Archive for May, 2008

Off to Marbella

May 24th, 2008

I don’t particularly like “lazy” holidays. You know, the kind of vacations where all you do is lie on a beach or by the pool and limit your intellectual stimulation to reading a mass market paperback yarn that caught your eye at the airport bookshop. Yes, I am all for a swim in azure waters, but I much prefer spending my holidays exploring new fascinating places, admiring architecture and works of art, observing everyday life of the locals – you get the picture…

While Natasha largely shares my preferences, she is a lot less avert to the approach of occasionally doing absolutely nothing while on a holiday. Once in a while, I happen to agree that we are overdue for a lazy trip.

It should be noted that the last such “once” was three and a half years ago, when we went to Riviera Maya with our friends Natasha and Art. Since then, we went on two skiing trips (which cannot be considered “lazy” on account of, well, skiing, even though they do not normally involve active exploration), rented a villa in Tuscany as a base for day-trips (we did make it semi-lazy by spending a couple of days on the villa itself), and covered vast swathes of Western Europe with sightseeing focus, but we have not given ourselves an opportunity to kick back and do nothing for a week.

Hence, our upcoming holidays on Costa del Sol. Hopefully, the Mediterranean Sea will be warm enough for an occasional dip; otherwise, we’ll avail ourselves of the pool. Me being me, we plan to make day trips to Cordoba and Granada (and, possibly, to other nearby attractions if the weather decides to be difficult), but for most of the time, we expect to do precisely nothing.

I’ll let you know how well that turns out.

I leave you with one of Becky’s favorites, a fun clip called Evolution of Dance that we first came across via my aforementioned friend Art several years ago.



Hasta luego!

Idle Amusements, Travel Album

Nice and efficient Brits

May 23rd, 2008
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Sometimes, a small and fairly inconsequential thing happens, which makes me think: “Hey, I can’t imagine this being handled so efficiently and positively for me in America”.

Natasha received a parking violation ticket a couple of weeks ago. That was before our recent discovery of mobile-phone-enabled payments, but it occurred on a trip to the nearby market, and she never leaves on such trips without enough coins to pay the parking fee. She did procure the appropriate sticker and attached it to the inside of windshield as required.

When she returned to the car a couple of hours later, she found a violation notice attached to the windshield on the outside. The parking sticker was lying face-down on the dashboard. It must have fell off. The text of the notice referred to “failure to pay or to properly display the proof of payment”. The penalty did not distinguish between the two: £50 if paid within 14 days or £100 thereafter…

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Chronicles, That's England

YouTube’d memories: You’re a Woman

May 22nd, 2008

Maybe not as popular as Modern Talking, German-based multinational pop trio Bad Boys Blue was a staple of our DJ playlists in mid-80’s.

The two contemporary outfits are curiously forever linked in my mind. My very first own cassette tape was meant to contain The First Album by MT in its entirety, but instead had only two songs from that album, followed by the songs from BBB’s Hot Girls – Bad Boys album. Even though the sound of the two groups was noticeably different, I at first fully believed that I had, in fact, the entire first album by MT, no matter how much my best friend – who had, unlike me, a well-trained ear for music – tried to convince me otherwise.

It wasn’t long that we caught on to BBB on their own merits. The lip accordion riffs were quite an obvious signature.



Wikipedia tells me that they are still recording…


Working on alternative careers

May 21st, 2008

The last couple of weeks both Natasha and I have been heavily occupied with our Home PC-related careers.

Natasha’s is all about travel. Having successfully seen through my parents’ visit to Paris and London, she had to turn her attention to the upcoming visits of other relatives. Let’s just say that none of our relations is very proficient at using the internet for anything other than its information medium capabilities. They know it, too, as well as the fact that my lovely spouse happens to be very well-versed in personal electronic commerce. Many a conversation go along the lines of “Natasha, dear, I’ll give you my credit card [and you do everything else]…” Natasha is more than happy to do that, by the way.

In addition, there are some components of our upcoming big summer voyage that need to be addressed, and we keep occasionally coming up with prospective future trips, so her time is spent at dozens of travel-centered websites, looking for deals, ideas and possibilities.

Somewhere in all of this is the notion of a business plan for a future small commercial enterprise…

In the meantime, I have been asked to produce a video for the upcoming jubilee of my favorite high school teacher. Despite the fact that her subject, History, was taught in mid-80’s rather differently from what we know today, she remains universally popular with her former students and I, for one, has kept in touch with her all these years. For her 75th birthday this year, a big celebration is being organized, and my newly reacquainted – via – former classmates figured that they can surprise her with my cinematic presence. I was happy to oblige and quickly put together a short musically- and poetically-enhanced video clip, using a graduation picture and a fresh footage of me with congratulatory speech.

