Monday, June 29, 2009

I C M P!

A B C D B B?

L! M N O B B!

S A R B B. I C M P!

[Sound of Expatresse cracking herself up . . .]

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week and signing autographs in the lobby after each show.

I do love sophomoric toilet humor, don't you?

I was thinking about this because, typically for me, I have procrastinated until the very last minute about doing anything to prevent Cat-O from peeing in the bathtub all the time. Summer Dacha is now T minus something less than 48 hours. And I am already feeling guilty saddling The Spouse with Catsitting Detail.

Now on the one hand, cat pee in the bathtub has certain advantages: it's not so hard to clean up. Certainly easier than scooping. AND it saves on scoop-able cat litter.

But on the other hand, it is gross.

The Spouse and I probably spent 20 minutes this morning on the phone with each other, googling "Cat Pees in Bathtub." We had just finished amusing ourselves by reading titles of emails we found in our spam folders. I never look in my spam folder, but there are some real jewels in there, I tell you. You should check your spam folder. Some more notable titles include the following:

Get hose growth every day
Make her shout like alarm
Get a full-mast again!

Need mouse to become tiger?

Support your custard launcher


Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they're pushing.

Then there are the email titles designed to make you think they are real emails:

Didn't we arrange meeting?

Code for activation

Your naked video on tube

Please delete photo

I can see the first line of the body text, too, and sometimes the combination is pure poetry. My absolute favorite one has this title: Whether the shrimps or crawfish grey. Then the first line of the body text reads Will not stay, will not stay.

Poetry.

So if you go to Google, and you start to type "cat pees . . ." all sorts of great options pop up:
cat pees outside box
cat pees on bed
cat pees on everything
cat pees on carpet
cat pees in sink
cat pees a lot
cat pees blood
cat pees on furniture

All I can say is some people are having a significantly worse day than I am. And that both The Spouse and I have way too much free time on our hands.

Now, I long suspected the tub-peeing could by a symptom of a urinary tract infection. But if I don't acknowledge it, then I don't have to deal with it, right?

We read a lot of suggestions about how to get one's cat to decide not to pee in the tub. Follow them in and squirt them with water when they commit the crime. Line the tub with aluminum foil because they hate the feel. The best one: fill the tub with a few inches of water. That brings a great image to mind, no?

Heh heh heh. Gotcha you tub-peeing little shit!

All great entertainment, but if the little shit . . . er, fellow really has a UTI, we would be remiss not treating it.

And since it is my cat . . .

I called the vet. I was instructed to collect a sample in a clean jar (easy since he pees in the tub . . . oh, and I did throw away the syringe thingy lest it be used to give liquid medicine to a child some day), put it in the fridge, and call back.

The children thought keeping a jar of cat pee in the fridge was disgusting. These are the same two people who had no qualms at all about storing Cat-O's testicles in the fridge for a week when we had him neutered. (Long story. Don't ask.) But two tablespoons of sterile urine in a sealed jar? Ugh.

It just looks like a little left-over vinaigrette. I bet you can't even spot it.


I'll give you a clue:So I called the vet back and was told to go downstairs immediately and hand the jar and some money over to their son who was serving as Cat Pee Courier. I handed it off and apologized. He sighed and shrugged in resignation. I'll let you know when the results are in.

In other news, I got this adorable toy yesterday. Isn't Mr Rabbit just wonderful?


When you move him around in a circle, his little carrot-shaped spade goes up and down. I also got a snow man, but he's not as charming (the waitress at our neighborhood Ukrainian place gave these to the girls).

And here is Pipsqueak. Skittles made him at school. He's very cute.

When he's not peeing in my bathtub, Cat-O is frantic to get at both these toys. He also likes to sit on a shelf that is full of breakable items. I have to extract him by his fat legs.

This is a Good Cat.


It is also a Very Relaxed Cat. (Yeah, that mess is my bed. Do not judge me. It was during the weekend.)


She's gotten so big. And while she's no rocket scientist, she does seem to be warming to us and slowly coming out of her shell. Which makes her seem ever so slightly brighter. She's no Einstein, that's for sure.

But at least she doesn't pee in the bathtub.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oh, and Another Thing: School Nurse Fail, Redux

Skittles is ALWAYS being sent to the school nurse. I mean, it is at least a weekly experience.

Recently, she was hit on the head with a pétanque ball. She brought it up as we were walking to the Metro after school in an "Oh, by the way . . ." manner.

But the kid had a goose egg on her head the size of a . . . well, the size of a pétanque ball.

She was sent to the school nurse who, as usual, said "It's nothing," and sent her back to class.

Today, she was inventorying her various injuries.

"See this?" she said, pointing to her skinned knee. "When I got this, I was sent to the school nurse."

"How did that go?" I asked.

"Oh, she looked at it and said, 'What's YOUR name? Seems everyone else has been to see me, but I don't think I've ever met you.'"

Un-fucking-believable.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Before I begin the next rant, I mean blog entry, let me draw your attention to a few things.

First, if you are not reading the other blogs under the heading "More Ways to Waste Time (But Worth It, I Swear!)" in the column on the right side of this page, you should. There's some very funny stuff there, as well as Russian stuff that waxes more political than I do. Worth looking at anyhow.

One I found particularly amusing today is not in that list, but on another list of blogs I follow (note to Carbo and Troy: that's where your blogs went. When you start posting again regularly, I'll move you back into public view). Go here to read an amusing post from a woman who recently returned to the UK after time spent in Russia. If you haven't spent a year here recently, you might not get the chuckle out of it that I did. But maybe you will.

Another funny website is this one. I was handed a brochure for this outside the Metro the other day. You don't need to read Russian to look around and get the general idea. I think the site name translates as "Tasty Bouquet." Remember: $100US = approximately 3100 rubles.

But back to our topic.

I have yet to venture into a proper Russian banya. But, being of Finnish origins, not only am I familiar with the sauna concept, but I know how to pronounce it properly (or at least Finnish-ly). I have been in proper Finnish saunas in northern Minnesota, where we braved leech-infested waters when we plunged into the lake. I have spent time with Slovak friends in their saunas.

I always sit on the top shelf.

In Moscow, I hear foreigners being advised "DON"T SIT ON THE TOP SHELF!!!!!"

Pish-posh, I have always said. Yeah, it's warmer up there. It's supposed to be warmer up there. I'm in the sauna to sweat.

My gym has what I would call a traditional (dry) sauna. It's the kind where you lie on benches of varying heights after having tossed ladles full of water onto the stones.

There is also a wet or steam sauna. I have NO idea how this works, although I do venture in from time to time. Today there were actually other women there, so I tried to observe what the procedure was without seeming pervy. But if you have tips for me on this, PLEASE write me a note in the Comments. Because I feel like I might be missing something vital here.

Anyhow, today the gym was kinda hopping, and I found I was not alone in the saunas. I was stretched out on the top shelf of the dry sauna, having tossed my couple of ladles of water on the stones, exfoliating, and minding my own business, when another woman joined me.

"Do you mind if I add some water to the heater?" she asked me. Okay, I cannot swear this was exactly what she said, but I knew this was what she meant.

"Da! Da! Da!" I said. Knock yourself out. I have Finnish blood. Better nobody than a Finn! Sisu!

She then proceeded to pour the entire contents of the water bucket onto the heated stones.

Oh. My. God.

Scorching steam filled the space.

I had been lying on my back with one knee bent so that I could scrape at myself with my loofah, but the freaking WALL OF FIRE caused me to flatten my leg ASAP.

My nipples began to burn. And not in a sexy way. I had to put my hands over my boobs to keep the skin from peeling off.

