Wednesday, September 30, 2009

O-H!

I-O!

And I didn't even go to that school. I went to THE Ohio University. Go Bobcats!

It is buckeye season in Moscow, however. Well, I think in Europe it is horse chestnut season, to be precise. Conker season if you're a Brit. Even my girls call them conkers now. Hell, I call them conkers now.

The first time I realized there were buckeyes in Europe, was one evening, a million years ago, when I was sitting in my car (back when I still had a car) in The Spouse's office parking lot (back when he worked for a company with its own parking lot). I was waiting, languishing, like always, and looking up at the trees along the side of the parking lot.

Suddenly, I realized that the leaves were familiar. They are very distinctive.

Sitting there, in my Skoda, in a parking lot in Bratislava, I was looking at the State Tree of Ohio.

Freaky.

Since then I have come to love conker season (I just can't call them "buckeyes" here). The girls do too. There is something so lovely about the feel of them. We are compelled to gather them, and we don't know why. They dry up eventually and lose their sheen. But until then they are smooth, almost slippery. Something wonderful to have in your pocket on an autumn day.

There are plenty of  trees in the park. And two in front of our building. So we have amassed quite a collection. Which the cats chase around the apartment at night.



Changing Topics: Today, on the Metro, I sat across from two young women. They were not traveling together. Both wore fashionably-torn jeans with, and this is where it gets interesting, black fishnet stockings underneath.

They had fishnets under their jeans, but on purpose. So you can see the fishnet through the rips.

Is this IN?

Oh, and while I am on the subject of "What's Hot!" can anyone explain this mineral make up to me? It was everywhere I looked over the summer. I bought some. But it is MESSY! If I don't get it all over the bathroom sink, I get it all over whatever shirt I have on. I mean, I don't object to how it looks on my face.

(An aside: nothing can compare to Prescriptives in the old days when they custom blended a foundation for you at the counter . . . did anyone else love that loose powder they used to make that had water in it? You brushed it on, and felt it splash almost. But if you kept it too long, the moisture in the powder evaporated . . . just felt like regular old face powder.)


But the mess.

Anyhow, if anyone has any tips about how best to use this stuff . . . I'd be much obliged. I feel like I missed the memo or something.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Advantage

The days are rapidly becoming VERY short now.

It used to be light when the alarm goes off (6:15 the first time . . . then I swat the snooze button until 6:30). By "It used to be," I mean "When school started at the beginning of September."

Now it is dark outside when I get up. And today it was still dark during breakfast. Skittles, ever observant, noticed, "It's like night!"

Soon it will still be dark when they arrive at school at 8:00 a.m. It will certainly soon be dark when they get home from school, since most days that happens around 5:00 p.m.

You may think that all this darkness is depressing. And there is something to be said for the buzz one gets while lying in the sunshine, preferably on a beach. But there is a coziness to the short days, too.

And one BIG advantage. I say this because I am writing this entry while taking a break from cleaning the apartment. Because we are having a dinner guest tonight.

It occurred to me that since Said Guest won't cross my threshold until 8:30 this evening, he won't be able to see the details of my squalor. Hooray!

It's true: as much as I like a sunny day, specifically a sunny day in Moscow, the late afternoon sun comes pouring in my windows, magnifying every cat hair, garlic clove paper, litter box sand grain, and Kinder Egg wrapper.

I doubt it will be dark enough to obscure the laundry drying on the rack in the living room. I might actually have to put that away.

Weird Thing I Observed Yesterday: Woman in the gym locker room next to me, getting dressed to work out leaves ON her black knee-high nylons. Over them she adds a pair of black gym socks and her workout pants.

Why?

She left to do her workout, leaving me staring at her street shoes: the Monte Carlo Loafer in Grained Calf Leather from the Louis Vuitton Summer 2009 collection. An understated and practical shoe for only $635 US.

I am way too obsessed with other people's footwear.

In Which I Am a Stalker

Sigh.

Yeah. It's true.

I just finished reading a hysterical book called At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream. By the very funny Wade Rouse.

I have no idea how I stumbled on this title. I had never heard of him before, but, through the miracle of the Interwebs, I purchased it through Amazon, downloaded it to my Kindle (cannot say enough good things about how well this gadget is working out for me), and then laughed until I peed myself.

Well, not really until I peed myself. I laughed until I cried, and Skittles had to bring me a tissue and pat me on the back because she thought I was really sad. (It was the scene involving the septic tank guy. Although the episode with Beavis the Beagle did it to me, too.)

But I told Wade Rouse I laughed until I peed myself because HE ASKED ME IF I DID.

See, I googled him and found his website and sent him a little love note.

AND HE WROTE BACK!

Lucky for him I am nowhere near Michigan. Or I'd be lurking at the end of his driveway, hoping to catch a glimpse of him and Gary.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is This Too Much?


Isn't that cool? Their website says

The Daily Reviewer selects only the world's top blogs (and RSS feeds). We sift through thousands of blogs daily to present you the world's best writers. The blogs that we include are authoritative on their respective niche topics and are widely read. To be included in The Daily Reviewer is a mark of excellence.

I might have to make the badge a bit smaller eventually. But just for today, I'm basking.

Which is good because if you were to ask me ten minutes ago how I was doing today, I'd a said, "Flum." Flum is a word Skittles invented. And the best way to describe it is to slide way down in your chair until you are slumped like a rag doll. Now tell me how you are. You're flum.

Blame our late-night weekend revelry. And the very Moscow-y weather today.

It's drizzly and grey. We are in that in-between-time when the central heating has not yet been turned on, meaning it can actually be chilly in the apartment especially when it is not sunny outside. We have a blanket on top of the feather duvet at the moment. But in a few more weeks, when the heat is blasting, we won't need it anymore. We'll be wearing tank tops and shorts indoors then. Odd, isn't it? But so very Moscow-y.

Since I subscribe to the notion that there are few things exercise won't improve, I dragged my sorry ass across the pool 50 times this morning. But it did nothing to energize me today.

Until I got home and found the Top Blogs email. That was cool.

Hurray for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Party Report

Okay, we got home at 4:00 in the a.m., but I'm not really that much worse for wear. Other than the lack of sleep, that is. I, fortunately, did not drink too much wine. Or at least not any more than I might just at home on a Saturday evening. And the party was good fun.

