Monday, March 30, 2009

Look! Look!

My friend is part of this. Aren't these cool?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oy! What a Day I've Had of It!

Many of you are probably wondering, "Gee. How was that concert offert par l’Ambassadeur du Luxembourg, dans le cadre de la Francophonie, au musée Pouchkine, suivi d’une réception à la résidence de l’Ambassade?"

Answer: Um . . . dunno.

It was a perfect storm of disasters, starting when I exited the Metro and called The Spouse.

No. Wait. Rewind.

It started when I, discovering that I am TOO FAT NOW for any of my clothes, spent an hour trying to find something to wear. I had a haircut that morning, so my head looked civilized. I finally settled on a gold damask-esque jacket, a white chiffon scarf, black trousers, and black tall boots. With a pair of frosty white earrings, I looked pretty sophisticated, if I do say so. I could have passed for French (well, FAT French) if I kept my mouth shut.

But back to our tale of woe.

"I'm coming out of the Metro now," I told him, thinking the next step would be to meet him on the street in front of his building so we could turn around and head back to the Metro (I was ever-so-slightly vexed he hadn't offered to meet me on the train platform so that I would not have to exit and re-enter the Metro during rush hour, but only slightly).

He was cheerful. "I'm a little delayed," he told me. "C'mon up."

This did not bode well, and, sure enough, he was not only meeting with a colleague in his office, but that chat meant then he had to make a phone call. My goal was to be at his office between 6:00 and 6:15 so we could get to the concert which started at 7:00 without making ourselves crazy. It was now 6:30. . .

He shared my vexation. The delay happened in spite of his best efforts. It had also been a tough day in the office with the axe falling on 13 lawyers and assorted, now unnecessary, support staff. The Spouse had not been at risk, it turns out, but the mood in the office was grim, and everyone's plans for the workday were in chaos as H.R. meetings took precedence over other tasks.

So back we went to the Metro. We needed to hop on the red line and take it just one stop. I had reviewed this in my head before as I arrived on the grey line and thought about how he could meet me on the platform of the red line.

And, without thinking, I led us both into the entrance for the grey line and down the L-O-N-G escalator where the opportunity to turn around and go back up the L-O-N-G escalator was foiled by barricades.

At the peak of rush hour.


So, instead, we went through the grey station (Borovitskaya) to the dark blue station (Arbatskaya) to the light blue station (Aleksandrovskiy Sad) to the red station (Lenin Library).

It was now 6:55.

We hop on a train. We exit at Kropotkinskaya.

I had consulted the map before I left the house, but had not brought the map with me as it is too big to fit into my everyday purse. I was looking for the Pushkin Museum and the Luxemburg embassy which are technically on Khrustchjovskiy pereulok, but the museum is on the corner of a large street (Prechistenka ulitsa). The Metro is right there, on a big square/intersection. It seemed to me that we would exit the Metro, and it would be abundantly clear which way to go.

Except this Metro stations, like many stations, has two exits.

And we came out of the other one because neither option seemed to point us to the Pushkin Museum we wanted because there are TWO Pushkin Museums, ladies and gentlemen: the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art (not the one we wanted and in the opposite direction) and the Pushkin State Museum.

The signs in the Metro only directed one to the Pushkin Museum of Applied Arts. Hmmmm.

As expected, I got all turned around.

And the maps we found did not include details as small as Khrustchjovskiy pereulok.

And now it was 7:05.

And there was a very stony silence between us.

"I don't want to go back in the Metro," The Spouse says without eye contact.

O-kaaaay. Except, I am wearing these fabulous black boots, which normally feel pretty good, but my feet are lately a colony of various flaws and defects. I'll spare you the boring details of My Medical Problems. Suffice it to say that I was gimpy, and not really in a place to whine as I had made my fair share of contributions to the mess we were in.

We walked (I limped, silently) back to the Borovitskaya/Lenin Library Metro stations, realizing that it really would have been faster to skip the Metro and walk in the first place.


Now, for those of you who haven't seen it, Moscow is a lot of things. But it is very beautiful at night. The walk from (the hideous) Christ the Saviour Cathedral to the Lenin Library . . . at one point we had this view of the Kremlin, which, although from the back side, is pretty cool. I recommend you visit Moscow only at night. Really.

We considered and rejected just going to the reception.

"I wanted to hear the concert," The Spouse was disappointed.

We still needed to eat. But where? We didn't want to spend a fortune. We didn't want a big meal. And we wanted something easy.