Add to this mixture a certain North American foolish pride ("Hot? You call this hot? I laugh at your heat."), but I felt like I could not run screaming from the sauna for the safety of the icy plunge pool.

So I just laid there.

Sweat ran off me in rivers.

My thighs, when I finally ventured out into the light of the dressing room and hurled myself into the freezing water of the plunge pool (how do they keep that water so wonderfully cold?), were mottled red and white like a finely marbled cut of steak. I hope the furnace was melting the fat in my thighs. It was melting the fat in my thighs, right?

So I claim total ignorance. I throw myself on the mercy and wisdom of my Russian readers. Was there anything else I need to know about surviving the inferno of the Russian dry sauna?

And what the heck goes on in the steam sauna? It's all wet in there. You don't actually expect that I will sit on the marble benches in there, do you? Lady parts on naked marble. I mean, that's got to be a veritable petri dish for unwanted bacteria, right? I see some people with towels, some people with the cotton sheets. And some people seem to plop down buck nekkid. And how long am I supposed to sit in there?

All advice is both solicited and appreciated. Go ahead: make my day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Doesn't Matter the Country: I Hate the Post Office

I think I missed paying my last phone bill.

I suspect this because RosTeleCom, the phone company, has been calling me lately. It is an automated call, and I know if I don't listen to their recorded message all the way through, they will keep calling me.

Which is a good thing because I want them to call when The Spouse is home so he can confirm my suspicions.

Not that it helps me much. Without the bill, I'm not sure how to pay.

See, the way it works is that RosTeleCom sends me a little piece of paper in the mail every month. This piece of paper lists the long distance charges I have incurred for the current month.

It says nothing about last month: if I paid the last bill, if my balance brought forward is zero. Nothing.

Each month is a complete transaction in and of itself.

I know this because we lost a piece of paper a while ago. Eventually, when I tried to make a long distance call, I found it would not go through. Although I had paid the bills that came after the lost one, I had no idea what to do about it until Ros TeleCom kindly sent me another copy of the missing bill.

So the other day I decided to double check our mail box.

We store things in the mailbox for the landlords, and now and then Man Friday comes and takes them away.

So I took everything out. And, because out mailbox is sort of wedge-shaped, reached waaaaaay into the recess.

There I found a crumpled piece of paper.

But not from RosTeleCom.

Worse.

It was from the Post Office.

Let me preface what follows with two pieces of information:
1. I know it is my job to speak the language of my host country. No denying. Any failure to communicate is my fault. And efforts by the local populace to help me anyhow (and this is generally the case . . . people take pity on me all the time) is gravy.
2. I have been treated badly by post office employees all over the world. I had a clerk I dealt with regularly in Taiwan who used to spot me in the line, sigh audibly, and lay her head on her desk.

But I digress. We've had these receipts before, and I can read enough now to see that this was notifying me that we had received an envelope, and that it was addressed to both me and The Spouse. The last time we received the same configuration and our collective hearts stopped and we did not breathe until we collected said envelop and discovered it was our Economic Stimulus Check from the US Treasury. We had been fearing all sorts of awful news from people like the IRS.

I showed the crumbled piece of paper to The Spouse last night.

"Are we expecting anything?" I asked.

He thought about it.

"Oh! I know what this is," he sounded upbeat. This was good. "It's from Pani Babka." (Scroll down through this archive and read about Pani Babka if you are interested.)

Aside: Pani Babka, which is Slovak for Mrs Grandma, was our lovely neighbor in Bratislava. As a further aside, you should know that Pan means Mr. and Pani means Mrs. Except when it is plural. The plural of Mr. or, gentlemen, is pani. If you are still hanging in here with me, you should also know that there is no Russian word for either Mr. or Mrs. If you want the waitress's attention, you basically call out "Girl!" It's very unsettling to me.

I don't know how long this notice has been in my mailbox because I cannot read the date stamped on it. I do know there is a limited amount of time the post office will hold a piece of mail before returning it to the sender, and it is surprisingly brief. I adore Pani Babka, and don't want her offering to appear rejected.

So I just came back from an unsuccessful trip to the post office. I did not cry. But I almost did.

I knew that I had to take the receipt to a second part of the local post office that has its own entrance. I looked carefully at the sign to make sure they were not closed for lunch. Seemed they should be open for business. So I went in.

I peered through the little glass service counter window. There was a young-ish woman at the back of the work space, sitting at a computer terminal. She said something to me which I interpreted as "Go away, we are closed for lunch."

I mimed that I could not hear her. She repeated it. She did not get up.

I figured maybe she was closed for lunch. So I went next door to the regular part of the post office.

There, another woman sat at a desk some distance from the service counter windows. She, too, appeared to be actually working on something. Another potential customer had followed me into the first part of the post office, apparently had also been rebuffed, and now followed me into the regular part of the post office.

I found this somewhat reassuring.

Seated Woman said something to both of us, but did not stop what she was doing. Then First Woman appeared, having travelled to this section of the post office through "the back." She looked at me and the other guy and said again what she said the first time I met her. Then, sensing she was defeated by my stupidity, she sighed and took my receipt.

"You have to go to the other side," she said, keeping the receipt and returning to her first position through "the back."

I figured I was supposed to follow her. So I went out the front door of the regular part and re-entered the second part of the post office (or where I started). She stood behind her counter, examined the receipt, gave it back to me, and told me "You have to fill out the back with your passport information," and walked away.

Shit. That's right. I remember this now from last time. Okay. Will do.

But when I look in my purse, neither of the two pens I normally carry are there.

"Um . . . a pen?" I say. But she ignores me. It is part of her evil plan to make me go away and leave her alone.

Surely the main part of the post office has pens, right? I mean, have you even been in a post office or bank that didn't have pens on chains at all the windows and at those counters where you fill out your documents before getting in line?

Well, not here. I should have known better.

So I gave up.

I went to the grocery store and came home, defeated.

I'll go back later this afternoon with The Spouse.

Update: I met The Spouse for lunch and he filled out the back of the form in Russian. We went to the post office. He handed the woman the piece of paper.

"Where on EARTH did you get this?" she asked him.

"Our neighbors gave it to us yesterday," he lied. "It had been in their mailbox."

"Well, it's OLD," she said, actually laughing good-naturedly. "See the date stamped on here? It's from last year."

[Sound of me smacking my forehead, Oy!]

This would be the notice from the IRS last summer to come get my Economic Stimulus Check. When I realized that we never got one, I filled out the appropriate forms to get them to send me a check again. This explains why I had to do that.

She was very nice. Now we can be friends.

FIN

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shhhh!

Don't tell ANYONE, but it is possible, albeit only slightly, that Moscow has started to, well, maybe grow on me.

Just a little.

I've seen the weirdest things here. No, seriously. I swear my kids have seen every bodily function in public except, perhaps, childbirth. And, anymore, I wouldn't be surprised to see that. In the Metro.

We did see a guy puke in the Metro this week. I heard a funny splashing sound, and, sure enough, there was some poor man, in a wee bit of a corner, vomiting. A very splash-y vomit.

We sort of had to step O-V-E-R the resulting river.

Sorry. I probably didn't need to share that detail with you.

He ended up on the escalator in front of us (although we were separated by a good many empty steps). The girls were skittish. ("Is he going to do it again?" "Do you think he was drunk?")

No. He completed the ride without further incident. And, no I do NOT think he had been drinking. Since you didn't care much for my last TMI detail above, just trust me here. Swine flu? Maybe. Liquid lunch? Er . . . nyet.

Today I saw an albino woman in the Metro.

An Asian albino woman.