Highlights included the following:
  • Upon arrival, being served a glass of champagne in the kitchen by a cheerfully drunk Russian fellow who kissed my hand and then toasted, "To the lovely ladies present!" As the evening progressed and he became progressively more inebriated, he became more and more affectionate. As he finally left the party in a whirling, stumbling blurr, I said to The Spouse, "I was starting to think he was going to hump my leg." The Spouse replied, "I think he did hump my leg." He then relayed a conversation he had where the Potential Leg Humper declared, "Yeah, we all die. But love lasts forever!" When The Spouse took the opposite view, that love does not last forever, and that this is actually a good thing for it enables us to love again after a breakup or the death of a loved one, PLH squinted at him blearily and replied, "I LIKE THE PHILOSOPHERS. ESPECIALLY THE CYNICS. YOU KNOW . . . CICERO."
  • Getting the whole story from our French friend who had the swine flu this summer. Seems the illness lasted only about three days in his case, but then he was obliged to quarantine himself (on strictly an honor system as no one official or medical ever followed up on him) for a further ten days. Thankfully, this occurred in Paris. "But you must have had to venture out at some point, no?" I asked him. "For . . . I dunno . . . toilet paper and milk?" But no, it was his parent's Paris apartment, and his mother (who I have met and adore) is a champion provisioner. He wanted for nothing. For ten days.
  • Discovering I was the oldest person at a party once again. The Spouse is only four years younger than I am. And our Slovak friend's new boss, an extremely charming and flirtatious man from Vienna, is probably in our ballpark. But it just cracks me up whenever I realize that I am old enough to be the mother of the majority of the people at these events. Doesn't seem to bother any of them. The only real drawback was that I did not know any of the music played last night. But it wasn't unpleasant music.
  • Meeting an adorable young French woman who works for Givenchy in Moscow. She explained that one of the perks of her job is getting samples of the products. "But, I have over two liters of perfume now," she said. "I'll never use it all." Sadly, I neglected to get her card before we left. Because I would be really happy to help her with her perfume problem.
  • Juvenile puns and riffs on the names of two Russian banks: Sber Bank (which I cannot help but rename "Sperm Bank" whenever I see the signs) and MasterBank. Those provided material  for a good ten minutes worth of snickering.
But the best part of the evening, and by this I mean the most Blog-Worthy Moment, occurred before we even got to the party.

We went out for dinner before, and then, as it was still too early to arrive at the party, we stopped at a coffeehouse. While standing in line, we realized that the two guys in front of us each had a "murse." You know, a sort of man-purse. Theirs were large and rather ornate. Way more girl-y than any of these. One had silver ornamentation even, like what one might find on a saddle at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress.

Now, The Spouse also had a bag with him, but his was a 15-year-old, army green, Eddie Bauer messenger-style bag. No one would ever call his bag a "murse."

You also need to know that in Europe, and especially in Russia, my gaydar, normally pretty reliable, is wildly inaccurate. The fashions . . . the body language . . . It all results in a conviction that many men here, while ostensibly macho, are in reality no more than 50 grams [a shot] of vodka away from tumbling into bed together. We have even developed a sort of short-hand for this game of speculation where we mutter comments to each other about the lessening amounts of vodka we think the subject at hand would require before shedding what remains of his inhibitions.

We were doing this in line at the coffee house.

"Whaddya think? 50 grams?"

"What on earth could he be carrying in a bag like that?"

"I'm sorry. No straight man would pick a bag like that."

"And those SHOES!"

Yes, we were being catty.

Just then the barrista completed our coffee orders and set them on the counter in front of the two murse-carriers, one of whom turned to us and said without a trace of accent or irony, "I think these are yours?"

You'd thing we'd learn. Once, while standing in line at a McDonald's in Buenos Aires, The Spouse considered what he deemed to be a December-May romance in front of us and commented to me, "What? She looks like his mom!" At which point the woman turned and shot him a look that would freeze water. Although heavily pregnant, I had to stand in line while he excused himself in search of a table as far away from the counter as possible.


It is not like English is some obscure tribal language involving clicks and whirrs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Had a Dream

Two, count 'em, TWO friends have reported that I have appeared in their dreams this week.

My darling friend John had this dream:

I was sitting at a bar drinking cognac with some people I didn't know, and you walked in (with dark hair) with a few friends, and you were 'looking for the next whiskey bar' ala Jim Morrison and the Doors. I'm not sure what city we were in, but I left my wallet on the table and came back later to find that no one had stolen it. Anyway, no, I do not normally dream about alcohol, and I hate cognac anyway. It kind of cracked me up this morning thinking about it.

I don't care for cognac either. Or whiskey. And, I must confess, I had to google the song reference, since I've never been a big Doors fan. Although I thought Val Kilmer was pretty hot in the bio-pic. And I did visit Morrison's grave in Paris. That was my first trip to Paris, so maybe it was 1992 . . . Is Morrison even still buried there? But the point of that visit was to see Père Lachaise in general, and not Morrison specifically. I recall being more impressed to visit Gertrude Stein, actually.

Then my long-time girlfriend, Janet wrote this today:

Had a dream with you in it the other night.  We were flying to Russia with some guy who had a snake.  I kept saying that I really didn't want to go on the trip (it was a school trip), and was trying to get home.  Very strange.

Remember when people all over the US were having dreams about then-President Clinton? Are you dreaming about me, too? Because I don't want to be president.

Changing topics completely, I bought two pieces of jewelry in Columbus this summer (at a bead shop called Byzantium). One was a carved quartz Ganesh.



I liked so much of what was in the shop, but the problem was I either balked at the price or I wanted an entire collection of something. Then I saw Ganesh. I didn't know anything about him other than he's that Indian god with the elephant head, but I was strangely drawn to this piece. The woman behind the counter told me Ganesh is The Remover of Obstacles and the Patron of Letters. She said, "We're drawn to what we need." Maybe that was just clever marketing, but I had to have Ganesh. And I wear this necklace almost every day.

I bought this little bell at the same time:

 

It reminded me of Cat-O.

But the best part of this bell is the little clapper:



Can you see the little mouse? Isn't that a riot?

Although I simply HAD TO HAVE IT! I did not wear it until today. The incessant bell-ringing was awfully loud. I held the bell in my hand during most of my Metro commute today because I felt self-conscious and the Moscow Metro is, oddly, a quiet place. People don't talk, probably because the trains are too noisy for chit-chat. And all you hear in the hallways and on the escalators, other than public service announcements, seasonal songs, or ads, is the click-clack of high heels as everyone walks along to their train.

It would make a great cat bell, however, for an outdoor cat/bird killer. Wouldn't it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Catch Up/Ketchup

Okay. This is what my world looks like. Just so you know.

Recognize this product?



If you said "spaghetti," that's right. It's spaghetti. Which, in Cyrillic is СПАГЕТТИ. One more example of how ridiculously easy Russian is. S-P-A-G-E-T-T-I.

Once you decode the Cyrillic, so many words are the same or practically the same as in English.

Or at least French.

Or, in this case, Italian.

Can you find the word СПАГЕТТИ on the package?

You can't?

I'll give you a clue. Here it is.



What's that you say? It doesn't look like СПАГЕТТИ to you?

Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

That's because it is in italic or cursive Cyrillic. Which is the bane of my existence. Those two letters that look like lower-case Ms . . . those are Ts. Uh-huh. They are too. And that letter that looks like a backwards S? That's a G. Which in printed Cyrillic looks like this: Г.

It used to make me cry when I encountered italic Cyrillic. It happens a lot with restaurant menus. Now I'm sort of on to their nasty little game, so while I can't say I really read it, I do make a sort of symbol swap in my head, kind of like how I used to read Chinese. Back when I could read a little Chinese. Which was many years ago.

But because the spaghetti people know that their labeling makes me sad, they have included a little gift for me.

Did you see the gift? It says right on the package that they have included a gift from the nice people at Calve.



Yes, that's right. It's ketchup! Preservative-free ketchup to boot.

