Sunday, April 26, 2009

Locks of Love

Today we went to Tsaritsino. My virtual friend has great photos of it here.

Actually, while I liked it and I will go again, she makes it look better than it was. To me, anyhow.

But, that said, we did notice something . . . Russian-y, as my kids would say. I had never seen this before.

Rather than carving their initials on trees, Dairy Queen picnic tables, or car dashboards, Russian lovers who wish to demonstrate the strength of their relationship purchase a lock, lock it to something, and then throw away the key.

At Tsaritsino we saw locks on the bridge . . . this one is for Svetlana and Sergei.

And on the wire in the photo below . . .

And on a gate in the palace . . .

It's rather popular.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Beets and Boots

I am a hypochondriac. You should know this about me.

My latest ailment, real or imagined, is that my liver is not right. Well, let me rephrase: sometimes I think I am aware of my liver. As an organ.

Hence the spate of online "Am I an Alcoholic?" tests.

Okay, it seems I am not an alcoholic by anyone's definition, although I do look forward to it and am willing to start by myself.*

*I should clarify also that no one else thinks I am either. It's not like I have been taking convoluted routes home so as to avoid interventions or something. And all the expat types I have floated the idea to just laughed and laughed.

What I stumbled upon, though, while googling ways to improve my liver's happiness is the one food that seems to come up tops on everyone's list of Things to Eat for a Healthy Liver.


Yeah. You read that right.


Isn't that an interesting little bit of culinary trivia?

In a complete change of topic, I figured out something else the other day.

The Spouse has a shoe that needs to be fixed. It's a sewing thing, not a gluing thing or else I and my tube of Handy-Dandy Super Glue would have already come to the rescue.

But he needs something to wear while his shoes go off to some yet-to-be-determined shoe repair place.

He was going to buy himself a new pair of shoes on Monday while he was in Bratislava because he knew where to go. There's a nice, big Bat'a shoe store right by the Tesco in the center of town, and he could just blow in there and buy himself a pair of dress shoes.

Except he didn't. He ran out of time or something.

Oh, and he also broke his shoe lace.

So on Wednesday, the girls and I were on our way to his office (a shirt emergency had arisen). Coincidentally, the street we were on, Nikol'skaya ulitsa, which is just off Red Square and which he walks down every day on his way to the office, is lined with shoe shops.

And shoe repair kiosks.

Which sell shoe accessories.

Like shoe laces.

I found myself standing in front of one such kiosk. The shoe-related items were all displayed on the outside of the structure, which is a small, telephone-booth-sized affair. With a sliding door. While I was selecting my shoe laces (they only come in two lengths, shoe-length and boot-length, although you can choose from a wide assortment of colors), I was aware of the shoe-repair guy (cobbler? shoe smith?) inside his little booth, pounding away at the sole of someone's shoe. It was a sunny day, but cold. He had his door shut.

He realized I was prepared to make my purchase and slid open his door to collect my money (30 rubles for a pair of the shorter, shoe-length laces, in case you are pricing the market).

That was when I realized that the shoe he was fixing belonged to a woman who was sitting, knee-to-knee, in the tiny booth with him.

AH HA! This is how it works!

You don't need a back-up pair of shoes. You go to the shoe repair guy, you sit there in his little booth, making chit-chat, perhaps having a cup of tea or instant coffee, while he fixes your shoe right then and there.

I cannot, for one moment, imagine all 6'6" of The Spouse, folded up in a telephone booth, knees practically to his ears, while he makes idle chit-chat with the nice Tajik shoe repair guy.

The mind reels.

I'll close with a little Paolo Nutini because I've been humming this song lately, and he's just so damned cute.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back-to-Back Aeroflot Plugs

When The Spouse flew to Bratislava this week, he discovered that The Beet Goes On has been in Aeroflot's in-flight magazine for two months in a row! I tried to upload scans of the magazine pages, but for some reason it didn't work.

If you are interested, the sections they highlighted are below.

In March they included this from here:

"Do you know why there are no stained glass windows in Russian Orthodox churches?" Skittles asked me as we walked home from school this afternoon.

I had never thought about it, actually. But now that she's mentioned it, I don't recall seeing much stained glass here.

She learned in school that the traditional Russian Orthodox churches felt it was inappropriate to create holy images on something breakable. This is partly why icons have so many layers of paints, says she.

In April they featured this quote from here.

The little street that leads to the store is quiet, but suddenly two cars come racing towards one another. They reach each other at a point where cars are parked on both sides, forcing them into a Mexican standoff. As I approach the street, neither one gives to let the other through.

