Archive for the ‘From Russia, Of Russia’ Category

Память о подвиге

May 27th, 2012

With apologies to my non-Russian-speaking readers, the content of this post has little meaning to those who do not have ancestors or relatives who fought in the World War II in the Red Army. Because of that, I decided to write in Russian for once.

С подачи Наташиного брата Лёши, мы провели вчера несколько часов, изучая документы, представленные на сайте Подвиг Народа. Я даже и не подозревал, что эти документы могут когда-нибудь предстать перед моими глазами, и на меня это произвело глубочайший эффект.

Идёте на сайт, нажимаете “Поиск награждения” в левостороннем меню, на появившейся странице вводите фамилию, имя, отчество и год рождения человека, воевавшего в Великую Отечественную, жмёте на “Искать” – и получаете в ответ список наград, которых был удостоен этот человек.

Жмёте на любую награду в этом списке и на экран выводится проиндексированный документ, включающий в себя наградные листы и указы, где в оригинале от руки даётся описание заслуг, за которые человек был награждён.

Не все архивы Министерства Обороны РФ ещё проиндексированы, и не всех людей пока ещё можно там найти. Но Наташа нашла нескольких своих родственников, я нашёл ордена покойного деда Мони – и не мог оторваться от суховатых, и в то же время берущих за живое, слов о героизме, мужестве и самоотверженности.

Нам, родившимся через четверть века после войны, всегда было дано знать о ней только по кинофильмам и воспоминаниям. И не знаю, как у вас, а мои деды не очень охотно вспоминали свои личные заслуги во время войны, предпочитая рассказы о своих однополчанах. Да и расспрашивал я о наградах только когда был совсем маленьким… И вот теперь, когда их уже нет в живых, увидеть своими глазами строчки, увековечившие их героизм! Это не описать словами.

Поищите своих дедов – не пожалеете!

From Russia, Of Russia

Useless point of pride (and a bit of trivia you may not be aware of)

March 26th, 2011
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I learned somewhat accidentally the other day that when Russia moves their clocks one hour forward at the start of their summer daylight savings period this coming Sunday, it will be their last such time change. From that point on, people in Russia will no longer be adjusting their clocks back and forth twice a year.

I do not have strong feelings about daylight savings, but I do believe the concept long outlived its usefulness, if there ever was any, and as such, tend to lean towards disliking the disruption this worldwide practice causes everyone each spring and autumn.

So, I have a weird feeling of pride for my birth country taking the lead in something I find sensible. There aren’t that many things I can be proud of when it comes to present Russia, after all.

From Russia, Of Russia

Dress warmly

February 1st, 2010

We were on Brighton Beach on Sunday for a visit to good friends. The area has been officially branded as “Little Russia by the Sea” since the last time I set foot there. True as ever, the vast majority of people on the streets are Russian emigrants.

Natasha noted that Russian children that we saw were all properly warmly dressed in freezing air temperatures. Winter coats, wool hats, thick scarves and mittens… That was in contrast with American children that we oftentimes see around where we live, who wear what I’d charitable call inadequate clothing in cold weather, so much so that I start shivering just by looking at them. (I’m getting cold from looking at you is a common Russian saying addressed at anyone who is not dressed warm enough as the weather dictates.)

I found that cultural difference mildly amusing. People born in Russia are often stereotyped as being impervious of the cold weather (or even affectionate of it), but the truth of the matter is, we simply make sensible decisions what to wear on cold days. Which means we are not as cold as someone who wears a short leather jacket when it’s 24 degrees Fahrenheit outside, yet is perpetually impressed how Russians can tolerate cold temperatures.

From Russia, Of Russia, Stray thoughts

A Russian musical treasure exhibit

December 8th, 2009

My tastes as far as Russian music is concerned more or less calcified at the point of my emigration. Whatever I liked then, I like now. New acts that sprouted in the last two decades – not so much.

There is a show on Russian TV that purports to select the best of all of the songs written throughout the history of the USSR and Russia. The show is called “National Treasure” (in a nice twist, the first two letters of each of the two words comprising its name in Russian – Достояние Республики – are actually the first two notes in an octave), and each of its episodes examines the musical heritage of a given decade. Two sets of judges – “younger” generation and “older” generation; the demarcation seems to be around the age of 32-33, so I would definitely belong to the latter – vote on each of the presented songs. Three songs with the most votes from each decade progress on to the future program finale.

The judges are all celebrities of one kind or another and they are also asked to openly opine on every number prior to voting. A couple of people produce thoughtful – or hilarious – remarks, but most of the conversation is given to ardent butt-kissing, especially when the performer has a high enough pedigree to only be dealt with as if he or she were royalty. There are some harsh, and even rude, put-downs on rare occasions for some lesser lights, but it is mostly “Fantastic! Super! Amazing! Genius! You are my favorite singer!” and all that. Entertaining enough, I suppose.