I know I sound snarky. Actually I'm rather tickled that I can read this much Cyrillic. And I was happy to have the ketchup. I just hope it's not expected that I will put the ketchup on the spaghetti.

In Banya Follow Up, I neglected to mention that during yesterday's banya tour, I confessed to Larissa and the Sanduny rep that sauna always makes me have to pee. So where are the toilets in the banya? Because I will need them.

Larissa and the Sanduny rep pointed in unison, "Oh, toilets are there."

Then Larissa had a thought. "Waaaaaaait a minute!" She got a funny look on her face. "You shouldn't need to pee because you should be sweating out all your fluids!"

Oh. Right. Like on a really hot summer day when you are doing something physical. Once I helped a friend judge a horse show in August. We both drank can after can of soda, but neither of us needed the toilet even after an entire afternoon standing in the sun in the middle of the ring.

"I get the Kobe-beef thighs," I said.

"Well, that's just weird," she couldn't figure it out. "You must be blocked or something."

Then Larissa had a eureka moment. "YOU'RE AMERICAN!" she remembered. "You like your drinks cold! That's why they run right through you. DON'T DRINK COLD DRINKS AT BANYA!"

The Spouse thinks that's all horse shit. Like how the Slovaks think drinking cold carbonated drinks will give you a cold. Or that a breeze, especially one across the small of your back, will cause you to die of the bloody flux. Or sitting on a cold stone bench will cause problems with your uterus.

Now, in the interest of fair and full disclosure, every time I have used a sauna, it has been after swimming. So maybe the need to pee has something to do with being submerged first. Or maybe Larissa is right. I'll have to conduct an experiment and get back to you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Russian Banya (But Where Afraid to Ask)

First, I cannot say enough good things about Larissa of  Charisma Travel. The woman is completely out of control, and I mean this in the best possible sense. I want to hang out with her. My Hungarian friend recommended her after going on a backstage tour at the Bolshoi (something I am going to do next month). Larissa was also the one who arranged the MOSFilm tour.

Today, she took us to the Sanduny Banya. There are some good articles about this banya here, here, and here. Good video here. The official website is here. If you don't read Russian, scroll D-O-W-N and click on the UK flag for English. It's sort of a Google translation, so things come out goofy, but you get the idea. I recommend clicking on the video: it's about the restaurant, but even if you don't speak Russian, you will get a sense of typical Russian cuisine. And some good shots of the men's lounging area. Much better than I was able to do with my piddly camera. You don't have to sit through the whole thing (it's long at ten minutes), but do have a look.

The Sanduny banya dates from 1808 and not only is it quite old and very highly regarded, but it was the first banya to be constructed of something other than wood. Moscow was not even the capital of Russia when it was built. Lots of famous artists and writers have come to this banya. Mayakovsky even has his own bench.

Our tour opened with shots of some sort of  liqueur  (lemon and cranberry flavor). "To make the tour go more merry," Larissa explained.



I had the lemon one. It was good.

We spent most of the tour in the higher-end men's section (since it was closed to customers on Tuesdays), so all my photos are from there. The sexes are divided and each has an up-scale banya and an economy-level banya.

First, we saw the upscale men's changing room. You get naked, you get your sheet, and you hang out here.



Hard to tell from my photo, but in the videos and other sites, you can see that this is a very elegant room with leather seats. You hang out here between rounds in the steam room, drinking tea (or stronger stuff if you are a man . . . they don't sell alcohol on the women's side), chatting, or conducting business. There's a lot more to banya than just getting clean.

You need to go into the steam room at least five times (or until your flesh becomes blotchy . . . "like Japanese beef" says Larissa). In between, you hang out. For every minute in the steam room, you chill for at least three. So five minutes in the steam = fifteen minutes chilling.

Here is a sign that explains how long you can expect to wait for various items you may want to order while you are chilling. Just so you know how long you can hang out in the steam room. All menu items here are made-to-order.



Cold menu items . . . 15-25 minutes
Salads . . . 20-30 minutes
Warm menu items . . . 25-30 minutes
Soups . . . 20-30 minutes
Main dishes (I think . . . I'm just guessing here . . . tell me if I'm wrong) . . . 25-45 minutes
Desserts . . . 25-30 minutes

Did I forget to mention that banya is a three-hour event. Minimum. It will set you back about 1000 rubles or $33US, depend on whether you want the First Class/Upscale banya or Economy . . . not counting rental for your sheet, slippers, towel, banya hat, and beverage which can be had for another 860 rubles or $28.50US . . . I don't know what the birch/oak branches run. Banya is like bread to the Russians. You can't mess with the prices very much or there will be riots in the streets.

Here is the Sanduny Banya Wall of Fame.



Russians will know all these people. Here they are, hanging out in their sheets and sweating.

Here is a banya hat. It is made of felt. You must wear it or the heat will damage your hair. Or so they tell me. I have, apparently, been doing the sauna/banya thing all wrong at my gym. I never see anyone in these hats (which, conveniently, can also hold cold water that you then pour over your head), but I do see most women wrapping a towel around their heads. 



You have to take one of these plastic tubs.



You wash it out with soap and hot water here, so it only has YOUR germs.



Be careful: the water pressure is quite strong.

You fill it with cold water and put your leaves in it to soak for 30 minutes while you go into the steam room.

These are oak leaves. They are good for problem skin. Like mine. 



You must hold them with the white gloves because the water that remains on the leaves can become really hot in the steam room. You could get burned.

You can hire an expert to beat you with the leaves. They use the branches to push the steam closer to your body and to hold it over areas where you might be having problems. They will know you are done when you scream. Or so Larissa tells me.

Oh, and by the way, never go into the steam room wet. The drops of water on your skin will quickly rise to the temperature of the atmosphere and could burn you. Sit on your sheet in the steam room: the benches will be hot and fry your goodies otherwise. Plus, you need the sheet to blot your sweat.

It is important to duck as you enter the steam room until you figure out how hot it is. This will keep you from singeing your eyebrows or worse. Oh, and enter QUICKLY. Don't let the steam out the door or the others will yell at you. 

Here is a steam room.



The higher you sit, the hotter it gets. Try to restrict your movements. It's hot in there, and moving will just make you more tired and dizzy. And do NOT sit on the steps. Dizzy people fleeing the steam room will trip on you.

In the women's steam room, there is a sign reminding you NOT to enter with lotions and potions on your skin. Salt and honey. That's all you can use in the steam room. First use the salt as a scrub to open your pores. Then smear yourself with honey. Not only does honey have healing properties for your skin, it will also make you sweat more, purging you of toxins.

The first time you go into the steam room, you probably won't last very long. Just a few minutes. Then come out and douse yourself in icy water from these buckets.



Or hop in one of these tubs of cold water.



Repeat until you resemble Kobe steak. Oh, and do not wash with soap until you are finished. The soap strips your skin of oils. You need those oils to protect you from the heat. Bring along some sort of baby soap. That's all you need. But not until you have been through the cycle at least five times.

You might have a massage on one of these benches.



Or, if you are Russian, your friend will scrub you here with a loofa.

Finally, you can take a dip in the pool if you want.



