Thursday, December 25, 2008


Oh, when you let French people pick the music, weird things happen. There is no decent French rock you know. Who was I having this discussion with recently?

Anyhow, at our Christmas Eve dinner last night, I was introduced to Laurent Voulzy.

This is what you get:

Apparently this was a huge hit for this guy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's Coming Tonight, Tonight!

So sings Sponge Bob, and my children. They are locked in the dining room (the warmest room in the house, even WITH a window open), wrapping my Christmas present. I know it is a DVD of Mama Mia! because I asked for that, and The Spouse tried to get me to wrap it earlier this week. Ha! Yeah. Right. You gotta at least wrap what you givin'.

Tonight, we are going to dinner with some French friends. We are the Perfect Storm of dining partners: three families, six kids. Everyone gets on famously, although one husband always takes off his shoes and socks immediately upon entering the host home. Which is sort of weird. But he is funny and charming, so we forgive him. Last time I hosted a dinner, he and the other French husband corrected our (American) pronunciation of such things as "Oasis," "The Beatles," and "Elvis Presley." Seems we are doing it all wrong.

Anyhow, there is going to be foie gras and jumbo shrimp. I am contributing champagne, and a great green salad, and the Nigella caramel croissant bread pudding. Oh, and tons of cookies and the chocolate peanut butter cups the girls made.

The Hostess sent her husband over on his way home from work this afternoon (December 25 is NOT a holiday in Russia) so he could collect the heavier items. I stood outside our building with a carton of champagne and a tray of cookies. I got a lot of looks from people who, I think, think I was selling something. One little old lady came by and stood nose-to-nose with me.

"What is all this?" she asked.

I thrashed about for some Russian vocabulary and finally confessed, "I speak Russian not very well."

"Ah," but she was still curious.

"Party?" I tried. "Fiesta?"

That seemed to work for her, and she ambled on her way.

Then I spotted a very draggy-ass Ded Moroz coming up the street. Some poor young guy, wearing his Russian Father Frost giddy-up and dragging his bag of presents, his heart JUST. NOT. INTO. IT. Why? Why? Why don't I carry a camera with me always?

I relayed these stories over lunch.

"Mama, you are a magnet for the weird," said Baboo.

Yeah. That may be true. But it all makes for good blog material.

Merry Christmas y'all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dee Dum, Dee Dum, Delightful

I awoke to the sound of shovels scraping the sidewalks.

Well, that's what The Spouse said it was.

I said it was Cat-O in another of his lame attempts to bury his waste, which usually involves him scratching at the wicker laundry basket that is next to his cat box.

Lo and behold, there actually is some snow on the ground in Ye Olde Moscow Towne. A pathetic, paltry amount of snow. But there you have it.

For the record, I took these photos at about 10:00 a.m. today. I am not sure that the haziness is so much a result of the polluted and/or snowy Moscow atmosphere as, in fact, a result of my dirty windows. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Makin' Memories

When my brothers, who are both younger than I am, were little, they, like most brothers, called each other evil names. My mother, being a good Unitarian, chided them for this. "There is enough hate in the world," she would say. Like Thumper's mother, she urged us, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

So they modified their techniques. They called each other "Pal."

"Oh, Pal . . . come here so I can give you a wedgie." "I love you, PAL," before ambushing each other in the living room. This sort of thing.

Pretty soon, they were forbidden to call each other "Pal."

So, of course, it stuck. More than 30 years later, they still call each other "Pal" and "Pal-y." But the tone has softened to something almost resembling affection.

They weren't just snarky with each other. They were snarky with me, too. Especially during the holidays they would say things to me like, "Let's make memories, Sissy. Let's make memories to keep us warm in our golden years."

On paper, it sounds affectionate enough, except it was usually said while holding me in a headlock and farting in my face. But it has become one of those family mantras. Even our spouses will sometimes get a little dreamy-eyed during a particularly warm and cozy family moment and murmur, "Makin' memories . . ."

It was in this spirit that I unclenched my normally anal-retentive grip on my kitchen and allowed the girls to wallow in the tastes, sounds, and smells of Christmas. I let them bake today.