Which is how we ended up next door to our apartment building at Taras Bulba, the Ukrainian chain we frequent.

Yeah, yeah. It's a Ukrainian Olive Garden.

But the service is good. The food is consistent. They know us there. And they sell the loveliest горілк, which is a Ukrainian hot pepper vodka.There is little in this town that 100 grams of this vodka won't improve.

Plus, it was the restaurant's birthday. They were having a party. The place, which is normally decorated to the hilt with charming rustic clutter, additionally now was filled with balloons. They had singers--two young women in traditional costumes accompanied by an accordion player straight out of Central Casting. They worked their way up through the three-level restaurant until they landed in front of us. Everyone was given a different percussion instrument, and we all played along while the women sang. The Spouse got this, called a treschetka.

Meanwhile, a manager-type handed out gift packages to each table. These included a small bottle of Nemiroff vodka (!) and two shot glasses. Can you imagine? The booze manufacturer actually gets to give out samples of the product, and not just promotional knick-knacks bearing the product name?

It was silly, but fun. And we were having such a good time, we even ordered dessert. Well, we told Oxana, our waitress, "Pick something typically Ukrainian."

She brought us this: Kievsky tort. Meringue. Butter cream icing. Walnuts.


It was one of those "This is why I bought the ticket to be here" sort of evenings made so much better as it involved the roller coaster ride of disappointment and delight.

Later, we realized we should have taken the opportunity to go to the weekly expat mixer at Papa's. But we had such a memorable time together, I'm glad we didn't think of it at the time.

All of this was supposed to be the brief lead-in to a description of my day yesterday with assorted cat poops, socks with holes, a slip-and-fall on the ice, no heat at all in the apartment, interrupted Internet service, picking all the dried apples out of an entire box of the children's breakfast cereal because the children don't like dried apples in their breakfast cereal, a 7-ruble shortage in the Internet service provider account due to an unannounced anywhere 160-ruble rate hike, thinking my mobile phone had finally died for good only to discover later that it was faking, and home-made croque monsieurs.

But now I don't feel like it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lovely Moscow Wednesday

Isn't it just dreadful?

I took this picture about 2:30 this afternoon.

This is nicer. Even though it was bothering me.

Last I saw it, it was asleep in Skittles' little wardrobe.

She's got the right idea, though. It's a fine day for napping.

Speaking of happier days, today Babysitter Deluxe-O is coming so The Spouse and I can go to le concert offert par l’Ambassadeur du Luxembourg, dans le cadre de la Francophonie, au musée Pouchkine, suivi d’une réception à la résidence de l’Ambassade. Guess I'll find out exactly what this is when I get there, but I think it's a little concert followed by a reception.

We are happy to have Babysitter Deluxe-O back as she spent the last week in Moscow Hospital #64 having had a sort of emergency appendectomy. Visiting hours were limited to 5-7 weekdays and 11-1 on weekends, so when I finally thought I could get it together to visit her on Monday, she told me that there were NO visiting hours on Monday as it was "Sanitary Day."

The mind reels.

Plus, did you notice what I wrote? A week in the hospital. A WEEK!

She claims it was okay, which I think means there was toilet paper and maybe she didn't have to share the toilet with the whole floor, although I am sure she shared it with the whole ward. I'll get the scoop tonight.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Busy Weekend, Boring Blog Entry

Usually I am so done by the end of the week that when Friday afternoon finally comes around, I get in pajamas and stay there until Monday morning unless I am driven from the apartment in search of food or alcohol.

This was an unusually busy weekend. Although I am not sure how blog-worthy most of it was.

Friday night Skittles had a sleep-over. It was the high-point of her week. I took her (carefully prepared by her) backpack to school Friday afternoon and swapped it for her school bag before sending her off with her friends.

Then Baboo and I went to The Spouse's office to help him celebrate his fifth anniversary with his current law firm. Since he knows the Bratislava office better and feels a certain affection for them (this is the office that hired him, after all), he had me procure a case of champagne while I was in Bratislava recently. With the help of his former secretary and some teleconferencing technology, he fixed a date and time for a toast.

They had Szigeti. We had some dreadful semi-sweet Russian champagne I got as a gift from the grocery store for spending 1500 rubles (note to self: next time, take the chocolates instead . . . they are better).

After pouring the rest of the bottle down the sink in the office kitchen (even I have my limits), the three of us went for dinner at a Tibetan place not far from Red Square.