Now many People With Russian Passports (and even this is an over-simplification) have Asian features (it is complicated . . . see Comments). One Russian woman I know looks totally Asian. I thought she said she's of Tatar origins; other friends say that her last name is Korean. Anyhow, my point is that Russians are not as homogeneous looking as one might initially think. So maybe the albino woman was a citizen of Russia or the Former Soviet Union. Or maybe she was Japanese.

Japanese was what I thought first because they would be likely to be bleach-bottle blond by choice. And she was really blond.

Her skin was the most remarkable color. Maybe she was an albino with a jaundice issue. Combined with full eye make-up, she looked like she was on her way to a kabuki performance. And since I'm slow, it took me until I had completely passed her to think, "Oh! Maybe she's albino!"

Have I ever mentioned that my Metro station seems to be the meeting point for every deaf person in Moscow? They hang out in the central hallway between the two platforms or outside in the park. Chatting away in sign language. It is a lovely thing, actually: all these people speaking in sign language.

But back to the strange sightings.

As I was waiting to cross the Garden Ring (which is wider than I-70, the interstate highway that cuts through my ancestral village), I saw, across the street, a cute little black and white dog trotting along. He was clearly not a street dog. But where was his person?

By now, I had crossed the first half of the street and was waiting for the light to let me complete the second half.

I saw a woman with another, larger dog on a leash.

Ah, ha! She must be Little Dog's mom.

The light changed, and I crossed the street only to fall into step with her while Little Dog checked pee-mail messages.

Larger Dog had a collar, but his leash was just a length of clothesline. Now that I was right next to her, I could see she, too, wore a slightly ragtag air.

But the strangest thing was that while she held the leash in her left hand, in her right hand she carried a clump of sod.

Made me think of this scene from Love and Death:



But the best thing came later. I was walking near Chistye Prudy and saw a couple walking with two dogs on leashes. The young woman had on a rather large backpack. The kind you might use if you are really going for a trek.

On top of the backpack rode a cat.

He looked just like our Cat-O. He wore a harness and a leash that she held in one hand. He did not care much for this mode of transportation: he was hanging on like grim death and, as they turned into a building courtyard, I heard him meow.

I told the girls, "I saw Cat-O. I think he has a secret life and goes out when we aren't home."

"Don't be silly," they didn't buy it for a minute. "He's always home when we get there."

"True," I conceded. "But have you ever noticed he's always right by the door? Like he's only just got in?"

Look at the Drunks!

. . . says my brother, as he emails me this picture of the two of us in My Summer Dacha in My Ancestral Village last summer (countdown until arrival there: FIVE DAYS!).

We do look a little bleary.

Funny thing, sort of. I thought he was talking about this article in today's Moscow Times. Which isn't funny.

While I'm being not funny, what is it with the rash of celebrity deaths? Doesn't it always seem to come in waves? I remember that Elvis and Groucho died the same summer (1977 if you're interested).

David Carradine.

Ed McMahon.

Lovely Farrah Fawcett. God, how I wanted hair like that . . . her mother apparently said to always brush the back of your head because "people see that." Or so my mother told me.

And today the King is dead.

RIP.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Would You, Could You in a Box?

Countdown to Summer Dacha in my Ancestral Village: 6 days to go.

Have you ever heard of Spencer Tunick? I saw something about him on the teevee not so long ago.

He's a photographer.

He is famous for photographing nudes.

Large groups of nudes.

Outdoors.

And he's coming to Moscow in July to do a new project for the Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

He's looking for ten people to photograph, individually this time, on the streets of Moscow.

Wouldn't that be a RIOT? Having your photo taken, NAKED, somewhere in Moscow?

My first choice would be somewhere in the Metro, but I doubt that would go over very well with the Metro authorities. Maybe I could stand in the grassy center of Lubyanskaya Square. Right in front of Detsky Mir and the FSB (former KGB) headquarters. Or maybe in the middle of the Garden Ring. Like right on the center line.

The possibilities are endless.

I'm actually sorry I won't be in Moscow, being the blatant exhibitionista that I am.

Someone! Please do this and tell me all about it. I can live vicariously.

Don't worry about me.

There is another photography project afoot that opens here in Moscow on September 3. Alas, for this one I am clothed, nay furred even (the new profile picture comes from that shoot). But save the date, and when I have more details, I will pass them along.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shamelessly Shilling

If you are in the Central Ohio/Franklin County area and in the market for tasteful, reasonably priced, gently used furniture, look here.

Then go here, and sponsor my sister-in-law (or the rider of your choice) who is riding her bike 100 miles at the end of August as a fund-raiser for the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. My dad was treated there for prostate cancer last summer, and as I type this he remains cancer-free.

That's always a good thing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekend Round Up

It was a banner weekend for Skittles.

First, Lili the Babysitter Extraordinaire came on Friday night. Both the girls adore her. But I am especially fond of her because not only does she get my kids to bathe, but she can get them to clean their room, too. Apparently, all she says is, "Let's have a look at your room" or "My, it's worse than ever, isn't it?" and they scurry about and BINGO! It's tidy.

On Saturday was the kermesse or school fun fair day. The sort of thing you LOVE as a kid but LOATHE as a parent. We were strongly encouraged to bring treats to share and to volunteer to man a booth/game/activity. I immediately volunteered to bring a cake, but this was my downfall. "Can we count on you to help with an activity for an hour or two?" came the reply. So you feel like a real shit if you say no. I warned them I needed something not terribly language intense as I can't produce French For Children very well. So I scored two hours on a bean bag toss-type activity.

Outside.

In the rain.

It was bad enough slogging through the rainy Moscow streets dragging the cake plate while balancing my umbrella. Cramps in my hands make me cranky.

But the umbrella turned out useful for standing IN THE RAIN at the freaking bean bag toss. The other poor mom assigned along with me was incredulous. "There's NO ONE out here!" she said after we had dutifully stood out there for about an hour. A bunch of kids had come along (they get a card listing all the activities, and they have to get a check mark for having completed each one to qualify for a prize). But eventually there was no one. Just the two of us. Not even any other parents at any of the other outdoor activities.

The girls scored badminton sets, as did everyone else, for their completed cards. Just the thing for an apartment culture, right? (Turns out they make great tools for vexing cats.)

Then Skittles went to sleep over at her friend's house. And the next day (Sunday) they both went to a birthday party for a classmate.

The Spouse went to the restaurant where the party was being held to collect Skittles. He sent me the following SMS: "Party nowhere near done. Offensive pirate opens and critiques all gifts. Requires parents to add cash if he deems gift to be deficient."

WTF?

Thankfully, Skittles' tribute merited little more than a "Heh" from the pirate. I was ready to tell The Spouse to open up a can of whoop-ass on him as Skittles had put a lot of time and consideration into selecting what she felt would be THE perfect gift for her friend.

But all was well.

So, to sum up: Lili, kermesse, sleep over, birthday party. That's about as good as it gets when you are 8 going on 9.

As for me, I get excited about things like this:


CAXAP is "sugar." How cool is that? Resealable/Pourable sugar. Maybe they have this where you come from, but this is the first time I have ever seen it, and it is such a good idea.

This is not such a good idea:


We have made some sort of switch at the grocery store where now we have to pay for grocery bags. I suppose this is to encourage recycling, which I am all for. But I am also all for a clean litter box. And those grocery bags are a great place to put what I have scooped out of said litter box.

Only, when they made the switch for Bags-For-Fee, they switched to larger grocery bags. Perhaps to assuage their guilt.

I liked the smaller ones better.

But now they sometimes give me these bags. "Oh, let me give you a pretty bag," they tell me.