They selected some Christmas CDs. First, it was Al Green Christmas. They allowed it to repeat until I think next year will be too soon to play it again. Skittles especially likes Al's version of "What Christmas Means to Me," which, unfortunately, I cannot find on YouTube. I can find his version of "O Holy Night," which gives me goosebumps. Listen:

Then I gave them the Ally McBeal A Very Ally Christmas CD, but they rejected this in favor of Christmas Classics with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong. They especially liked Armstrong's "Cool Yule." Go figure. YouTube says that video is "Not available in my country," so you'll have to look for it yourself.

Anyhow, they made two recipes from Nigella Lawson: a spicy cookie with icing and a sort of peanut butter/chocolate candy. Both are delicious. I gave them some direction, but then I would leave the room and just let them get on with it. They really did all the work. And the washing up.

My kitchen floor is sticky. I will be stepping on candy sprinkles for days. And there is a sort of cement of icing sugar on the counter top. But I think they had a lot of fun together. And, after all, isn't that a big part of Christmas?

Here are the peanut butter sweets:

Here Skittles is icing the cookies.

Notice we are still in pajamas . . . an important part of vacation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year. Skittles wanted to know how many hours today has, so we had to explain that it still has 24 hours, but the fewest hours of daylight. That made me curious about the actual sunrise/sunset for today, so I looked it up.

Today, December 21, the sun rose at 8:58 a.m. and will set at 3:58 p.m. That is short, but today is actually sunny, so it won't feel as short as some of the overcast days last week.

Yesterday, we went to The Spouse's office party for the children. I put a lot of photos on Facebook, but I know not all Beet Fans use that. So I repeated a few here that were relevant to previous posts or comments.

There was a puppet show. The puppeteers made the set and the puppets. I didn't understand the story at all, but it was wonderful anyhow. They punctuated the tale with folk singing (very Russian-y). The set was quite complex and involved lots of moving parts that enabled them to change where the action took place (inside, outside, in a troika). We saw something similar last year, where the storyteller set up about ten pieces of cardboard on chairs and flipped parts down and open to illustrate the story. There, too, he was the artist as well, and the affect was impressive.

Below, you see me and the children participating in parlor games with Ded Moroz (Father Frost). I'm wearing the Ugly Purse.

Here is a really cool mask Baboo got.

And here are some hats we saw in a market near Red Square. A fellow expat commented that his Russian wife has a fur hat that looks like it has roses on it. I was wondering if it was similar to these?

Everyone has been on their very best behavior in anticipation of Santa. We have been Bad Parents, teasing them that they will receive gifts from head to toe (i.e. books and socks). They remain hopeful, if cynical ("Maybe at least I'll get fuzzy socks.")

Heh! Heh! Heh!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lucky Number Seven

Lugging my purchases (liter of milk, liter of vodka, laundry soap, chicken breasts, beef, paper towels, carton of eggs, cream cheese, salami, pickles, yogurt drinks, red and orange peppers, broccoli, Diet Coke, tonic water, chicken stock cubes, and five red and green Christmas garlands), I just arrived back home from the grocery store to discover the elevator, which was functioning when I left the building, is not working now that I have returned to the building.

I had to carry my bags up seven, SEVEN! flights of stairs. In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I weighed the heavier bag. It weighed seven kilos.

Oh, and did I mention the cat puked just inside the door while I was gone. So that when I pushed open the door, it dragged over the cat yack. Good thing I just bought more paper towels.

I've been in a bit of a state lately, what with this economic crisis and all. Although, and I say this for the record, I have not personally experienced any inconvenience or change in lifestyle because of it, I have heard about expats and Russians losing their jobs here. The rate of exchange is drifting, slowly toward favorable because the only thing worse than the state of the U.S. dollar right now is confidence in the Russian ruble. But nothing has changed enough to make us rich, and if the ruble crashes it will only make just about everything I buy more expensive because just about everything I buy is imported. Not because I am some sort of snob, either. It's just that Russia produces petroleum and not much else. Okay, vodka.

What's got me worked up are the rumblings I have been hearing about increased crime in Moscow. Again, let me speak clearly into the microphone for the transcript: I have not been a victim of crime in any way here (aside from The Spouse's wallet . . . but he got it back intact), nor have I ever even felt uncomfortable. But I have heard, via the expat forums, stories of apartments being robbed. The occasional mugging. Breaches of security in apartment building lobbies. There was the suggestion that carrying a second, worthless, and basically empty wallet is advised so that should one be mugged, you can hand off the bogus wallet (complete with some business cards of people you don't care for or don't remember meeting and some old loyalty cards from local businesses) while your real wallet remains safely nestled in another pocket.