I cross the street, watching to see who will back down.

They are still sitting there, nose-to-nose.

I get to the trash dumpsters at the end of our "driveway." They are still sitting there, staring each other down.

This is one of the many reasons I do not drive in Moscow.

While the magazine is, sadly, not online, an "inside source" tells me their circulation is 500,000. It is distributed to economy class passengers on Aeroflot (and Aeroflot-Nord and Aeroflot-Don . . . ). Still. I'm very pleased.

While in Own-Horn-Blowing-Mode, I might also point out the Blogger's Choice Award badge in the upper-right corner of the page. If you are so inclined, you can click on it (or here) to vote for my blog. You can only vote once, and you must register to do so (sorry), but it is a bigger and better-respected contest than the one I was in before. I'd be much obliged.

Not much else to report. It's still very cold here, but sunny. A Loyal Beet-nik made a comment about how we have gone directly to Sleep-Deprivation-Season as the days are already so freakishly long. It is weird given how wintry it still is.

Oh, and none of the online quizzes I have taken this week think I am an alcoholic. Always good news.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Current Temperature: My thermometer says +3C. But the Internet puts Moscow at -4C. Maybe that's out by the airport. In any case, that's not Practically-the-Merry-Month-of-May Weather. Although, in fairness, and stop me if I've said this before, but I distinctly remember shivering in line at the movies in Pittsburgh one spring (this would be . . . oh, maybe 1993 . . .) waiting to see something with "the incomparable Gong Li," and muttering "Global warming, my ass."

Jour de Cowboy Update: Skittles reports that the hamburgers "had mayonnaise and pickles and vegetables you could not scrape off."

Baboo was only slightly appeased: "Yeah, but you got frites, didn't you."

Skittles, "Oh, yeah. And they were good."

Sharing Is Caring: Do you know about Warren's Sausages? Because if you live here in Moscow, you should. I had the Spicy Thai ones yesterday, and they were, indeed, VERY spicy. But I think my favorites are the Classic Chipolatas.

Yeah, their website is a mess. Sorry about that, but it's not my website. Sometimes I can't seem to find anything in English, and other times I can. I can read the product names in Russian if I must, but it takes too damn long. Today, I was able to see the order form in English, and linked it here for you. But that's not always the case. Oh, and the two times I have ordered these, the delivery was serendipitous, but not at all when I was expecting it. But that pretty much describes everything about Moscow.

Doesn't sound like much of a product endorsement, but, really, it is.

I Have a Theory: The reason I sat down to write this post at all was because I was struck by this idea yesterday.

It has come to my attention lately that, socially, we are running (if what we do can be called that) with a distinctly younger crowd. These people are roughly 25 to 34 or so. Obviously, some of them are women (and very cool ones . . . I cite Mirka, from Slovakia, as a prime example). But it seems to me that the ones I interact with most are men.

Very young men.

Let me state now, and for the record, that there is absolutely no hanky-panky going on here. No flirting. These are attractive men, but it just doesn't have that vibe. And, no, in spite of the fact I draw gay men to me like moths to a flame, my gay-dar isn't picking up anything.

For example, Adorable French Guy always calls me to arrange an outing. Even though he knows The Spouse and has his contact information, too. Last week he called and asked about The Spouse even. "Do you want to talk to him?" I asked. "Non . . ." and he went on to suggest a museum.

Why does he want to talk to me?

My first thought was that maybe I'm sort of Acting Den Mother. All of the reassurances of Mom with none of the guilt. Because being an expat is tough work, even if you are young and resilient. At least I hope I don't remind him of Mom. Ew. Although I don't really want to be Mrs. Robinson either. Double ew.

But one of my good friends and fellow expats suggested something I like better. She theorized that maybe the "younger ones" like to have older, married women friends because we're totally non-threatening.

Like gay men are for us? Eureka.

I'm clinging to that idea anyhow.

For Those Who Are Following This Saga: My back is feeling a little better today. I am counting the minutes until my gym membership kicks in, and I can go swimming every day.

Twice? The Spouse brought me a copy of Aeroflot's April in-flight magazine, and my blog is mentioned there. Page 214. It was in the March issue, too. Хорошо!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Misery Loves Company

It's snowing. I wore my down-filled coat today.

Why on earth would so many people end up living in a place with such lousy weather? I mean, really.