There is no charge for these green bags (I suspect they were given to the grocery chain by the Sprite people). And they are very nice bags. Sturdy handles. Thick plastic.

They're just not very good as a receptacle for a couple of scooped cat turds.

There's just no pleasing some people, is there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Ridiculous and the Sublime

I have nothing profound to report, so I'll fill the empty space with pictures I have taken but been unable to find an excuse to post.

So many weird and wonderful things are juxtaposed in Moscow.

Below: Nastasinskiy perulok off Tverskaya ulitsa. The robin's egg blue building on the left was a city treasury. It's quite lovely.

Below: The giant flower garden in the park on Tsvetnoi bulvar. Every few weeks or so they yank out all the flowers and replace them with something new.


Below: Same park. Piled up like puppies. This is about 8:30 a.m.


Below: Horrors! The faulty washer is still languishing in my apartment. The cats use it as easy access to the bookshelf. The bookshelf is full of things that are

1. not for cats and
2. fun to play with or knock off the shelf.


We hate them. Not only do they climb curtains and forbidden bookshelves, but they run around the apartment like idiots starting about 4:00 a.m. It is extremely stressful as I am convinced they will pull down the curtain hardware or knock the leg off the hall table (long story, but it isn't attached).

Then, after making noise for about two hours, they have the nerve to take naps just as we are leaving the apartment in the morning.

Below: Sometimes they nap in the clean laundry.


Below: Last escrime class. Baboo in the blue vest.


Below: Neighborhood dog takes a break.

He is always in the same place, behind a residential building that we walk by daily. We call him "Mr. No Tail." Note he is not thin. One day I came across him with a new yellow tennis ball. I got suspicious. Then one night I walked by and could not find him anywhere. As this was about the time of the Street Dog Purge in preparation for Eurovision 2009, I got worried. I walked the length of his building, until I realized he was inside, asleep on the floor in the foyer.

He clearly lives there, but I'm not sure he belongs to anyone.

One day, I heard one of the security dudes who hang out with him call him "Rex."

Below: What's wrong with this picture?


Not sure? I'll zoom in a little for you.


Not sure how Dude got there, but I saw him walk along the island, sit down, light a cigarette, lie down on the concrete wall, and finish his cigarette. Not sure how he got out of there either.

Below: A poster on the Museum of Modern Russian History. I was one of four moms who accompanied Baboo's class there on Friday. It's advertising an exhibit titled "Reality of Utopia."

Skittle-isms:

Skittles got inadvertently slashed about the shins by Crooky the Cat one morning because Skittles was winding up some ribbon the cats had unrolled and it was Just. Too. Tempting.

Me, upon hearing the pitiful wails: "What happened to you?"
Skittles: "Crooky came out of a HOLE!"

She's had a bad series of run-ins with the Teen-aged Crooky. After the leg scratching, Crooky came blasting into the living room one day, vaulted over a chair in which Skittles was innocently sitting, and used Skittles' head as a launching pad. Ow.

Another day, I think it looks like maybe she's starting to get breasts. Ever discreet, I ask, "Hey! Are you getting boobs?"

Skittles, sadly: "Just one."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crime and Punishment

The girls don't care much for their school nurse.

First, she never seems to be in her office. "Either she's at lunch or she decides she needs to get out and take a walk," Baboo reported.

If you are unfortunate enough to actually need the services of a school nurse, but lucky enough to find her at her desk, she usually delivers a cursory examination, proclaims, "It's only a flesh wound," and sends you back to class without so much as a Band-Aid.

Today at lunch, Baboo reports, eight (?) of her classmates drew on their hands and faces with pink marker.

"It didn't even look like blood." She was disdainful.

The classmates went to the nurse's office.

Quelle surprise! Not only was she in, but she gave them all Band-Aids.

Baboo's teacher, who doesn't suffer fools lightly, caught on to this bêtise immédiament.

"There are children in Africa who DIE because they don't have Band-Aids! And you are using them as fashion statements because they have pictures of DOGS!" he scolded them before marching them by their collective ears down to see Monsieur Le Directeur.

"Will they have to write lines as punishment?" I asked her. "Something like 'I will not waste Band-Aids when there are children in Africa dying from a lack of Band-Aids'?"

"I'm not sure," Baboo replied. "Usually he makes kids write an essay about their crimes."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Déjà Vu

Here and here are the events of yesterday as reported in the Moscow Times and The Lawyer. Today is business as usual.

It was also sortie with Skittles' class. I often feel guilty that I don't do more to help out at school, although I somehow get roped into helping at the kermesse (a word I have learned only in the past few years . . . like vernissage . . . oddly, I have seen that word used in connection with the Izmaylovsky flea market . . . another foreign cognate in the Russian language) every single year. In addition to bringing a tray of cupcakes or pound cake, I also get to animer un stand . . . this year it's "Le Fou du Roi." Wanna bet who gets to play le fou? Hmmm. Definite blog-potential lurking there.

My point is that since I don't serve on any of the parent/teacher committee-type things, the least I can do is bring a dessert to the school fête. And help shepherd kids on the occasional field trip.

This week I get to be Sortie Mom twice. Today with Skittles and on Friday with Baboo.

Skittles' class went to the Museum of Decorative-Applied and Folk Arts (I have no idea where Baboo's class is heading other than "to a museum"). This link has information about the museum and some photos, but I really need to go back again and take pictures (this is one of those museums where photography is permitted if you pay a modest fee . . . something like 100 rubles).

I have been to this museum before, and Skittles has already been once with her class and once with me. And although it is a quirky little museum, I am quite happy to go any time. Especially when we get some expert explanations about the collection.

We were accompanied by the regular class teacher (who merely kept order) and the Russian History and Culture teacher. The Russian History and Culture teacher is sweet, but has a high, rather squeaky voice which makes her hard to understand (not just for me . . . the kids all say so, too). Thankfully, she had arranged to have a docent from the museum do the actual presentation in Russian while she translated into French. The docent had an excellent sense of how long little kids can sit and look at samovars before going bat-shit crazy. She kept her presentation moving along at a good pace (we were only there for an hour) and interesting, too.

There is a section of the museum devoted to what I call the Rich People Tchotkis. It's like touring Versailles: you can understand why the people got fed up and had a revolution. That part of the museum is full of pretty things, but it's boring, frankly. Thankfully, we spent no time there today.

MUCH more interesting is the folk art collection. Not only is it full of fascinating every-day items from days bygone (samovars, toys, household tools, furniture, trays, wooden boxes), but they are both beautifully made and decorated. Some of them are quite contemporary, too. As the guide explained, art isn't just painting and sculpture: there can be art in a well-prepared meal or item of clothing.

The handmade wooden and ceramic toys are especially fantastic, and, again, defy description with words. If you didn't know better, you would think they were Mexican mythological creatures. Bears. Horned centaurs. Goats. Some are solid colors . . . red or orange . . . trimmed in gold details. Others are multi-colored like confetti.

One of my favorite pieces is a wall-sized ceramic fireplace front that, if I understood properly, illustrates a parable about how strength is not limited to warriors, but includes cooperation among family members, too (that does take a certain strength sometimes, doesn't it).

In the same room as the fireplace is also a fair amount of wooden furniture . . . sideboards and buffets . . . in a sort of Russian Mission style. Artisans regularly decorated these pieces with suns, birds, and horses, the guide explained, because a horse leads the sun to the mid-day sky, while a bird brings the sun down to the horizon and returns it to the horse. Anyhow, I would happily own any and all of it.