Saturday morning The Spouse went off to collect Skittles. I went to a workshop on cultural differences. It was a fun group of people and an amusing way to spend three hours on a drizzly, gray Moscow Saturday.

Baboo had a haircut at 6 with the Slow Lady (but she sure does a nice job). The kid has Mia Farrow hair to begin with, and still it took an hour. After that we met my Canadian friend and her husband for dinner at Taras Bulba.

Skittles was subdued and anti-social and, being the brilliantly observant parent, it took me a while to figure out that she was simply exhausted from her slumber party the night before. (Actually, I didn't figure it out at all. The Spouse did.) This from the kid who claims to be "Night proof!"

Sunday we had a brunch date with the family of a classmate of Skittles. He's Russian. She's Scottish, I think. They have two boys. We all sat around their kitchen table and ate crepes with sour cream and homemade cranberry jam (yum), croissants (not sure where she got these), fruit salad, sliced sausage, and cup after cup of strong coffee.

Then we went for a walk in Park Iskusstv, otherwise known as the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments. As usual, I did not bring my camera and although our hosts lent me the use of theirs, they have not yet emailed me any of the pictures I took (assuming that I managed to take anything decent at all). So you will just have to look at these pictures. And these pictures.

As my virtual friend, MoscowMom, says in that blog, one of the highlights of Park Iskusstv is the statue of Iron Felix (Felix Dzerzhinsky, of CHEKA) that was torn down from the front of KGB headquarters in 1991.

The other particularly noteworthy piece is this, a memorial to those who perished in the Gulags.

In looking for information about Park Iskusstv, the information I came across on the Internet said it was free and open to the public. But, as is often the case in Russia, that was not really true. Our hosts told us that one child could enter with each adult, something I interpreted as meaning the park wanted parents around to keep children from climbing on the statues. Then I thought maybe I misunderstood and perhaps the truth was that adults enter free as long as they are with a child.

In any case, when the eight of us arrived, we all walked right on in past the Ticket Booth Lady who gave us the stink-eye, but said nothing. Later, after we had gone to the art museum and wanted to cut through the park on our way back to the Metro, the woman sitting in the Ticket Booth on that side of the park refused to let us in. "That's what the sidewalks are for," she barked.

I think we could have entered by paying a modest entrance fee (maybe 20 rubles). I do know that The Spouse used some rather savory English vocabulary before deciding that this was all part of what makes Moscow Moscow.

"Are you still looking for the logic in this stuff?" he asked me when I quizzed him this morning about my understanding of the park rules.

Um . . . no. I guess not.

The museum we saw is the modern art collection of the Tretyakov Gallery.

I've been to the main branch twice, which houses what I would call the "Old Masters of Russian Painting." This is the modern collection (20th century and beyond).

I don't know anything about Russian art. I didn't know any of the painters except for Chagall and Kandinsky. I found one Kandinsky piece and nothing by Chagall, although the meager pamphlet I picked up said they were both in Room 9.

I did find these two pieces however, which I like very much.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Internet Porn

Well, if you define "porn" as "time-wasting things on the Internet that distract one from regular adult duties," then here are three submitted for your approval.

I must inform you now, in the interest of fair and full disclosure, that although there are sheep, there is no sex in any of these. That I know of.

The second item stems from my addiction to America's Next Top Model. Yes, yes, it is mindless drivel. And, like a really bloody car crash, I cannot look away.

So imagine my delight at discovering that Elyse Sewell, ANTM contestant from the first "cycle," was also a blogger. And an amusing one at that. Here is her blog.

I had to include three items, since we are, predominately, a Christian culture. Christopher Walken twitters. I don't even know what that means. But his posts are hysterical.

Sorry about the lack of real porn. But I'm sure most people can find it on the Internet without my help.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh, How I Have Tried to Avoid Writing About This

I have. I really have. But today was the tipping point.

I'm gonna talk about toilets.

What IS it about Russian toilets that they defy all efforts to stay clean? Just who, exactly, designed them so that nothing enters them in such a way as to efficiently exit them again without requiring a thorough scrubbing after each use?

I had this discussion with one of my favorite expats almost a year ago. This is how long I have been sitting on this topic, so to speak.

We came to the subject is a slightly oblique manner. We were talking about toilet to floorspace ratios and buffer zones. Because we both had smallish apartments (by American standards), and those apartments each had only one toilet.

Once, I lived in a house with six toilets. In Slovakia. But that is over the top even for an American.