All well and good if you are a man with a lot of pockets.

But what if you are a woman and feel compelled to carry around a cell phone, metro map and pass, emergency woman supplies, artificial sweetener, lipstick, Advil, a pocket calendar and pen, and a passport with an oversize Russian visa that is neither attached to the passport nor fits in the passport, in addition to the standard wallet contents of bank card, paper money, and coins? I travel light, actually. And I have given up carrying around my pocket Russian-English phrasebook/dictionary.

Oh, and my keys . . . I've explained about the giant set of jailer's keys I am required to carry around, right? I have friends who have a tiny device to open the front door to their building . . . something small and discreet and the size of, oh, a cotton swab tip. . . and one door key. I have seven keys (lucky number seven, again). You can't leave them lose in many coat pockets because they will rip the pocket lining. And make your coat hang askew on your body.

I had been leaving my passport at home, even though we are required to carry them. I figured it was easier to pay a fine than to replace a lost or stolen passport. But now I am also hearing it is more likely that the police, who normally ignore foreigners, could, feeling the economic pinch themselves, be more inclined to ask for papers.

My compromise is to carry mine, but not the children's.

But the purse thing. Oh, the purse thing. I have been wrestling with it. I had a tiny purse on a long strap that I tucked my money and bank card into one day, while carrying everything else (and a big, older wallet) in an old Coach purse. Unwieldy. Especially when I have to dig out the little purse in order to pay for something.

So I ditched the little purse and put everything in the Coach purse. It, too, has a long strap so I can wear it across my body.

But it has been really cold here, and I want to wear my fur coat. A purse across the body and outside the coat will rub off the fur. So I have to wear it under my coat, which pushes the already too-big coat that much farther away from my body, allowing the frigid Moscow wind to blow right up the front of me.

I tried a "purse on a belt" option, but the purse was just big enough that it made me look like I was packing heat under my coat.

So now I am back to a really ugly Nine West purse I bought a few years ago. It is, by design, an across-the-body purse. Black. About as pretty and feminine as bandolier. I look like Pancho Villa. But it has a separate pocket for my phone. And the main pocket is large enough for my wallet, my passport, my pocket calendar, and my keys.

I'm just gonna play fast and loose with the other items.

Taking my chances.

Better not mess with me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I've sort of given up on notifying Beet Fans every time I post something because it takes longer to assemble the email than it does to write the blog entry. Not conducive to quick and dirty blogging. You'll have to just check in regularly, I guess. I'll notify when I think of it. Or when guilt wracks me.

It's been dark when the girls leave for school in the morning. But today was the first day it was dark before we got home. Skittles announced, "It's 3:59!" And it was pretty dark. In the next few minutes the street lights came on.

I've had some Fun With Cyrillic moments this week. Also known as Honey, What Did I Buy? Seems the face wash gel I bought is for oily skin, something I no longer have. (I have that charming peri-menopausal wrinkles-with-zits and where-did-that-whisker-come-from? melange). Okay. It can be backup face wash gel.

Then I could not identify what, if any, package held the plastic wrap at the grocery store. I identified the imported $12 attach-it-below-your-cabinets plastic wrap and dispenser combo. But I didn't want a $12 attach-it-below-your-cabinets plastic wrap and dispenser combo. I've been looking all week, but no additional stock. I finally found what I was looking for (plastic wrap on a cardboard tube, no box) at the bigger Sedmoy Continent over by the kids' school. I also found a package of decent toilet paper there. Even The Spouse has commented that some days we are stocked with what looks like paper I must have stolen from a gas station washroom.

The third thing (these events always come in threes) was the fruit dumplings.

Russian cuisine is full of items in dough that are boiled. The fillings range from sweet to savory. The dough comes in myriad shapes. The resulting combinations, and there are many, all have different names. Pelmini. Variniki. Piroshki. Think ravioli, Russian style, garnished with sour cream. The freezer cases of every grocery store are filled with bags and boxes of the things.

I'm up to speed on the savory ones. The girls eat the meat-filled pelmini at least once a week. I can even read what type of meat is inside or if they are "home-style" or "traditional," although I cannot say what those distinctions bring to the product.

