I have been back in Budapest for a few hours, still reeling from the experience of being on the Vast Dolgin Empire's Klezmer Heritage Tour of the Ukraine. For almost two weeks I have been a passenger on the Dneiper Princess cruise ship traveling from Kiev down the Dneiper river through the Ukraine to Odessa, stopping along the way to visit historic Jewish towns, many associated with the developement of the DNA that contributed to the mad genius of Josh Dolgin, the young Jewish musician known as DJ Socalled (although Yankl Falk calls him "Neo" after the guy on the film Matrix... You are the one, Neo... You will save us!) Although Josh has a serious Moyshe Oysher fixation, his roots are in the town of Zaporozhie, and one of the big themes of the trip were to meet with Arkady Gendler, the 84 year old Yiddish singer from Zaporozhie who may well be the finest living Yiddish singer of rare folk songs alive in the former Soviet Union today. The whole was being filmed for a documentary by a Canadian film crew - perhaps some of the most engaging folks on the cruise. (Click on the link for lots more - and better - videos of the trip...) If you need to know more about this menace to consonant music, I am willing to trade informations for food. I firmly believe Josh is a genius... and like many geniuses, such as Lex Luthor... he needs to be made into a comic book epic. And so for the next few blog entries, as I go though the hundreds of pictures I took in the Ukraine, I will attempt to prove to you the real menace of the Dolgin threat. With information from former Soviet sources... Dolgin will be revealed as the Mad Klezmer Genius that he is... Josh is a Mad Genius... backed by a family of less mad geniuses, and his parents - wonderful folks - managed to organize a huge Jewish Heritage cruise through the heart of the eastern Ukraine. Above is one such cruiser standing in Sebastopol harbor in front of the noble Dneiper Princess on Soviet Victory Day... more on Sebastopol later...
Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. When you are on Atkins you eat it. A lot. I did. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht. Borscht....
A typical cabin meal... when we didn't eat in the ship's restaurant... or even when we did, we managed to eat in our room. The ship food was bland and insipid, and ... not very Atkins friendly... so we made do. In the former Soviet Union, everybody has a way of making do. So we see here a fine meal of schmaltz herring, salad, horseradish, and vodka.
It. Does. Not. Get. Better. than. This.
Michael Alpert, possibly the finest of the younger (???) generation of Yiddish singers and fiddlers in the Jewish music world and a dear, dear friend and brother-in-klez, points out the relationship between the Ukrainian horilka (vodka) and the glass to a passing stranger in my shipboard room. Michael speaks fluent Russian and Ukrainian, and was our embilical cord to the heart of Russian culture while staggering between Uzbek Kebab-and-Karaoke shacks in Odessa.
We'll get into the fantastic amounts of music experienced on this cruise, but much respect goes to David Krakauer and Alex Kontorovich for holding down the primas roles as lead clarinetists and musical maestros.
And last, but not least, the Ukraine. Amazing. Of course, it is independant, but maintains strong ties to its Russian/Soviet past. On May 1 we took our first stroll into Kiev... right smack into the Communist Party nostalgia rally. Does it ever get more nostalgic than this?