Anyhow, how is it, we pondered, that while IN our Moscow toilets (for now we both have toilets that are separate from the rest of what I would call a "bathroom"), we are convinced that every sound, even the quietest sound, even the sound of one square of toilet paper floating gently towards the floor, is broadcast in THX throughout the entire apartment.

Yet if anyone else is in the toilet, we cannot hear anything. They could be giving birth. Or butchering a hog. I could be standing right outside the door.

And hear NOTHING.

This is a mystery of Russian design. And the miracle of close-quarters communal living.

So why can't they design a proper commode?

Favorite Expat felt that not only did the toilet bowl defy cleaning, but it was impossible to use without being, well, splashed. "It's awful!" she sobbed.

She says her husband suggested what he called "the Fisherman's Friend" (I think. It was something clever like that.).

"Just build yourself a little raft of paper," he told her. "Problem solved."

Did I mention here that we had this conversation at noon on a Friday in the Oktyabrskaya Starlite Diner?

We didn't get thrown out for making excessive noise while laughing, but the management had every right to protect the other customers from Toilet Talk During a Meal. The Spouse is nodding knowingly as I type this, as he believes I can turn even the most innocent conversation to the scatological and that mealtimes are especially dangerous with me if you are at all squeamish.

We did the raft thing in Slovakia where five of the six toilets in that house were what we came to learn were "Austrian" or "shelf" style. Blame Freud if you must, but the Austrians seem to have a penchant for self-examination of the most intimate kind. Below is a good example:

My Russian toilet looks deceptively normal.

So apologies for the topic today. We now return to our regular program.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What DO I Do All Day?

Handy Tip of the Day: Don't bother mopping the floors until after the water delivery guy comes. It's not his fault. It doesn't make sense to have him take his shoes off. And he wipes them off before he comes in. But still, he always tracks mud across the floors.

My delivery was scheduled for this morning, which means anytime between 8:00 and noon. I can't go anywhere until he gets here. And, as I mentioned, I am loathe to deal with the floors before he comes either.

I did do the breakfast dishes. (By hand. We don't have a dishwasher.)

And put away some laundry.

And washed another load of laundry.

And discovered that a lone purple sock found it's way into the load of whites.

And redid the laundry. This time with a shot of bleach.

Cleaned the bathroom sink (since there's only one, I have to do this task daily).

Made my bed.

Then I took pictures of the cats.

Here, Crooky is seeing if she can adjust the washer so it doesn't make white shirts slightly pink.

Here we are all playing Hide in the Closet.

And Cat-O is telling me he's sorry he put the purple sock in the load of whites.

But I don't think he's sincere.

The delivery guy has come and gone, and I've mopped my floors. Ate a little lunch.

Something tells me it's time to scoop the catbox now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Local Flavor

Talk about catering to your market. Those crazy Lay's people. I just had to buy these and see what they taste like.

On the left, obviously, is "red caviar" flavor ("krasnaya ikra"). On the right is "shashlik" flavor although, even up close, the cubes of meat on the package look like, well, hooves. There. I said it.

In the interest of accurate reporting, I tasted the caviar chips. They taste like butter. And I don't like them. Although I love butter.

You would think that butter + potatoes would be a great mix. And, I must point out that on the package the dish of caviar is garnished with a curl of butter. Because usually caviar is served on buttered bread.

So I would think the chips would taste like salt and butter.

Which they do.

But not in a good way.

At least they are not fishy.

I expected the shashlik flavored chips to have a barbecue flavor. But instead of that spicy flavor Americans tend to associate with barbecue-flavored chips, these taste like meat. Salty, powdered meat. I know that sounds disgusting, but they are actually rather good. Can't say I will buy these again, but it will not be so difficult finishing this bag.

The children, by the way, were totally disappointed in the chip flavors when The Spouse and I revealed the snacks we purchased for them. Ingrates.

On an unrelated, but highly relevant topic, I'm in a weird limbo, waiting to see how long, exactly, the beet will go on. Economic crisis and all. Should know more later today. I'll post news when I have it. Might have to re-title the blog "The Beet Goes Home."

Sunday, March 15, 2009


We went to a birthday party last night. It's not a big deal for most people to go to a party on a Saturday night. Not sure it's even blog-worthy. But we had a good time, and it was a real change of pace for us.

The party venue was the office of the host/birthday girl (actually, the party was on the occasion of two birthdays). This office, really a showroom, apparently specializes in very high end wallpapers, furniture, upholstery fabrics, and light fixtures. So the space was beautiful with the walls covered in hand-painted wallpaper (which, I believe, may have actually been silk).