So that was a nice morning, well spent. Now I can look forward to a dentist appointment this afternoon (another in a series of Skittles cavity fillings). And mystery sortie with Baboo's class on Friday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sheesh! Never a Dull Moment Here

I was going to write about the little things I saw on my way to and from the gym this morning:

*The guy with the t-shirt that read "NEW YORK CITIES."
* Or the guy with the fanny pack/bum bag (if you're British) that read "MINOR THREAT." I think he was.
*The drunk fellow who was in the "drunk position" on the Metro. That's sitting up, but folded over, in a position that protects your face and abdomen. It's a common sight on the Metro, especially the Circle Line, because you can ride all day without getting too far from where you started. When the train lurched, this guy rolled right off the bench and out on the floor. There was an audible gasp from the other commuters, but two guys in suits swooped down and gently picked him up, returned him to his place, and even threw a reflexive arm across his chest when the train lurched again. No one passed any sort of judgment on his condition. At Belorusskaya he got off, toting luggage. He was probably going to the train station. It was barely 10:00 a.m.
*A Moscow version of Eleanor Abernathy, the Crazy Cat Lady on the Simpsons. She was standing by the exit at Kievskaya station with a small black and white kitten tucked into the front of her many coats. She was gently scratching the cat under its chin. I don't know if she was trying to sell the kitten or begging or just hanging out. The cat looked content.
*The pukh is winding down. In some parts of town I didn't see any today.

But all of this was rendered insignificant when I got home. I had barely finished putting away my groceries when the phone rang.

It was The Spouse.

Calling from an Undisclosed Location.

Because, see, the police had just come and raided his place of business.

Thankfully, he had been in the gym when they got there. Someone managed to intercept him and warned him to stay away from the office. So he had flown below the radar and escaped. I made a crack about how the gym is good for more than just physical fitness, but he says the managing partner had been in the gym at the same time, and had been somehow summoned back upstairs to the conference room. Maybe it pays to not be managing partner.

It was, apparently, a full-blown police action with OMON (the Russian version of SWAT), face masks, machine guns, and bullet-proof vests.

Cause, you know. Lawyers and secretaries . . . they can get violent. Some can even be fear-biters.

The cops rounded up everyone who was there into a few conference rooms where they sat, without benefit of cell phones or reading material or even coffee for many hours.

Eventually it was determined why the firm had been raided.

Thankfully, it involved a client (and the mayor's office and a construction project and something like $80 million) The Spouse knew nothing about until that very moment. Not like that time where he inadvertently gummed up the works for the Ukrainian mob. But that all happily worked out without anyone's kneecaps being threatened. Although I did get sent to visit a friend in London and didn't know why until years later.

But law is not generally so thrilling.

Since his phone, Blackberry, and gadget that enables him to log-in remotely were all on his desk on one of the floors that was under lock-down . . . he couldn't do any work.

So we did the civilized thing.

We went out for lunch.

Frightening as this sort of thing sounds to Western ears (sort of like when I was investigated by the Argentine police for allegedly buying Skittles), it is not uncommon here in Moscow. It has happened to The Spouse's law firm before (although before his time). It has happened to all big foreign law firms here. And accounting firms. A friend said her husband, who is in pharmaceuticals here, once told her of a similar event.

It's about sabre rattling and intimidation.

I always said, when asked how long we expected to be in Moscow, that we would stay until we got rich or got thrown out.

Looks like little chance of the latter. At least today. So I'll hold out for rich, if no one minds.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oh, The Irony of It All

When I lived in Bratislava, I was a lean, mean, perimenopausal machine.

I went to the gym twice a week and had a personal trainer who alternately flirted with and coached me.

I swam at least once a week at my friend's house (she has a pool). Or, if she wasn't available, I went to an indoor pool and swam laps.

I had 90 minutes of tennis every Friday morning, and this was outdoors, on red clay courts, under brilliant blue skies in the spring and fall. It never rained. In the winter, I played on a bubble-covered court.

Pilates class was Wednesday morning.

The Spouse turned me on to bicycling. I used to do a two-hour ride down the Danube and back at least once a week, weather permitting. And my wonderful, crazy expat friend, MH used to cheerfully drag me up the hill to an area called Kamzik/Koliba, all the while saying, "Oh, this is the hardest part. Really."

She lied, of course. It was a brutal ride. But I felt I was keeping death at bay for doing it. I remember gasping for oxygen and thinking how, when I was in my 30s, I was fat and lazy and immortal. Now that I'm kicking 50 in the ass, my mid-life crisis has become a quest to outrun the inevitable.

I had it in my head that it was Emily Dickinson who wrote these lines, but, thanks to the miracle of Google, I am shamefully reminded that it was Andrew Marvel, "To His Coy Mistress." So much for that Master's Degree when your mind starts to unravel, eh? Am I violating copyright by reproducing my favorite part here?

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Tick-tock, this says. Life is short. Tell me again, why aren't we in bed?

After all our belongings (including my bathroom scale) were packed up by the movers, but before we left Slovakia, someone gave me a pair of blue jeans, size 28. Italian 28. I don't know what I weighed then, seeing as my scale had been loaded into a container. But I know I was stressing about the move and skipping meals. I also know I fit in those jeans.

They were jeans I never would have purchased for myself: that low-cut, well-below the navel, make-sure-you-show-no-ass-cleavage style.

And for two weeks, they fit me.

Then I arrived in Moscow, washed the jeans, and they either shrank or I inflated. Well, I know I got bigger. Maybe the jeans shrank, too. In any case, I haven't fit in them since.

I am currently reading a book called The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Place in the World, by Eric Weiner. It's a funny book. I'm on the chapter where he goes to Iceland and tries to ascertain what it is that keeps the Icelanders from putting their heads in their Icelandic ovens. Seems Icelanders, in spite of their short, dark days and their long winters (sound familiar?) are not particularly gloomy people. I haven't finished the chapter, so I cannot share what Weiner learns about Iceland yet, but he does talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

"Caused by a lack of sunlight, SAD leads to symptoms such as despair, listlessness, and a craving for carbohydrates," Weiner writes.

Hmmm.

He goes on to say that SAD is relatively unheard of in Iceland, and, in fact, more common in the northeastern US. Coincidentally, I have a classmate from high school who lives in New England and mentioned she suffers from SAD. She takes something for it which, tragically to my mind, does not combine well with alcohol.

I thought alcohol is what one takes to treat SAD. Here in Moscow, anyhow.

Note to self: Ya think maybe it isn't just the carbohydrates that keep me out of those jeans? Nyah.

The Spouse and I both struggle to keep fit. And in spite of the nose-curlingly high prices of Moscow gym memberships, we have each purchased one.

The idea, aside from having access to a larger portion of our respective wardrobes (because gyms aren't the only exorbitantly priced things in Moscow), was to improve our respective self-images. And this, we theorized, might jazz up our . . . conjugal life.

Not that there's anything wrong with it. We haven't digressed to hallway sex yet. We just thought it wouldn't hurt to feel a little better while naked.

There's a great cosmic joke at work here, however. The problem, it seems, and perhaps this is a function of our over-40-ness, is that while we both have newly rediscovered our biceps, triceps, and, dare I say it, even some abs, this gym stuff really takes it out of both of us.

Now we're no doubt better looking. But we're also too damned tired.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Galina, My Guardian Angel

I know I have gone on and on about how Russians can appear fierce but really are softies. Especially in shops or other public settings. But all it takes is a little decency and regular purchases from you, the foreign guest/customer, and you'll have them looking out for you as if you were family.

At the grocery store I was startled the first time it happened.

