Saturday, October 31, 2009

Go Ahead! Touch It!

In all the excitement of play practice and Skittles' rentrée, I forgot to tell you about the visit to the State Archives yesterday.

By now, I have become quite a fan of the Fabulous Larissa. So when she wrote an email saying we would "visit State Archives with Tzar's Romanovs belongings! This is the place where you can touch history, which changed the world." I had no idea she meant literally touch history.

I didn't really have any idea what to expect on this outing, but with Larissa, it's usually entertaining. Skittles was still at Sports Camp, so I dragged Baboo with me.

The group was, by design, small. We found ourselves seated around a small conference table with Larissa and an archivist (coincidentally, also named Larissa). 

Archivist Larissa is talking in Russian (although she spent her formative years in New York and her English is flawless) and opening large file folders and passing around what looks like a bunch of very old, handwritten documents. I catch "Catherine the Great" before Tour Guide Larissa begins to translate. By now the document is sitting in front of me.

Me, carefully putting the cap back on my waterproof/fade-proof uni-ball and setting the pen in my lap lest I twitch suddenly and drop it, cap off, onto the file: "Um, excuse me . . . these are written by Catherine the Great?"

Both Larissas: "Yes."


And so it went. She trotted out and passed around a lot of things, no doubt intended to give us a sense of the depth and breadth of the Archives' holdings including
  • A letter signed by Napoleon before he started referring to himself, like Cher and Madonna, by just his first name. We tried to figure out the date, but Baboo was able to tell us that in Napoleon's time, they had different names for the months. Further, she knew that they tended to say things like "in the 23rd year of the 1st Republic . . ." which is, indeed, how the letter was dated.
  • The original constitution of Poland (also in French). The Russians gave it back to Poland at one point, but the Germans took it during WWII and then swapped it back to the Russians in exchange for something else. Me: "Um, doesn't Poland kinda want this?" Russian Dude Sitting Next to Me, with a shrug: "Meh. It doesn't hurt to want."
  • Commemorative handkerchiefs from 1912 featuring the Czar's image. Apparently once everyone figured out that the hankies could actually be used, it was quite the scandal.
  • A hat that may or may not have belonged to Nicholas I. Archivist Larissa thought it was only of-the-period.
  • A letter from Franz Schubert dated 1828.
  • A letter from Charles Dickens.
  • A letter from Dostoevsky dated 1872.
  • The personal photo albums of the Czar's family, hand-decorated by the Czarina. Here they are in front of the house. Here they are on the side of the house, but you can see the front of the house. Here they are in front of the tree. And so on.
  • English-language books belonging to the Czar's daughter, Olga. One was Tennyson. Her mother had decorated the flyleaf. Olga was known for being sort of a couch potato and liked nothing better than spending the afternoon lying on the sofa with a book. Like Baboo.
  • And, finally, everyone's favorite, a letter written to Anastasia in 1914 by some 11-year-old kid in Kansas City who went on and on about her favorite classes in school and details about her town including the number of various businesses and denominations of the local churches. She included a photo ("This isn't me, but it sort of looks like me.") and a lock of her own hair. 
I kept thinking, "What if I sneeze a juicy sneeze all over these papers/photos/textiles?" It's the sort of thing that would happen to me. However, the Archives house over 6 million files. I suppose if I had sneezed or had some sort of small seizure involving my pen, there's plenty more where these came from.

      Friday, October 30, 2009

      Play Practice

      So somehow I got roped into doing this play.

      It's the total opposite of a Cecil B. Demille production (ie. a cast of thousands) in that it only has something like four actors.

      Me. I play the Madame in the brothel. It's my house, you see,

      The Prostitute.

      Jack. As in Jack-the-Ripper. After all, it's Halloween. And, okay, it's set in Paris, and we all know Jack-the-Ripper wasn't working in Paris. But it's a slasher-serial-killer-butcher-with-a-knife-type dude.

      That's it.

      Okay, there are some cops who come in at the end, but you have to come to see the show on Sunday to find out if they get there in time to save the damsel-in-distress.

      All neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow in 20 minutes.

      So what's my point?

      My point, and I do have one, is that the tender sweet young thing playing the Hooker with the Heart of Gold and the Dude Whose Name I Can Never Remember playing Jack are really, REALLY good.

      Then there's me.

      I haven't been in a play since I was an extra, in the chorus of our high school production of My Fair Lady in  . . . oh . . . Nineteen and Seventy-EIGHT.

      They didn't even give me a line.

      Okay, in eighth grade we did a sort of bastardized version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

      I had a line in that.

      You wanna know what my line was.


      Are you sitting down?

      "Here's the bucket!"

      That was all they trusted me with.

      Tonight, we rehearsed the play, running through it with the director about three times, and then the three of us just sat and read our lines in another room a bunch of times, and then we went home, and the girl (she really is just a girl) playing the prostitute and I end up walking to the Metro together, and I asked what her day job is, because starving young actors usually have a day job, and she says,

      "Oh, good Lord, I'm an English teacher. I've never done this before in my life." 

      And then she says. . . are you ready? She says,

      "But you're a professional actor, right?"

      Ha hahahahahaha ha!


      In a Complete Change of Topic: Skittles is back.


      One of the other kids in the group has les poux.

      That's lice.

      Ha hahahahahaha ha!


      Was that wrong of me? Seriously.