The centerpiece was this huge chandelier of Murano glass.

The hysterical thing about this light fixture was that it seemed to be on some sort of flawed circuit that caused the light to turn off and on at regular intervals. The women who worked in this office said it inevitably turned off at crucial moments during the workday. The Spouse could not figure out why no one bothered to deal with the circuit breaker.

In the background you can get a glimpse of some of the wallpaper. I was not in the room for the discussion, but I believe something like this retails for around 600 euro a meter. Not the thing for a family with young children, that's for sure. If you thought The Great Purple Nail Polish/Sofa Spill of 2002 involved a lot of shouting, any piggy marks on this stuff would result in a Parental Nuclear Meltdown.

There was another great chandelier in the bedroom. This picture gives a better idea about the lovely wallpaper. If you are a friend of mine on Facebook, you can see other photos of the party there.

The party started at 8:00. We arrived fashionably late at 8:45. Our babysitter gets locked out of her dorm at 1:00 a.m., so we need to be home by 11:30 p.m. at the latest in order to give her time to get home. (I asked if she was bribing properly, but she tells me that is useless because the babushka who works the door falls asleep and no amount of pounding will wake her).

We left the party and were hurrying to the Metro when I realized it was 11:23. Panic! I called the sitter to ask if we had already missed the deadline. Poor thing was sleepy and said, "Do you mind if I just stay on the couch tonight?"

Do we mind? Of course not!

So back we went to the party.

Which, by this time, decided we should move on to a club. So we all tumbled out to Novy Arbat and hired "kamikaze taxis" (for a demonstration of how this works, see here). I always called these "gypsy cabs," but The Spouse says the Russians call them "kamikaze" because of their willingness to hurtle across four lanes of traffic to pick up a fare.

There are real taxis in Moscow, but the majority of Muscovites use these private cars that will pick up passengers. To hail one, you just stand on the street and hold out your arm. Sometimes two or even three cars will stop for you as you must haggle with the driver over the fare before entering the car. If you don't like what the driver wants, you walk back to the next car and see what you can negotiate there. The Exile, Moscow's infamous and now defunct alternative paper, has an article here about being a gypsy cab driver. The author explains it all much bettered than I ever could as I have now been in gypsy cabs a grand total of three times. Two of which were last night.

Two hundred rubles got us from Novy Arbat to Chistye Prudy. Where we waltzed right past the bouncers (no "feis control" here) and into this nightclub/bar/restaurant (Krisis Zhanre or Crisis Genre).

It was absolutely packed, but the crowd was really fun. It wasn't a gay bar, but we speculated that it might be gay-friendly. Or maybe Russians and Europeans totally screw up my gay-dar.

There was a dance floor crowded with people and a fun DJ, as well as a fun band (someone told me the singer was the club owner). So we all danced. The birthday girls bought drinks for everyone (in Russia, you buy the drinks on your birthday).

And next thing I knew it was almost 4:00 in the morning. The Spouse and I collected out coats from the coat-check lady, walked outside, and got ourselves another kamikaze taxi home. They were lined up outside the club two deep.

I must have gotten up around 9:30 this morning, but as soon as we fed the kids and waved goodbye to the sitter, I went back to bed until 3:00 p.m.

The funny or at least notable thing about last night was that I was, far and away, the oldest person not only at the party, but probably in the club as well. Some of this I figured out while talking to people. But the other revelations came today with the inevitable new Facebook invitations and examination of people's INFO.

It's weird. I am old enough to be some of these peoples' mother. But when I am hanging out with them I don't feel older. And looking at the photos later, I don't think, "Who let Grandma in?"

So far.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Everybody MOP!

I am in a mood. And if I vent to The Spouse, I feel bad for making him listen to me bitch, and he'll feel all responsible and guilty and that's not the point.

It's not just an expat thing (although my complaints are uniquely expat today, I think). But a male/female thing. Women know that the proper procedure is to
1. listen while I complain,
2. nod compassionately,
3. and then take me shopping.

Men want to fix things, and often there's nothing to be done anyhow except let me ride out the storm.

So you have to listen to my petty whining instead.