You can have a manicure or a pedicure, any sort of hair salon service, and, if I understood correctly, there is also a dry cleaners on the premises.

So who wants to go?

Monday, September 21, 2009

When Worlds Collide. Or Something.

One day during the summer, I received an email from someone in Moscow named Martin, asking if I "still wanted to do any acting?"

Huh?

Still do any acting?

I had no idea what this was all about, but made some cheery, non-committal reply like "I'm not in Moscow now, but when I get back, sure."

Martin asked to let him know when I returned.

Okaaaay. I did that. Fast forward to this month.

He sent me to audition for some voice-over work. (Haven't gotten any, but thanks. It was fun.)

Oh, have I mentioned, at this point we still have not met in person? I chat about him to the nice fellow who runs the studio where I made my audition tape. He concurs that Martin is a good egg. Certainly one-of-a-kind.

Friday, I get another email from Martin:

This Sunday we are having a little performance including a recitation of some of my own work.

Please come.


He includes the program which promises "a recital of poems & advanced graffiti," live music performed by a band calling themselves The Funkovich Project, an episode from Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, "& the inevitable addition of some hilarious comic interludes."

The curtain rises at 19:00, and the "entry fee is optional," meaning they will pass the hat (or teapot, as it turned out) at some point during the evening.

All this just walking distance from our place.

The Spouse, having cosy-ed up with some vodka and a good book, declines to join me.

Fine. He can babysit.

So off I head into the soft Moscow night.

The evening is just as I expected.

I looked at Martin's website to make sure I could identify him at the event. Turns out that wasn't necessary, but who knew?

As predicted, the band is funky. There's a guitar, a bass, keyboards, and a sax. They seem to be speaking English, but it's hard to tell. They're not bad, actually. They suggest, at one point, that they are sort of winging it, but although there is a sense of a jam session at times, they don't seem unrehearsed.

During the music I look at the crowd and play the "Who's Hot?" game. This is a game The Spouse and I have refined over the years. In Slovakia, where there are only eight attractive men and they keep them on three-hour shifts, we used to sit on the Main Square and play "There's Your Boy/Girlfriend." I know another couple who play a version they call "Death Is Not an Option." It's always a good way to pass the time, so I scan the crowd, mentally rating the attractiveness of the men (it's Moscow, so the women are all off the chart . . . no need to keep score there).

Martin resembles the quintessential absent minded professor. Or English academic. Slightly formal, yet slightly rumpled, hair that refuses to be contained. Charming, but no doubt complicated.

Then there is Young Guy with Biceps sitting against the wall to my right. Goodness. He is very cute. And tall. Helloooo!

Next to him is Dude with Camera. Young and attractive too, he's taking pictures of the proceedings, but has become distracted by Gorgeous Young Russian Girl on my left. He takes her picture, but the camera's flash gives him away. She smiles, but indicates he should stop that. He makes himself a tripod of sorts, by steadying the camera on his beer glass so he can take pictures of her sereptitiously. She's flattered, but keeps waving at him to stop. He doesn't.

I watch the band for a while.

The sax player reminds me of someone. Can't think of who. But he is definately attractive. Seems to have both a light on and a sense of humor based on his interactions with the rest of the band. My. He's adorable.

The band finishes, the actors do their Pinter scene, Martin reads his poetry, and the band comes back for another set, this time with a pretty blonde chanteuse. They play a few more numbers including a rockabilly version of Sixteen Tons and an encore of Tainted Love.

I go home.

This morning I was reading the blogs on the right side of the page here --->

I hit on Impressions of an Expat, a blog by a fellow American who I have never met. He writes really well, almost poetically, about his experiences here in Moscow. Today, he has posted this link. Go on. Read it.

Isn't that too weird?

For a town of over 12 million people, it sure is small sometimes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Culling

I girded my loins, took a deep breath . . .

and ventured into the girls' room yesterday.

It is just a disaster, largely because they HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF. And few places to store it.

I know for a fact that Skittles, when asked to put away clean laundry, just stuffs it into the little cabinet she uses as an armoire (it is, in fact, an old TV cabinet from Home Depot or IKEA or something). I remind her regularly, "You DON'T want me to look in there," because that results in lots of cursing and tears. Largely mine.

But yesterday I knew I could not delay any longer.

Not only because they deserve a cleaner, more organized place for their clothes. And not just because they have absolutely no idea what they own. But because I saw a notice for a clothing drive.

And the deadline is the end of September.

I received this:
Expats,

My company, Contrast Cleaners, is running through to the 30th September its annual charity event "Coats for Kids" where we collect and distribute clothes and shoes to orphanages in the Moscow region.

In the past 2 years we have collected on average around 1500 items per year and are looking for your generosity to improve on that this year, an especially difficult one for charities. So have a rummage in your wardrobes and chests of drawers for any unwanted clothes, in the age range from 1 to 18 years, and in reasonable condition.

You can donate the clothes or shoes by bringing them to any of our collection points or express dry cleaners where we will clean the clothes and carry out minor repairs at our cost before arranging the distribution to children charities.

You can view a list of our locations on our web site, www.contrast-cleaners.ru where you will also find more detail and links to the charities we have supported in the past. Just click on About the Company and then Charities.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Sincerely
Malcolm Hill
Partner
Contrast Cleaners

Seems ideal to me. There is one of these dry cleaner shops inside a grocery store down the street. And while in Moscow one can just put unwanted items next to the trash dumpsters and they will quickly find good homes, this seemed a more reliable way of getting decent used clothes and shoes directly to a good cause with very little effort on my part.

So I culled.



Five bags of kid clothes and one bag of shoes. And this is without even opening the BIG armoire in the girls' room. I'll just have to get to that next weekend.

The girls hate this process because I make them try things on, and it is so time consuming. I only spent two hours (one per kid) here.

The Spouse offered to help me carry them over to the shop later today. Malcolm Hill asked me to kindly spread the word, so consider yourself informed.

The carrot I dangled in front of the girls as a reward was Lunch Out. I had hoped to get one final day outside at Scandinavia's Summer Terrace (much cheaper than inside and a quiet oasis right off Tverskaya). But when we arrived, there was not a stick of furniture outside. Starlite Diner is not a bad second choice, and just up the street. So that was the Booby Prize.

After lunch, Baboo and I went to pick up (still more) newly arrived 6e textbooks. Another $100 worth (I swear I have already spent $200 on her books). And her math workbook and an English textbook have not yet arrived.

The Spouse and Skittles went to have a shoe of his repaired.

Then they stopped for a pastry and a chat.

About how the adults' personal life is none of her damn business, thank you very much.

See Friday night it happened again.

The Scene: Kids asleep in their room which is as geographically far from our room as is possible in our little place. They face the street (as do we) so the constant roar of the traffic covers up, on a normal night, the sounds of the television in the living room (which is between our bedrooms). That never disturbs her.

Our door was closed.

And yet. And yet . . .

The kid is somehow mysteriously tied to my nerve endings. I'm assuming it's mine. I should ask The Spouse to have what we here Chez Beet euphemistically call "A Moment to Himself" and see if the Money Shot wakes her from a sound sleep and causes her to wander the hall between her room and the toilet, weeping and retching.

