Archive for May, 2009

YouTube’d memories: King of the Road

May 25th, 2009

I haven’t heard this song in ages and suddenly recognized the tune in a McDonald’s commercial, of all places. The Proclaimers‘ cover of the Roger Miller hit is one of my most vivid recollections of the time we started to get regularly exposed to the Western music acts via a weekly MTV hit-parade (I already mentioned it in the past).

In 1989 or so, the only words from the lyrics that my knowledge of English allowed me to clearly identify beyond those in the title were “no phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes”, which, in the absence of registering the stuff about trailers for rent and old worn out suits, sounded glamorously vagabond. But mostly, I just liked the sound of the song, that jazzy country crossover, especially the last portion, with only the bass and the finger snapping for music.

One other clear recollection from those MTV viewings is this ditty by London Beat. Beats me – hey, a pun! – why I remember that one so well.


Is that too much to ask?

May 24th, 2009

You know what I hate? You’re driving a carload of teenage girls to some get-together miles away from home, and you’re trying to drown out their giggles, shrieks, screeches and other annoying noises by turning up the volume in your iPod headphones. Then, one of the songs starts really feathery soft, and you have to crank up the volume even higher to achieve the desired drowning out effect. Of course, you forget that the second stanza changes the tonality, and it suddenly kicks in splitting your eardrums causing you to feverishly grasp for the volume control before you end up deaf in both ears.

All of you recording artists out there: Would it be so damn hard to record your songs at the same volume level? Is being un artiste and getting to express all sorts of feelings through those damn abrupt crescendos really worth inflicting so much pain on a poor schlemiel who volunteered to drive a bunch of adolescent girls 70 miles in one direction?

A bit of compassion would not hurt you, would it?


Household items for sale

May 23rd, 2009

We identified the inventory of things that we want to get rid of before the move. Natasha is going to be putting advertisements online and in local newspapers, but one obvious place where I can advertize for free is this very blog, so here is the list. I am fully aware that most of my audience is US-based – you are excused from reading any further today. For the few of my readers who are based in the UK, if you or anyone you know might be interested in the following, please do not hesitate to let us know.

  • TV/DVD: JVC 27″ InteriArt Digital Cinema System, incl. stand and speakers, bought second-hand in 2006, good condition, £50
  • Piano keyboard: Yamaha PSR-262, with stand, bought second-hand in 2007, fair condition, £25
  • Food processor: Cuisinart DLC3011NBU Cast Metal Edition, with full complement of attachments, practically new, costs £200 new, £100
  • Blender: Braun MR4050HC Minipimer Hand-blender, bought in 2007, £15
  • Satellite TV box: Sky+, bought in 2006, excellent condition, £20*
  • Vacuum cleaner: Dyson upright DC07, bought in 2006, good condition, £50**
  • Broadband router: Netgear Wireless ADSL2+ Modem Router DG834G v4, bought in 2008, excellent condition, £15**
  • Wardrobe: White, 87cm wide x 162cm tall x 52cm deep, bought second-hand in 2007, £10
  • Dresser+nightstands: White with brass handles, dresser with two drawers and two shelves, 72cm wide x 99cm tall x 40cm deep, each nightstand with three drawers, bought second-hand in 2007, £20
  • Nightstand lamps: IKEA, two, bought in 2006, £10
  • Printer: Epson Stylus DX5050 All-in-one printer, bought in 2007, excellent condition, £25***
  • Audio System: Sony CMT-EH15 MP3 Micro HiFi Component System, practically new, £30***

All offers will be entertained.

* It is an unverified assumption that a Sky satellite box can be transferred from one owner to another. I only know for a fact that I “own” it and am not required to return it to Sky when I close my account. The transferability will be verified in the future. The box itself will be used by us through mid-July.

** We will need to continue to use these items until the very end of our stay, towards the last days of July. Anyone who is interested can “reserve” them at no charge, with the pick up to be arranged prior to our departure.

*** These items are tentatively spoken for, but the deal has not been consummated yet.


Science to prove it

May 21st, 2009
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I have never had a slightest of doubts in the veracity of the statement I made on many occasions: My children benefited greatly through their experiences of living in a foreign country, and definitely got a leg up on their American peers who did not have such experiences.