My mood came about because of the following:
1. The cat peed on the rug in the dining room a few days ago. (It was Cat-O, and I don't know what happened. He seemed distressed and embarrassed.)
2. Baboo's cello teacher spilled her cup of coffee on the living room rug on Wednesday.
3. I am ovulating as only someone who soon will no longer ovulate can ovulate. Think of that last, giant, black and hairy fly of autumn that will not die. This is what is happening to my reproductive system today. I am PMS Poster Child 2009.

Like the cat, Cello Teacher was also embarrassed by her accident. I laughed it off at the time and, because Skittles rushed to help clean it up, did not even see where it landed until today. There it was. A big, brown, coffee stain on the rug.

This and the prospect of trying to arrange for someone to come and clean my rugs professionally, coupled with the mystery of why I suddenly do not have long distance telephone service today, is not making for an I Heart Moscow feeling.

Okay, I filled a bucket with warm water and some laundry soap. I scrubbed at the coffee stain and it came right up. Easy-peasy when you have polyester rugs.

But then I was on a cleaning rampage. Which led to mopping. Which led to this entry.

Maybe how I mop is interesting. In the US, I had one of those giant, industrial mop buckets. It had wheels. And a detachable bucket I used to hoist into my utility sink in the laundry room to fill and dump. It also had a wringer that attached to the side of the bucket. The whole thing was the size of a Mini Cooper, but, damn, it worked.

The Eastern European method is slightly different.

I clean my own house here in Moscow. Many expats hire someone. I have done this in the past. But the size of my apartment (maybe 110m2) makes paying someone to clean while I sit on the couch and eat bonbons seem inappropriate. Further, I was intimidated by the last cleaning professional I used (I think it was in 2003) . . . a one-time offer, paid for by a sympathetic friend, who thought I could use a treat.

Except that her cleaning lady didn't like my million dollar Dyson vacuum and thought I should buy another, easier-to-use vacuum.

In her defense, I had, at the time, misplaced all the attachments. So vacuuming the couch meant lifting the entire machine up on the cushions and having at it. At least this is what I always did.

She seemed to think that was above and beyond the scope of her job description.

As I said, the attachments somehow re-emerged since then, and I no longer vacuum furniture this way. But the handle pinches, and I just don't want to have to defend my choice of vacuum to anyone! It is a sore point with me.

But I digress.

I was explaining how I mop.

It is the Slovak method, which is a variation on a technique I saw in Argentina (where I did not mop my own floors, but instead paid someone else more than it would cost me now for a similar size apartment while I sat on my couch in Buenos Aires and ate bonbons). There they used a squeegee instead of a broom. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

First, you assemble your equipment: bucket with soapy water, gloves, broom, specially-purchased piece of yellow terrycloth-like fabric designed for cleaning floors, and a clothespin.

You put the cloth in the bucket, wring it out, and lay it on the floor like this:

Fold the cloth over the broom:

Now, this part is optional. But I like to clip it in place with a clothespin to keep the cloth in place. I clip the pin on my shirt sleeve while I am rinsing and wringing out the cloth.

Rinse and repeat as needed.

And there you go. Mopping, Eastern European style.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Three Cheers for Aeroflot!

Can you believe I said that?

But seriously. A Vigilant Beet-nik reports that my blog got a mention in the latest issue of their in-flight magazine.

Shame on me for noticing on our return from Bratislava that with the new month came a new issue. Yes, I noticed the new cover. But I never even picked it up.

If you get a chance, save one for me, will you?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

But I Digress

A rather mundane day, today.

Skittles has a half day of school on Wednesdays (except for the once-a-month Free Wednesday, which is coming up next week). Baboo never has school on Wednesdays (Ahhhh! Bliss!). So she lounges and sleeps late.

Skittles' passport is due to expire in February 2010. Assuming we are still around that long (in today's economic crisis climate, nothing is certain), we are renewing our 12-month visas in April . . . which means her passport needs to be valid at least until April 2010.

So off to the US embassy we go. All four of us. Because when it is a child applying for a passport or a passport renewal, both parents have to go too. And Baboo gets dragged along.

I had not yet been inside this embassy. Generally, I hate going to the embassy. The security measures. The fear I'm going to be there when it gets blown up. It's more the tedium than the anxiety. But still. At best, it is inconvenient.

The Spouse intended to meet us there, but a phone call delayed him. Since Skittles finishes school at noon, I was worried that the girls would be faint with hunger. When we exited the Metro at Barrikadnaya, I looked for a kiosk selling something I could
1. recognize and
2. order.

There's always Crap Dogs, but I'm not a fan of the crap dog. Outside the Barrikadnaya Metro are a lot of food vendors, especially those selling kebabs and Armenian-type filled breads.