      I checked her head. She's fine. But I think there is Justice in the Universe when kids who mock my kid get lice.

      There. I said it.

      You Can Lead a Whore to Culture . . .

      At the risk of boring you to death, here are the details of Sunday's performance. One. More. Time.

      Admission is free, although they do pass the hat after. Shows tend to run about an hour. You don't need a reservation.

      Pivo Vodi is a nice venue, and you should know about it anyhow. Come downstairs and if the hostesses swoop down on you, just say "Theater!" and they will direct you to the "karaoke room."

      One of the regular members of the company pointed out this article in a local paper. I think it gives an accurate description of the group.

      While I have rehearsal tonight (and tomorrow and most of the day on Sunday), Skittles makes her triumphant return this evening. The week has pretty much gone as I predicted it would with her being
      • picked last for teams,
      • met with disappointment by her fellow team members ("It's not fair! With her we're handicapped!")
      • the last one in the pool finishing her laps while everyone else has gone to the showers, and
      • mocked for being "planted like a NAIL!" during soccer.

      Oh, the playground is a cruel place. She said the other kids imitate her soccer skills by standing stock still and then watching an imaginary ball roll by while commenting, "Is that a ball?" She fails to find the humor in this.

      When I talked to her on the phone last night, I reminded her that today she would have to pack her suitcase.

      "I already packed," she said.

      Never mind the fact they don't leave until 4:00 this afternoon. I imagine her sitting on her suitcase by the hotel front door now with her purse or whatever a 9-year-old would have in her lap, waiting for the bus.

      Oh, well. A valuable lesson learned. I give her big points for even going in the first place.

      Thursday, October 29, 2009

      Happiness Is . . .

      Grocery shopping with Baboo
      She has requested Nutella. I'm thinking about what she can eat it with, should I buy some sort of bread or crepes?

      ME: What are you going to put it on?
      BABOO: A spoon.

      Today's Text Messages from Skittles
      This morning she writes: Much better hardly hurts bored everyone has a play station thing that i have [and I did not allow her to take to sports camp] and is playing with it

      Just now I received this: Good i am hHAPPY cause i have a extra large jolly pop

      Not Related To Anything
      The Spouse just sent me this link. At is an ad promoting tourism at Lake Balaton in Hungary. I have been to Lake Balaton. It is very nice. But I don't recall it being quite like in the ad.

      Wednesday, October 28, 2009

      Camp Granada

      So a few weeks ago, someone from school sent around an email about what the French call a stage. A stage multi sport, to be specific. What you and I would call sport camp.

      It would be a week, more or less, for kids ages 9 to 13. Soccer, jogging, ping pong, judo, swimming, and basketball. At some hotel/complex about 50 km outside Moscow. Hosted by Anatoly who is one of the fellows who teaches judo after school. I vaguely recalled Anatoly as one of those rara avises who loves kids and kids love back and who seems delighted to let them chase him and climb all over him and tumble around on the floor with them like puppies and not like Michael Jackson.

      (Perhaps you remember our attempts to enjoy judo shortly after we arrived in Moscow? You don't? Because it was some sort of fresh hell all around. For me and for Skittles.)

      I did raise the topic with The Spouse, and we had a big old belly laugh at the thought of our kids expressing any interest at all in attending Franco-Russian sports camp.

      But, oddly enough, a few days later Skittles brought it up herself. Could she please, oh please, go to the stage multi sport?


      Long story short, I arranged it and off she went last Saturday morning with three other girls, eight little boys, and the Very Brave Anatoly and his Trusty English-Speaking Sidekick.

      The Spouse and Baboo and I spent the weekend wondering if stage multi sport might devolve into some sort of Franco-Russian Lord of the Flies.

      Hello Mudder, hello Fadder
      Here I am at Camp Granada
      And it's very entertaining
      And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining

      I sent Skittles off with Baboo's mobile phone, and we suspect half the fun of going to sports camp was getting access to a phone. She figured out how to send text messages, but she's not that good at it, preferring to have a real conversation. As a result, her messages have a very plaintive quality to them.

      Some examples:

      SKITTLES: Hi

      Monday during siesta time, a very homesick Skittles called sobbing, "I want to come home right now!"

      Take me home, oh Mudder, Fadder
      Take me home, I hate Granada
      Don't leave me out in the forest
      Where I might get eaten by a bear

      Even if I knew exactly where this facility is, I have no car. We talked her off the metaphorical window ledge and soon all was well.

      Later, we determined that lots of kids were having a tough time on Monday. Her roommmate became a bit short with her and announced, "I don't feel like talking right now." And another mother reported that her son called her on Monday in tears because the other boys were excluding him.

      There was also the Great Candy Caper, in which some of the boys apparently secured and consumed large amounts of candy, so much so that they spoiled their appetites for supper. This caused Anatoly to confiscate the candy and lecture the group, in passionate Russian, about how athletics requires good nutrition, candy was certainly allowed, but he would only release the candy cache AFTER meals.

      Tuesday during siesta, I received this:

      SKITTLES: rest Skittle

      Later, during a conversation, she revealed that she had been responsible for the basketball and that, while holding it, someone had slammed into her resulting in an injured and swollen finger. After supper, I received the following exchange:

      SKITTLES: Salad french fry and meat and chocolate for dinner finger dark purple

      No I don't want - to-oo scare ya
      But my best mate has malaria
      You remember Jeffrey Hardy
      They're about to organise a searching party 

      That resulted in my calling her and asking if she wouldn't mind showing it to Anatoly who, I understand, is a med student. Perhaps some ice might be in order.