A year ago I bought a box of the dessert dumplings. But I never got around to cooking them and eventually, perhaps it was June, I threw them out. Today I bought a replacement. I promised the girls they could have some for dessert.

The box the dumplings came in shows raspberries and blueberries along with the pelmini. So I assumed I had purchased fruit-filled dumplings. After all, the Slovaks have fruit-filled dough balls that are boiled (they can be lumps of lead or sublimely light). Surely there was a Russian equivalent of this Eastern European delicacy.

I cooked them. They were strangely . . . white. I served them. I took a bite.

They were filled with tvarog, which is a cottage cheese type dairy product. It is used in all sorts of dishes (I make a savory spread with it). This was lightly sweetened, and very nice. Just . . . void of fruit.

Ever observant, Skittles says, "Well, it did say 'tvarog' on the box."

The 8 year-old reads better in Russian than I, the Provisionista, do. Sigh.

Wordle Up! The Internet Brings Me Yet Another Way to Waste Time.

One of my fellow bloggers turned me on to Wordle. So I Wordled my blog. Click on the image above, and it will take you to a larger and more legible version. And you can Wordle, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Another vigilant expat drew my attention to this article in the Moscow Times.

We woke to a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, but, according to the article, it may not be real snow in that it is a result of factory emissions and not precipitation.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Things Can Get Dirty

I don't generally make political comments about Russia, but this story appeared in my hometown paper.

I saw OMOH heavies (the Russian SWAT equivalents) hanging out in a square on Saturday when I walked Skittles to her cooking class. They were mostly smoking cigarettes and taking pictures of each other. They make me smile, ever so slightly, because I am told that the Spanish gays, among others, covet their uniforms and regalia because it is all emblazoned with the acronym OMOH, which looks like HOMO backwards. The H is really an N, but never mind. Anyhow, they arrested 90 on Sunday.

The gay pride people routinely can't get a permit from the mayor's office to have a parade because they are dangerous, but the Movement Against Illegal Immigration was allowed to hold a demonstration on Friday. Then there are stories like this.

Yeah, I know. New York isn't a great place to be Ecuadorean either.

Walking into the Metro yesterday, the rush of air in the doorway blew my hat (not my fur hat) off my head and out the two sets of doors where it was stopped by a kind passerby. It wasn't until I was on the train and had traveled several stops that I looked at my hat and saw how dirty it was. I was cold the rest of the day because I just could not put it back on my head without washing it. Teach me to leave my big fur hat at home on a cold day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Which a Chicken Is Not a Bird, and a Woman Is Not a Person

Well, we have been in Moscow now for a year. According to the children, yesterday was our anniversary. That sure went fast. We celebrated by going to Gorky Park, but you'll have to see the photos on my Facebook page. Uploading photos on this site is too frustrating.

The days now are short, dark, and overcast, making them even shorter and darker. The temperature has been below 0C the past few days, which is a blessing only in that it guarantees no rain. No snow either, but time enough for that. Maybe. I'm starting to wonder if the whole global warming thing is going to screw with my time in Moscow. I can imagine looking back on our time here on day and saying, "Oddly, we never had much snow in Moscow."

I got a piece of mail the other day addressed to Expatresse Nopatr. My full name was in Cyrillic, last name first, then my first name, then "Nopatr."

That cracked us up. I have no patronymic. Well, only because I never gave anyone one. But I could have one.

You may or may not know how this patronymic name thing works, but the Russians use the patronymic, based on the name of their father, as their middle name. It is an official name and is used on official documents. There is a feminine version and a masculine version. For example, if the father is Ivan, the son's patronymic name would be Ivanovich and the daughter's would be Ivanovna. Since my father's name is Larry, my patronymic or middle name would be Lariovna.

To be really polite and respectful, you use a Russian's first name and their patronymic. We shouldn't call Vladimir Putin "Mr. Putin," for example, but, if we want to be polite and correct, should say Vladimir Vladimirovich (his father was also Vladimir).

Russian doesn't have the titles "Mr." or "Mrs." which I find very disturbing as there is no polite way to address a stranger. Nobody says "comrade" anymore, but they haven't come up with an alternative. There is no "sir" or "ma'am" or "miss." Apparently you can say "girl" to women of any age. It's odd, I know.