The day was gray and drizzly. The girls and I settled on a vendor. I looked at the sign. The kebabs looked good. But it seemed like a conversation-intense endeavor ("Do you want A? Or B? With X? Or with Y?"). I didn't want to have to struggle that hard.

The Armenian-type filled breads seemed safer. I could not determine how to say the item stacked behind the kiosk window. But I could see from the big sign over the kiosk window that I had choices: with meat, with cheese, with meat and cheese, and some other option I was not interested in deciphering.

"Which one do you want?" I polled the children.

We all voted for "with cheese." I can say "with cheese."

Baboo tried to sound out exactly what the bread product was called.

"Screw it," I said. "I'm saying 'Three. With cheese'."

We agreed this would work.

I approached the window. "Hello," I said in Russian to the nice lady inside. "Three. With cheese." I gestured towards the stacks of bread to my right.

"Kebabs with cheese?" She gestured to my left. Where the kebab meat was. She seemed confused.

"No. This." I gestured right. That made more sense to her. I don't think kebabs generally come with cheese.

"You want these warmed up?" she asked.

Oh, thank God. I understood her.

Yes, yes, that would be cool.

"You want rfkhjgfhr gfhqoi? A little bit?" she asked.

Huh? Uh oh. I am stumped.

I turn to Baboo. "Something, something, a little bit?" I ask. Baboo shrugs. She is stumped as well.

"I don't know," I tell the lady sadly.

Apparently it was not crucial. She felt my pain. And took my 60 rubles.

We ate our Armenian-type breads in the rain, waiting for The Spouse who, now freed from his phone call, said he would meet us at the embassy.

Now, the problem I was anticipating was the photos. I already had pictures done of Skittles while we were in Bratislava because I knew where to go and how it works. Yeah, there is a photo place on the corner here that I walk past every freakin' day. But I've never been in there. I've been to the little booth in the Tesco in the Bratislava Old Town a million times.

Except Dude there cropped the photos too small. What, exactly, is 2 inches by 2 inches in metric? I said, "For passport" and, Dude, he understood. And her head was big enough. But they weren't no 2 inches by 2 inches these photos. No siree.

I showed them to the Nice Man at the embassy. And, to my surprise, he gave me the address for a nearby photo place, complete with instructions in Russian (turns out it is 5 cm by 5 cm). It was the kind thing to do, but, honestly, I did not expect that from my embassy. Color me impressed.

I had looked for a photo place while walking from the Metro to the embassy because I suspected I would need one. But these small businesses are often tucked in the basement of apartment buildings or accessible through courtyard passages. I knew enough about Moscow to know one would certainly be nearby and that I might have a snowball's chance in hell of locating it on my own. So having Nice Man hand me the address was a huge help.

Because, sure enough, you had to walk behind one of those gigantic apartment buildings to find the door, which led us through a rabbit warren in the building basement. Yes, there were signs on the front of the building (and no, the basement was not at all scary). But I could have wandered that neighborhood for hours without stumbling on the shop.

So we got photos. I took them back to the embassy. Nice Guy told us it would be two weeks. Then we went for sushi. Because The Spouse was hungry. And who doesn't like sushi?

Later, coming out of our Metro on the way home, I saw a woman selling strawberries. 250 grams of strawberries for 100 rubles. Today that's $2.85 and a BARGAIN! I bought the same size package in Bratislava last week for a euro (which is these days $1.20), I swear. But what can you do?

I bought some. The girls and I ate them with wonderful Russian sour cream (only 15 percent fat this time . . . I usually buy something richer).

I hope she's there again tomorrow.

The story of the strawberries was what I sat down here to write about. How I got off on the other details escapes me. Maybe it's the wine?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Peasants Are Revolting

Yesterday was a holiday. The kids had school, but The Spouse did not have to go to work. So after an early morning coffee with a girlfriend, I met him in Red Square.

I'm sorry, but that does sound exotic, doesn't it? I met him in Red Square. I'm gonna miss getting to say things like this after we've left Moscow.

We decided to go here:
This is the Moscow State Historical Museum on Red Square. You can read about it here. And here. The official website is here, but it is only in Russian. Not much help to the tourist. Screw you, tourist! Learn Russian like the rest of us!