So back in the bakery, he asked her why she thought it was any of her business. Her eyes welled up, and she started to get all weepy. And he said, "How's that pain au chocolate? Better than the one you had at the other place?"

And suddenly all was fine. They just . . . moved on.

Although now she's probably going to transfer the association to pain au chocolate and have to spend years in expensive regression therapy as an adult trying to figure out why French pastries simultaneously attract and repulse her. Or worse.

If you don't normally read the comments, go to the last entry and read those. The Loyal Beet-niks supplied some hilarious solutions.

I'm just glad I'm not the only one.

And now, for your amusement, some cat pictures:



Crooky has these funny back legs when she lies down.


We call this one "Cat-o-flage."

Tonight I'm going to a little soiree. Or salon. I'm not sure exactly what to call it. The Spouse will babysit.

The program promises a poetry reading and some music and a scene from a Harold Pinter play and "hilarious comic interludes." I have never met any of these people (another in my series of Moscow Virtual Friends), so if I don't make it home by midnight, I was last seen at Pivo Vodi, 26/1 Sretenka ul.

Good or bad, it could be good blog material.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blow. And a Plug.

I don't have any Moscow-related wonders/horrors/chuckles to share lately as I have been sort under self-imposed house-arrest with my cold. It, that is, the cold, is coming along nicely, given that it swept in without warning on Saturday night during dinner out at a Posh Moscow Restaurant, effectively ruining any notions I had about a little Saturday Night Romance With The Spouse.

Poor Spouse.

He was due, too, since Date Night was his idea.

Aside: Romance has become increasingly difficult these days, what with the light sleeping habits of The Skittle-One, her sudden awareness that her parents are (HORRORS!) sexually active, and her heartfelt wish that they refrain from doing so ever again until she has moved out. "I promise to do so as quickly as I can," she added. Talk about a block. Suggestions? Our apartment is very small.

But I digress.

Date Night was The Spouse's idea because we quarreled earlier in the week. Well, if you want my side of the story, he was Crank Monster and snapped my head off one night because he said I did not announce that I was going to bed and left him, alone and sad, in the living room.

In his defense, that was, indeed, the series of events.

Except, as I may have mentioned, we live in an apartment the size of a refrigerator box.

He could see my feet on the bed from where he sat, abandoned, on the living room sofa.

I had wandered off to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth, and then became distracted with toenail clipping and whisker removal and eyebrow tweezing and moisturizing and then remembered that I was right at the exciting part in my book and it was getting close to 11 o'clock and if I wanted to see the conflict resolve that night I'd better hurry up and get to it before it got too late.

So I was lying in bed reading my book when he came in and told me off.

The next day he declared we deserved a little time away from kids so we could work on our strengths, which really is being the best of friends and talking non-stop. In spite of the odd economic climate, he has had a couple of all-nighters recently, and he's just not 18 anymore. He has been exhausted, and this is never a good thing.

Once I arranged for the babysitter, he actually made a dinner reservation!

It's not like the man can't pick up the phone on his own, but he is usually so concerned about consensus that we have to discuss everything.

Sometimes a girl just wants to go on a date. That's already arranged. Because her fella already knows what she likes.

I had told him that a few weeks ago, and he remembered, and just did it. Which was so nice.

So I got to have breast of duck with foie gras, ginger puree, endive, plum wine, savoy cabbage, and oyster mushrooms. Oh, and a martini (actually TWO). And it was gooooood.

Except that on the way to the restaurant my throat began to hurt like hell. In the middle of the night I could no longer swallow, it hurt so much, and I repaired to the living room sofa where I dozed and watched a very old episode of Jon and Kate Plus Eight (where they still, apparently, liked each other).

Sunday I slept all day.

Seriously. After my short stint on the sofa, I crawled back to bed and slept until noon. Around 2:00 we went out for lunch. And then I went back to bed.

By now (Thursday), the cold has progressed to the point where I am blowing what is left of my brains out through my nose. Which is all chapped and peeling. Always a good, good look, isn't it? Peeling nostril?

Oh, and I've been coughing.

In my sleep.

In spite of my best efforts to dose myself with vodka/cough supressant/NyQuil. 

The Spouse told me so.

"I have?" I was crushed. I would so hate to have to sleep next to me.

"Yeah. But you're sick," he said, not unkindly. "And the coughing lets me know you're not dead."

Awww. He's said this before, and he's quite sincere. I guess that's as positive a spin as anyone can put on it.

"The coughing," he went on. "And the snoring. Oh, and the farting."

For better or worse, eh?

I do have this gadget, which is a life-saver. Yeah, it's gross, I know. But I swear it helps. With the coughing and snoring. Not sure about the farting.

But enough about bodily functions, you say. What else is happening Chez Beet?

Well, I am loving the Kindle. Yeah, I saw a less-than-flattering review in The New Yorker. But as an expat, it's a wonderful thing. I believe that it has encouraged me to read more, partially because it is so light and easy to carry around with me. (Back in my days of car-ownership, I always, on the advice of Stephen King, carried books with me for those little moments during the day when I could get in a page or two. Commuting by foot and by Metro has made me loathe to carry more than I absolutely have to.) Since the first of the month I have already plowed through three Daniel Silva thrillers (A Death in Vienna, The Confessor, and The Defector), Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, and Heather Armstrong's It Sucked and Then I Cried. Last night I started the new Dan Brown book.

None of these cost me more than $10, and none of them had to be schlepped back to Moscow in a suitcase. I have 38 other titles already loaded on it, and even though I am not in the US, I can buy and download books through my computer.

Oh, and I tested my Kindle in the sun: mine doesn't fade.

Possibly one advantage to living in Moscow?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bad Cats

I have a nasty cold, but my friend who already HAD swine flu tells me I probably don't have swine flu. Or maybe I do, as many cases are quite mild. I did try to warn a French friend not to greet me with the standard French cheek kisses today, but she (bless her heart) announced, "I DON'T CARE!" and bis-ed me anyhow.

Awww.

Come to think of it, the friend who had swine flu is French.

Hmmm.

Last night, while I tossed and turned and snorted and coughed and wheezed and sweated, the cats, performing their nightly Cat Antics, turned on the TV and CHANGED THE CHANNEL. To cartoons.

I awoke, in a fog, trying to figure out why The Spouse was in the living room watching TV loudly at 3:14 in the a.m.

He wasn't, as it turned out.

The cats also, apparently, tried to hack into the computer. Frustrated, they unplugged the keyboard.

Brats.

Tell me again what redeeming features cats bring. Because The Spouse doesn't see any in them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Have to Ask for a WHAT?

Remember my shower problem?

Well, The Spouse, after careful consideration, realized that he is perfectly capable of replacing the shredded hose that connects the tap with the shower head. Last night he even left work a little early in hopes of getting to the hardware store before they close.

Alas: they close at 7:30 and he got there at 8:00.

So he took the thing apart, handed me the hose, and told me how to say it in Russian.

Are you ready?

The Russian word for hose is шланг.

That's right. Say SCHLONG.

I cracked up like a prepubescent school boy.

