Archive for July, 2008

YouTube’d memories: Imagine

July 30th, 2008

As a professed fan of The Beatles, I am actually quite lukewarm towards anything that the Fab Four produced in their solo careers after their break-up. Lennon’s Imagine is probably the closest a song by a former Beatle comes to being a favorite of mine.

My most vivid memory associated with it is quite recent.

A starry September night. Throngs of people on the Karluv Most in Prague. And a street guitarist, surrounded by several dozens of revelers, leading them in the rendition of Imagine

With that, I am off to the next leg of our grand tour, which will see us relocate from Costa Brava to the French Riviera.

A bientôt!


A young Gandalf, that’s who I am!

July 30th, 2008
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Everybody in my blog feed aggregator seemingly has done one of these, so I will refrain from tipping hat to anyone in particular. I have not seen another member of my race, though.

Your result for The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test…


You scored high in morality and intelligence, but lower in physical strength and aggression, which means you’re probably a Wizard. Counted among the very wise and (with that one exception) good creatures of Middle Earth are the Wizards, or Istari. Though they appear as old men, the Istari are actually powerful Maiar spirits sent from Valinor to Middle Earth to act as caretakers of the land and guides to men and beasts. Their supernatural heritage means they’re also the only line of defense against rogue Maiar like Balrogs. Though only Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast are named through the novels, there are two other Wizards at large in Middle Earth, quietly working to bring tranquility to their surroundings.

Your polar opposite is the Urûk-Hai.

Take The What Middle Earth race do you belong to Test at HelloQuizzy

Idle Amusements

Ilya annoys a stranger, chapter 376

July 29th, 2008

I believe that I have established elsewhere in this blog that I hold very close relationship between verbs affront and confront. As in, when something affronts me, I am usually not very shy in confronting the perpetrator of the deed. Here is the latest example. (Those who don’t believe it is ever appropriate to speak your mind to a stranger can feel free not to look below the fold.)

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On a European beach…

July 28th, 2008

… you see exposed breasts of various colours, shapes and sizes.  From perfectly toned ones to amorphic sagging what-letter-in-the-alphabet cups.  And that’s just men’s.

About one in five women, by my estimation, goes topless at the beach these days as well.  The Germans are at the forefront of the movement, having long branched out from their communal no-swimsuit-necessary bathhouses.  But I also heard Italian, French and Spanish spoken by topless female beachgoers.

Leering and ogling from behind sunglasses is great entertainment, but in truth, the shapelier the woman is, the less likely she is to go topless.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve noticed quite a few nice bodies in the last several days.  But for each one of those, I’ve seen several of the shapeless whale kind, who insist on exposing their bosoms with not a hint of self-consciousness.  I realize that it would be downright undemocratic to restrict toplessness according to some attractiveness scale, but I can’t help but wonder why the least attractive are often the most uninhibited.

I am also a bit amused with seeing groups of friends that include both topless and more traditional sunbathers.  I figure that keeping the top on, in general, has a lot to do with some ingrained standards of modesty; so, when two couples go to the beach together and only one of the women goes topless, it is not a stretch to surmise that the other gal is more of a prude.  That should make for some curious interpersonal dynamics.  To say nothing of one guy having advantage over the other in terms of checking out each other’s girls.

Other than those observations, I find sunbathing to be an utterly boring activity.

Travel Miscellany

Back to Costa Brava

July 25th, 2008

Can you guess where I am?  Come on, you hardly need more than one try…  Yep, you got it!  I’m back on the beautiful Catalan coast of the Mediterranean.

It was a bit of an impulse decision.  As the prospect of a lonely weekend in London loomed, I figured that, despite my usual adversity towards air travel, a two-hour flight is worth every bit of time that I’d get to kick back with my girls and our friends.  Of course, at the last minute, I spent more on this round-trip than the cost of my entire six-leg original itinerary for the summer (even the discount airlines charge an arm and a leg when they can), but once I started thinking about the good times that I would have on Costa Brava, there was no way back.

And here I am.  Kimmy immediately demanded that we go for a swim in the pool before she has to go to bed, and I happily obliged.  She likes to be thrown into the waters quite a lot, and she has taken to shouting <em>Cowabanga!</em> in the process.   

This unexpected jaunt will cause additional disruption to the frequency of my blogging.  I should find some time for a post or two early next week.