Please don't tell me how lovely it is where you are. And stop sending me photos of your beach vacation/flower garden/backyard barbecue. I don't think I can take it. The Spouse called me today from Bratislava to tell me how nice the weather there was. He was genuinely thrilled.

I started to cry.

Oh, and there's a street dog corpse in the alley in front of the kids' school.

Baboo is crushed because tomorrow (Tuesday) is Jour de Cowboy in the school cantine. This is the one day out of the school year that they will serve hamburgers. And on Tuesdays she eats a packed lunch because she's at the other school.

Everybody's mood is merde.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Eggs and I

"Do you mind if I blow the eggs?" I asked The Spouse yesterday. We were in the kitchen, and he was making the Traditional Weekend Pancakes From Scratch for the children.

When he finished spluttering in his coffee, he said, one eyebrow raised, "Why, of course not. It makes the eggs so happy."


I had this brainstorm because the girls wanted to decorate Easter eggs, but, remembering vividly my own childhood, I was loathe to boil up dozens of eggs that we would then either

1. have to eat at every meal for the next week

or (and this was always worse)

2. discover, mummified but redolent of sulfur nonetheless, months after Easter.

I had never blown eggs before, but it wasn't that hard. I took a corn-on-the-cob holder, which has thin spikes, and used that to poke a hole in each end, making one slightly larger than the other. Then I just blew hard on the smaller hole while the contents of the egg squirted out into a bowl.

The girls put the wrappers on the eggs. I put them in a bowl, and then poured a kettle of boiling water over them.

The wrappers magically shrank right onto the egg shells. Et voilà.

The happiest eggs in town.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Life Is Definitely Weird. But in a Good Way.

First, I have to ask: what's up with this? Is it really what they say it is? I'm . . . speechless.

I also need to point out this article, as sort of a follow up to my own Cosmonautics Day report. Disappointed. Really.

And third (and then I really will stop, I promise), it seems our Deirdre Dare has had her own issues with Jack recently. For the record, I published mine first.

This morning The Spouse had a conference call at 0800. Nothing so weird about that, you say. Except in Moscow, offices get going around 10:00 (and the work day lasts until 7:00 p.m.). This meant I had to take the children to school today.

So I did. I dropped off Baboo. Then I dropped off Skittles. I strolled over to the grocery store near the school where I scored two of these. Well, not this brand, but you get the idea. I got the only two in that store. They go in these. Which may or may not ultimately be responsible for my future dementia. Certainly won't be the vodka.

Then I slowly ambled home, taking a new-to-me route. Just because. It was cold this morning (we could see our breath), but sunny. The world felt good.

I put away my groceries. I did the dishes. I turned on the computer. And saw this email:

Can I buy you a cup of coffee on Friday if you are free. I am in Moscow for some hours and just thought it might be nice to try the meeting someone from online. I just don't know Moscow and rather than sitting reading in an airport or wandering around aimlessly, I thought I would try this.

We can swap expat wife stories or just drink.

It was signed by a woman who I knew from one of the expat forums, but had never met. By now it was probably around 10:00. I sent her an SMS, and we arranged to met outside my Metro station.

And I'm so glad I did. She was the nicest woman. Lives in a town about three hours by plane from Moscow. While I was happy to have a coffee with her, since she hadn't really ever seen anything in Moscow, I told her, "Let's go see Red Square."

So we did.

Below is Lenin's Tomb. If you can read Cyrillic, you can see L-E-N-I-N spelled out along the top. Above the name is where the Russian heads of state used to stand for parades. If you ever saw any of those photos of those serious old Cold War Communist guys, that's usually where they were standing.

Along the right side of the tomb, against the wall of the Kremlin (That crenelated wall? That's the Kremlin.) you can see two busts. You cannot see that there are also plaques along the wall. All those old Soviet leaders are buried along there (except Yeltsin, but including Gagarin). Unfortunately, you are not allowed to get close enough to see anything.

We went inside St. Basil's, the interior of which is more beautiful and jewel-like than Sainte-Chapelle.

I don't know why I had never done this before. It was easy. By that, I mean the ticket booth and the entrance were easy to locate and easy to manage.

Here's my friend, taking photos of the exterior.

Then we walked through GUM. I had only been inside once before. This time it was all done up for spring, complete with fake cherry trees and canned bird tweets.

While in GUM we went in Gastronom #1, which is a gorgeous tribute to what food and drink are supposed to be. The French moms say the bread there is quite good. I often see them carrying bags of it when they come to meet their children after school.

I didn't buy anything, but I could not resist taking a picture of these two. Say it with me: awwwww. They even have little icing mushrooms on their backs.