This blog title comes hand-in-hand with other Russian remarks such as "I thought I saw two people on the road, but it was just a man and his wife." There's a weird mix of sexism and chivalry here. Men will hold doors and offer seats on the metro (sometimes). I have also seen men carrying the purse of their female companion. That looks a little strange to me, and I have seen it quite often, actually. I cannot imagine The Spouse ever carrying my purse for me. I mean, he always offers to carry things if I want, but he would never think to offer to carry my purse, and I would never hand it to him on my own. He can hold it while I go on the roller coaster. But that's it.

I also hear expats relaying stories of Russian women deferring to male colleagues because "He is the man, so he is smarter." I have not experienced anything like that, and, frankly, suspect that in most Russian households the woman runs the show. It is another one of those cultures where the sexes are defined: men are masculine and women are feminine. Why would you want to be otherwise? Given how we Americans sometimes neuter ourselves, especially at work, I don't mind being allowed to be female. It hasn't gotten in my way anyhow. But I'm also not trying to run a board meeting here either. Ask me again after I try that.

As an aside, Miss Russia won the Miss World 2008 competition this weekend. Here is the winning interview. She is adorable.

There was also the Miss Constitution pageant last week, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the post-Soviet constitution. Read all about it here.

In other news, I am on the hunt for a new winter coat. Every coat I have seems to have a problem. The lining is shredding on my favorite coat. It is becoming embarrassing. I have another jacket-type coat I bought from JJill before Youngest Daughter was born. I mean, I have photos of a pregnant me wearing this coat. There was more of me then, and now this coat is too big. The wind blows up it. The good news is I can wear layers with it (always useful) and even wear my purse under my coat. But the shoulder seams hit the middle of my biceps: it really doesn't fit nicely. I have a similar problem with my lovely mink coat: it is too big for me. And sometimes it just isn't appropriate.

I looked at coats in a shop in town the other day, but what I wanted cost between 25,000 rubles to as much as 36,000 rubles (these days, 2,700 rubles = $100 US). I don't want to spend $1,000 for a down-filled winter coat.

That's what I want: something knee-length, water-resistant, down-filled. With a hood. Some fur trim would be nice, but isn't vital.

I got a tip from a woman on the expat forum about a market ("rynok" in Russian) called Konkovo (conveniently at Metro Konkovo, for those of you following along on your Moscow Metro Map). This morning I went to check it out.

All I can say is "Wow."

It goes on and on. All indoors. Shop stall after shop stall of coats, jackets, furs, men's suits, shoes and boots, bras, evening gowns, and those over-the-top Russian women's outfits complete with too much lace, glitter, and bows.

I was too intimidated to venture into any of the shops. While some items I saw did have price tags, many things did not. Clearly, this is a place to bargain, and I am convinced that, without a Russian speaker, I will be lunch meat. Even with The Spouse, we are likely to pay the Foreigner Prices. But I'm sure I will do better with his help.

So we will go back together another time. There are, uncharacteristically, some sales in Moscow already. But Sale Season is traditionally after the New Year. It might pay to hold off until January.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ho! Ho! Ho! A Study in Contrasts

I received a call last night from Trusted Girlfriend. Her husband had my Christmas tree; was it okay if he dropped it off at 7:45 this morning?

Okay?! That's terrific!

The girls, especially Skittles, have really been into the whole idea of Christmas. Last year was such a wash, what with the move and all happening, and our shipment being delayed. We spent what felt like an eternity in this empty apartment with only an air mattress (that leaked) and a few dishes for us (not even a coffee pot) and bunk beds for the girls and pieces of cardboard to play with. December 25 came. The girls opened a few gifts, and then the Spouse went to work (it isn't a holiday in Russia). By the time Russian Christmas/New Year's came, we had furniture, but it seemed too late and not the right time to be putting up decorations.

I stored the box on the stairs to the building attic. It's locked. The neighbors and we have keys, although technically we aren't supposed to. A few weeks ago, the woman who manages the people who maintain the building came along and, without accusing us of having keys we shouldn't, very nicely but firmly said we had to remove anything we wanted to keep from the stairs as they had to paint.