The songs themselves is what matters to me. I know enough of Soviet musical heritage from before I was born and practically everything that’s ever been on radio or TV in the 70’s and 80’s to find every tune familiar and to be genuinely pleased when a song I count among my favorites gets high marks from the judging panels.

And then we come to the installment dealing with the songs from the 90’s.

To say that I do not know any of those songs is incorrect – most of them were or still are on the playlists in Russian restaurants in Brooklyn. To say that any of the songs can have a pretense of being considered for anything more than a fleeting note is a gross understatement – but then, I realize that you can’t just skip a decade altogether in this format. Several of the songs were legitimate hits in their time and possibly left a bigger imprint in the history of Russian music than I can imagine from my remote perch. But were I on that panel, I might just leave my ballot blank.

And then, there was this gem, which I’ve never heard before. (This is the original 90’s video.)

My American readers hopefully will not make a mistake to think that this song is sung in Russian. Or, in any language, for that matter. The words – of which there aren’t many – are pure gibberish.

During the performance of this number, I said to Natasha: “I can’t imagine that anyone from the ‘older’ generation would vote for it”. The tune may be catchy enough, and the number itself may have a sort of “pioneering” impact in the ex-Soviet society, but could this be something that people identify with or have fond memories associated with or simply enjoy singing themselves1?

And what do you know!? Both panels, the older one and the younger one, heaped unqualified praise on the group and its frontman, with one jury member, a respected poet in his 70’s, recalling that he once labelled the guy “the new Tchaikovsky” and this song was the proof.


The song got enough votes to become a finalist. Indeed, a Russian musical **national** treasure.

1 Ok, I suppose I can imagine myself repeatedly croaking “Ramamba Haru Mamburu” in a deranged shower moment, but I wouldn’t be proud of my choice. I’m sure.

From Russia, Of Russia, Music

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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From Russia, Of Russia, Memoirs

Three hours under arrest

March 16th, 2009

I only went back to Russia once in the years since I emigrated. Did not like that journey much, for a number of reasons. The pervasive state of dilapidation on Russian periphery at the turn of the century was the primary reason. The commonplace boorishness of service sector employees, from shopping assistants to receptionists, grated on my American-honed sensibilities. The expectation of a bribe clear on the face of anyone with power to make my life simpler or harder made me want to hurl. Yes, seeing many old friends was really nice, but it also made me realize how divergent our values and interests have become.

Natasha ascribes much of my disaffection with that trip to the weather. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go, and with Natasha more than half-term along with Kimmy, I could not postpone it until warmer months. Mid-March tends to be quite cold in the Russian south, with driving rain or wet snow dominating the skies. And so it was, raining one day, snowing the other, freezing overnight and thawing by the midday just enough to make everything one big puddle of mud.

But the very last day of my visit turned out bright and sunny, with not a cloud in sight and the temperatures finally climbing into early-spring territory. I had a few hours before I needed to go to the airport, and I decided to use them for a bit of video-recording.
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From Russia, Of Russia, Memoirs

Can’t we all be friends!?

September 27th, 2008

My father-in-law who arrived for a visit last night brought me the t-shirt that you can see in the picture on the right. As an American citizen of Russian birth and British residence, I find the sentiment very appropriate.

Click to enlarge.

For my non-Russian audience, the best translation of what’s printed on the t-shirt is “Guys, can’t we all be friends!?”. A tagline from a well-loved animated shorts series about a good-natured cat by name of Leopold who is frequently harassed by mischievous mice, it has long become what we call a “winged phrase”.

From Russia, Of Russia

The great and mighty Russian language

September 6th, 2008

My good friend Art pointed me to a hilarious bit of geopolitical news. Those in my audience who can read Russian are strongly urged to head over there and read for themselves. English interpretation follows below the fold and may still be amusing to my non-Russian-speaking readers.
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From Russia, Of Russia

Some thoughts on Sochi selection as Olympic host

July 7th, 2007

So, Winter Olympics in Sochi. Manifestly due to direct involvement of charismatic Putin, who popped up in Guatemala and charmed IOC members in French and English, swaying the majority in Russia’s favor.

One of my Russian friends, whom I correspond with regularly and who is avowedly apolitical, has sent me a hyperventilating email with repeated verbiage around “our victory”, “a shot of adrenalin”, “the might of the country”… I can only imagine the hysteria in Russian mass media – actually, I’ve read a few articles, nothing to imagine there. Putin is now only an inch away from being anointed a saint. Irina Rodnina, discussing the suggestion of Putin opening the Games in 2014, agreed that it will certainly be appropriate regardless of which position he will occupy at the time; then, matter-of-factly, “In truth, people of Russia are not against him doing that in his presidential capacity”…
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From Russia, Of Russia

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, Family & Friends, From Russia, Of Russia

Russian Winter

January 13th, 2007
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I drove my parents to the airport in the morning, and we are all by ourselves again. Time to get back to work, school and otherwise routine existence.