Re-acquiring a forgotten taste

July 24th, 2008

Back in my twenties, I used to like coffee. Drank it quite regularly. Natasha and I even joined one of those mail-order coffee clubs. Several times, as a matter of fact, so that we could keep getting their free-if-you-join stuff. A couple of coffeemakers and several cup-and-saucer sets, if my memory serves me right.

I was always partial to tea, though. One day – or, possibly, it happened gradually – I lost my taste for coffee. Simply stopped liking it, without much of a reason. And for the last dozen of years or so, I exclusively drank tea, both as a pick-me-up-in-the-morning brew and an end-of-dinner beverage. American colleagues remained perpetually bewildered, French waiters contorted their faces into expressions of utter disdain, but I carried on.

Natasha occasionally still had a cappuccino or an espresso at restaurants, but our house reserves of coffee eventually dwindled to a single jar of some instant blend, largely waiting for a guest professing his addiction to the product.

When an explanation of my no-coffee attitude was required, I would say that I believe coffee to be an acquired taste. And whatever you may acquire, you may lose just as well. Ergo, my taste for coffee was lost.

On our first night on Costa Brava, when our friends Arthur and Anya suggested that we sit down at a cafe for some cava and coffee, I suddenly decided to try what everybody else was having. We ordered cortadas, an espresso with a dash of hot milk. And I suddenly thought to myself: Damn, that’s one exquisite drink!

I tried it several times in the ensuing couple of days and was pleasantly surprised every time that I continued to like the drink. Next thing you know, Natasha and I are discussing buying one of those latest high-tech espresso machines for the house…

And that was a short story about how I recovered my taste for coffee products.

Burlaki trivia

Back from Costa Brava

July 23rd, 2008

Spent the day in a bustling and vibrant Barcelona, went to sleep in the God-forsaken Mottingham… Fun life I lead sometimes!

The big summer holiday took off splendidly, the long two-day trek from London to Costa Brava notwithstanding. We arrived to a beautiful setting, gorgeous weather and, most importantly, the company of friends whom we count among our oldest and closest. The kids on both sides instantly re-established rapport and, more or less, left adults to their own devices, which is something we have been decidedly lacking on recent holidays.

So, our friends and us had plenty of time to catch up, go for local explorations and culinary adventures, or just sit on the beach. Their house on the mountain has sweeping views of the town and the beach below, so we also hang around on their veranda in the evenings. Wine, cheese, a guitar, a pleasant conversation – what else to ask for?

I finally acquired an adequate Mediterranean swimming experience (all of my previous visits to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea happened during less than ideal conditions for a dip).

On the night of our arrival, the town held the annual musical fireworks, which we had the pleasure to observe from the aforementioned veranda.

There is an excellent communal swimming pool right in front of our rented house. Kimmy has gotten into a habit of going for a half-hour swim before retiring for the night.

There are incredibly beautiful and well-preserved medieval villages within a twenty-minutes drive radius from where we stay, full of unexpected treasures and remarkable restaurants. Barcelona is not within a daily driving distance, but still manageably close.

Those are just a few things that make me rue the necessity of flying back to London to go to the office. But here I am, plotting a quick return. Just as soon as I deal with some things that I find hard to deal with remotely…

Where we've been

YouTube’d Memories: I Just Called To Say I Love You

July 17th, 2008

Another one of my long-standing favorites. Curiously, I never bothered with any other songs by Stevie Wonder. The only other of his works that I am even aware of is Ebony and Ivory by him and Paul McCartney.

My most vivid memory associated with this melodic and evocative love ballad has nothing to do with being romantic. My first summer in the US, I worked as a counselor at a YMHA day camp (‘H’ stands for ‘Hebrew’, for those who don’t know; other letters mean exactly what they do in the more famous YMCA acronym, but without a catchy song to its credit). One day, the camp held a talent show, and among many renditions of Heveynu Shalom Aleichem, Hava Nagila and the like, one of the senior groups went with I Just Called… It stood out, to say the least.

On this note, we’re taking off early tomorrow morning for the first leg of our big summer holiday. I’ll be back in London on Wednesday with a due recount of the progress.

Hasta luego, amigos!


A Queen sighting

July 16th, 2008

Our guests not only managed to visit several of the London sights that we thus far shunned; they also came by an audience with Her Majesty the Queen.