There's Meat Counter Lady. Unlike the Avuncular Meat Counter Man who likes to practice speaking English with me, she looks intimidating. She greets you, without looking up, by barking, "SPEAK!" in Russian.

About a year ago, I timidly asked if I could have some of those nice stuffed peppers, please.

"Nyet!" she replied.

Thinking this was a classic case of "Yes, we have no bananas," I persisted.

"These . . . right here," I cajoled, pointing at them.

"NYET!"

She wasn't backing down. But when my shoulders drooped, she leaned across the counter and said in a stage whisper, "They're OLD! Don't buy them."

Ahhhh! I see. Duh-oh!

A few weeks ago, I ran into Meat Counter Lady on the street one morning. She was wearing her civvies, and all gussied up the way middle-aged Russian women can be. She had on a very girl-y skirt and lipstick. And when she caught my eye, she waved, said "Hello," and gave me a huge smile.

Another time, in a different branch of this grocery store chain, I took my oranges to be weighed, only to have the clerk examine my choices, pronounce them inferior quality, chuck them in the trash bin, and select other, better ones for me.

I didn't even have a relationship with this woman.

Lately my Guardian Angel of the Grocery Store is Galina.

I know her name because I can read her name tag.

She's relatively new in my store. And she works the deli counter, slicing up meats and cheeses for customers. She apparently spotted me dealing with the meat counter one day because by the time I got to her to buy bacon, she figured out I was Not a Native Speaker.

Not a problem. She likes to practice English, too.

I'm guessing she's mid-50s. Sort of zaftig. Resembles a Russian Susan Boyle, but with more gold teeth. Which I see a lot of because she always smiles.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I was buying a chicken at the meat counter. Neither of the regular Meat Staff was on duty. I don't recall whether I was being served by 20-Something Meat Guy (who is always visibly relieved when he understands what it is I want him to weigh and hand to me) or some Generic Grocery Clerk Girl.

In any case, I asked for a chicken, and whoever was working the meat counter selected one for me. But before that chicken hit the scale, Galina came flying, like OJ Simpson in an old Hertz Rental Car ad, right over her colleagues in Prepared Foods and around the corner to Meat World.

She snatched that chicken mid-air, sniffed it, pronounced it a Lesser Chicken, and whisked it away to the back while admonishing her colleague for fobbing off an inferior product on me.

I have no doubt that chicken came right back out the minute I turned the corner to World of Dairy.

But my point is she was looking out for me.

This comes at a price, as I learned about an hour ago.

She was in front of me in the check out line just now, paying for two large cabbages. There was a young man in between us. She was chatting with the woman working the cash register, so I didn't think she noticed me.

Oh, but she had.

As she was bagging her cabbages, she suddenly spotted me and exclaimed in Russian, "Hey! How come you didn't say 'Hello'? Some friend you are!"

And then she laughed, her eyes all bright and twinkly.

"Здравствуйте," I obliged her. Hey, I can play along.

"How are you?" she replied in English.

Then she cracked herself up again and went back to work with her cabbages in a big plastic bag.

Lesson learned. Next time, I'll vault over anyone who gets in the way in order to say hello.

Might have to hug her, too.

In Which We Get Into Hot Water

Today is The Day. Fanfare and trumpets, please.

We.

Have.

No.

Hot.

Water.

Which all sounds very exciting. I have spent the past year listening to fellow expats and Russians alike bemoan the Annual No Hot Water Season*. Last summer it happened in our building after I had already fled to My Summer Dacha in My Ancestral Village.

*I assume this is true for all of Russia, but here in Moscow, some time after the central heat has gone off, the hot water goes off for two to three weeks. This happens, neighborhood by neighborhood, according to a schedule.

This year the schedule was different.

You can find it on a website, but only in Russian. I tried to decipher it, but this one stumped me. (Sometimes I can figure things out, however. Uh-huh! Can too. Sometimes. I heard The Spouse on the phone yesterday, speaking Russian, and I understood the whole thing. Couldn't reproduce it, but I knew exactly what he was asking the nice lady in the copy room to do with the long document he needed. And he wasn't being rude at all.)

I got The Spouse to check the website for me. Then I wrote NO HOT WATER in red pen on the calendar for today.

Have I explained this No Hot Water Phenomenon? Like many things in Russia, it has a kind of logic to it.

Everyone gets hot water from a central source. The same way we get heat here. No one has a hot water heater in their home. You just turn on the tap, and out comes an endless supply of hot water.

Most of the time.

From time to time something happens within the confines of our building and nothing comes out at all. But that usually only lasts a few hours at most. Yes, I usually only discover that we have no hot water after everyone else has bathed and left for the day, and I have done some chore and gotten sweaty and now am standing, naked and disappointed, in my tub. But that's just my bad luck.

The Official Story here is that the pipes require a certain amount of annual maintenance. And there is some evidence that this is true in that the no-hot-water periods have gotten shorter and shorter over the years. I have even heard that it is possible that the shut-offs might some day be a thing of the past as new and better technology and materials are developed for the central hot water system.

The Other Potentially Official Story I have heard is that no one is doing anything to the pipes: the city just shuts off the hot water to cut costs.

Anything is possible.

It is really only inconvenient for bathing and doing dishes. European washing machines take in cold water from the tap and heat it to the temperature you select. So would a dishwasher, except I don't have one. Rather I am the dishwasher. But I could, if necessary, heat water on the stove (slow) or in my electric kettle (super fast) for washing the dishes.

As for bathing, some people deal with the lack of hot water by foregoing their daily showers. Makes the Armpit Nuzzling Hell that is the Metro on a Warm Day extra special.

Some arrange to shower at their gym.

I know people who invest in a large lobster pot which they fill with water and heat on the stove prior to bathing.

Others install an auxiliary hot water heater.

This is what we have.

When I turned on the hot water tap this morning the water never got warm. So The Spouse got out the instructions from the landlords, turned a few strategically placed valves, et voilà! Hot water Chez Beet.

So I didn't suffer very much.

Sort of feels like cheating.

P.S. Thank you all for continuing to click on the big red button and vote daily until July 6 for The Beet Goes On. But while you are there, go to the last category (dark blue/Blog You've Learned the Most From) and vote for my friend's blog. It isn't competing with mine here, and she really is the most useful source of information about living with children in Moscow. And an all-around good egg.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BlogLuxe Awards

There's a lot of love in the room, I just know it. Show me that you care . . . click on the red BlogLuxe button to the right, not just once, but every day, and vote, Loyal Beet-nik.

That's right.

Every day.

Until July 6.

Then I'll shut up about it.

What could I win? It's a little like Iron Chef: all I win is The People's Admiration.

Forever.

In Which I Visit Mr. Lenin

My friend's parents are in town, and Monday we tried to visit Lenin's Tomb without first reading in any of our many guidebooks that Lenin's Tomb is never open on Mondays.

So we went again yesterday.

I have walked by Lenin's Tomb many times, but I never really paid attention to how one visits it. I also knew that there are many dignitaries and famous people (not just Russians) buried against the Kremlin wall behind the mausoleum, but I couldn't figure out how one could get over there to see.

First, we walked up to the mausoleum, but it is surrounded by fencing, so clearly that wasn't how one gets in.

Then I saw, way down by the National Historical Museum, what looked like a security check point with metal detectors. Ah ha! This must be it.

We walked over there, but another row of barricades blocked us. A guard was stationed there, and he seemed to be letting some people through.

I asked, "Lenin?"

Nope, he said. Go around the museum.

Drat. This was what I suspected.

I pointed at the people lined up to go into a door in the Historical Museum.

"Tickets?" I asked him. I thought Lenin was free.

"No," he said. "For leaving bags."