      SKITTLES: Finger in cup of cold water

      Today is only Wednesday. A lot more can happen between now and Friday afternoon.

      Take me home, I promise I will not, make noise
      Or mess the house with other boys
      Oh please, don't make me stay
      I've been here one whole day

      Tuesday, October 27, 2009

      Cats: Who Needs 'Em?

      Odd, I know, but I'm THRILLED because I scored four tickets to the Moscow Cats Theatre.

      I'm told the theater is small and there are no bad seats, but if you go here, you can see my seats: Row 1, Seats 15-18.


      Getting the tickets was a feat in itself. The theater is on the other side of town. I finally dragged my sorry behind out there today, in the rain. Because otherwise it just was never going to happen.

      The closest Metro is not that close to me or to the theater. And the final bit o' fun was that the theater was receiving a delivery (cat litter, perhaps? I hear they all live upstairs. . .) so the front door was open to the street making it very noisy and difficult to talk.

      The street is Kukuzovskiy Prospekt which is wider and noisier than the Garden Ring, if that's possible. Kasse Lady didn't speak any English. My Russian sucks.

      Baboo to the rescue.

      Really. She was a great help with words like "best seats" and "weekend." Hurray for Baboo.

      The performance is November 7, so I'll report back then.

      In Skittles News, Skittles is spending this week at Sports Camp. Yesterday she had a moment of severe homesickness, but she rallied and seems to be having fun again.

      In Theater News, I went to my first real rehearsal last night for the short play we are performing on Sunday. Acting is hard work! Not only do they expect you to memorize your lines, but then you have to say them while doing stuff you would normally do while you are talking, but it's really hard to remember your lines while you are trying to do stuff. I find it like trying to pat my head while rubbing my belly. I have great respect for actors who make it look easy. Because it isn't. At least not for me.

      Thankfully, we have many more rehearsals this week, so I have many more chances to try to get this stuff down.

      As one of my new friends in this process remarked today, it was only a matter of time before I was pretending to be a brothel keeper in a deserted karaoke room.

      That pretty much sums up my Moscow experiences to date.

      Monday, October 26, 2009

      The Cold War Museum


      Recognize me? That's my photo they put in the little "passport" that comes with your admission.

      In an unassuming neighborhood near Metro Taganskaya (purple line/7) is the Cold War Museum. The address is 11, 5th Kotelnicheskiy. But even knowing that, you are apt to have trouble finding it.


      You really do need to know where you are going.

      Seriously. This entrance is sort of tucked around a corner. There is no sign. Just the red star, which, yes, is large. But, trust me. You could miss it.

      You have to book a tour. You can't just drop by.

      Then you go down 18 flights of stairs. It's a L*O*N*G way down.

      Everything is pretty much as it was when the facility was abandoned. It was never intended for use by Party VIPs or the general public (although other bunkers were). This bunker was designed and used as a communications center.

      Here is the first check point. Just because you may have worked here did not mean you had access to the entire bunker.

      Here our guide shows us a model of the entire facility. The yellow building I showed above is a fake apartment building. It had lights on timers so that the neighbors would think it was a normal residential building. But it was only there to cover the entrance to the bunker.

      We got to play with a lot of original artifacts from the era. Is this what you call "the Red Menace"?

      And the guide showed us machines for encrypting messages.

      Tunnels like this one connected with the nearby metro line and at night, after the Metro was closed to the public, supplies could be transferred to the bunker and moved along on rails.

      We could feel the Metro trains as they went by.

      It's a very interesting tour and worth doing if only to be reminded of the horrors of the nuclear arms race.

      I have more photos posted on the blog Facebook page.

      For more information:
      The Cold War Museum

      MosMania Tours.

      Saturday, October 24, 2009

      Moscow Metro . . . This Time It's Personal

      I'm sure you are tired of hearing me rave about The Beauty of the Moscow Metro.

      But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends. . .

      Are you also done with the Unnecessary Literary References. That aren't accurate references. Because I actually thought that was Emily Dickinson. Ha! My bad. I should be forced to return my Master's diploma.

      Last night we went to see The Bright Stream at the Bolshoi. I recommend it. The sets were incredible (with a reference to the Friendship of Nations fountain at VDNK). And I actually got to have a glass of bubbly at the Bolshoi Bufet.

      Well, it was Asti Spumante because I couldn't bring myself to pony up over 1000 rubles for a tiny glass of real champagne. I had just decided it was bubbly water for me, when I realize that the woman in line in front of me bought a glass of something Fun-N-Bubbly PLUS a little plate of nibbles, paid for it with a 1000-ruble note AND got change back. So I got all brave and pointed to her glass and asked in my best Bad Russian, "Hey! What's this? How much? Um, please."

      I guess there is something wrong with the universe when my report about the ballet focuses on the glass of spumante I scored and NOT on the actual performance. But the dancing was great, the sets were stunning, the plot involved dogs on bikes and men in dresses (ALWAYS funny . . . just ask my children what I tell them: "A man in a dress is ALWAYS funny"), our seats were good, and it didn't run too long.


      Except for The Spouse who had to GO BACK TO WORK after.