Ok, not really. But we ourselves only see the reigning monarch on TV, despite living just a dozen miles away from the Buckingham Palace. Our friends, who planned to visit the St Paul’s Cathedral on their last day in London, were turned away on account of some official ceremony; they decided to stick around to see who would show up for the occasion and were rewarded with the sight of Elizabeth II getting out of her royal carriage black limo in full royal dress and regalia. I do not have any pictures in my possession to illustrate, but the guys were pretty excited at having been around to see that.

We Americans have a weird fascination with the royals…

London Album

About an old movie that I love

July 15th, 2008

We were watching an old Soviet comedy with our friends last night, and I was reminded of an item that was sitting on my blogging back-burner for a while.

Natasha and I have a pretty large collection of movies on DVDs. Not as large as some, I am sure, but still quite extensive. A large part of the collection consists of Russian musicals, comedies – and musical comedies – from 70’s-80’s, but there are also a number of French movies that were very popular in our childhood and youth. A few weeks ago, on a night that we did not have any specific plans, we decided to watch Le Jouet, a movie that I probably have not seen in twenty years (even though the DVD was acquired a long time ago).


Le Jouet poster


And what do you know!? I loved it all over again!
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The last busy weekend of the season

July 14th, 2008

The weekend was spent in various activities involving our latest visitors, which explains the first non-travel two-day post gap since sometime last year. With our approaching long holiday, it should be the last active “home” weekend for a couple of months. Anyway, here is a brief re-cap.

On Saturday, we went to one of the last remaining “major” destinations in greater London not visited before – the Windsor castle. While overall very impressive, to say nothing of huge, it left us slightly underwhelmed. Possibly we’ve seen too much opulence at various palaces over the years. Or the absence of usually requisite vast surrounding grounds diminishes the impression.

At the Windsor castle

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Chronicles, London Album

Pushkin, anyone?

July 11th, 2008
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This is just too hilarious. I have to post it, even though any non-Russian-speaking reader of mine may not get to fully appreciate the hilarity (not that you shouldn’t try – the flash-card text is a hoot all by itself).

Thanks, Dad.

Idle Amusements

Map of Europe

July 10th, 2008

Despite my self-sustained image of the world traveler, I have only been to 37% of European countries. Natasha is actually one up on me, in a way that I fear will keep forever, – she has been to Belarus as a child.

The map below outlines the gaping chasm of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Baltics, and the Mediterranean, that remains to be explored (the link in the middle, Hungary, is included only via the “airport rule”). The question is: When?

Travel Miscellany

YouTube’d Memories: Layla

July 9th, 2008

Back to our regular light programming, here is one of my all-time favorites.

For some reason, the strongest recollections of this song put me inside my Dad’s old Pontiac, driving the length of Ocean Parkway and loudly singing along. I believe they come from the time when Natasha worked cash register at a supermarket on Brighton Beach and I was in college. Occasionally, our schedules allowed me to drive her to work. The car was too old to have a CD-player, and I never owned Clapton on tape, so the song must have been a regular on LiteFM or Z100 or something…


Money in the street

July 8th, 2008

Sometimes, the smallest stupid things get me worked up for no good reason whatsoever…

John Scalzi gets his “stimulus package” check from the US Government. It’s for a stupid amount of money. Not stupid as in “stupendous”. Stupid as in “what’s-the-point-of-even-getting-this”. $6.10, to be precise.

He rationalizes that there is very little useful he can do with this kind of money. Logically, he decides that it is worth donating instead. So, he picks a cause to donate to. He donates to Bob Barr presidential campaign. Not because he believes in the candidate. Because he is so dismayed with the current presidential administration, and he calculates that Barr will take enough votes away from McCain to prevent GOP from retaining the White House, that he figures it a perfect jest to use a laughable government handout to fund a political cause tangentially against said government.

I’m reading that, thinking, Wow! You find money on the street. You deem the amount to be insignificant to benefit you or your family in any way. You give the money away. Not to the homeless guy on the corner. Not to help victims of famine or a natural disaster. Not to fund search for a cure for a deadly disease. No, the best you can come up with is a political cause which you don’t believe in yourself, but which could be beneficial to your preferred candidate.

At midnight after a fairly long day, I get stupid myself. I actually type up a comment on Scalzi’s blog, expressing my incredulity that this is how he chose to spend the little bit of money that fell from the sky on him. Predictably, Scalzi curtly advised me to “cram it” (I get the gist of the term, but I never associated the word “cram” with what I think it meant in Scalzi’s context). Someone from his ever-present stable of sycophants then promptly chewed me out for being self-righteous (which I admit I was). And that’s the end of the story, pretty much.

