The Orphanage by Serhiy Zhadan (Book Review)

book reviewsDonbasUkranian LiteratureUkraine

The Orphanage is a 2017 novel by Serhiy Zhadan, recently published in English translation. It explores the experiences of civilians in wartime, specifically in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Pasha, a rather impotent teacher, journeys across enemy lines to retrieve his nephew from an orphanage/boarding school in an unnamed city that has already fallen. The city teems with military checkpoints, artillery fire, grifters, and civilians doing their best to survive and hold on to something in this environment.

Throughout his journey, Pasha meets other civilians, soldiers, and even a journalist. These encounters enable rich exploration of a variety of themes: language, identity, authority, education, nostalgia, and the indifference of war towards the neutrality of civilians. During these encounters, Pasha generally does his best to help others around him, even though this distracts him from his goals.

Who needs cold medicine in a city getting pounded by heavy artillery, a city that’s going to fall any day now? (18)

Eurovision 2021: First Impressions

musicEurovisionEurovision 2021Europe

Eurovision 2020 was a massive disappointment.

It wasn't that the songs were bad, or that the artists weren't any good. It was that the entire contest was cancelled, and replaced by an abbreviated, bland but well-meaning tribute. Thanks, pandemic!

For 2021, apparently the show will take place no matter what. However, reusing any of 2020's songs is against the rules.

Tix is a fallen angel, trying to do good, but chained to his demons. Gotta love the literal interpretation here.
Tix is a fallen angel, trying to do good, but chained to his demons. Gotta love the literal interpretation here.

In this post, I listen to all 39 of these new songs for the first time, and write my impressions.

The First Robin of Spring

✍️ 🕑 photographybird photographyFrench Creek State Park

Here we are, about half way through March.

And, so I spotted a Robin on March 13th, the first one this year. Unusually, late according to my parents.


I was able to stand there for quite a while, aiming my narrow aperture super-telephoto zoom at it, hoping my hands were steady enough, my focus was locked enough, the light was good enough, and so on.

But also, I got to observe the robin going about his business, mostly ignoring me as I crept closer...

The Trails at St. Peter's Village

✍️ 🕑 • Series: Attractions of Pennsylvania • Tags: trailsSt. Peters, PA • Places: St. Peters

Near St. Peters Village.

I can remember walking around these woods as a child.

Admiring the rocks.

Trail Information
Name St. Peters Village Trails
Type trail system
Location St. Peters
State PA
Country USA
Miles N/A
Difficulty moderate
Check out the trails index for information on more trails!
Near St. Peters Village.

In town, there are decks for sunshine and summer days. Everywhere else has spraypaint borne of boredom and ennui.

Near St. Peters Village.

I'm returning to this place, shortly after a snow storm on the third day of the new year.

Geigertown Central Railroad Museum

✍️ 🕑 • Series: Attractions of Pennsylvania • Tags: museumstrains • Places: Geigertown

An old Reading Railroad train car.
An old Reading Railroad train car.

I imagine most people discover the Geigertown Central Railroad Museum the same way that I did, by driving down Geigertown Road and noticing a collection of train cars off to the side.

To explain why the trains are here, we should begin with local train enthusiast D. J. Shirey.


Ghent (2018)

✍️ 🕑 • Series: Western Europe 2018 • Tags: GhentGermanyBelgium • Places: Ghent

This post follows directly on from the last one, describing some very hastily planned travel in Western Europe in the summer of 2018. For context, see the previous posts.

The city center, viewed from the Het Gravensteen
The city center, viewed from the Het Gravensteen

I've always preferred taking the stairs to taking elevators.

An elevator might never come, and can move at a lethargic speed if it does.

On foot, however, I can leap with the speed of a gazelle (and none of its grace), arriving to wherever I climb as an undignified, sweaty mess. But, a mess that didn't have to wait for a stinking elevator.

I booked a bed in a hostel dormitory.

I think I may have tried to book an AirBnb or something, but virtually everything was already booked, and I fortunately realized that the site misleadingly increased my search radius to such a large area that the results it gave were countryside farms, far away from the quick city daytrips I was engaged with.

So, I bought a cheap padlock from the train station convenience store (along with some hair ties), and bounded the steps to a dormitory bed.

I looked at the reviews enough to feel confident that the risk of a bad experience was minimal, but not enough to realize that the hostel was at the top of a multi-story parking garage.

The single elevator, ponderously slow, cramped, and already occupied by motorists.

Up I went.