Archive for May, 2007

About weather and other fun

May 25th, 2007

Good weather is here again. Or was here for a few days, since they promise rain throughout the weekend. Actually, they promised that the rain would start sometime Friday afternoon, but the skies, while cloudy, are still not very rainy-like. Could I extrapolate from it that the entire rain-all-weekend prediction was bogus? Probably not…
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Of singing and blogging

May 21st, 2007

Of all her various endeavors, Becky lately has been concentrating on singing a bit more. She lacks a strong voice, but she definitely has a musical ear and she loves to sing.

It helps the matters that at her school, every Year 7 student has to participate in the choir. Last week the school gave a concert, highlighted by its highly selective Chamber Choir, but with participation of other ensembles, such as the Jazz Band, the (Very) Big Band, the Senior Choir and the Year 7’s.

Becky and her classmates had an unorthodox repertoire of a south-african song and a Hindu hymn, the latter sung with no words. Becky even had the honor of being a soloist on the hymn, which I hear was performed very well. Next year, when the choir will no longer be mandatory, I fear she will be crestfallen if unable to get into one of the selective ensembles.

Meanwhile, she has also been preparing for a classroom presentation. The task is simple: Pick a song, any song, sing it solo, get graded. Becky narrowed down her choices to six pieces: The Star-Spangled Banner, Kiss the Girl (from The Little Mermaid), Ev’rybody Wants To Be a Cat (from The Aristocats), A Dream Is a Wish (from Cinderella), Tomorrow (from Annie) and I Just Can’t Wait To Be King (from The Lion King). She then had Natasha and me to give her marks for performing each one of those, with the notion of combined highest mark identifying her final choice. The esteemed judges attended to the task at hand with all due diligence, and our diva settled on A Dream Is a Wish (with a combined score of 17 on the 10-point scale).

The performance is coming up any day now.

On a totally different note, I’ve been having a small blogging confidence crisis. Even though right from the very beginning, I expected my site to only be of use to my family and best friends (not counting an occasional stray fellow expatriate), I recently fell into the trap of regularly checking visitor statistics and such. It is hardly remarkable, from a handful to a couple of dozen visitors on different days, and seeing that every day, compared with public stats of some other blogs, does become joyless.

I checked a few of the blogs of other American Londoners. Actually, I read one blog, My London Crib, regularly, even since Geo emailed me one day with a question. She similarly got in touch with several other bloggers, and I looked at her friends’ work through the links on her page. What I saw were largely merry and carefree accounts of goings and doings of young American ladies (and their significant others) who immensely enjoy being in the center of the universe that is London. Their writings appear effortless and airy. Geo herself went on a “picture plan”, whereas she almost daily posts a seemingly random picture and writes something about it; it surprisingly provides an excellent composite insight into her everyday life. Another blogger, Heather, works off a full-blown photo-blog approach – she posts many pictures and builds her narration around the images.

Me? I am trying to keep my posts witty (I’d like to label them whimsical), but carefree and effortless they are not. I cannot steer away from serious topics (I actually have a long list of expatriate subjects that I want to address one by one). I don’t even try to project an all-encompassing sunny attitude – yes, we enjoy our life here, but keep no pretense that it is anything like a long vacation. Finally, I am clearly not a young beautiful woman (although my gorgeous muse and spouse should certainly play a more prominent starring role in my narratives).

And what do you know? Realizing all of that gave me a boost of confidence. Maybe I found my niche! Maybe there is an audience somewhere that is interested in musings of a youngish, not young, and intermittently funny American grump, whose limited vocabulary of superlatives demands occasional negativity…

On the other hand, if not, I probably still will be content with the knowledge that a dozen or so people who are truly dear to me get these indirect letters from me once every few days.

In any case, I feel inspiration overtaking me… Unfortunately for my literary career, at the moment, the muse is demanding that I get off the stupid computer and spend some quality time with her and the children…

Blogging, Chronicles

Political debates to avoid

May 20th, 2007

Our guests have returned home, and we have a brief lull until the next visitors arrive.
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Chronicles, Russia

About my temperament

May 17th, 2007

I took a curious personality test at work the other day and figured it’s worth describing in a post.
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Burlaki trivia

Ah! The British weather…

May 15th, 2007
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The weather turned truly nasty for a couple of days. Nasty with a twist. Mockingly, around 7pm every day, the skies clear, the sun comes out, and our hearts fill up with hopes of nice tomorrow. Alas, the mornings leave a lot to be desired…
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With friends

May 12th, 2007
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Our best friends from New Jersey have come to visit us for a bit over a week, which means kids are happily playing, beer is freely flowing, fun is being had all around. Notably less sleep can be secured in return, but I managed to catch up on some this Saturday morning.

Our guests certainly have grand plans to see London and environs, which we will gladly participate in, but only to a degree. After all, our kids will mostly be in school and I will keep my regular office hours. But today, everybody but me went on an excursion to the city center, and tomorrow we plan on making a day trip to one of the countryside castles. We actually had to rent a car for the weekend, a toy-like Nissan Micra, so that we have enough space for two families. Hopefully Artyom, me and two little kids can fit inside, leaving the X3 to big kids and their mothers. We’ll know soon enough.

Prior to the arrival of old friends, we planned another outing with our new friends who have now officially relocated to London (I first introduced them several weeks ago). Since they are currently staying in corporate housing in the City, the plan was for them to take DLR, meet me along the way, and then for Natasha to pick us up in Lewisham, from which we would proceed to a restaurant in Blackheath.