Oh, right. I knew all cameras were strictly forbidden, and I had left mine behind so I wouldn't have to deal with this. If you want to see pictures, you have to use the Internet (although I have provided a lot of links here).

So Friend's Parents and I walked through the Resurrection Gate and Manezhnaya Ploshchad (ploshchad means square) around to the gate to the Alexandrovsky Sad (sad means garden) by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A big circle.

Down there I did see a sign saying this was where one queues to see Lenin's Tomb. And while we were standing there, we got to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. It was shady and cool there, and the line moved along as they shepherded the visitors in groups through the security check. It was a pleasant enough place to wait.

We probably waited 30 minutes to get to the metal detectors. By now it was after noon, and, as the mausoleum closes at 1:00, I was a little concerned we might get rushed.

While I was standing in line, it also occurred to me that my phone has a camera feature. I didn't want to have to deal with checking it, so I stuck it in the bottom of my purse and covered it strategically with my wallet and keys. I was not about to risk trying to take pictures with it (my phone does not take good pictures and with my current service provider, I cannot send them, so there is no way to transfer photos off the phone), so hopefully it could just stay there.

When I had to open my purse to show the security guard, no one noticed my phone.

Friend's Dad was not so lucky.

All he had on him was his wallet and his phone (turned off). But no go: he had to check it.

So off he scampered as fast as he could to the line of people at the corner of the Historical Museum. Many of them were returning to collect their checked items, so it didn't really take him very long. And the security guards let him through the metal detectors again without waiting much either.

Okay. Now we were finally in along the Kremlin wall. We walked along and looked at the plaques set into the wall, looking for names we could recognized, me trying to sound out the Cyrillic. Midway along the wall is the mausoleum, and guards posted there direct you to the building entrance and scold you if you try to sit on the low marble walls in the sunshine.

Inside it is quite dark. You go down, down, down into a dim, cool, marble-ness. After the bright sunlight of Red Square, the contrast is hard on the eyes, and there is no lighting on the many steps. I found myself groping along the walls, reaching tentatively with my toes, so as not to stumble or misjudge whether the steps continued or not.

All along the way are uniformed soldiers, but they don't offer any assistance. They are just there to keep you moving and reverential. A group of young school boys were just ahead of us, and they were shushed for being too rowdy and noisy (well, they were rowdy and noisy . . . and they were wall-sitters, too).

So finally, you enter an even darker and cooler room. And there lies Lenin, in a glass enclosed open casket, with light directed on his face and hands. You are routed along his right side, down to his feet, and up along his left side before being essentially shown the door. If you move very, very slowly, you might get to spend almost a minute there with him.

So it is very hard to say how he looks. The contrast of the light on his body against the dark room, your eyes still struggling to adjust to the darkness of the building interior, and the fact that Lenin died in 1924 . . . he seemed small and rather waxy to me. But after 85 years, who wouldn't?

Whether you are a fan of Lenin or not, the building itself, inside and out, has an elegance to it, I think. It is solid, with clean and pleasing lines. I like the design of it.

Then it is back out into the bright sunshine and along the wall to finish the tour of the Kremlin wall necropolis. I did find Yuri Gagarin's grave, but was unable to locate Jack Reed's.

If you want to visit Lenin's Tomb yourself, note that as I write this, it is open from 10:00 to 13:00 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I think. I have seen different information about which days you can visit in different sources. Best to go with a flexible schedule. And no cameras. Admission is free, but checking items costs 3 rubles.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fluff

Clouds of this tree fuzz (balsam poplars) everywhere! Yesterday and today have been especially bad. It gets in my eyes, up my nose. It's stuck on the front of my shirt and on my bedroom rug.

This is what it looks like on the ground. I can't get a good picture of it floating around in the air, but it is really quite dense today. The Russians call this fuzz pukh, which means tuft.


So Saturday was Baboo's birthday. It was sort of low key this year. On Saturday we had lunch at the Starlite Diner, and then spent the evening at my friend's house as her parents are visiting. This is the same gang from New Year's Eve, so there were six children, all roughly the same age. Everyone brought things to share, and, as always, it was a nice crowd and a nice time.

Sunday we went to the circus.

Now, I do love a good circus. And this circus (near us on Tsventoi Bulvar) is excellent. It seems to have a variety of names including the Old Moscow Circus and Circus Nikulin (and not to be confused with the Great Moscow State Circus).

Did I mention I scored front row seats? There's not a bad seat in the house, but if you are in the first row, you get to touch some of the animals and the clown interacts with you. It's not vital, but once in your life, pony up for the front row.

The theme for this show seemed to be Russia. The costumes were gorgeous, colorful, traditional Russian garb. There were plenty of opportunities to play the patriotic card by waving the Russian flag or incorporating red, white, and blue in the costumes or props. And why not? Ringling Brothers would do it, US-style.

This circus is animal-light, in that there are not a lot of animal acts in it. There were jugglers and a trapeze act and a high wire and a very pleasant and not at all scary clown who worked the crowd between acts.

One of my favorite acts involved vaulting a guy by means of a see-saw. His compatriots would jump on one end, and he would be thrown up in the air and caught by his other compatriots who carried a large and very heavy sort of giant mattress to where they estimated he would land. Then he did it on stilts. Then he landed, blind, into a chair on top of a very tall pole. Then he did it on one stilt. Then he did the chair landing again, except this time his compatriots where holding the chair/pole while balanced on stilts and standing on two very flexible balance beams that still other compatriots held.

It was breath-taking.

There was a quick-change act that was very similar to this one, except the woman wore beautiful, traditional, Russian-y outfits.



Her finale gown was a bias-cut Russian flag. Big cheers from the crowd.

The animals included horses, cats (my personal favorite), ferrets (which we got to pet because we were in the FRONT ROW! The kids report they were "very, very greasy."), a dachshund (he was the surprise element in the ferret act), one cheerful bear (you could smell him . . . he smelled . . . bear-y), more horses with trick riders who unfurled a huge Russian flag in their finale.

And the monkey act.

Sigh.

I had heard about the monkey act. But for some reason I thought it was at the other Moscow circus.

The monkeys and the handlers were dressed for an Orthodox Jewish wedding. With yarmulkes. And sidelocks. There was even a chuppa. I mean, the lights came up for the act, and there was a chuppa in the middle of the ring, and I thought, "Oh. My. God." And sure enough, out came the chimps and orangutan in traditional dress.

The Russians all laughed and laughed. The Spouse and I were speechless.

In fairness, the monkeys were also quick change artists and mocked, I mean impersonated Mexicans, Chuck Berry, and Elvis, as well as some Russian serf-types.

It was profoundly offensive, which is a shame, because the rest of the show was so wonderful. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Today, I went with my friend and her parents to visit Lenin's Tomb. Except Lenin isn't open on Mondays. So we'll try again tomorrow.

We did go see the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Completed in 2000, this is a relatively new church, although there was a church on this site from the 1880s until 1931 when Stalin had it demolished to build the Palace of the Soviets. Turned out that the ground was too soft to support such a large structure and funding was a problem, so Khrushchev had the world's largest outdoor swimming pool built on the site instead.

If you go, be sure to find the basement. It isn't finished yet, but is full of not only icons, but photos and relics of the original church, plans for the Palace of the Soviets, and photos of the swimming pool. Admission is free, and although devout Russian Orthodox women cover their heads, you are not obliged to.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Such a Long, Long, Long Time Before the Dawn

It's been a long time coming, but the Festival of Laundry has commenced!

Look! Here's the escrime (fencing) gear. At last. I don't feel bad washing it every other class, but this had gone three weeks. Three. Warm. Sweaty. Weeks.