      I got to go home and watch Mamma Mia! on the teevee and sing along and cry. It always makes me cry. It must be some sort of weird girl-y thing. Because I love Momma Mia! But when Meryl Streep shouts, "You wanna hear another one?" and the fellows all join them in those ridiculous outfits and then the girl sings I Have a Dream over the credits . . . well, it's just a three-hankie weeper for Ol' Beets here.

      The Spouse finally came home, and we watched a little of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, which was stupid, but funnier than I expected. I only wanted to watch until they drop through the roof of Prairie Chapel Ranch and find President Bush hiding from Dick Cheney.

      Yeah, it's juvenile, but it makes me laugh. It is a VERY funny scene, and you should look for it on YouTube.

      But by 2:00 in the a.m. I hadn't seen that scene yet, and I know I can see it on YouTube any time I want. Which is how I ended up with barely six hours of sleep in spite of the fact today is a Saturday. Thankfully, here in the Russian Federation, we change the clocks tonight. So I can "fall backwards" for an extra hour of much needed beauty sleep.

      The reason for the sleep deficit is that today Skittles went off the Sports Camp which required that we present her at the pick-up spot at 10:00 a.m.

      Then the Baboo and I went on a tour of the Metro. (The Spouse went to the office . . . poor Spouse.) My camera sucks, but the Metro is a Great Photo Op. I'll post more pictures on the blog Facebook page. But following is a little taste of the the Fabulous-ness that IS the Moscow Metro.


      Tomorrow, Baboo and I will take a tour of the Cold War Museum/Secret Shelter at Taganka, so stay tuned for more blogging and photos coming soon.

      Thursday, October 22, 2009

      Drama Queen

      Look at this. Isn't it pretty?

      That's a ticket to the ballet at the Bolshoi Theater for tomorrow night. Except you know if you have been following this saga that the Bolshoi is closed for reconstruction and is never, ever going to open again at this rate. So where is this performance taking place, you may ask? At what is called the New Stage next door.

      For the record, it is very easy to get tickets to performances. You can select and pay for tickets using the Bolshoi website ( You print out a copy of the receipt and take that and the credit card you used to the ticket office and collect the actual tickets.

      I did this last night while Baboo was at fencing class. I wasn't exactly sure where the ticket office was, but figured I'd just wander around the complex (which is big) until I found the right place. If that didn't work, I still had two days to research it.

      The receipt I printed said "Kasse One" (kasse, just as in German, means cashier). I found the Bolshoi Management Building and on it was a sign that said something about tickets. And in front of it was a HUGE sea of people who all seemed to be waiting to get in.


      Waiting in endless lines while unsure if I am even in the right place is not this girl's idea of fun. But I found myself sort of falling in behind two babushka types who just walked through the throng and into the building. "When in Rome . . ." I decided and went along with them.

      Which turned out to be the right thing to do.

      I don't know what all those people were doing standing outside the office. But inside there were several windows. To my left I saw Kasse 1 and Kasse 2 and what appeared to be two lines. Since the old ladies headed straight for the window at Kasse 1, I followed along. But a Formidable Battle Ax in line stopped me and said, in Russian, "Eh, eh, eh! The line forms to the rear, sister!"

      Oops. My bad.

      I went to the end of the line (which was blocked by a pillar) and there was greeted by a sunny smile from FBA and a nervous-looking Japanese man who was clutching his receipt and credit card.

      "Are we good?" FBA asked me.

      "Oh, da." I said, just relieved to be in what appeared to be the right place. "BFF," and I fist-bumped her. No, not really. Should I have?

      I watched Japanese Guy hand the woman at Kasse 1 his receipt and credit card. She handed him tickets. Then I did the same with the same results.

      Hurray! Victory is mine.

      But how to get into the theater on Friday night?

      I walked around the building until I found what appears to be the right entrance. I later looked at the Bolshoi website and found this map of the complex that confirms what I thought. I offer it here to you as a Helpful Aid to Happy Theater Going.

      Now, speaking of theater, it seems Yours Truly has been cast as Madame Briquet in a hastily-hastily-thrown-together production of Jack (Lui! 1897) a Grand-Guignol play by French playwright Oscar Méténier to be performed on the Occassion of Halloween, November 1. In a truly horrific moment, I realized I have LINES to learn and only a week in which to learn them.

      In other news, the Young Skittles has elected to attend un stage multi sports (basket, natation, foot, footing et judo) for the first week of the Toussaint holiday. Okaaaaaay. Best I can determine, it's
      • A week away
      • With friends
      • Including swimming
      All of which she considers good things. The basketball, soccer, jogging, and judo apparently are inconsequential to her. Anyhow, the stage is ten kids between the ages of 9 and 13 and one Very Kid-Friendly Anatoly. As long as it doesn't devolve into some sort of Franco-Russian Lord of the Flies, it should be alright.

      I'll report back as soon as I hear anything.

      Tuesday, October 20, 2009

      Save the Date . . .

      I don't know how I end up associating with These People, but next thing you know it's Sunday night and The Spouse and I are in a bar with these characters.

      Mark your calendars.

      Even scarier is the following, as I have just been informed that I've been cast as . . . wait for it . . . you're going to find this hard to believe, I know . . .


      Seems there's no denying this "sassy buxom gal with a flirty nature."

      That's what they called me.


      Saturday, October 17, 2009

      КОГТЕДРАЛКА домашняя

      Since Catoslav was diagnosed with Tetchy Bladder this summer, he's been switched to Tetchy Bladder Qat Fud.

