Sasha Vasilyuk

Cultural journalist 


Balinese Selfies

Posted on August 14, 2015 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

On full moon day in Bali, we visited Tira Empul Temple, where hundreds of people came to purify themselves. While the adults were busy purifying, however, the teenagers stopped to take a group selfie:

During lunch at a remote restaurant in the middle of peaceful rice fields, we spotted this Indonesian family (perhaps visiting from another island), also enjoying the view. Wait, no, they weren't enjoying the view - they were enjoying their cell phones, bowing their heads as if in prayer to the mobile gods. All six of them, simultaneously. In the hour we were both there, they barely said a word. 

I don't mean to judge (ok, fine, I'm definitely judging here), but I think it's a reflection of a problem all of us are facing around the world. It took me about a week in Bali to stop checking email and social media on my phone. I felt a drug-like pull to lock myself into the digital world and hide from the one I was walking in. 

When I finally managed to leave my phone behind and just Live, it felt as if my mind was able to breathe for the first time in a long time. Almost immediately after, I was able to connect with my partner on a deeper level than we have ever had before. We were able to think and talk freely, which led us to get inspired to make a drastic change in our lives. I know this wouldn't have happened unless we completely disconnected from the clutter of our digital consumer lives.


Posted on March 26, 2015 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I <3 NYC

Posted on December 26, 2012 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I eased into a leather armchair in the cozy brown-toned Starbucks on the Upper East Side watching busy New Yorkers rush past the frosted window. Christmas jingles played overhead as jasmine green tea steamed in my hand. Ah... back in the good old U.S.A., I thought, as an immense sense of calm spread through me.

This is a world I knew well - the world of Walgreens and Whole Foods, of hot dog stands and newspaper hawkers, of skyscrapers and recycling bins, of cashiers who ask you how you are, dogwalkers who pick up after their pets, teenagers who say like every other word, crazy people who yell profanities in public, and businessmen whose right hand never leaves the grip of a plastic coffee cup.

Even though I knew this world and didn't always used to like it, after 9 months of traveling, it now seemed endearing and new. As I sat there reveling in the cheezy sounds of Christmas jingles and the smell of overly sweet coffee, I realized that for the first time in my life I made a conscious choice to live here.

I chose New York City as my new home and though I could have moved here a year ago, I'm so glad I didn't. I'm glad that instead, I vagabonded around the world, discovering fantastic places like Paris, Rio and Tel Aviv that gave me a new appreciation and confidence that of all the wonderful cities on the planet, New York City is the one for me.

So from a random corner of NYC, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and Happy New Year! May you always find yourself exactly where you want to be :)

My weekend in Villa La Angostura, Argentina

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

By second week in my solitary apartment in Buenos Aires, I was starting to lose it. I was working a lot and despite an unforgettable experience watching and learning tango, Buenos Aires overall left me cold.


I felt like I needed to get out of the city and the lake region in the northern part of Patagonia was beckoning: the forested mountains, the cold blue lakes. I could almost hear the birds chirping in the still Patagonian air. So I said "Screw it" and bought an overpriced ticket to spend a weekend in Bariloche.


Then, just as luck would have it, an Argentinian friend I made introduced me to her friend who just happened to own a hotel in Villa La Angostura, a resort village an hour bus ride from the bigger and more touristy Bariloche. I felt very lucky that I didn't have to look for a hotel, but what I didn't know was that I wasn't just getting a hotel, but a full weekend getaway!



Fede, the aforementioned friend of a friend, picked me up from the bus station and drove me to his hotel, Naranjo en Flor, a beautiful property overlooking the mountains and lakes where I was offered the best corner room, featuring a jacuzzi with a view on the Andes. I was pretty sure this was the only jacuzzi I would see in a long time, so I made damn sure to use it :)



Fede, who lives on the property with his two adorable children, fed me dinner and we spent the first night chatting over wine and cheese in the cozy lounge. The next day, he arranged for his friend to take us on a private boat tour to visit the Arrayanes Forest of enchanted forest of red trees, which rumor has it was Walt Disney's inspiration for the forest in Bambi.