I want one.

BUT, and this brings me to my next topic, I am BACK ON MY NO CARB DIET, BABY! And I have been soooooo good this week. I have even lost a kilo. So no chocolate hedgehogs for me today, thanks.

I did finally break down and bought a gym membership. The Spouse, who recently acquired his own gym membership, has apparently grown weary of hearing me itemize my aches, pains, and other curses of old age. "I can't take another 30 years of this," he told me this morning. "I think a gym membership for you will do us both a world of good."

I won't actually have it in my hand until May 12, but I committed.

The way it works in Moscow is that you pony up an obscene amount of money to go to a gym for a year. If, for some reason, you have to leave town, you can sell the remainder of your membership. What I bought is good through January 2010. And for this I will pay 40,000 rubles (about $1200 US at 33 rubles to the dollar), which is a great price.

Why so expensive, you may ask. Rents, I guess. Even now, although prices are coming down, real estate in Moscow is nose-curlingly expensive.

Now what about the two months this summer when I am in Ohio, you may ask. Good question. Most gyms allow you to freeze your membership for periods like this. I can freeze mine for two months. So my membership will actually extend through March 2010.

I stalled about this initially, NOT because of the price (because it is a decent price by Moscow standards), but because, you see, I took most of my gym gear home last summer and left it there.

I have no gym shoes here. Nary a sports bra.

I don't want to run around Moscow looking for a decently priced pair of gym shoes when I have two pairs sitting in a closet in the US. I've stuck my head in sporting goods stores in the center, and the prices are mind-boggling. I have heard that there is a French chain called Decathlon here, and the French say the prices are in line with those in France. I was thinking I could try to find a Decathlon store when I realized . . .

This gym has a pool!

And since I seem to have the Mother of All Plantar Fasciitis Cases lately . . . yeah, yeah, I know. Nothing is more boring than someone singing My Medical Problems. But my point is that until this gets better, swimming seems ideal anyhow.

Coincidentally, my friend today has the same problem (and the same size feet as mine, too!). She recommended always wearing shoes in the house (I do wear my fake Birkenstocks inside because I had noticed that walking barefoot was painful).

"Do you own a pair of Crocs?" she asked.

Do I!
I shall give Muscovite fashionistas the proverbial finger with my bling-ed Crocs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dee Dum, Dee Dum, Delightful, Redux

When I opened the curtains this morning, the sky was overcast. Our streak of nice-ish weather seemed over.

A while later, after The Spouse and children left, I looked out the window and saw people on the street carrying umbrellas.

That's not good.

Just a moment ago, I thought it suddenly seemed quite dark in here. I looked up.

It's snowing.

The kids went to school today in sneakers.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's Moscow. Expats tell me they've seen snow here in June.

But, see, the thing is . . . we now also have . . .


I had to shut the windows last night and turn on the AC (since the central heat is still on . . . good thing, too, cuz, it's like, snowing out there . . .). I went through my stash of plug-in mosquito repellent gadgets. I have no repellent to put in them. I even looked at the grocery store yesterday, but they still have the shoe polish display front and center.

It's too early for the mosquito repellent products.

But poor Spouse and Skittles: mosquitoes ignore me, but find them delicious. Especially Skittles. There was a rush for the anti-itch gel this morning.

In cheerier news, I seem to have solved the pussy willow mystery. All over town, I have seen people carrying small sprays of pussy willow. There are often babushkas outside the Metro selling them. I like pussy willow okay, but always preferred forcing forsythia in an effort to bring a little spring indoors.

Well, it seems there is a religious significance to the pussy willow here. It's not Palm Sunday, but Pussy Willow Sunday.

Palm branches weren't something one found this far north (although, you don't see many palm trees in the American Midwest either, yet everyone has a palm for Palm Sunday). Further, it seems, the people of Jerusalem cut "leafy branches" to lay before Jesus. The Orthodox Church doesn't see any strict requirement there, so any type of branch may be used.

So there you have it: your fun fact for the day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Baboo, who is 10-going-on-35, has fencing class (or escrime, as they call it in French) on Tuesdays after school.

When everyone is there, the class has about eight kids in it, all roughly the same age, give or take two years. These are not beginners, but all kids who have had at least one year of fencing. This is Baboo's second year.

There are some kids Baboo always beats.

There are some kids she sometimes beats.

There is one she never beats.

A girl who is in 7th grade. Not only is she a kick-ass fencer, she's tall and beautiful and classy and totally cool. She is a great role model. I want to hang out with her.