      Which is only available at the Far Away Pet Supply Store/Veterinary Pharmacy. It might be available closer, but the vet says this place has better prices. At 1300 rubles ($43 US) for 3.5 kg/7.5 lbs, I'm not totally convinced prices could be much worse. A bag does last them a month, at least, and since we've started feeding them this the Bathtub Whizzing has ceased. That's a good thing.

      It takes an hour, round trip, to do the Qat Fud Run. No one wants to deal with it on a weekend, so I went yesterday.

      Nothing about the outing is really very noteworthy. I walk to the Metro, take it one stop, change to another line, and take that four stops. Then I exit the Metro and walk two blocks to the store. Make purchase. Return home.

      What was exciting was yesterday I discovered the store carries these! A Russian product, too.

      Especially amusing are the videos on the product site. Scroll down and watch them all. I love Svetlana, the Crazy Russian Cat Lady and her seven (SEVEN!) cats.

      Poor her with her shredded furniture, walls, and curtains. Her closet full of expensive and unused cat scratching products.

      Poor Plushka, Banderol, Kabochok, Roma, Lariska, Kusia, and Bipa.

      But once Svetlana discovers КОГТЕДРАЛКА домашняя, she is able to channel her savings into reupholstering her armchair PLUS a little time at the beauty salon. Thank you КОГТЕДРАЛКА домашняя!

      Do watch all the videos: the James Bond-esque ad and the one that uses When I'm 64 (huh?) are amusing, too.

      Here are Cat-O and Crooky making their own product endorsements. Sadly, neither they nor I received any compensation.

      This is the old cat scratch box. I bought this in August.

      Here is the one I bought yesterday.

      Everybody SCRATCH!

      No, the new one IS better.

      Friday, October 16, 2009

      Ding Dong Delivery! And Other Fun Moments in Foreign-Language Land

      Monday, I ordered some groceries for delivery.

      The heavy stuff.

      I use this site.

      Because even though I can practically SEE my grocery store from where I'm sitting right now, it's a pain dragging heavy items home.

      So I ordered the following. I love how the Russian gets translated into English.
      • Detergent powder Persil Gold Plus automat 3kg Russia 2 @199.00 [that's $6 US each bag of laundry soap]
      • Sour-milk drink Actimelle multifruit 1.5% 100g 6 @12.90 [$0.43/little bottle]
      • Fruit drink Ya cranberry-wild strawberry nonaer. 1l pack 2 @85.90 [$2.86/1-liter carton]
      • Cat`s toilet Filling Catsun Ultra crumpling 5l Germany 2 @589.00 [$19.63/5-kg bag]
      • Olive oil Borges Extra verdgin 100% 0.75l Spain 1 @439.00 [$14.60/0.75 liters]
      • Milk Domik v derevne (Country House) sterile 6% 0.95l tetrapack 4 @52.90 [$1.76/liter]
      • Vodka Russian Standard original alc. 40% 0.5l gl.bottle Russia 1 @289.00 [$9.63/half liter]
      • Utensils Gel washing Prill frut's extract 1l Russia 3 @46.90 [$1.56/liter of dish washing soap]
      • Spring water Saint Spring aerated 1.5l pl.bottle 12 @19.90 [$0.66/1.5 liter bottle of bubbly water]
      • Soft drink Coca-cola Light aer. 2l pl. bottle 4 @60.90 [$2/2-liter bottle]
      You can specify when you want your ordered delivered, but you have to give them a two-hour window starting at 9:00 in the a.m. I asked for Wednesday between 9:00 and 11:00, which, if they delivered at 11:00 was a bit tight as I have to be at school at 11:25 on Wednesdays, but I was willing to risk it.

      Except they called me.

      They always call if they don't have exactly what you ordered. For example, I never, in a million years, would order two-liter-sized bottles of Coke. They barely fit in my fridge. Also, I ordered a different brand of vodka (Yuri Dolgoruki . . . just to see what it was like), but they were out, so I went with the Tried and True.

      Oh, and also, we can't deliver between 9 and 11. How about 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday?

      Nope. Doesn't work for me (that's ping-pong/fencing afternoon). I counter with "Thursday?"

      Sure. Thursday it is. Thursday between 12:00 and 2:00. They even have English-Speaking Colleague call me back to confirm. Because, everything that has happened over the phone so far has been them speaking Russian and me saying, "Okay!" because really, it doesn't matter which laundry soap they bring me. Just bring me laundry soap.

      So Wednesday at 2:12 p.m. my phone rings.

      A harried-sounding, Russian-speaking man says,"This is Sedmoy Continent! We're at your house. Where are you?"

      "TOMORROW!" I say.

      "Blah blah, blahblahblah blah," he tells me.

      Um . . . does this mean he will come back tomorrow? Or does he want to know when I will get back home?

      "THIRTY . . . no, FORTY MINUTES!" I say in my very bad Russian.

      On the off chance he is waiting outside my building, the girls and I hurry to the Metro. On the platform, my phone rings again.

      Same Dude. "Blah blah, blahblahblah blah! Your house blahblah," I hear.

      "I'm in the METRO," I stammer as a train pulls out. He can figure that out based on the deafening noise. "THIRTY MINUTES. I'M ON MY WAY!"