Now, there is a scientific study that argues a similar notion. As this article in The Economist describes, the results of a recent psychological study suggest that expats acquire a discernible creative edge over their more stationary compatriots.

I feel validated.


The same, on the Hudson, soon

May 20th, 2009

I’ve been somewhat aloof and incoherent in my blog activity over the course of the last few weeks. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you did not notice anything different, I get it. Nonetheless, I was preoccupied with something of utmost importance, which I am now comfortable to announce to the whole world.

Burlaki on the Thames are relocating back to the American shores.

Yep. We are done with England and Europe for the time being. (Ok, not fully done yet, we still have two more holidays to go on to, and Becky will still participate in the language immersion program in France in late June.) I think I made enough nearly-direct references in recent months to the fact that we reached a point where we knew that staying in England was not something we wanted to make permanent, and the “temporary” life arrangements have started to gradually outweigh our enjoyment of our travel-rich existence. To put it bluntly, we’ve had enough. Not in any bad sense, but rather akin to having enough of the wonderful all-you-can-eat spread in front of you and wishing to turn your attention to different type of comforts.

Working out a return path became a top priority as far back as the fall of last year. But with the worldwide financial turmoil and what-have-you, it took quite a long time to identify the route.

Finally, in the second half of April, I was presented with an opportunity to assume a new role within my organization. I happily accepted, since relocation to the New York Metro area appeared as part of the deal. Formalizing the terms of said relocation required a bit of time, but the key documents have now been signed and it is all official: Come August, I am expected to work out of our New York City offices again.

Which means that we will be flying back home for good during the last week of July. All personal notices (landlord, schools, car leasing company) are ready to go out tomorrow, Natasha is booked for a house-hunting trip at the start of June, the moving company is coming to survey the size of our household goods shipment this week, and things are already starting to get hectic as only a house move can be.

I’ll keep you all posted on the progress.

Start celebrating, will ya!


YouTube’d memories: Crazy For You

May 19th, 2009

Continuing with musical genres other than pop or rock (the last installment was classical waltz, remember?), another frank admission: I am very partial to stage musical. In years living in or near the New York City, I’ve seen probably fewer musicals than my natural inclination suggests, but still a fair share. We went to a handful of performances in London as well, as recorded elsewhere in this blog, again not as frequent as we might have wanted, for reasons not exactly clear to anyone.

In any case, the very first musical on Broadway that we felt flush enough to spend money buying tickets for was Gershwins’ Crazy For You. Its run on stage ended in pre-YouTube times, so I was able to find only a single clip of a Broadway-cast number, performed at the Tony Awards in 1993. In all honesty, I have a very blurry recollection of our experience the night we saw it, but I am pretty sure that this guy, Harry Groener, was the one playing the role of Bobby, and I remember the sense of delight enveloping me as soon as the first notes of the opening number sounded. A guy in black-tie, a line of leggy girls in cabaret get-ups, tap dancing, breezy music, mmm…


Movie review: Star Trek

May 17th, 2009

If this blog is any kind of a guidance, yesterday was only the third time in a year that I actually went to a cinema to watch a movie. I might as well give my brief expressions of that here. Since most people who are interested in Star Trek undoubtedly have read – or written themselves – tons of illuminating analysis of the movie elsewhere, and those not interested should have a fair chance of ignoring it altogether, I’m hiding the body of the post below the fold. (There will be a few spoilers, too, in case you have not seen the movie.)
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Greasing my way on Russian Airlines

May 15th, 2009

That day which started with my infamous detention for video-taping local police headquarters, continued with various amusements on my subsequent trip home1.

I was already well-conditioned to the pervasive expectation of monetary “incentives” exhibited by everybody in the service sector. Truth be told, with the exchange rate of about 25 rubles to a dollar, I could safely dispense bribes left and right and pretend they were simple gratuities, so little it cost me in absolute terms. Plus, of course, I was more than willing to “smooth” my passage out of the country as much as I could.