Lately, it has happened that Baboo can regularly score one point against the Cool Girl. The matches go to three or four points, depending on what the instructor wants them to do (and I think she decides based on the ability of the kids paired in each match).

CG always wins all her matches, but, as I said, lately Baboo gets at least one point in on her. I also believe that competing against CG is a learning experience. Anyhow, Baboo is philosophical about her losses. Recently I told her, "The day you finally beat her, that will be really something."

Yesterday, Baboo beat CG, 4 to 3!

Yes, I know I am being a total Obnoxious Parent, but it was just so cool to watch this match. I am no expert in what I am looking at when the kids compete, but I could see that suddenly the skills moved up a huge step to a completely new level.

For one, I have never seen my kid move so fast. She also seemed to crack CG's defenses over and over again. Like a cobra.

But the two of them . . . it was pure poetry. I told Baboo afterwards, "Don't expect her to make the same mistakes next week. This girl is too smart. It may be a long time before you beat her again."

This photo is old . . . from last June. But it's such a lovely photo of Baboo in her fencing gear. And I'm so proud of her today.

On a completely unrelated topic, below are some Easter egg decorations I bought in the grocery store yesterday. Each strip has five colored bands the consistency of cling-wrap. As I understand it, you put the band on the egg, and then drop the whole thing into hot or boiling water. The heat shrinks the plastic onto the egg.

I have never tried it, not being a big fan of hard-boiled eggs. But they were too lovely to pass up. I just had to share.

The last one is my favorite, I think. If you click on the images, you can see them larger and in more detail.

Monday, April 13, 2009

It's Not Easter Yet (Not Here, Anyhow)

It's not.

Russian Orthodox Easter is next weekend. Now, I thought Lent started at the same time as Maslenitsa (the blini festival week), but it seems that happens the week before Russian Orthodox Lent begins (as opposed to the day before). I don't think the concept of Ash Wednesday exists here either, but what do I know? Drop a comment if you are better versed on the topic than I am.

Now, in some parts of Moscow, the Easter Bunny was organized. I am seriously impressed.

Chez Beet, he wasn't so on the ball. In fact, EB had a difficult time finding much of anything, although his provisioning was limited to what was available at the Sedmoi Continent grocery stores. He didn't even look in the boxes in my bedroom for the sad, crumpled, handle-less baskets that have been passed off as Easter baskets Chez Beet, lo these many years abroad. With the same tired Easter grass I have recycled for, oh, maybe the last six or seven years . . . Because you don't generally see what you and I would call Easter baskets or Easter basket grass on offer in the shops in Eastern Europe.

So each girl got a giant chocolate egg. They have now had them over 24 hours and have not yet even opened the boxes. I can't believe the self-restraint.

And lots of these gorgeous Russian chocolates. Two of my personal favorites are below. Not only are they beautifully wrapped, they taste pretty darn good, too. I especially love the four little bears.

And gummi bears. Since they like gummi bears. And I don't particularly. So there is little risk I will eat them.

All artfully arranged on a plate. Because it was late and EB was tired.

Maybe Orthodox EB will do a better job.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

In Which We Actually Venture OUT on a Weekend

It's April 12 and that means it's Cosmonautics Day (День Космонавтики) here in Russia. A newer and slightly separate celebration on this day is called Yuri's Night. The point is that today is the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight in 1961.

We rarely venture out on weekends, generally finding ourselves too exhausted from just our weekly routines. But this morning we were out of bacon. I had to run to the grocery store before breakfast, and it was just so darn . . . NICE outside. Really, there was no other word for it.

So I returned with my bacon and a mission: drag the family out of the apartment today . . . anywhere out of the apartment.

Now, one of the odd things about my experiences in Moscow is the number of virtual friends I have. There are two in particular who I have never met, save through our exchanges on the Internet. They each have blogs that I enjoy. Moscowmom's blog is noteworthy for her excellent photos of Moscow (she makes it look really good!) and her very kid-friendly activity suggestions. TRex mostly makes me laugh.

Both these bloggers had mentioned a place called the All-Russia Exhibition Center (but through a long series of name changes, it is referred to as VDNKh, which is an abbreviation of Выставка Достижений Народного Хозяйства or Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnovo Khozyaystva if you can't read Cyrillic . . . and in case you cared). The easiest way to explain it all is to send you here to read more and look at photos of it in its former glory.