Before catching the boat, I walked around the small peninsula jutting into the lake. It was sunny and cool, and the mountain air smelled of pines. The village was quiet except for the occasional sounds of barking dogs barking and brooms sweeping. It was right before Easter, so the owners of many Swiss-looking wooden hotels were cleaning their properties in preparation for the long-awaited crowds. As Fede explained, this usually popular resort town had been struggling since a volcano on the nearby Chilean border erupted half a year ago, spewing constant stream of white ash that covered trees, backyards, hotels and even closed down the nearby airport.


The ash fall stopped just two weeks before I came there and it seemed to have changed everything in town. Without any tourists - the town's only economic engine - almost a quarter of the town's population decided to move out permanently. Those who remained struggled to survive through helping each other. Since his hotel didn't have any customers, Fede had to pick up waiter duties at his friend's restaurant and was hired to help clean ash from a prominent landlord's property.



The ash also changed the town in a physical way. After settling on the bottom of the mountain lake, one of the region's main attractions, the light volcanic rocks changed its deep blue color into aquamarine that made it look like the Caribbean.


When I first saw the lake up close I couldn't belive how amazing clear the water was. I found this stupendous empty dock and just sat there staring into the amazing vista in front of me, listening to the small waves of the lake below me and the flapping Argentinian flag above.



While I was lucky to enjoy the private boat tour of the lake, you can catch one of these cruise boats from Bariloche:


After watching the sun go down from the depths of my jacuzzi, I headed to the town center filled with adorable stores selling gnomes (not sure what's up with that) and restaurants serving local cuisine like trout and mushrooms, and what must be the world's biggest concentration of chocolate and ice cream stores per square meter. I even watched this woman make white chocolate tree trunks, called rama leche in Spanish, a popular local treat:


The chocolate matryoshka egg is from a popular store called Mamushka.

We had a wonderful dinner at the town's best restaurant, Tinto Bistro, which is owned by Fede's friend Martin, who happens to be the brother of Princess of Netherlands (an Argentinian herself , she was introduced to the prince at a party in Spain, they fell in love and now the Queen of Netherlands occasionally pays a visit to Villa la Angostura). It's a cozy place with international cuisine prepared using local ingredients. I loved the lamb appetizer and my grilled trout with sweet potato pure entree. I hear Tinto Bistro now has a sister restaurant in Bariloche.


After dinner, we were invited to a End of Volcano party, where local business owners and residents were celebrating the new chapter of life in Villa la Angostura. Fede pointed out a couple of men who just bought huge pieces of land for development. I guess they're optimistic this little town has a bright future ahead!


After ending my weekend with a forest hike where I could barely believe the view and a delicious locally made berry ice cream, I have to agree with them.

Seeing Buenos Aires through graffiti

Posted on May 2, 2012 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

The only organized tour I did in Buenos Aires was a tour of the city's best graffiti led by Johnny from GraffitiMundo, an organization started by a few expats with background in advertising and media who've moved to Buenos Aires and discovered a passion for street art. They're currently working on a book about  the city's graffiti culture.

Buenos Aires is full of graffiti because it is not something that's persecuted unlike in most other cities in the world, which means that artists aren't quickly tagging a wall before someone spots them, but have hours or even days to work on a piece of what can be undeniably described as art. Because of the luxury of time, we saw some of the biggest, most detailed and most creative graffiti work.

This wonderful Chagall-like graffiti is painted on a building in the colorful La Boca neighborhood close to the Boca Juniors football stadium. It's about 3 stories tall.

Here's another one, painted by two different artists on a warehouse (whose owner really doesn't mind), where the grandiose scale is more evident:


Almost none of the graffiti we saw is propagandistic in nature. It's almost always abstract, quirky and is much more about the visual language than the message. This next one in La Boca is an exception: it shows Argentinian mothers, also known as Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose children disappeared during the Dirty War in the late 1970s.



But I like this cheery graffiti further down in La Boca a bit more:


We ended the tour in Palermo at the Post Street Bar, a cool cafe with a deck that is decorated top to bottom by graffiti artists and shares the space with a small art gallery run by a few of the graffiti artists themselves.


That's where I bought a poster rendition of this graffiti art work that perfectly sums up both my personal life and my career:



I really enjoyed seeing Buenos Aires from this perspective. And after visiting one of the city's main museums, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, let me assure you that this is one capital that expresses itself much better on the street.