I had a huge and heavy suitcase to check in, full of gifts and souvenirs. At the airport, the woman behind the check-in desk eyeballed it as I was approaching her and adopted a constipated facial impression of someone stoically prepared to fight against any blatant disregard for airline regulations.

And then she saw my American passport.
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Memoirs, Russia

Pictures from China and Mini-Europe

May 14th, 2009

More photographic entertainment for my audience. Selection of pictures from Becky’s China trip and our recent excursion to Mini-Europe are now available in the Gallery.

Website Bulletins

Random Illustrations: Rain clouds and sunlight

May 13th, 2009

Lack of inspiration and general preoccupation with other matters do not leave me much room for blogging these days. In lieu of any entertaining or enlightening material, here is a snapshot from my illustrations backlog.

Combination of sunlight and ominous clouds always makes for a somewhat dramatic effect.

Before downpour in Mottingham


Stray Pictures

Random Illustrations: Green Chain Walk

May 11th, 2009
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As I have been wandering around the neighborhood area to rack up steps on my pedometer, I frequently find myself on the paths of the Green Chain Walk, a loosely connected walking circuit in Southeast London that we first explored more than two years ago.

Here is a stretch of the Walk, running between fences of a school grounds and some kind of an estate. It feels a bit eerie, with no one in sight, evoking a vague nowhere-to-hide The Hound of the Baskervilles type of disquiet, but if you are seeking undisturbed introspection on your walk, it’s just perfect.

A stretch of the Green Chain Walk, Southeast London

And here is a corner of The Tarn, referenced in that article, a quiet little park five minutes from our house. The birdhouse is one of the many made by Kimmy’s class sometime last year.

At the Tarn, Mottingham, Southeast London


London Album

Slow weekend

May 10th, 2009


This sign at a nearby supermarket parking lot kinda symbolizes the speed of my movements this weekend. Aside from seeing friends and watching football on the telly, I devoted the large part of the last two days to cleaning up some loose ends in the Travelog (the most recent articles on Kraków and Budapest are now complete, and the map has been updated to finally show a continuous darkened area stretching across all of Eurasia) and adding a few pictures to the Travelscapes. That’s the extent of the new content. We’ll be back to our regular programming soon.

Website Bulletins

YouTube’d memories: Strauss’ waltz

May 8th, 2009
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I like classical music. Johann Strauss is one of my favorite composers. This entry was meant to be filed under “Musical Tiramisu” series – my disposition always improves upon hearing a few notes of a Strauss’ waltz.

But there is a clear mental picture that often pops into my head when I’m listening to a waltz.

The waltz was an essential part of graduation ceremony for generations of Soviet high-school students. I can name quite a few popular songs of different eras that make a direct association between waltz and the end of one’s school years1.

Different schools did it differently, but for my graduation, several pupils were “volunteered” to dance on the stage of the assembly hall. Somehow, I was one of those designated to dance. Yep, yours truly, a fervent non-dancer. Must have been the combination of being one of the very few boys in the top tier of academic performance (in some ways, being selected was somewhat akin to being a valedictorian) and being not very hung up on exuding coolness (hey, I was popular, I had a steady girlfriend, I once performed in front of the whole school in a full matryoshka get-up – a bit of ballroom dancing could not subtract from my stature).

We did not practice to the sounds of Strauss, but rather to whatever recordings we had of the Soviet pop-scene waltzes. And the actual performance has long been overshadowed in my memory by the graduation night (see #22 at this link). But somehow whenever my ear catches one of Strauss’ divine melodies, I always vividly recall my then dance partner and me practicing our steps and twirls in an empty school highway.

I still consider myself a pretty serviceable waltz dancer, even though I had no more than a couple of occasions to perform the feat since that graduation night.

Because this entry is not focused on a specific song, I had a wealth of clips to choose from. I decided on a relatively short one – it is set to one waltz that I am most likely to start humming to myself (although the dance here is considerably more elaborate than what I normally associate with waltzing).


1 In Russian language, you are no longer “in school” after you leave high school and go on to a higher-education establishment. The correct designation after that is в институте (“in an institute”) or в университете (“in a university”). At least, that is how it was in my times.