So the box moved into our bedroom. The cat likes to sleep on top of it, and slash at us with his claws when we walk by. Looks like we'll actually get to open it. Too bad for Cat-O.

I let the tree sit in its box for a while this morning as I harbored some sort of illusion that if I waited a bit, it would be light enough to see what I was doing. Around 10:00 I realized that this was about as light as things were going to get. I was sitting in the dark at the computer, and the rain outside was not about to suddenly stop, heralding blue skies and sunshine.

So I assembled the tree. It was harder than I expected. Here's how it looks right now.

If you follow the Lolcats link on the right of my page, you may be familiar with the "Basement Cat" concept. Here's one. Above you can see that I have my own. He is fascinated by the tree.

Buoyed by my productivity, I even got dressed and went to the grocery store. I filled my cart with eggplant, Parmesan (a real luxury here), avocados, cleaning supplies, milk, granola, grapefruit, wine. All in all, it was about a $100 trip. The clerk didn't put my change in my hand, but set it, coins and bills, on the counter. People often leave the small coins behind as they aren't worth much, and there is sort of a "Got a Penny? Leave a Penny/Need a Penny? Take a Penny" view on the kopecs. I collected my bills, but ignored the coins.

While I was bagging my purchases (the only store here that bags for you is the Why Pay Less? store), I noticed the fellow behind me.

He was grizzled and carried a cane. He didn't exactly look homeless, but he had that worn out look of the street drunks we so often see. He was buying a bottle of vodka, and I realized he was unsure if he had enough money.

I wish I knew more Russian because I would have just leaned over to the clerk and said, "This one's on me." But I couldn't. By the time I even cobbled together a few words in my head, he had pulled out the appropriate bills (all small) and was waiting for his change.

I probably would have only embarassed him.

But I felt awkward and self-conscious carrying my Trader Joe's and Mono Prix reusable bags full of groceries back to my apartment with my Christmas tree waiting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Here Kitty, Kitty!

Weather in Moscow: +3C, overcast, no snow this week.
Reading: I'm still slogging through Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs. Not saying it's not worthwhile. It's just so slow to boil.

Had one of those Very Small World experiences last week.

Since before we even moved to Moscow, I have been in touch with the recommended Russian vet for expats: Dr. Yuri and his wife, Valeria. She is not a vet, but since she speaks fluent English, she helps manage the appointments and communications with their foreign clients. He claims to not speak English, but he did enough to follow our conversation while they were here. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

I spoke to Valeria extensively prior to our move, working out details for bringing Cat-O to Moscow. I was even considering bringing the guinea pigs at one point, and she was very helpful about the steps I would need to take. We discussed having her meet us at the airport when we arrived with the cat so as to help shepherd us through Customs. But she decided that I probably would not have any problems, so she armed me with her cell phone numbers and instructions to call her immediately (and then hand my phone to the pesky Customs agent) if the need arose. It did not.

I have referred people to her and her husband over the past year, but we have not spoken since. Until Sunday, we had never met.

About a week ago, it occurred to me that if cats need annual vaccines, it was probably time to schedule Cat-O's. Yes, he's exclusively an indoor cat, but on the chance that I might need to take him out of Russia someday, I thought it would be in my best interest not to allow any gaps in his "coverage." I hate calling people, doctors especially, on their mobiles because inevitably they are in the middle of working. I prefer to send a text message and then arrange a convenient time to actually talk. So I sent Valeria a text message asking if we could arrange an appointment for the cat.

Friday, while I was walking home from school with the children, she called. Yes, house calls are routine and no problem at all. Did I want them to come Saturday or Sunday or Monday?

Anytime was fine by me, so she asked, "What is your address."

I told her. There was a pause. She said, "I'm sorry. Can you tell me your address again?"

Drat, I thought. The street noise, combined with my mangling of the Russian . . . the street name is long (Sadovaya Samotechnaya), and I forget that I always put the stress on the wrong syllable. I say the street and building number again.

She starts to laugh. "That's MY address," she says. "I've lived in that building my entire life."

Turns out, we are neighbors. Not knowing what she or anyone else in her family looks like, I can understand how we might have missed one another. But I cannot believe I have never seen them walking their dogs. Moscow is eerily small.

Below is the little shit (the cat, not the vet) when we first got him. He went by "Oscar" then.

Here he is today, exhausted after a day of driving us insane.