      I turn to the girls who are allegedly better Russian-speakers than I am but who, invariably, don't have the vocabulary I need. "How do you say that in Russian?" I ask, with Delivery Dude still on the line. "I know how to say it in Slovak."

      I'm pretty sure it's the same because I heard a Russian say it this past weekend and I even asked, "Did you just say We are on the road?" and she said yes.

      "ON THE ROAD!" I say in Slovak/Russian and hang up because either he understood or he didn't and nothing I can add will change the situation.

      We exit the Metro and I ask the girls, "How do you say It's not my fault in Russian? In Slovak, it's ne bola moya vina. My Slovak teacher told me if I was ever in a car accident, I should come charging out of my car shouting that. Is it the same in Russian?" I'm thinking I can say it's not my fault, it's not his fault . . .

      Again, the girls are useless. How much am I paying for their international, multi-lingual education?

      Phone rings again.

      "FIVE MINUTES!" I say in Russian. I say the name of my street.

      "Ah!" he repeats the name of my street. "Blahblah blah blah blah blah!" He sounds happy.

      We reach our building.

      No sign of Delivery Dude.

      We enter our building.

      No sign of Delivery Dude.

      We exit the elevator on our floor.

      No sign of Delivery Dude.

      Is he making other deliveries in the area? Or is he going to return tomorrow as I originally expected?

      I change my (sweaty) clothes. I start dealing with dinner. The girls begin their homework.

      The doorbell buzzes.

      This is not even the front-door-to-the-building doorbell. It's MY door doorbell.

      And there is Delivery Dude and Delivery Colleague with my delivery.

      He just seems damn glad to see us, all sweat and apologies. I sign, pay, and even tip him for his trouble (much to his surprise).

      The girls and I had a similar Fun With Russian moment yesterday when we decided to attempt to schedule a haircut appointment for Skittles.

      "Should we try?" I ask the girls while standing outside the Persona salon in our building.

      Sure, they say.

      "Do you know how to say appointment? Or haircut?" I ask. Because I don't.

      They don't either. But what else could I want in a hair salon? And we can say Saturday. I figure when vocabulary fails, miming and context succeed.

      We enter the salon. I hold my hand over Skittles' head and say in Russian, "Her? Saturday?"

      Message received. He points at the book, and we settle on a time.

      Except now I have to specify who I want to cut her hair: the master, the top master, the stylist, or the top stylist. Because the price varies depending on the experience level of the person doing the work. And I can't remember which one is the cheap one. Nor do I know how to say cheap or expensive. I really am useless.

      "MIDDLE!" I pull this word in Slovak/Russian out of my ass.

      Middle it is.

      Thursday, October 15, 2009

      Lean On Me

      Today was pleasant enough, weather-wise, that I did not wear socks when I went to the gym for my swim this morning. I have these sporty Mary Jane-type shoes (good for city walking) and since today did not require boots, I wore them instead.

      The commute to the gym involves some Metro stations with multiple connections. This means that when the train arrives, packed full of people, often they all get off and I can even get a seat.

      This morning I was standing on the platform at Novoslobodskaya (which is on the line that circles the city). The train pulled up and everyone, it seemed, poured off. I got on and, lo and behold, there was a seat, on the left, against the end of the car.

      The reason there was an empty seat was because on the floor, in front of the seat, was the BIGGEST DOG I HAVE EVER SEEN.

      I think it was a Neapolitan Mastiff.

      The other passengers gave him sort of a wide berth, but he wasn't bothering anyone. He had his head on his paws and was sort of sleeping in that way that someone sleeps when they are on a train and constantly being disturbed.

      I sat down next to him.

      And he put his head on my feet.

      I rode for three stops with his giant, warm dog head against the skin on the tops of my feet.

      It was lovely.

      I hope he was not late for work.

      Wednesday, October 14, 2009

      Rush Hour

      I took this picture from my window last night around dinner time.

      I never cease to be amazed by the traffic in Moscow. This is the Garden Ring, one of several "ring roads" in the city. It is rarely, if ever, completely deserted. But at peak hours it is incredible.

      This is why we don't have a car here and rely on the Metro and our feet. Yes, it is exhausting sometimes. It is certainly difficult at others (like today when Baboo has fencing class and I have to schlep her equipment bag to and fro). You sure can't just toss stuff in the back of the car like I did in my past life.

      The kids' schedule this year means we are in the Metro later than we were last year. Commuting at 5:00 p.m. and even 4:30 p.m. is a lot more crowded. With their backpacks or the big sports bag . . . sometimes I'd almost rather just walk than deal with being packing in like sardines.

      Some people take the "wild taxis" or private cars you hail on the street. But when the traffic is as dense as in my picture, I know I can get home faster by walking.

      Tuesday, October 13, 2009

      Russian Rooster Lollipops

      I'm sorry I can't be more mature.

      These are beautifully crafted. And the children proclaim them tasty.

      But the wordplay.

      My God. The wordplay.

      Monday, October 12, 2009

      In the News Today

      . . . was this chick with the potty mouth.

      They didn't even use the shots with the freaking Kindle that I dragged out in the pouring rain for this shoot. Why would a reader of this article want to look at me?

      Do you like the scarf? I purposely wore the scarf so you, Loyal Reader, could see my new scarf from Suzdal.  I'm practically sleeping in it, it feels so soft.

      The story behind the story is that on Friday I saw a posting on one of the expat forums here in Moscow asking if anyone used a Kindle. I replied and had a chat on the phone with the reporter. He asked if I would mind being in a photo.