I am not as worked up about it this morning. I realize that, in absolute sense, six freaking bucks do not make a difference for any cause, just as my various charitable donations – more often than not, in the form of sponsoring my friends for various marathons and walks, – do not add up to a contribution of significant impact (aside from making me feel good). I also recognize that if I were a fervent Obama supporter, I might have had an inkling to help his cause in any possible way…

But I just can’t help thinking that spending money in jest is stupid.

And reacting to that stupidity the way I reacted is no less stupid.

Will I ever learn that lesson?…


Alas, not really a genius

July 7th, 2008

In a moment of lull, I suddenly decided to take a test to see what my IQ is. You know, I always pegged myself as a type of a quiet genius, possessing formidable intellect, but too lackadaisical to put it to any entrepreneurial use or scientific pursuit. Yet, vain person that I am, I never before bothered to find out exactly how smart I was.

So, I take the online test and end up with the score of 133. That puts me in something like Top 3 percentile, but earns me only a designation of “gifted”, rather than “genius”. Bummer!



But, hey, I wouldn’t be calling myself a genius if I did not occasionally have ingenious ideas. Despite my obvious proficiency in English, it is not my first language. What if I take the test in Russian?, I say to myself, Surely, I’ll break 150 then!

So, I find a Russian-language online test. Which turns out to be somewhat more demanding, I must say. My score? Drum roll, por favor… ta-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-dum… 135. No, really!…

I was skeptical about the validity of these tests, to start with, but taking two different ones, at different websites, in different languages, and getting scores this close would be too much of a coincidence…

I’m going to have to accept that I fall short of the genius threshold. Still, not too shabby, if I humbly say so myself… [walks into the sunset, preening…]

Idle Amusements

Stupid spammer bots

July 6th, 2008

Remember my post on spammers’ creativeness? Lately, I’ve been bombarded quite regularly with bot-produced comments that appear as “compliments” from accidental readers. The idea, of course, is that I’ll take them for genuine praise and allow them through my spam controls, opening the door for future deluge.

This looks like a genuine praise from a discerning reader, doesn’t it?

I read similar article also named Happy Birthday Kimmy!, and it was completely different. Personally, I agree with you more, because this article makes a little bit more sense for me.

The article in question is here.


Movie review: Kung Fu Panda

July 6th, 2008
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When I do get to see a new release at the cinema, it is usually something that my kids want to watch. We did not have any specific plans for this weekend, my Aunt went back home, and while Becky has a booming social life with almost daily events, Kimmy was a bit bored with the lack of exciting activities, so Natasha and I decided that a trip to the movies would be a perfect antidote.


Kung Fu Panda poster


We went to see Kung Fu Panda, which opened in the UK just a couple of days ago. Kimmy loved it, and I found it tremendously entertaining myself. The story of a lovable misfit, who suddenly finds himself thrown into the middle of events for which he is clearly ill-suited, but from which he emerges triumphant and with a sense of finding his place in the world, is as old as anything, and this animated take on it tells the story at a close-to-prefect pitch.
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Pictures from Canterbury and Sissinghurst

July 5th, 2008
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A small album with a selection of pictures from our recent trips to Canterbury and the Sissinghurst Castle Garden can be found via the link on the navigation bar. Or click here.

Website Bulletins

Happy 4th of July!

July 4th, 2008
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No, that’s not the view from our window. Would be nice, though…

Becky sang Star-Spangled Banner and later went to the grocery shop wearing a T-shirt with a “Proud American” slogan on it, an American flag pin, an American flag necklace, and the letters “U. S. A.” written in a marker on her upper arm.

Kimmy did a presentation to her class on the Declaration of Independence and got upset when some of her classmates stated that the occasion was “not important”.

Natasha and my Aunt have been out all day in central London, but when they get back, we’ll be sure to pop some firecrackers in the backyard.

Me, I sat all day in my study in front of two computers, alternating between attending to some work loose ends and to home PC-based chores. Hey, it’s not my fault that my job responsibilities are American-centric these days – I had no intention of burning a day-off just because there is no one in our US offices. I worked today, ok?

All in all, your basic Independence Day overseas. Hope yours was better.