Poor Baboo.

The floor of the bathroom looks like something exploded.

A friend of mine commented that laundry was one of the easier household chores: "You just put in the clothes and go sit down and do something else."

For hours and hours.

If you have never done laundry outside the North American continent, foreign washing machines are really, REALLY SLOW.

I remember the first few times I did laundry in Buenos Aires.

It took for freaking ever.

I kept coming back to the machine to check that it was, indeed, still even on. And I vividly recall a conversation with another American expat about laundry. "The machine just kept going and going and going," he said, horrified. "It just didn't stop."

This new machine has 11 different programs. The wash cycle times range from 30 minutes ("delicate colors and all types of slightly soiled garments") to 155 minutes ("extremely soiled whites, sheets, tablecloths, etc.").

One. Hundred. And. Fifty-five. Minutes.

That's over two and a half hours. Including a pre-wash cycle. But not including drying time.

This might take a while.

Speaking of time, I took the following pictures yesterday. Can you guess what time it was?

The amount of traffic might give you a clue.

This one should help a lot.

Any idea?

I took all those pictures at 10:15 in the p.m. Because I looked up and realized how weirdly light it was outside. It's the season: weirdly long days and pukh (Stalin snow).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Happiest Sound in the World

Is it a child's laughter?

The roar of the home crowd on Opening Day?

The soft murmurings of a lover in your ear?

NO! It's the spin cycle of the INDESIT WIDXL 86!

Look, look! Here it is . . . WASHING OUR CLOTHES!


The Whirlpool AWG 530 sits alone in the hall . . . banished and ashamed.

No one wants it and it's lousy 5 kg capacity.

The shop will come sometime tomorrow to collect it.


Look what it did to my floor! Just look. The parquet is all warped.


This morning, Man Friday told me his friend/colleague/lover?, Igor, would be back this afternoon to accept delivery. I handed Man Friday a gift bag with a small bottle of Russki Standart Platinum and some fancy chocolates. He demurred. I insisted.

He took the bag.

And showed up this afternoon with the machine, Igor, and some other young Russian hottie. Igor played with Cat-O while Man Friday and Hottie installed the machine.

Whatever.

I'm washing whites right now and couldn't be happier.

Next: blue jeans!

THIS IS A BAD CAT!

And it explains why I had to reattach part of the curtain to the curtain rings the other day.


This is after I pulled her down from there. I had to stand on a chair and then climb on the window sill.

THIS is a good cat.

This is still a bad cat. But it is cute.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Don't Let Anyone Tell You

that Muscovites are cold, heartless people.

Au contraire, mon frère.

Today, I had two strangers be nice to me.

First, Baboo's glasses came apart. The screw came out of one side, and the arm/ear piece fell off. She had the arm and the screw. But it was so tiny, I couldn't get it back in with my giant, freak fingers.

The nearest eyeglass shop I know of has moved to parts unknown. So I tried the Posh Mall near us. Just inside the door is a kiosk with fancy designer sunglasses and eyeglass frames. I showed the clerk my dilemma, but she shook her head and said something about me needing a meister. She also went on about the nearest shop she could think of at some metro stop I've never heard of. Which means Too Damn Far for Me.

I thank her, and we wander farther down the mall. On our way back, she is on the phone and gesturing at us to come over.

"Tomorrow," she says to me in Russian. "Maybe something like 50 rubles. But if you can wait until tomorrow . . ."

I think she meant come back tomorrow. But she means pick it up tomorrow.

I reach into my purse for my card. It has my name and local phone number. She thinks I'm going for money. "No, don't pay until tomorrow," she tells me.

That was nice. And all above and beyond the call of duty.

Then, I was expecting The Spouse's suit to be delivered today after 4:00. I am to pony up the balance due, and some woman will hand me his suit and shirt. Around 5:00 the buzzer goes: I let her in. It is a woman about my age with a large purse.

I'm not convinced she can fit a suit in there, but what do I know?

"I'm supposed to collect money . . ." she says in Russian.

"And I'm supposed to get a suit," I say in English.

Cue the simultaneous whipping out of cell phones.

"Don't hand her any money without a suit," The Spouse tells me.

"Oh, dear," she tells me. "There's been a mix up."

Seems her English isn't half bad.

More phone conversations. We determine she will come back tomorrow, with a suit. I can keep my money until then.

"I'm sorry you had to make the trip for nothing," I tell her.

"Pul-eaz," she says. "I'm sorry we weren't able to bring you your suit."

Isn't that nice of her to say?

We decide she'll come back tomorrow between noon and 2:00.

Who knows: maybe I'll have a washing machine coming around that time, too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Comic Relief

T-SHIRT FAIL
On the way home from the gym: woman in front of me is wearing a blouse covered in images of the Pink Panther. And the words pink panther. Except it is spelled PINK PANIHER.

On the way to school: a little girl sitting on a bench, waiting for the bus is wearing a green t-shirt with a photo of a bunny rabbit and a guinea pig. Above the little pets are the words WET DREAM.

In the park on the way home from school: a young man is wearing a pink t-shirt with the words FUCK BARBIE.

**********
PARENTING FAIL
In front of the Kievskaya train station this morning, I saw an adorable baby cradled in her father's arms, gnawing on her father's pack of cigarettes.

**********
RUSSIAN VODKA QUOTES
There cannot be not enough snacks,
There can only be not enough vodka.
There can be no silly jokes,
There can only be not enough vodka.
There can be no ugly women,
There can only be not enough vodka.
There cannot be too much vodka,
There can only be not enough vodka.

Drinking beer without vodka is a waste of money.

100 years is not long.
100 miles is not far.
100 grams* is not vodka.

*100 grams: a unit of measure for serving vodka. Equal to a 100 ml or one fluid ounce.

Moscow Does Not Believe in Washer/Dryer Combos

I opened my email this morning to find this from Other Landlord (they are a couple . . .):

I just wanted to let you know that I spoke to Man Friday as soon as I learned about the washing machine problems, gave him money, and instructed him to replace the old one with a similar one which both washes and dries. (Believe me, we know how important the drying function is!) Man Friday was under the impression that the machine he purchased did, indeed, included the drying function. In any case, I just spoke to him to find out what happened. . .

We really are sorry for the inconvenience and want to let you know that we are not trying to make your lives difficult. You have been great tenants and very understanding. Thanks.

It is all complicated because only The Spouse has ever even seen the landlords. They are not Russians, and now live and work in Far East Asia (which is why they tapped Man Friday to help us when we need it . . . and he has always been very helpful). The total of my correspondence with them began yesterday. I have never needed to contact them for anything before. I do think they consider us good tenants (we have not approached them about reducing our rent the way so many other expats have been doing in the last six months . . . but, conversely, most Russian landlords were raising rents willy-nilly with no regard for contracts before the economic crisis).

According to Man Friday, the description on the shop's website of the machine he purchased said that it was a washer/dryer combo.

When he called the store, ironically named El Dorado, they said, "Oh. Yeah. That's wrong."

They also said, "Oh, that machine you bought from us? It may have had a mechanical error."

Man Friday will no longer be shopping at El Dorado.

Now, The Spouse, ever the cynic, looked at the El Dorado website and says that he does not see any Whirlpool AWG 530 models masquerading as washer/dryer combos there.

Maybe they hopped right on that and corrected the error. As well as recalling all their products with "mechanical errors."

Drums fingers on desk top.

In the meantime, The Spouse heard from Man Friday. Other Landlord is arriving in Moscow tonight (they are in town for business from time to time), and will apparently select and bless the new washer/dryer personally.