I haven’t done even simple video-editing for about three years, and I must say that having a project of this kind was pretty exciting. The end result was good enough for its purposes, but it is the ability to flex my quiescent creative muscle that was the main benefit.

I also spent considerable time updating my children’s mp3 playlists at their request. I don’t remember the last time that I had to listen to so much music that I would not be caught dead listening to by my own design. Kids these days got some weird musical tastes, I tell you!


Jabbing at America

May 20th, 2008
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I have just finished reading Merde Happens, which is the third installment in Stephen Clarke’s series about a young Englishman’s experiences with foreign cultures. Unlike the first two installments, A Year in the Merde and Merde Actually (I skipped over the latter by pure coincidence of it not being sold at the Eurostar terminal bookshop when I was in need of a new book), this book is not about France, but about good ol’ U. S. of A. instead.

Our protagonist, Paul West, an Englishman who now permanently lives in Paris, finds himself in a dire financial situation related to his tearoom business. In order to get the money he needs, he signs up for a wackily-organized campaign in the States to promote UK as a tourist destination. He takes his French girlfriend along for the trip, and proceeds by car, train and plane from New York to Boston and back, then to Miami, New Orleans and Las Vegas, ending up in Los Angeles, all the while getting in and out of silly, sticky, and occasionally downright dangerous, circumstance.

I wasn’t planning to write a review at all. While the author continues to exhibit considerable wit and mastery of comical situations, the plot gets too ludicrous for my taste, the situations too grotesque and the jabs towards American culture too gratuitous. The latter, however, are based on outsider observations that echo my own “reverse” observations of Britain through the eyes of an American.

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Books, European living

Cell phones can be useful

May 18th, 2008
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Contrary to my recent rant about cell phones, they do come in handy in more than obvious ways.

For instance, more and more parking lots around England allow you to pay your parking fee by calling an automated processing service, so you no longer find yourself in a pickle when you do not have enough coins to feed the ticket machine.

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Chronicles, That's England

Paris pictures are here

May 17th, 2008
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The new album of selected pictures from our latest trip can be found here or via the link on the navigation bar.

Website Bulletins

To the nearest gastro-pub

May 16th, 2008
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The old dilapidated pub on one of the corners of the big intersection near our house has recently re-opened after a renovation. It dropped the word “tavern” from its name, remaining simply “The Royal”, and now markets itself as a gastro-pub. Even in our Brooklyn years, we have never lived this close to an eating establishment, so we decided to check it out.

Our expectations were reasonably low, given that the area where we live is somewhat middling. But the pub turned out to be very nice, with rather agreeable food and professional and friendly service. We anticipated a standard-issue British pub crowd, not exactly rowdy, but – how should I put it? – intent on drinking themselves into a near stupor. Instead, we got several families, a few better-than-everyday-dressed couples, and only a small portion of patrons who looked like they were there for their customary dozen of pints. The place was not crowded, and the atmosphere was rather pleasant.

There was a sign at the entrance, advising the customers of the accepted dress code, which did not include sportswear or ripped jeans. One guy walked in wearing a tracksuit – a member of the crew discreetly whispered something into his ear and the offender quickly left.

We were sufficiently impressed to decide that this could be an occasional Friday-night hangout for us.

The most important thing was that the kids stayed home in front of the TV, and Natasha and I got to spend time with just each other for the first time since a dinner in Loire Valley last October. I almost entirely forgot how much fun it is to be out on a date with a hot woman!


Booklist meme

May 15th, 2008
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By the simplest gauge, I have already had a handful of posts devoted to the tried subject of British weather, so I can hardly expound on it any more without truly approximating a broken gramophone record. Yet, that particular topic remains – as it would be in any civilized discourse – the only one that can inexhaustibly feed a conversation. For instance, the glorious week and a half of sun and warmth has now seemingly been replaced with the more customary drizzle and chill…

Oops, here I go again. Sorry!

Instead, let me heap a new meme thingie on you, courtesy of my friend Jason, who himself picked it up elsewhere.

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Becky has a blog!

May 14th, 2008

I am happy to announce that my elder child now has a soapbox of her own within confines of this website. The link is now prominently featured on the navigation bar.

Warning by the newly-minted authoress: You are not really advised to visit if you were born before the 90’s. (P.S. There is only one post there so far…)

Man, what was I thinking!!!!

Website Bulletins

Anyone for extreme hiking?

May 13th, 2008
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Came across this via Exler. Stupendous video, and vertigo-inducing, no matter how comfy is the armchair that you currently occupy. As comments on Alex’s site say: By night, in a drunken stupor, traversing this path is quite easy… but in the middle of the day, entirely sober – and with a camcorder?!…



Amazing World

Translate this page (take 2)

May 12th, 2008
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I realized that I needed to expand on my post about online translations. This is a public service announcement to those who have already read it, to go and read the addendum :)

Website Bulletins

YouTube’d memories: Brother Louie

May 12th, 2008
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I’ve already offered a glimpse of Modern Talking in the retrospection of my musical affinities (and also posted this clip in other people’s blogs). But it is high time that I paid my respects to the German duo directly.