      Me? Mind? I live for the spotlight.

      Okay, then, he says. Can I get someone to take a picture of me and my Kindle in some particularly Russian-y place like, oh say, Red Square. By Monday.

      Um . . . doubts.

      Today some nice woman from the paper calls and asks would I be willing to meet their photographer, Vladimir.

      Sure. When?


      Okaaaaay . . .  guess that means I better turn off the oven and put on some pants (the heat is on now, so as soon as I get home it's Pajama Time here Chez Beet).

      Off I go to meet Vladimir-Who-Speaks-No-English outside the Metro. But not a problem. Vladimir is a Thinker and quickly suggests we go to a cafe called Bookcafe, which is right around the corner from both the Metro and Chez Beet. Which is nice for me because I've never gone in there. Until today. And it is very cool.

      The photo in the article is the result.

      I'm not sure why the editors picked this one. Vlad took lots of shots of me pretending to read my (battery-depleted) Kindle. Don't worry. I've since charged it again (I've been reading An Echo in the Bone in Real Book form, so the Kindle has stayed in a drawer, safe from CATS who might knock it on the floor).

      Anyhow, just call me the Publicity Junkie. Too bad I didn't get to plug the blog.

      Getting to 'Da'

      One thing we've learned since living in Russia is that Russians don't admit error. That's not quite same thing as not being able to apologize. They do say "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me." Sometimes (but not when they push you in the Metro).

      What they don't do is say, "You're right. I was wrong." And if you are arguing or negotiating with them you want to guard against forcing them to say so. Because generally speaking it won't happen. (A book about Russian culture I enjoyed, although it is written primarily for an American audience, is From Nyet to Da).

      We had a prime example of this yesterday in Suzdal. We went to visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

      The domes of these churches were made from the wood of the redbud tree (Cercis). For the first few years, the wood resembles gold. Then as it weathers, it becomes silver in color.

      Besides the incredible wooden churches (made without any nails), there were several examples of traditional 19th century peasant cottages (изба or izba). 

      We went into the first one. There was a docent. When Olga, one of the Russians who arranged the weekend for us, began to translate the descriptive text on the wall of the cottage, the docent got very indignant.

      "You are not certified!" she told Olga. "You cannot be these people's guide!"

      Olga was gobsmacked. She began to protest. "These are my friends. I'm just translating the sign because not all of them can speak Russian!"

      Now of the seven of us, only two of us couldn't read the sign. The others in our group, The Spouse included, all began chattering in Russian about how silly this was, how they wanted the foreign guests to get something out of the experience. In our defense, one of us did purchase a small English-language guidebook at the ticket window. We were using what we could find to understand the museum. But none of the signs were in anything other than Russian.

      The docent realized then what we were doing. But she never said, "Oh, that makes sense. Of course." She never said anything at all. She just sort of stepped back and let us look around the cottage.

      And that was that.

      At the next cottage, we had a more typical Russian museum experience. There, the docent went out of her way to draw our attention to the various items and features in the room. She explained, for example, that izba entry ways were always low so as to force you to duck or bow to the icon corner (which was always positioned opposite the door). She pointed out the long-handled tools women used to place and retrieve cooking pots from the ovens. And on and on and on.

      So go visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

      While you are at it, go see Saviour-Euthimiev monastery-fortress, too. We only had about an hour to spend there, so we just walked around the grounds and did not get to go in any of the buildings. But you could easily spend the better part of a day going into all the churches and museums.

      Here are a few pictures from there.

      Sunday, October 11, 2009

      Weekend in Suzdal: Hello Fellow Russians!

      When The Spouse wants to get out of something potentially unpleasant involving a stranger, he speaks German. This way the pan-handler or whomever blames "those cheap Austrians" instead of thinking poorly about Americans.

      So, we're sitting in a little tea shop in Suzdal. In walks a young, gregarious Russian man.

      "HELLO FELLOW RUSSIANS!" he says to the room in Russian.

      He locks eyes with us.

      " . . . and fellow . . . non-Russians!"

      "Haben Zie vielen dank!" says The Spouse. Thank you very much.

      Now, unbeknownst to The Spouse, Russia was playing German in football (soccer) last night. It was a Very Big Deal.

      Young Russian Guy buys us a bottle of a local honey-based brew. "It is my policy to make friends with The Opposition," he explains. "I wish you all the best."

      "Do you think he's drunk?" I ask The Spouse. "He's not drunk. I mean, he seems cheerful, but he's not drunk, right? Ya think?"

      Young Russian Guy and his friends arrange themselves at the table next to us. "It's just a bit crowded," he announces. "Can everyone [meaning us] move to the left. Just a little. A LITTLE!"

      We all scoot left.

      "STOP! That's enough," he says. He and his friends order vodka shots.

      "It's 4:00 in the afternoon," The Spouse says to me. "This is not his first shot of the day."

      P.S. Germany won 2-1.

      Suzdal was like a Russian fairy tale. I can't say enough good things about the inn and the town. It was all adorable little cottages and cats and cats in windows of adorable cottages. See below.


      More photos on the blog's Facebook page.

      Thursday, October 8, 2009

      It Finally Happened

      It was only a matter of time.

      The funny thing was, it wasn't a babushka.

      We were walking home from school this afternoon. It was actually a little warm-ish. I wore a jacket, zipped, but no gloves, no hat.