I need a new schlong. My old one doesn't work.

It's sooooo juvenile, I know. But I just can't say it with a straight face.

But I did it! I went to the hardware store, I showed the lady my old, tattered шланг, and she sold me a new one.

Baboo carried it home in a bag.

On a more mature note, I picked up these cards today.

I love Mr. Cat and His Catfish. The title of the piece translates to something like "Here Is Happiness."

And the animals! The title of this one is "Symbols."


Click on the images for a better view of them.

I Have to Ask for a WHAT?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Myself! Myself!

Somewhere along the way, in the past, oh, 48 years or so, I heard someone tell the story of their toddler, who, when especially pleased with something she'd done, used to wrap her arms around herself and say, "Oh! Myself! Myself!"

I don't remember who told me this story. And it's possible the child did this when she was in need of reassurance and not when she was contented. If you are the source and I screwed it all up, please, don't tell me. Because it will ruin the delicate plot thread that holds this blog entry together. These things are tenuous at best.

Because, speaking of self-love, I broke the hand-held shower.

Beet Reader 1: Did she just say what I thought she said?
Beet Reader 2: Woody Allen does call it "sex with the one you love best."
Beet Reader 1: A lot of people think Woody Allen is a perv these days.


Well, actually, the hose exploded off the wall while I was setting the water temperature to take a shower last night.

So that's one of those annoying things that plague me. Another thing that needs to be fixed. But The Spouse says there's nothing wrong with the shower that a quick trip to the hardware store won't fix.

I guess that means he's planning to fix it. He's done this before. But I'm not sure when he's going to find time to pop into the hardware store before the weekend.

So I gave the kids a plastic bowl and said "Rinse your shampoo off with this." because I'm a Lean, Mean Parenting Machine.

Okay, maybe not so lean. But I did go to the gym today. The kids may have to use a plastic bowl, but I can take showers at the gym.

I went to the gym, I did. For the first time since I left Moscow to go to the Summer Dacha. I swam my kilometer (Myself! Myself!). And scrubbed off two months worth of dead skin cells in the sauna.

Yeah, it was gross. But my skin feels so nice now.

On the way home I stopped at the bank and paid the telephone bill.

Because we lost a bill right about the time I left Moscow to go to the Summer Dacha. Making us derelicts in the eyes of RosTelecom.

We owe them 300 rubles (about $10US).

But without that little piece of paper that comes in the mail, I can't pay the bill. And then next month, they will send you a NEW bill. But it doesn't have any information about the previous month.

You have to wait for them to send you a copy of the original bill. In the mail.

In the meantime, they call you regularly to remind you that you are a deadbeat.

It's a recording. But you cannot hangup without listening to the entire message. Or they call you back. Forcing you to listen to the entire message.

As soon as I hear a Russian man's recorded voice on the other end, I know who is calling and what they are want. I don't need to hear the entire message. I can't understand the details of it anyhow. What I need is for RosTelecom to send me another one of those damn pieces of paper.

They eventually did that, and I paid it today. But I didn't understand the nice lady behind the glass at the bank who asked me for 50 mmmmhhuumms, which I interpreted as "50 rubles." I didn't have 50 rubles, and I said so. I only had bigger bills. I hadn't done the math at home, so I didn't know exactly how much money she would want. Something in the neighborhood of 300 rubles was all I knew.

So then she asked me for one ruble. Which I gave her.

Duh-oh.

She wanted 50 kopecks.

I have a purse full of kopecks. There were probably 5,802 kopeck coins in various denominations lying on the floor of the bank. They are worth so little, honestly, people do not even stop to pick them up.

Aside: As I need to pay for some things related to school in euros, I was wondering what is the plural of euro in Russian? Because the official and correct use is always singular even though it sounds a bit odd to my ear. And so I learned that there's no plural for euro in Russian either. And now you know, too.

But I digress.

I left the bank feeling like an idiot.

Okay, Teller Lady probably won't remember me. But I still felt like an idiot.

Fast forward to later this afternoon, when I stopped on the way home from school to buy Baboo a sloika (think "danish"). The price was 32 rubles. I was sure I handed Sloika Lady 52 rubles. But she gave me back a whole bunch of change. I was about to insist she take it back, but the kids said I handed her 502 rubles.

"Well, that doesn't make any sense," I told them.

Am I, in this blog, documenting my slow decline into dementia?

I may have oatmeal for brains, but I do make an excellent pesto.

Seriously. It's good. But it really does need the lemon juice.

And I produced another in a series of kick-ass roasted chickens today.

Does anything smell better than a roasting chicken?

I have taken to spatchcocking my chickens.

Beet Reader 1: What did she just say?
Beet Reader 2: Perv!


I saw someone on a cooking show (probably the same person who told the story about the toddler) cut the backbone out of a chicken before grilling it on a barbecue. And I thought it might make for a nice roasted chicken.

I slice a few onions, cut up a lemon, and pull off some cloves of garlic to put in the pan under the flattened chicken. It smells just heavenly when it's roasting, and makes for a rather tasty chicken, too.

On a completely different topic, I am loving the Kindle. My big fear is dropping it. Or the cats knocking it on the floor. Because I get the impression that they can suffer irreparable damage if they get dropped.

I'm reading a fun spy novel on the Kindle right now. It's got espionage and Russian oligarchs and MI5, and I know where all the scenes that take place in Moscow are. I need to go finish reading it because the villain has our hero, the hero's wife, and the title character at his dacha where he plans to dispatch them.

Further, I am happy to report that I purchased another book by the same author, downloaded it to my computer, and copied it successfully onto the Kindle. So, fellow expats, one can use these things outside the US.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go see if Daniel manages to off Ivan before Ivan offs him.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm Ready for My Close Up

Yesterday, we went on a tour of Мосфильм (Mosfilm), also known as the Russian Hollywood.

The event was noteworthy, not just because we got to see the extensive film studios and grounds, but because I am, as of this writing, no longer either a trolley bus nor a marshrutka (маршруткa) virgin.

That's a big deal for me.

Perhaps I have mentioned this before, but, odd as it may sound coming from a serial expat, I abhor new experiences. Really.

If you want me to be intrepid, you basically have to drag me by the ear to try anything new.

My comfort zone is pretty damn small.

But getting to the film studios required taking the Metro (in which I have an advanced degree) and then either a bus, a trolley bus, or a marshrutka.

The last form of transportation is a sort of fixed route minivan. You pay the driver 20 rubles (he will make change), and you can get off anywhere along that route. But you have to know where that is and pipe up. Besides being a bit language intensive, the other potential drawback to this form of transportation is that the drivers like to wait until most or all of the seats are full before embarking on the route. If you are in a hurry, this might not be the mode for you.

But we were a large group, so we filled up a van and went off, en masse, to Mosfilm. Coming back, there were not enough places in the marshrutka for all of us, so we took the trolley bus.

This is slightly more expensive (25 rubles each). You buy a ticket from the driver (again, he will make change), and then put it into a slot that allows you to pass through the turnstile. Don't forget to retrieve your ticket. I seem to recall a tragic story about a brave expat who ventured onto a tram not realizing she was required to retrieve her ticket. When she was berated by the driver, the rest of the tram rose to her defense, shouting back at the driver to cut her some slack and just drive the tram!