Time to resume our grand plan of Old World exploration, too. Upon returning from Switzerland, we did a few things with the parents (such as a narrated city bus tour, which Natasha had never taken before, and visiting the Royal Observatory in Greenwich), but otherwise, my mom and dad have done us better, with visits to places we had not gotten to yet, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Tower. Ok, Natasha and I have been to the latter, but not as part of the official programme.

Without further delay, we immediately set off for Trafalgar Square, where for a couple of years now, in early January, London holds the Russian Winter festival.

Forget the snow, it is still a true Russian winter!

The square is cordoned off and surrounded by kiosks and food stands, with signs almost exclusively in Russian. The food is of regular food-stand variety – sausages, kebabs and such – but with a Russian twist. You can get a cup of borsch, a portion of Beef Stroganoff, and kebabs are called шашлыки. The kiosks sell wooden toys and souvenirs (a fair cannot be called Russian unless матрёшки – matryoshkas – are sold in abundance, right?), but mostly they advertise travel to Russia and various UK-based Russian services. We picked up a few brochures, just in case…

There is also a pavilion dedicated to the candidacy of Sochi as the host of Winter Olympics in 2014. Nothing special, but we are told that several Russian sports champions will be around for autograph signing at some point later in the day. We are lukewarm to the idea, but we happen to walk near the pavilion again and literally bump into Евгений Плющенко (Pluschenko). As I am the only one in the family with enough cognitive memory to register the fact, it does not generate much excitement.

A large stage on the southern edge of the square is, throughout the day, home to performances by Russian pop and folk artists. The program is highlighted by Надежда Бабкина, Гарик Сукачёв and Дима Билан, but there are also a couple of ансамблей песни и пляски as well as the choir of the Danilov monastery in Moscow.

There are several thousand people mingling around the square. At the beginning of the day, many are not even Russian-speaking, attracted by exotic experience, loud music and giveaways (primarily, plastic bags with some logo and probably an advertising leaflet inside – anyone who’d ever gone to the New York Auto-Show in any given April should know the drill).

We arrived early enough in the day, and made our rounds of all the kiosks and pavilions (except, regretfully, the beer one – although the beer was obviously not free, anyway, and I am not paying for Балтика). Becky participated in and won a race on wooden block stilts, Kimmy cheered and some news cameraman (it was a big, professional camera, which is the only reason I say news – I have no specific knowledge which organization he might have been from) recorded her a bit. We then bought some kebabs and listened to Бабкина and her ensemble.

The weather was dry, but overcast and windy. The girls got tired from navigating the crowds, so we made an executive decision to effect a change of scenery and go to the National Gallery, which is right there, overlooking Trafalgar.

The gallery has a very nice collection of European paintings dating back to 13th century. It probably cannot compete with Louvre or Hermitage, but it does boast a nice assemblage, including Rembrandt, van Dyck, many other Dutch and Flemish painters, Raphael, Titian, Boticelli, Claude, Caravaggio, three rooms of Rubens, my favorite Canaletto… There is also Leonardo and Michelangelo, but we could not manage to cover the entire exposition.

I do not know how good the permanent impressionist collection at the gallery is (or whether one exists, to tell the truth), but there is a temporary exhibition through May of this year, that has a number of pieces by each of Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Seurat, Signac, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, and others (as well as a single Cezanne, on the account of separate Cezanne temporary exhibition that just ended a few days ago). Natasha and I are both impressionist-lovers – we were nothing short of enraptured. Surprisingly (for me, at least), the girls found some delight in Monet’s Water-lily Pond and Seurat’s Bathers as well.

Алекснадр Дольский has a song called Велосипед, which contains the following words: …Вот Синьяка оранжевый мыс… (Here’s Signac’s orange promontory). When I pointed out Signac’s Cape Canaille to Becky, she was quite amazed at the recognition.

We only spent maybe an hour and a half perusing the paintings. Another hour was devoted to drawing, as part of the scheduled children activity. About 30 kids gathered at Murillo’s Self-portrait, listened to a couple of docents talk about the painting and the art of expressing oneself, and then were given the task of drawing a sketch of their own that would follow the themes of the Murillo painting. Becky and Kimmy both had a lot of fun, and Natasha joined in too, especially since no one said that parents were prohibited from participating…

When we exited the gallery, the crowd in the square turned overwhelmingly Russian-speaking and young, well-lubricated with beer and prone to non-stop smoking and loud expressions of exuberance. The performers on stage were some atrocious teenage girls rock-band called Ранетки, followed by an equally talentless – but apparently quite hot these days – группа Токио. We waited for about half-hour for something agreeable, but eventually gave up and went home.

Still, an enjoyable experience.

I have installed Skype and a web-cam on my computer. It is primarily for the purposes of communicating with parents in New Jersey and Rostov. However, we will be more than happy to get on a video-call with anyone who would care.

Chronicles, From Russia, Of Russia, London & Environs