      Skittles had worn her Serious Winter Coat this morning, but carried it most of the way home until it started to drizzle. Then she put it on.

      Baboo carried her sweater and jacket the whole way.

      In front of our building a man about my age said something to me with a smile. Something about kids.


      That's what I heard anyhow. He smiled and gestured towards the girls with his chin.

      At first I thought he was saying, "Hey, lady! Your children are so gorgeous!"

      Then he made a putting-on-a-backpack type gesture, and I thought maybe he meant to communicate, "Hey, those L.L.Bean kid backpacks!* Matching and monogrammed. Gotta get me some o' that action!"

      But I was wrong.

      The cloud cover on my brain suddenly cleared, and I realized he was saying, "Tell that kid to put her coat on! I'm a doctor! She should put her coat on."

      "I know, I know . . ." I replied, trying to establish Parental Solidarity. Kids. Whaddya gonna do?

      He wasn't backing down. He seemed genuinely concerned for their well-being.

      "This is our house!" I said, changing tactics. I pointed at our building. "This. Our house. Right here." My Russian is limited after all.

      He countered once more, "DOC-TOR."

      I turned to Baboo. "What have I been telling you? You don't wear a coat, you die of the bloody flux, and that makes ME the bad mother."

      He practically escorted us to the door, watching to make sure I really did usher them safely inside.

      I suppose a visit from Children's Services is in the works now, eh?

      *L.L. Bean did not pay me anything for mentioning them. I don't get paid by anyone for saying anything nice in this blog. I only include links so you can see what it is I'm talking about because I'm too lazy to go get my camera and take a photo of my kids' backpacks. Or whatever.

      This Week in Moscow: Random Photos

      Since you've all been so good this week, I dug up a few more photos of Moscow for you. No rhyme or reason to them . . . just stuff I saw.

      This is from the Bolshoi tour. A note pinned to a ballerina costume. I have no idea what it says, so if you are a Russian-speaker, let us know. I find the pins interesting because they have tiny eyes on the end. Maybe they aren't pins, really, but Russian sewing needles?

      I'm oddly drawn to these cheap-o red glass dishes. Only 2000 rubles for the set (about $65 US), they are on offer at the mall-under-the-street by the Lubyanka metro. It's a new shop, so I had to press my nose to the window and see what's for sale there. I'm quite sure I would drop these on the way home. Just carrying them home in general would be a pain. You probably can't get your finger through the cup handle. Or if you can, you can feel the seam from the mold.

      This was from the same shop. Do you think this stuff is even made in Russia? Or does it all come from China? What on earth would I do with it? It is sort of compelling when it is displayed all together, though. Sort of like in Anthropologie: it all looks so good together that it is impossible to pick out one thing to buy, so I generally leave with nothing except a funny feeling in my stomach from all the visual stimulation.

      Some buildings near the school. I don't know what they are used for. The red brick ones look like they should be factories, but I don't think they are. Offices, maybe? Note the lack of leaves on the tree. They have not yet put up the second set of doors on the Metro entrances, but all the sidewalk dining has been taken down and put away until next summer.

      That's all I got.

      This weekend The Spouse and I are going on a kid-free overnight trip to Suzdal. It promises to be full of blog-worthy material, so be sure to tune in Monday for all the details.

      Wednesday, October 7, 2009

      More Photos from Yesterday

      Curse you, Facebook! Here I had been saying how much easier it is to upload photos at Facebook. I only put a few here yesterday, thinking I would make an album for the blog fan page, but NOOOOOOOOOooooo. Facebook has its panties in a twist and keeps whining, "Upload Fail. Please Try Again."

      I was going to regale you here today with some street shots of Moscow like this one: 

      You DO see what I am up against here? Look at her Mile-Long Legs.

      Now, in fairness, she is wearing leggings. Yup. Those are black leggings OVER black pantyhose. Once I got closer I could see her feet better. But the effect is that of what would generally cause me to mutter, "That's not a skirt. That's a BELT!"

      Note also Dude. Who dressed Dude? Could he be any more ordinary and just . . . Dude-ish?

      This, too, is typically Moscow: Gorgeous Knock-Out Babe and Dude.

      But this is not what I came here to discuss today. I came here to show you more photos from yesterday. Like this one:

      This is so typically downtown Moscow. Seems you just turn a corner and BAM! There is a cool church with beautiful domes. The church you see here with the green domes is part of the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery. Larissa, the tour guide from yesterday told me that at one time, and perhaps even now, public art was repaired on the monastery grounds. You would walk through on a visit (the monastery is apparently a repository for historical documents) and find a statue of Stalin with no nose or lying on the ground. This made her chuckle.

      The red brick building on the left is a small theater. I found this sign for Romeo and Juliet in front of it. It opens December 22.

      Back inside the Bolshoi Worskop, next to Vladimir the Shoemaker, I saw this:

      On a wall in a prominent position, were photos of current employees who had significant years at the Workshop.

      It was difficult to get a picture without glare or reflections, but you can see that Vera, above, was born in 1927 and has worked at the Bolshoi since 1943.

      Oh, and here is why I do not drive in Moscow:

      This is NOT rush hour. This is 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon.

      And now I must get dressed (still in my pajamas . . . horrors!) and go find the girls. Today is Wednesday, which means Skittles has ping-pong and later we go back to school for Baboo's fencing class. It's a very long day.