These are the tales that chill my blood.

But now I might actually try taking the B trolley bus. It goes around the Garden Ring and could be pretty darn useful. There is a stop practically in front of our building. If I had any idea how often it runs, I'd be in business. I suppose I could sit there for a while with a notebook and a pen and see if there's a recognizable pattern.

But what about the tour, you ask?

Blogger is a clumsy vehicle for uploading lots of photos. So unless you are my Facebook friend, you will have to content yourself with these paltry offerings from the tour.

There is quite an extensive collection of vintage vehicles, all fully-restored and operational. If a director needs one, it be started up and driven to the site.

There were lots of costumes from famous Russian movies.

No animals were harmed in the making of this film.
Apparently, if an animal needs to move in a scene, they use live animals. But if the animal is merely a glimpse of something in the background, then they use mock-ups like this one. The guide assured us that it looked quite real in the finished movie. Ew.

My favorite part of the tour was the back lot of Old Moscow. All of this was facade, made of Styrofoam and plywood. But it looked convincing, even at rather close range.

The facility is remarkably kid-friendly. We had six children in our group, and they were encouraged to climb on and in things. I was very pleasantly surprised.

I was also pleased that everyone seemed to enjoy the tour. It's one of those Something-For-Everyone experiences. I recommend it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

In Which I Have a Bone to Pick

Behold.

This is my stove.


It is a behemoth with four gas burners and two electric burners on the top. Inside there is only one oven rack, but it is large enough to hold a Thanksgiving turkey or two lasagna dishes. Those are the good things about it.

The cons?

First, you have to light the gas burners and the oven with matches. I am not afraid of gas stoves. But I wish I could find an appropriate clicker here so I wouldn't have to be scrambling for matches all the time or taking them from local restaurants. Airlines frown on putting those nice clickers in your checked luggage. I know because I asked.

Second, the whole thing seems to pitch ever-so-slightly forward making cookware slide off the front two burners. All omelets and pancakes come out uneven. But even this I can live with; I just don't use the front burners (although The Spouse does).

What has really stumped me this week was the discovery that one of those electric burners is often on (i.e. hot to the touch) even though I never use those burners and the control dial on the front of the stove indicates that the burner is off.

Well, it isn't.

How on earth do I have that fixed?

Short answer: I probably won't. I'll just add that to the list of Things That Won't Get Fixed Because of the Language Barrier. That list includes

* The curtain rod in the living room that the cats pulled out of the wall and
* The piece of wood trim that holds the magnets that keep the doors closed that the cats pulled out of the closet.

Just an aside: We own pets because they lower our blood pressure, right? I mean, that's what all the literature says, doesn't it?

I don't know who to talk to about making these niggling repairs since Man Friday doesn't speak any English and neither problem seems worth bothering our Non-Russian-Landlords-Who-Live-in-China-Now.

It's not like I don't have tools here. I suppose I can fix at least the closet trim myself. But who wants to?

I can take solace in the fact that all of this makes for good blog material. Except lately I've been . . . well, vexed because it seems that when, say, dooce, one of my favorite bloggers, has a domestic problem, all of the Internet reads her tale of woe.

Don't get me wrong. I adore dooce. I bought her book. I wish only the best for her, and that includes a minimum of domestic hassles. I laugh with her; I cry with her.

But her washing machine nightmare wasn't any funnier than mine. Not only did she get to solve the problem speaking her native language, but she got 2906 comments on her blog entry about it. Because she has a gazillion readers. I'm lucky if I get 100 readers a day (yeah, I know who all of you are, too . . . the Internet has powerful tools). I was reading along as she explained her predicament, and I was thinking, "Oh, I so feel your pain, girl. Now, let's take it from the top in Cyrillic!" (Go back to May 2009 and wander through the archives if you missed my saga. It goes on and on and on . . .)

Likewise, when I read her posts about the birth of her second child (go here, here, and here if you haven't read them already), it was like reading about my own Journey of Discovery Regarding Birth, which also took place largely in another language except that time it was in Spanish which no one can complain is too hard. I mean, really.

Okay, dooce gets the points for that one since she actually recorded her experiences because, like, blogs weren't invented yet when Skittles was born. But I think I ought to get some credit for getting there first. And for the ensuing police investigation. Dooce didn't get to have a file opened up when she applied for her kid's passport, nor did she get to have her building super whisked away by the cops for questioning about the señora on the séptimo piso. Seems the Argentines find it a bit odd when an almost-40-year-old American woman has a homebirth in the center of Buenos Aires. It is a good story, and it's even almost funny now looking back, and I suppose I really ought to write down what I can remember nine years later while I can still remember the details, if only for Skittles and not my own shameless blog self-promotion.

The point of all my rambling here, I guess, is the fickle nature of the Blog-O-Sphere. Okay, first you actually have to write stuff down. But then it seems so capricious which blogs manage to attract readers. Even the Julie/Julia Project . . . you know, the blog, the book, the movie with Meryl Streep? . . . How did readers find her blog in the beginning?

Because, let's be honest here. I want Meryl Streep to play me in the movie.

On a sunnier note, the doorbell rang rather late last night. I had just returned from the opening of HOW DO YOU DO . . . MOSCOW? (because I was one of the people they photographed . . . look for me . . . "The Blogger") which is a very cool project about expats by expats. You should check it out. Anyhow, at the door was our neighbor with a huge bowl of apples from their dacha.

Aren't they lovely?

I'm making apple crisp today, that's for sure.

The Spouse wants to know why, if they have a dacha large enough to produce so many apples that they can afford to give huge quantities to the neighbors, why haven't we been invited out there yet?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Am I a Bad Person?

Oh, probably yes in so many ways.

First, I am sitting here, typing this. Instead of swimming laps at the gym.

I like the gym. I really SHOULD have gone to the gym this morning.

But I didn't.

Because although school started this week, today was the first normal day with a real, all-day school schedule. And it is so quiet in the house.

So nice and quiet.

All summer long, even though I was at the Summer Dacha in My Ancestral Village, I was looking forward to the moment when the children would go out the door.

And it would be quiet.

I have not done the dishes yet. (Although Muscovites are advanced and civilized people, we happen to not have a dish washer at our place except for me. This is not typical, nor was it my choice. It just is.)

I am still in my pajamas.

Haven't even bothered to brush my teeth yet.

Is it wrong to be happy the children are out of the house? Because, while I like them, if I have to have one more conversation involving SpongeBob, I honestly think I will go mad.

As an aside, while I was fixing breakfast this morning, Baboo came in to tell me she had a SpongeBob song stuck in her head. And while she spared me the actual melody of the song, she proceeded to recount everything that happens in that particular episode of SpongeBob leading up to the singing of the song. The Spouse, passing by the kitchen heard that we were talking and, before he was able to actually make out what was being discussed, said to himself, "How nice. For once Baboo is talking about something other than SpongeBob."

Ha.

While I am on the subject of the children, I will say that although I probably had just a little too much togetherness with them over the summer, I did see them at their best and got lots of nice feedback from friends and family about how pleasant the girls are.