Earlier on that day, Wednesday, the Blackwall tunnel, which is the main river crossing in Southeast London, experienced some sort of accident and was closed. In a story familiar to any perpetually congested traffic area, once one major node was choked off, and the drivers started looking for detours, every single road in the area slowed down to a crawl. The resulting traffic jams caused Natasha to spend almost 4 hours – fours hours! – to make 9-mile round-trip required to pick the girls from school. As Anya and Ari met me on the DLR around 7pm, the roads were still entirely congested.

With no chance of getting to the restaurant, Natasha improvised a dinner, we opened some wine, and spent several hours in pleasant discourse at our house. Cozy environs, good food, interesting company. Not a bad substitute to a dinner out, if I say so myself!

The echoes of the traffic problems were felt next morning, as people stayed away from the tunnel, continuing to clog lesser arteries. By midday, though, the tunnel was re-opened, and my evening trip to Heathrow to pick up arriving guests was rather uneventful.

It appears that every week I spend several hours correcting something with my blog. The recent security problems necessitated software upgrades for some out-of-the-box components. One unfortunate side effect was my sudden inability to use Russian characters in my posts. After a good friend pointed me to a web resource that outlined corrective steps, I managed to fix that issue. But the patch inexplicably caused truncation of posts where special characters (such as French letters) had appeared previously. About 30 posts lost parts of their texts that way, and I had to spend about three hours restoring them from backups. From now on, I’ll stick to using unicodes every time I need a special character.

On a subject of Russian, Kimmy started to occasionally forget Russian words (never mind the fact that her British accent and intonation are becoming quite discernible). So, we try to make sure that she has enough practice. The other day, she was asking Natasha for some grapes in English, and Natasha asked her to repeat the request in Russian. Kimmy could not remember the word, so helpful Becky gave her a prompt, “It starts similar to what mommy and daddy like to drink in a restaurant”.1 To which puzzled Kimmy responded, “Vodka?” Oops! :)

The weather lately turned to prototypical British – overcast and rainy, with cold winds blowing incessantly. So warm and pleasant was the second half of April that we surely expected more sunshine and warmth in May…

1 For my non-Russian readers, the Russian word for wine is literally the first half of the Russian word for grapes, виноград.

Children, Chronicles

Relocation package

May 10th, 2007
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As I pass myself off for an expatriate blogger, I guess I should at least occasionally post entries that fellow expatriates could use as empirical advice.

This lengthy entry concerns relocation package negotiation.
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Paris, Paris

May 7th, 2007
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The latest disruption in my posts was caused by a long-weekend excursion to Paris, which was immediately preceded by another round of problems with the website, which hopefully have now been resolved once and for all (but claimed as their victim the recent Tuscany gallery album, which I am yet to restore). Oops, famous last words, “… have been resolved…” – I am in IT, I should know better…

Anyway, what we want to talk about is Paris.

As I say quite often when discussing my travel experiences, Paris is a beautiful city, but it does not break into the top of my list of most beautiful cities. Having just typed that sentence, I caught myself wondering: Exactly why is it that I put Vienna as number two on my list, and Paris somewhere around number ten? And I have to admit, there is no strict criteria or well-worded definition. It’s the overall ambience, and Paris has always suffered due to pervasive dog poop (only in the last year or so have the powers that be figured to pass regulations requiring dog owners to clean after their furry friends) and less-than-ideal French approach to personal hygiene. The latter, unfortunately, still finds ways to resurface at the most inopportune moments (for instance, when you are served food in a restaurant), but the city looked positively radiant to us this time around, probably warranting a higher place in rankings.

Paris is also the first destination that we came to for the third time in our travels. The uncommon level of familiarity and recognition (we had lunch at the same cafe as our very first breakfast in Paris five years ago, or bought scarves at the same shop) made for a more relaxed experience. Plus, even though we needed to show the most famous landmarks to Kimmy, – who alone among us was making her very first Parisian trip, – we were utterly free of the pressure to do specifically this or that, instead spending most of the time on leisurely walks and unhurried exploration.

We enjoyed every moment of it.

No matter what your idiosyncrasies may be, Paris is a great place to kick back, to sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch people streaming by, to stroll quaint streets and leafy squares. It is also awfully romantic – or, maybe, we always prejudged it to be romantic in our youth and cannot shake that feeling now.

Снова я в Париже. Снова я влюблён.

“I am in Paris again. I am in love again.”

Well, we tried to keep the kids amused by stopping at every playground in our way, browsing various shops, coming up with games and activities. But mostly, we just walked around, gawked at pretty buildings, indulged in crépes and pastry, relaxed on park benches… The only touristy thing that we did was a boat tour late at night, but we seriously consider it a must: Ignore the narration, just look around and be awed.

The cuisine, of course, was a highlight of its own. One restaurant is worth mentioning any day of the week: Le Petit Pontoise, on Rue Pontoise off Quai de la Tournelle. It is a small and fairly famous place, where reservations are quite essential; the menu items are written on chalkboards that are hanging around the dining room; the food simply dazzles. Kimmy has gotten so excited about it, that she started making plans for what she would have the next time and got a bit upset when we told her that our next visit there is going to come after a while.

Kimmy also has fallen in love with Eiffel Tower, especially after seeing it sparkling with strob-lights a couple of times. As for us, we simply rediscovered the city that we love and want to come back to again and again…

Travelog information about Paris can be found here.

Where we've been