The Metro stop there even carries the former name of VDNKh. When you exit, you see all these yellow mini-vans, which are called marshrutki (маршрутки). If you speak French, the name comes from "march route" and means "fixed route taxis." They travel a fixed route, but with no fixed stops. You pay a flat fee and then tell the driver when you want to get off.

I have never used one.

But I digress. There, near the VDNKh, is the Space Museum. I read a story about it in the latest issue of the Moscow News. Seems the museum chose this auspicious day for their long-awaited grand re-opening, a concept that became painfully obvious to me as we, along with most of Moscow, exited the Metro around noon. EVERYONE was going to the VDNKh or the Space Museum.

To me, one of the highlights of the museum was the promise of an exhibition of the taxidermied Belka and Strelka, space dogs who survived their journeys and returned to Earth. But the lines to get in the museum stretched back all the way to Red Square. So we contented ourselves with enjoying the public art and the sunny day.

First, there is the "unmissable" Monument to the Conquerors of Space.

The Moscow News describes it as "soaring up on its titanium exhaust plume, which catches fire in the spring sunlight."


I could not fit the whole thing in my viewfinder, so you will have to see it here.

Seated at the base of the monument is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. You can read more about him here, but I got the impression he was a recluse and a bit of a nutball.

Leading to the monument is what is called Cosmonauts' Alley. This is lined with busts of famous Russian cosmonauts, including Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Here are the girls in front of Yuri.

Look here for more and better quality photos.

Across from the busts, we discovered a line of classic Russian cars. It was a very user-friendly exhibit: children were not only welcome to climb inside, but encouraged to honk the car horns. Over Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade (er . . . not all that Russian last time I checked) the horns sounded until, rather suddenly, all the owners leaped into their vehicles and drove away.

The base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space is decorated with fabulous friezes, in the style of what I call "People's Art," but which scholars probably call "socialist realism."

Lenin leads the people forward, to infinity . . . and beyond!

I know I sound snarky, but I really do love this sort of public art.

Following the model of the Russians all around us, we posed rather than just standing and allowing our photos to be taken. Honestly, they were positively Chinese about this posing thing.

Here's Yuri Gagarin again:

The climax of his nation's efforts to this goal:

(Is it just me? Or are the workers a bit . . . more than just friends? I see Tom of Finland written all over this. I'll let you do your own googling on that one.)

See anyone you know here?

That's right! Laika the Space Dog!

Here is a sputnik motif in the fence. The word sputnik means "little traveller." Note that it is flying over the Russian Federation.

The line to enter the museum. We'll come back another day. (I especially liked the white boots here. If you click on the photo, you can see it in more detail. I recommend you click on it.)

Then we went over to the VDNKh itself. The entrance is marked with this fabulous portal.

This exhibition center was designed to celebrate agricultural achievements. Atop the portal is an idealized farming couple hold aloft sheaves of wheat.

Below is the Central Pavilion. I am fairly sure it used to be a celebration of the USSR and its successes. Now it is a hodge-podge of small shops ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. You can buy a guitar in here. Or a DVD. Or amber jewelry. We went in a tiny cat exhibition (entry: 60 rubles for adults and 30 for children) where we saw a loose assortment of cat breeds including those with folded ears and no fur. Breeders were dealing. Outside the pavilion, a woman with a box of orange kittens would give you a cat for free.

Here is the Karelia Pavillion (Karelia is up there next to Finland).

The Armenian Pavilion. Virtual Friend TRex recommends going there for cognac and baklava . . . there were no seats available in the cafe, so we skipped the cognac. But the girls got baklava.

The Fountain of the Friendship of the Peoples. "Yeah," muttered The Spouse, "The 'peoples' who couldn't get out of the Soviet Union fast enough."

Pretty fountain, though. Will be better in May when the water is turned on.

Another pavilion. Sadly, I didn't get close enough to see which one it is.

Because we found the CAMEL RIDES!

The French bulldog was cute. The crowd behind his family were dealing with a woman who had a crash on her roller blades. An ambulance arrived just as we left the camel. Right quick.

Russian girls doing the obligatory posing for a photo.

You could pay to have a photo taken with these friends, too.

On the Metro on our way back. The cat is a Claritin ad. It says (and I can read this all by myself) "Allergies--Your Nightmare?" The Russian word for nightmare is the same as the French (cauchemar). I'm not sure why the cat is carrying oranges. Are people often allergic to oranges?

And this art was on the wall in the restaurant where we stopped for lunch on the way home. There's a bottle of spirits, and the men and the pig seem to be enjoying some.

We had a little, too. Just because.