I cannot take full credit for that, but I will hold on like grim death to as much credit as I can.

Since motherhood, generally, is a rather thankless job.

There are no yearly evaluations.

No performance bonuses or even cost-of-living raises.

The product takes forever to launch.

It seems endless.

So this was as close as I get to any sort of customer feedback or project plaque from my boss.

Seeing as the girls are the only thing I feel I have produced in, say, the last 11 years (I don't count dinners and clean laundry), that was nice to hear.

Made me feel good even.

And while I spent the last week in the Ancestral Village not-totally-looking-forward-to-the-thought-of-returning-to-Moscow, I did spend that week reading a book called The New Global Student. Although the author is mainly addressing parents of high school students, what she said did reassure me about what we are doing to and for our daughters.

Namely, that making them uncomfortable a lot of the time, by forcing them to live outside their native culture and comfort zone, is largely responsible for making them the poised, charming people their American friends and families found them to be.

If you can navigate a foreign mass transit system in Cyrillic, a college interview, heck, a job interview, should be a piece of cake.

At least I hope so.

There has to be some reward on this earthly plane for what, let's be honest, isn't always lots of fun.

The book also reassured me about my decisions to do less with my kids. By that I mean that I don't have much scheduled for them outside of the normal school day.

Because I think having to attend school in a foreign language while living in a second foreign language is enough.

So I shouldn't feel bad that it is difficult (either because of transportation logistics, price, or my language limitations) to arrange things like swim team and horseback riding lessons. Things their cousins in the US or friends in the UK have and that I sometimes wish I could provide for them. I may even put cello lessons on hold this year since Baboo's school day is now as long as the average American adult's work day.

You gotta have time just to be a kid, and after speaking French at school all day and Russian on the street, well, it's nice to chill out and just watch a little SpongeBob.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From the Earth to the Stars, Moscow Rises

Moscow celebrates its 862th birthday this weekend. There are explanations of "City Day" events here and here. With more than 550 events taking place around town, there is plenty to do. (Waiter races anyone?)

Since there are great posters for this all around town now, I took a lot of pictures this week. Translations appear below each photo. The Spouse helped me.

Moscow. Beloved!

Happy Holiday, Beloved City!

Hey! What's this doing here?

In Russian, G-Force becomes Darwin's Mission. The text at the top of the poster reads "Furry and Ruthless." Sort of like Baboo.

Back to City Day posters.

Happy Birthday, Moscow!

Happy City Day!
(Literally, it's sort of weird . . . it doesn't really make sense if you translate it word for word.)

The little quote on the upper left says
From the earth to the stars, Moscow rises!

The text in the red ribbon says
Happy Birthday, Moscow!


My Dear Capital,
My Golden Moscow!

The only thing we have planned for the weekend is a tour of the Moscow film industry Saturday morning (promises to have lots of sets and costumes from classic Russian movies) and a dinner with friends that night. After a busy first week of school, I, for one, intend to cocoon on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Welcome Back

Today was the First Day of School, not just for my kids, but for every school child in Moscow. MoscowMom, one of my blogging buddies here, mentioned the "huge white Russian schoolgirl hairbows" on her blog.

Boy, oh boy, were they out in force today. And for once I had my camera with me.

These are especially ginormous:

Here is a whole flock of hairbows having celebratory milkshakes.

We say "a school of fish," "a mob of kangaroos," "a gaggle of geese." Two of my favorites are "a murder of crows" and "an exaltation of larks." I wonder what the correct measure word is for a group of hairbows?

As usual, I digress.

Another lucky little girl got ice cream after her first day back at school.

This girl skipped the seemingly obligatory white tights and Mary Janes, but her hairbows are still pretty spectacular.


This one stuck with the standard look.


Question: What do little boys wear on the first day of school?

Answer: A necktie.

This one is adorable. I'll bet he had to suffer through endless cheek-pinching and photos this morning.


Back at the French school, my girls had two very different schedules today: Skittles went from 8:30 until noon, and Baboo went from 1:30 until 4:30. This was just for la rentrée; it will not be the norm. But it meant I had a few extra moments to enjoy a coffee with friends. The weather was so nice today, we sat outside at a new coffee place near the school.

Pretty cool, eh?

Skittles enjoyed a meringue.

I have always liked the building across the street.


"So how was the first day?" you may ask.

High fives all around.

Skittles had a very unfortunate situation last year with a combined class of third and fourth graders, plus two teachers who did not get along in any way. One of them was practically debilitated by culture shock and the stress of living in Russia. It was his first overseas gig. All of this made for a very unsatisfactory and stressful experience for us.

This year Skittles got an older, more experienced teacher. In fact, he is one of only two returning staff this year. I think he sometimes skates a little close to phoning-it-in, but in this case, a little mellowness may be just what the doctor ordered. The bottom line is that Skittles is pleased: the vibe in the classroom is 180 degrees different, and that's a good thing.

Even better, she "graduated" to the second floor of the building.

"It makes me feel bigger," she says.

Baboo entered college (sixth grade in the French system) today with a lot of trepidation about this new level, but that was all for naught. Everything was fine.

She was most amused by her "professeur principal" (sort of like a homeroom teacher) who, coincidentally is the English teacher for her class. Mme B. had told the kids to call her "Teacher" instead of the French term, "Maîtresse."

"But I'm thinking of calling her 'Teacher Lady'," Baboo confided.

I think that's funny.

What is not so funny is her schedule this year. Yikes! For one thing, her day never ends at the same time as her sister's. Every day is different. She might finish around noon, 4:30, or even as late as 5:30! Seems like a big leap for her, and a logistical challenge for me as it doesn't make sense to run back and forth between home and school in the afternoons.

Rumor has it that the school is going to offer some sort of after-care that Skittles may be able to utilize (details to come from the PTA). But that makes for a very long day for both of them. And we haven't even added Baboo's fencing or any additional activity Skittles may want to do this year (the PTA will give us that information next week). I am not eager to start cello lessons for Baboo again the way things look. It's just too much.

On a brighter note, since I had my camera with me, I finally got some pictures of details in the Metro stations I frequent. I must point out, however, that these are, by Moscow Metro standards, lesser stations.


And the kids were glad to see our local dog friends were all fine.

From nearest to farthest, we call these three fellows Rex, Spot, and Ting-a-ling.

Note, Elton John will play Moscow October 7. See the billboard?

We stopped for this photo op outside the Ukrainian restaurant.


And I was tickled that I can read this sign on the Italian restaurant downstairs. I will certainly mispronounce the words, but I at least get the gist.

Across the top it says "Italian Lunch, Quick, Tasty 250 rubles." That's about US$8.

The small panel on the left says "Pasta Non-Stop Every Tuesday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m." (Er . . . so it does eventually stop. I guess they mean unlimited seconds?) The panel on the right says the pastafest will set you back 399 rubles (US$13), but I must confess I cannot tell you what the text below the price means. The middle word is what I say when I want to ask "How much?" I think.

Keep in mind, that eating in this outdoor portion of the restaurant means dining alongside the Garden Ring. That's like eating on the berm of the Interstate to me.

Bon appetit!