Monday, January 26, 2009

The Day I Represented Russia in Crawford, Texas

Vladimir Putin, former president of Russia, was the first foreign leader to visit Crawford, Texas, home of former President George Bush and his wife Laura. The Putins visited November, 2001 and their visit was covered extensively on Russian television. And so I parked myself in front of the TV for a day or two. I found it gratifying, somehow, that my US and Russian presidents were getting together, a connection of my two worlds.

The Putin's plane landed in Waco and President Putin descended the steps with a long-stemmed yellow rose that he handed to Mrs Bush. This might come as a surprise to Texans, but The Yellow Rose of Texas, the state's unofficial song has meaning mostly to Texans and I can assure you that it is of no particular significance to Russian folk. So somebody in the Putin camp had done careful research on the perfect gift for the First Lady. Brilliant.

Another special touch was the handful of welcome signs written in Russian. The highway from the Waco airport to Crawford was lined with well-wishers, many holding placards and 98% of them in English. But a handful said Добрго Пожаловать! (DOB-ro po-DJAL-ovat!), Welcome!- in Russian. Another brilliant stroke.

The Former Presidents Putin and Bush. The gentleman in the background is a translator. (Photographer Unknown)

Later Crawford High School hosted a joint press conference, dubbed The Crawford Summit. Interestingly, only students were permitted to ask questions of the presidents. I wondered if those young people had any idea that the eyes of the world were upon them. That at least in Russia, they were being watched and their words broadcast across 11 time zones.

Stage and podium at Crawford High School during The Crawford Summit. November, 2001. (Photographer: Unknown)

I wondered what the students knew about Russia. I wondered if they had any idea of the cultural richness, the complex history, the diverse peoples of Russia. I wondered if, per chance, any of the Crawford students had passports or had ever traveled overseas.

Lydmila Putina, then first lady of Russia with Laura Bush during The Crawford Summit, November 2001. (Photographer: Unknown)

Where is Crawford, anyway, I wondered? I had lived in Texas quite a few years but had no idea. My trusty atlas showed to be an easy drive from Dallas. And because I'm based out of Dallas and planned to be there the following spring, I had an idea. . .

I could put together a great slide show of things Russian. I could collect lots and lots of souvenirs. I could introduce the students to the Cyrillic alphabet, write their names in Russian, and teach them a song or two. . .

And that's precisely what happened. April of 2002, at the end of a long week of standardized testing, students were ready for a change of pace. Perfect!

So I did a slide show especially from them, From Russia with Love. . .to Crawford. We sang I've Got Peace Like a River in Russian with all the motions. I introduced them to the Cyrillic alphabet and did their names in Russian.

Later that afternoon, Principal Harris showed me the school's collection of memorabilia the summit. I noticed there were no matroshka dolls in the display, you know, the wooden nesting dolls of Russia. So I solved that problem immediately. There's nothing worse than a display of things Russian with no matroshka dolls!

President and Mrs Putin had given this magnificent vase to the school. It is traditional porcelain, called Gzhel ware, and although smaller pieces are available in stores here, this is by far the largest piece I've seen. Looks like the Kremlin wall, depicted there on the vase.

The day had been so exciting that when it was time to leave the school, I was not ready to leave Crawford. First, I went driving out in the direction of the Bushes' ranch, dubbed The Western White House even though my vehicle was low on gas. I drove. . . and drove. . . and eventually turned back around before I got there. Or maybe I passed it and just didn't know. But I didn't want to gamble on Crawford's lone gas station and getting stranded in that town, nice as it was.

By then I was ravenous - similar to, but different from ravishing, you understand - and The Coffee Station sure sounded good. Plus I had read about the place and seen photos of the Bushes and their entourage eating there thanks to Yahoo! News and Photos. So I went on in. Oh, was that fun.

The Coffee Spot is the only eat-out place in town. And half of it is a gas station. Diane, above, is the manager of the place was a great source of information and trivia. I wanted to know what it was like in the kitchen, cooking the president's hamburger. Or what it was like to be there dining when the president and his group were en route and wanted the place secure. I wanted to know how Mrs Bush liked her hamburger and what she liked on the side - fries, onion rings or deep fried peppers. Fascinating stories, all.

They say that Crawford is getting back to normal these days. Now, when the Bushes are in town there are probably fewer network vans with satellite dishes lining the road through town. I'm so grateful to Crawford for their hospitality to former President and Mrs Putin. And it was my privilege to serve - even for just a day - as ambassador of Russia to the people of Crawford, Texas.


Tammy said...

YOU almost look like a cut out in that picture with Bush! Fun!
I was in Kiev all day with friends here adopting. Walked a ton! The day was so foggy that even tho we were drug to the "Rodina" statue by some other friends, there was just NO SEEING her! Soo funny! Dnipr... no view! :)
Off to Kiev Tues to get the visa, stay overnight at a seminary & to Petersburg early Wed. Ahhhh.... Am I ready for this??!

Pat said...

Hello Eileen! A friend linked me to you blog. My husband and I are in the process of adopting 2 boys from Rostov and we live in Texas! Your blog has been wonderful to see pictures in Rostov as we anticipate are travels there!

Thanks for the view!


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Bush Leg-acy from a Russian Perspective

Several years ago, a Moscow-based newspaper ran the photo below – amusingly altered – on the front page and asked, Can Russia possibly live without little legs of Bush?

At issue was the poultry wars, the on-going debate about Russia’s importing US-grown chicken. You see, with Americans’ fondness for chicken breast, the dark meat has to go somewhere and tons of it has ended up on Russian dinner tables. In fact, over 700 tons of US-grown chicken was imported to Russia in 2007.

