Monday, August 20, 2007

Birthday Wish: I'll Take Those Rock Hard Abs

Three weeks after the fact, I realized that All I want for (my birthday) is some rock hard abs, to paraphrase the classic tune, All I want for Christmas. . . That wish hit me yesterday – like a ton of bricks – one might say, when I happened upon the photo above with its caption, A soldier smashes bricks with a hammer on the stomach of a comrade during Navy Day celebrations in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok July 29, 2007.

It reminded me that the last Sunday in July is the Day of the Russian Naval Fleet, and last summer, it fell on July 30th, which happens to be my birthday. I had an interesting encounter on the street that Sunday when a fellow saw me carrying flowers and assumed that I was with the Russian navy. (See Happy Mutual Birthday, posted at

It's not only the Navy who celebates a special day. Russian folk love to party and, not too surprisingly, they have come up with 120 professional holiday in honor of vast array of specialties. Got to admit, these holidays catch me unaware – where are they recorded, anyway? Well, today I did a quick Google search and now I’m in the loop. Grab a pencil and jot this down: The last Sunday in August is Miner’s Day. The 1st of September is the Day of Knowledge and, when it falls on a weekday, it's also the first day of school across Russia.

October 7th is the Day for the Elderly, November 7th is Agreement and Reconciliation Day – a day to kiss and make up. May 27th is the Day of the Librarian, followed closely by the Day of the Border Guard, May 28th. (Come to think of it, librarians and border guards do have their similaries.) A recent addition is The Day for Show Business, November 7th. It must have been a hit -- lots of show business people and wanna-be’s got together somewhere to celebrate.

Back to the Navy chaps and their brick-smashing. I'm curious as to whether each profession comes up with a show of strength and valor on their special day. If not, we could start something. Let’s just imagine: On teacher’s day, a contest karate-chopping pencils. Librarians could have a shhhhush-ing contest and maybe the elderly would go for a chorus line, twirl their canes in unison and toast each other with Geritol. Hold on a minute – those older folks are getting younger every year!

If you’re not fortunate enough to live a land such as Russia (wink, wink) where your profession is honored, what are you waiting for? Perhaps your time has come - what profession would you honor? When and how?

Photo from REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev (RUSSIA)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Duty Free and a Whole Lot More

I was leafing through the duty free catalogue on a recent flight to Moscow and soon realized that some of the product descriptions were too good not to be shared. In fact, maybe you’ve been searching for one of these products.

*Dior Detective Chic Gloss Palette: Discover Dior new lipgloss palette. . .for a lip-plumping effect on your lips. A must-have which will seduce fashion victims as well as gift-seekers! (Know any fashion victim wanna-be’s?)

*Baldessarini Ambre: (This is) the new luxury fragrance of Baldessarini, which takes its place in the seduction territory of the brand. (This seduction territory – charted territory or not?)

*Valentino Rock n’ Rose: Living your live by combining a rock and roll attitude with an ingenuous and girly behavior. (A little bit o’ Elvis, a little bit o’ Spice Girls together in one potent mix.)

*Travel Duo Volumizing Mascara: Yves Saint Laurent’s best-selling mascara, indispensable for a deep look without a hint of artifice. (“. . . she looked up at him and her eyes met his in a look quite different from any he could recall, a deep, penetrating look and not a hint of artifice. He knew that he had blown it. He refilled her water, measured out her oats and determined never again to trust the kid next door to feed Lady when he was gone. ”)

*Armani Code Donna: Wear Armani code is like an embroidery fashioned on your very skin, like a secret code of seduction. Orange blossom is the fragrance’s guiding light. Around Orange Blossom absolute, fragrant embroideries of bigarade orange and ginger, jasmine, precious woods and a touch of honey. (In lieu of that next tattoo, consider an embroidery on your skin.)

*Kenzo Ki, Ice Cold Eye Cream: Watch out eyes – Eskimo cream ahead. To vanish puffiness and dark circles and wake up every morning even the sleepiest eyes. . . (Eskimo cream ahead – if this is ice cream. I’ll take a scoop for each eye, two if it comes in mint chocolate chip.)

*Euphoria Blossom for Women: …inspired by the exquisite aura of a flower about to bloom. A fresh alluring fragrance that captivates the senses with a natural heart of white orchid and dewy blossoms with watery fruits. (Ooh la la – those watery fruits are so appealing -- so a peeling – let’s try the eau de watermelon.)

* * * * *

Duty free wasn’t the only thing interesting on the flight. I saw an air sickness bag used in a most creative way.

Half-way into the flight, a mother with a little boy came back and joined me on the exit row seats. Her little blond and I were already buddies, having played peek-a-boo over the seat throughout the flight. But he was getting restless, needing some wiggle room and so they came on back for more space. We had a nice visit. They had been in Kiev and were heading through Moscow on their way home to Vladivostock, a major port city on the east coast of Russia, eight time zones east. They had a whole day of flying ahead of them.