This is the ticket to the museum, front and back:

Russia can be like that. Often doors into museums and churches are so NOT marked as to seem inappropriate to walk through. This one was an exception, however. Anyone--even the Russian-language-challenged tourist--can easily see where to enter. And the nice lady taking tickets will very helpfully explain that you need to go up the stairs and keep turning left to follow the exhibit in a logical order.

"Go up, up, up. Then left, left, left," she told us.

"She sure was nice," I said to The Spouse as we went first to the coat check. He agreed.

"Too bad she didn't speak a word of English," I pointed out.

Russia isn't always user-friendly. I sometimes wonder what my mother-in-law, for example, would do if someone dropped her into Russia, and she decided to go visit the Moscow State Historical Museum on Red Square by herself. She probably would see the exhibit all backwards or something.

In fact, we did go through the top floor of the museum the wrong way. We regressed from just before the Revolution to the War of 1812 or so.

We realized this as we were standing in front of a display case.

"Oh. Hey. The peasants are revolting," I said.

Without missing a beat, The Spouse replied, "Yeah, and you don't smell so good yourself."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I'm BACK, Baby!

Spent the past two weeks or so with the girls in Bratislava.

Yeah. I know.

Who goes to Bratislava for a holiday? I do, I guess.

It was lovely, actually, and very nostalgic. After all, we lived there for almost seven years.

Somehow, I bullied a nice man I don't really know all THAT well into letting us stay in his apartment while he went to Dubai to celebrate his 30th birthday (Do I really know men that young? Guess I do.). Turns out the apartment was in one of my favorite corners of the city (off Palisady, right next door to Traja Musketieri). It is a part of town that I rarely got to walk through, although I always regretted that. So for about a week, I got to look at the buildings closely, peek into gardens, consider the renovations. It was a treat.

Then, we moved over to an apartment behind the Tesco in the center of town. This business belongs to the fellow who is partly responsible for Cat-O (his girlfriend at the time was the one who called and said they had a kitten if I wanted it . . .).

The cool thing about this location is that it is right where the novel, The Chess Machine, takes place. I bought the book on my mom's recommendation, since she said it takes place in 1770s Bratislava (or Pressburg, as it would have been called then). And immediately I realized that if you take the names of the streets, and change them from German to Slovak, I know exactly where all the action took place. Donaustrasse becomes Dunajska. Herrenstrasse becomes Panska. I've walked those streets for years, and it made for a very fun read. I can't say if the book would be so enjoyable if I didn't know intimately every block.

How does Bratislava compare to Moscow, you may ask?

It sure is cheaper. I saw heads of broccoli for about a euro (Slovakia went to the euro on January 1). Here they cost about 150 rubles (just under $5). I bought strawberries for a song (they are still well over $10 for a box here). Skittles got her bangs trimmed for 3 euro.

No stray dogs. All the dogs we saw were with someone.

More graffiti. There isn't much in our part of Moscow. Maybe farther out in the suburbs there is.

People seem so young there. And less jaded. But perhaps more naive? (The elevator in the Au Park mall still never ceases to amaze.)

It's so small. Even without a car there, getting around via public transportation or just on foot was easy and sometimes downright pleasant.

And quiet. I often woke to the sounds of birds in the mornings. Walking here, especially with a hat on, makes it impossible to hear anything. The traffic is very loud.

And sleepy. I was noticing how many cafes and restaurants in the Old Town close at 10:00. I think there is a noise ordinance.

But my favorite part? I must confess. My favorite part of Slovakia was always Austria. Last Saturday I got to go to what I consider The Happiest Place on Earth. Peter Szigeti poured glass after glass of champagne for me to try until I happily rolled back to the car (I was not driving), and my dear friends took me to Nagelreiter for lunch. Grilled chicken salad. Sigh.

That was bliss.

Speaking of which, here I am with one of my favorite people in the whole world. We're sort of a mess in this photo, not just because we had drunk a lot of wine before bullying her darling husband into taking photos of us.

It is hard to tell in the photo, but she's probably on her way to a Harry Potter-type scar on her forehead. She wasn't zapped by an evil wizard, but turned around suddenly during play rehearsal and cracked her head into another actor.

I, on the other hand, am a victim of my own inability to learn. To learn that when you go to have your eyebrows plucked in Slovakia, and they say, "Farbit'?" ("Color?") and you say "JEMNE!" ("lightly" or "gently") that you cannot trust them not to turn you into Baby Jane.

I will never learn. But you can benefit from my stupidity. Just say, "No."

It has faded significantly since this photo. But still The Spouse paused this morning during breakfast, and said I looked like this: