norwegian twirled. At 4.05 am and borne on the wings of tiredness, we barley bothered to mumble adieu, and pushed out the leftovers, calculating that in a group of 4 drunks, the combined conscious is equal to that of a 4 year old, thus rendering them able to find their way home. The time for waking/traveling back to ISM came too soon in every cliché of the phrase-though in a display of superhuman forethought, J and I had carried out the 14 bags of trash somewhere between 3AM and booting the leftovers-causing our exit to be, while not graceful, at least painless. After arriving at the Titanic and separating from J, I was struck with the singularly defeating sensation that I too, like the passengers of the doomed ship had an unpleasant experience awaiting me in the near future.

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