Can I sell myself a fake watch?

May 7th, 2009

Of the various email addresses that I use for different purposes, only my gmail account both is used regularly and has a built-in spam folder. Which I review maybe once a month, out of curiosity. An idle check today yielded a surprising conclusion.

Between your run-of-the-mill offers of fake watches and college degrees, invitations to certain-industry websites and remedies for my supposed sexual inadequacy, security warnings for my accounts with banks that I’ve never done business with and heart-rending cries for help from people who want me to have their Nigerian money, it seems that the most active spammer who targets me lately is… me!


I offer myself multiple “Mystery Shopper” positions with wildly differing remuneration.

I am giving myself huge discounts, pretending to be a different doctor every time.

I am looking to meet myself.

I am threatening myself with unspecified “problems” if I fail to communicate back to myself.

I even ask myself in Italian whether I know how much money I lose daily due to my unrealized potential.

That one clinches it for me. Who else but me myself would know that an England-based Russian-American of Jewish ancestry would be able to speak and read Italian? If that inside knowledge is not a proof that I’m sending these messages myself, I don’t know what is.

I need to get on with taking advantage of these offers. If I myself send them to myself, they must be truly incredible.

Idle Amusements

London Imagery: Canary Wharf from a distance

May 6th, 2009
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From my little backlog of pictures taken with the expressed goal of eventually being published here on the blog, here is a view of the Canary Wharf financial district from the Grand Square of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Only 20 years ago, there were no skyscrapers in the Docklands area; the tallest of Canary Wharf’s buildings – actually, the tallest building in Britain, – One Canada Place (the one with the triangular “hat”), was finished in 1990.

On the left edge of the picture is the little circular building – the north-side entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a pedestrian crossing under the Thames. The south-side entrance is several hundred yards to the left from where this picture was taken.

View to Canary Wharf from the Royal Naval College in Greenwich

The Grand Square is part of the processional route from the river to the Queen’s House that is behind us in this perspective. At the insistence of Queen Mary, the Royal Naval Hospital (it would become a navy college almost 200 years after it was constructed) was built in a way that would not obstruct the view of the river from the queen’s residence. You can see the panoramic view of the complex here.

London Album

A getaway to Brussels

May 5th, 2009
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Two and a half years of living in England, and we finally braved the concept of taking a day-trip to the continent.

From a certain point of view, it was a last-ditch effort to save the short tradition of spending the Early Spring Bank Holiday weekend on the mainland (specifically, in Paris). This year, for a combination of reasons, we had decided not to plan any trips for the three-day weekend. But suddenly, several days ago Natasha came up with a “crazy” idea: Why don’t we hop on the Eurotunnel train in the morning, drive a couple of hours to Brussels, and spend a day there with an emphasis on the Mini-Europe Park, which we so inadequately breezed through a year go.

We are people of action, as I’m fond to say; it did not take us long to conclude that it was a splendid idea and put the wheels in motion by procuring rather cheap Eurotunnel tickets. And yesterday, our very first intraday trip to a foreign country was effected to the general satisfaction.

It did not go all that smoothly, on account of the road construction along the usually fast motorway connecting Calais with Brussels. As we were approaching an hour of being stuck in a barely moving traffic, we changed our plans a bit and turned off for a lunch in Brugge, which was quite nice on its own merits, if not exactly raising to our expectation of a meal in Brussels’ Îlot Sacré. We then took some pretty back roads to go around the motorway traffic, and arrived in Brussels with plenty of time for a detailed exploration of Mini-Europe, but not enough time to do anything else in the city.

Still, we came back happy that we did it. Aside from being out and about, it was a true adventure that emphasized the main reason we came to live in Europe, while giving us a chance to properly recognize how many things and places we’ve seen in our relatively short time here – models of various landmarks that we had visited on our travels greeted us every step of the way in Mini-Europe. Photographic evidence of that is to follow eventually.