For some period of time in high school, I was a DJ. Not because I was any good at it or because I had an exceptional taste in music, but rather because I had this intense dislike of the activity of dancing, while at the same time being a fairly popular and sociable kid. So, in hindsight, my DJ’ing was akin to being a “designated driver”: Somebody had to change the tape decks and direct the discotheque crowd without feeling left out of the actual dancing, and I fit perfectly for that role.

Nothing reminds me of that period of my life as much as the sugary beat of Bohlen and Anders.



P.S. I don’t really get the Once Upon a Time in America linkage…


Translate this page

May 11th, 2008

I come across people translating their websites into other languages quite often. They do it via free translation services such as Babel Fish. Every time I read something translated into Russian that way, it makes me cringe. Yes, you can probably relay the gist of it via such translation, but at the expense of all grammar and occasionally simple sense.

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Idle Amusements

Protecting the seller

May 10th, 2008
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Say, you browse a store, any store, and come across an attractive item that is on sale. You’d be lukewarm to the idea of obtaining said item at its original listed price, but an ability to buy it at a discount closes the deal for you.

Now, suppose, as you reach the checkout and a clerk scans the barcode in, the original non-discounted price comes up on the register. You point out to the cashier that the advertised price is considerably below what they are attempting to charge you. What do you hear in response?

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Customerography, That's England

Victory Day

May 9th, 2008

If there is one day when I am wholly proud to have been born and raised in the former USSR, it is today. Anyone who shares my background has at least one person in their extended family tree who either gave their lives in the Great Patriotic War or marched to the victory with the Red Army. For that, they deserve our eternal gratitude, no less today than 63 years ago.

I can see in my mind’s eye my late grandfather, wearing his full complement of military awards, smiling on this day, and even though his generation is almost entirely gone today, I still want to join with my former compatriots in celebrating the generation of heroes and the great day of victory over fascism.

С Днём Победы!


First verbal sparring on

May 8th, 2008

The excellent spring weather – what actually qualifies as summer in London; the next stop is dreary autumn – has seemingly spread across the Channel, and we are finally wearing short sleeves, having dinners on the deck in the garden, and deceiving ourselves with “British climate is not so bad” sentiment.

I am actually spending the best hours of the day in office, since most of my current job has to do with the States, so I am lightly occupied until about 1:30, and then very heavily through the afternoon, eventually peeling myself away from the issue of the day at around seven. Good thing it does not get dark until after nine. On the bright side, my parents are extremely lucky to be able to rediscover London – walking for hours, no less, – in such pristine conditions.

In the meantime, I have reached new heights in my blogging career. What else would you call acquiring a critic who not only looks for opportunities to post corrections to my musings, but explicitly states that he aims to “sway” people who read my blog away from my ostensibly poisonous conclusions.

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Blogging, Chronicles

It does not take an Einstein…

May 6th, 2008
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Unlike previous tests, this one is fairly academic.

Still, was there any doubt?



I could not figure out how to swivel my computer screen to get a good look at a stretched picture, and that’s probably the wrong answer that cost me the 2%…

Via both Nathan and John the Scientist.

Idle Amusements

Back from Paris

May 5th, 2008

Ahh, Paris… There is nothing like it in the whole wide world. Not for us, at least. I don’t know what it is, honestly, but we always feel entirely at home in this most romantic of cities.

This time around, we benefited from exceptionally bright skies and warm weather, which was a great and welcome change to the customarily rainy and drab London week prior. We could not exactly take it entirely slow, given that we were trying to play guides to my parents on their first ever visit to the city, but we worked a leisurely afternoon at the Luxembourg Gardens and several unhurried strolls into the proceedings.


Palais Luxembourg


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Where we've been

Mind your passport

May 1st, 2008

It is the most basic and universal of any advice that an international traveller can get: Never forget when your passport expires.

My parents, who leave the shores of the U.S. of A. about once a year on average, were going for a tour of Paris, followed by a stay with us in London. Our resident travel agent – my lovely wife – has figured out their lodgings, meals, transfers, their entire itinerary in Paris including a day with a personal guide, etc. She even synchronized their one-way trip on Eurostar with our return leg.

What neither of us thought to ask Mom and Dad is to check their passport expiration dates. (I tend to ascribe that to my own obsessive approach to documentation; it does not occur to me in the normal course of events that some people – my own parents, especially, – may be less anal about knowing what shape their papers are in.)

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Travel Album