Soon we were approaching Moscow and it was time to fasten seatbelts. As we were making our final approach, the little guy decided he needed to GO but a trip to the toilet was out of the question. Quick as a wink, the mother grabbed an air sickness bag and helped the little tyke relieve himself into it. Then she sealed up the bag properly and handed it off to boy’s grandmother in the row ahead of us.

I said something about the scene, which I found quite amusing, especially the matter-of-fact way in which she managed the problem.

It’s just too hot for him to wear Pampers today, so what can you do?
she said. Children are children.

Well I must say, that little performance was even more powerful than the Kenzo Ki eye cream claim to wake up even the sleepiest of eyes. And like the Rock and Rose ad, it was ingenious – but certainly not girlybehavior.

* * * * *


Friday, August 10, 2007

The Power of the (Cross-stitched) Word

Hooray -- it's finished! At least the cross-stitching is finished on this project that's about 11 by 8 inches. Next is to clean and press it then mat and frame it. But the stitchin's all done. I envision this in a magnificent gold frame and hung in our new church building.

This is the first cross-stitch I've done in Russian.The verse at the bottom is a favorite: The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God endures forever. Isaiah 40:8.

It's amazing what a person can get done over time, just a few minutes a day. On this project, my goal most days was to stitch two lengths of thread. That takes about 20 minutes to do. Rarely do I cross-stitch more than 20 minutes in a day, except those occasions when I've got 10 hours of time to fill, like when stuck in an airplane crossing the big pond. I started the project three years ago, worked on it pretty consistently the first year, set it aside for about a year and started back on it in March when I had hours to fill during flights, going back to the US to renew my visa.

I hope that this will be beautiful for decades. I hope that a few decades down the road, the children in our Bible classes now will enjoy reading it to their own little ones. I hope it helps remind us all that life is so temporary and so fragile. But that God's word endures. Which brings to mind another favorite quote, Hold lightly to that which can be taken from you; hold tightly to that which can never be taken from you.

Monday, August 06, 2007

In Search of Brilliance: Encounter in the Airport Gift Shop

I was browsing around an airport gift shop at Sheremetevo-2 in Moscow. A souvenir t-shirt that proclaimed, I (red heart) Russia caught my attention and on the back was this curious message. I proceeded to get out my camera and try for a decent photo of the shirt, not easily done with one free hand and fluorescent lights reflecting off the cellophane.

Odd behavior for a gift shop, I suppose and maybe that’s why the guy in a suit and tie was hovering nearby. The t-shirt display was just inside the entrance to the gift shop and chances are that over time, lots of t-shirts have evaporated. I had no such plans, of course, but I found the package quite amusing and as a self-appointed member of the grammar police – a la Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a best-seller on this very topic – I was feeling a bit superior linguistically, at least for one brief moment. That’s a feeling I have so rarely here in the Russian-speaking world.

So I acknowledged Mr. Suit, probably a store manager, and explained to him that the back of the shirt was so funny in English that I wanted to capture it. That seemed to satisfy him. Minutes later, however, as I was heading toward the exit, Mr. Suit and a handful of store personnel were huddled around the cash register examining the writing on an identical t-shirt package. They looked up as I approached and I thought maybe I should explain about the wording.

So I went through each detail, pointing out each little oddity, speaking in Russian of course. When I had finished, the cashier said, well, of course we deal with the same thing here. When we hear foreigners speak Russian they make a lot of mistakes.

And I thought, Good for you, young lady Рtouch̩! Her response was right on-target.

Now, if I were to translate the back of that package into Russian, my efforts would certainly need some tweaking. And that’s why it’s wise to bounce our translation efforts off a native speaker. That extra step ensures that not only do we look more brilliant in our spiffy new t-shirts, but sound more brilliant as well.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Snoozin' at Sheremetevo-2

Next time you find yourself at Share-ye-MYET-ye-vo-2, Moscow's international airport and want to nap between flights, may I make a recommendation. First, get checked in, do Passport Control and then go upstairs. It's a whole 'nuther world up there. I'd say it's a secret well kept from the average traveller. Including me, until a recent Saturday.

I finally persuaded myself to climb that long flight of steps, not something I particularly relish doing with a heavy carry-on bag and a cranky hip. But over time I have noticed airport personnel coming down from 2nd floor after their lunch breaks looking relaxed and comfortably full. My philosophy is, watch the locals and consider imitating them.

So at last, I decided it might be worth the trek. It is now my new favorite Shere-2 hangout. I ended up spending hours there. Hours and hours. Well, maybe two. For one thing, there's a comfortable cafe with lots of empty tables. Not inexpensive, mind you, but there was elbow room galore. After eating a good lunch (read: I figured I had earned the right to proceed on this), I found an empty table near an electrical outlet. That equals the place and space to fire up the laptop and edit photos. And oh boy, have I got some for you.

For the thousands of you who devour this blog -- okay, a slight exaggeration there -- and have been waiting patiently for an update, here's a little teaser, I'm working on a fun little story, another airport story. Maybe I'll attach the photos here in a minute...