And yet, we probably will not make another trip like that again. As I pondered somewhere on this blog in the past, London is far from an ideal base for continental forays. Getting over the strip of water called the English Channel requires dependency on a mode of public transport which, aside from airport hassle or departure delays, also adds plenty of dead waiting time to your door-to-door travel. By my humble estimate, under ideal conditions, our door-to-door trip to a Brussels city-center destination could be made in 3 hours 15 minutes via getting on a plane, 3:30 by train, or 3:50 by car. Account for an hour difference between British time and continental time, most keenly felt in the morning, and you end up with just 6-8 hours of non-travel-time in your day. Our preferred mode of transport let us down considerably yesterday, but no matter what we chose or how well it could go, we’d spent roughly the same time traveling as we would enjoying our destination. For a single traveler – or a couple without children – the trade-off (and the requisite cost) might be acceptable, but for a family with kids, the reward does not truly justify the effort or the expense.

We had to try it, though.

European living, Where we've been

Becky decorates

May 3rd, 2009

The little conversation about Juno reminded me of something that I wanted to post here on the blog.

Becky is always on the lookout for ways to spice up the decoration of her bedroom. Some time ago, she harvested a bunch of color-coded booklets from her school and taped them to the wall above her bed. They create a pretty fetching palette.



Just so you can read the titles of the booklets better, a close-up is provided on the right. Do click on the picture, would you?

I’m a proud father, yes I am.

Children, Family Album

Pictures from Cracow and Budapest

May 2nd, 2009
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The picture album from our recent trip can be found here or by clicking the links on the navigation bar.

Website Bulletins

April movie round-up

May 2nd, 2009

The three films that I watched for the first time during the month of April are all, to a degree, “acclaimed”, if not critically, then at least among some of my friends. That last consideration drove my selection a bit, on the few occasions where I did find time to watch a movie.

Fargo 1996
Juno 2007
The 13th Warrior 1999

As always, my thoughts on each movie are below the cut, proceed at your own risk.
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Not so great NHS dentistry

May 1st, 2009

I have very healthy teeth, but my gums are a different matter. No matter how well and often I rinse with Listerine, floss, and use my fancy electric toothbrush, I get deposits around my teeth. I go in for a dental cleaning three-four times a year.

The first few times in London, I went to an office of a Russian dentist in a fairly remote part of the city from where we live. The dentist was a swell guy, but the dental hygienist in his office was a brusque Englishwoman whose work I did not enjoy. Sitting in her chair for 20-25 minutes was very much approximating a torture. At least, she cleaned my teeth quite well. The visits cost me £45 each, partially reimbursed by the private insurance from work.

I’ve gotten fed up with that lady eventually and went to a local to us private office instead, where the doctor and the hygienist were both a much more pleasant Englishwomen very gentle in their work. They were also thorough, cleaned my teeth extraordinarily well, and made the half-hour procedure as bearable as it can ever be. The visit cost me £90, about a sixth of which was later reimbursed by the private insurance.

This year, we made a decision to drop private insurance from our benefits. It cost us quite a lot in premium deductions, and all we had to show for it were minuscule reimbursements for a handful of visits a year.

For my first cleaning of the year, therefore, I was going to an NHS dentist. The visit there is not free, as some may surmise, but only costs £18. 90 versus 18 – there is a difference, especially in this economy.

Here is how it went:

Came in for an appointment five minutes before the scheduled time of 10:45am.

Sat in the waiting room for 40 minutes in an enjoyable company of several families from a certain slice of the society: The kids screamed and splashed their dribbling snot around, the mothers ignored them while exchanging local gossip, with an F-bomb heard twice in every sentence and at least three times in a sentence longer than 6 words…

Was called into the surgery room at 11:25.

Discussed my history and teeth-cleaning habits with the seemingly 18-year-old doctor and her assistant for a few minutes.

Walked out of the office at 11:35. In the intervening few minutes, the dentist looked at my teeth, recorded whatever measurements dentists record, performed some cleaning maneuvers for about 90 seconds, and sent me on my way with a “we removed some of the plaque – more frequent flossing would not hurt”.

I came home, looked in the mirror, and everything that I hope to not see after a dental cleaning is still right there.

Guess what are the chances of my return to an NHS dental office. I’d rather go and pay five times as much and get a reasonable service in return.

I hate socialized medicine.

Medical, That's England