The (fowl import) poultry is shipped in 15-pound boxes straight from the Tyson folks in Springdale, Arkansas. Photos of these boxes, the Russian-English labels and the chicken itself are on this very computer, in fact, buried safely in a folder. . . somewhere. Those shots are thanks to obliging vendors in the market who have chuckled and helped when I’ve asked, Do you happen to have any little legs of Bush for sale?

How did US-grown chicken end up with such a name? Well, they say a poultry import agreement was reached back in the 80’s, during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. In Russian markets, the imported chicken was dubbed NOZH-kee BYSH-a, a diminutive form that has stuck, which would be translated sweet, cute little Bush legs. Usually it’s spoken with a smile and a chuckle. And when an American uses the term, the vendors get quite a laugh.

So, how's that for a . . . legacy?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Beet Salad: Unbeatable for Russian Orthodox Christmas

Beets are so good for you any day of the year. But January 7th is Christmas here in Russia, honest to Father Frost it is, according to the Orthodox calendar. Sounds like a good time for traditional Russian beet salad.

Not that this is a balanced meal ~ not by any means. But it is pretty, is it not?

So here's the tippy-top secret recipe. First we get ourselves some beets. They don't grow in cans, as I learned here in Russia. They grow from trees or maybe under ground somewhere. Regardless, beets are messy to cook and such, bleeding pink all over the kitchen. So do what I do. . .

On the street corners or near markets, find yourself a dear Russian babyshka who is selling cooked beets. Sometimes they're still warm. The beets, that is.

This nice lady, I need to get her name. She's my favorite supplier of beets.

Back at home, welcome to the laboratory. It takes my oatmeal 15 minutes to cook each morning and that's the perfect time to make big progress on something culinary, today it's beet salad.

My favorite breakfast: oatmeal with raisins. Later add a spoonful of peanut butter. Good 4 U! And for me, a favorite comfort food from childhood. That and frozen chocolate chip cookies, another story entirely.

Presenting: The beets. We're going to be grating these rascals. Not fun. Sometimes I grate several kilograms of beets and freeze most. Today we're doing beets for one little recipe.

Some walnuts, yes really. Chop them up, finely.

Garlic, either fresh or in jar there. One or two cloves of garlic. Probably two because why be the only person in town who smells faintly of garlic. Join on in with the rest of the gang! Oh, and by the way, in Russian a clove of garlic is called a tooth - actually a toothie, if I'm not mistaken. So get a hold of those little toothies and do the usual.

Mayonnaise. If you don't happen to have Rostov Mayonnaise such as we have here, not to worry. Just go with whatever you have locally. It'll probably work. ;)

Oh my, the oatmeal is always trying to boil over. Caught 'er just in the nick of time. . .

Back to the beets. Oh, here's a brand new riddle for you: What do you call Santa who spends his Christmas grating beets? Answer: A Beet-Nick.

Oy, oy, oy!

So now we have our grated beats, toss the minced-smashed-chopped garlic in there and the diced walnuts. Sorry the picture's not so super, but trust me, the salad will be grate. I mean great. In goes some mayo until it looks right, a tablespoon or two. Mix 'er up and. . .

Here we go, ready to taste. I'd say a little kick of flavor would be nice - a bit of orange juice in there. Would be interesting to add some diced up oranges, mandarins, citrus something, whatever's handy. Now of course we can't serve anything unadorned like this. This is Russia, after all. . .

And that means that greenery is a must - most often with a dollop of mayo or sour cream. Let's see, in the garnish department it looks as though a celery sprig will have to do. And that'll work for me.

Fortunately we've got some tangerines who volunteer to pose and add their own natural beauty. Orange you glad? ;) Enjoy your Beet Salad - it really is tasty and has such a nice texture.

Besides that, it's good for you. There's some good nutrition in them there beets. Thanks to Google, a quick search shows beets are a good source of folate and potassium. Well, I just barely scraped by in nutrition class, how would I know what that means? Well, Google to the rescue once again and now we know that those nutrients are good for the heart and veins, bones and muscles. That pretty well covers it.

Just keeping things real here . . .

I'm so glad I have a dishwasher. Mine is the two-legged variety and she'll be along here shortly to tend to all this.

Enjoy your Russian Beet Salad! And. . . Merry Christmas!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Have a Honey of a Year, with a Burger on the Side

Recently I went to Children's World in far north Rostov to pick up some things for the orphanage. Later, en route the McDonald's nearby, I happened upon a fellow selling honey on the street. Say care to join me for the excursion? How about I treat you to a Greek Mac for lunch - deal?

First, let me wish you and yours a honey of a new year. By that I mean a sweet and satisfying year rather than a sticky or high calorie year.

Our first stop is Children's World, a store of great appeal to children and especially to their parents, the ones who coming bearing rubles, after all. What a familiar scene this is, parents and kids heading into a store. This could be in Germany or Georgia or even Greater Cleveland.

Service was great in there and if anyone noticed my camera, they never let on. Let's zoom on in for a closer look at the welcome sign.

At the top, Children's World. And at the bottom, Welcome! They had child safety locks in stock, something that the orphanage needed. Service was great and I even managed some pictures of the toy bulls and oxen so popular now, as we begin the Year of the Ox.

Here's the south side of the building and a glimpse of apartment buildings in area.

But oh, here is the view straight south. Oh yeah, my beloved McDonald's. Happens that this one has a drive-through. But on the way, I ran into a Mr Honey.

We had a great conversation and he was happily obliged my need to photograph his jars from every possible angle. Eventually I asked if I could get a picture of him too. He declined but invited me to shoot a frame of honey comb that was in his trunk. So I got that, too.

In the plastic containers is honey in the comb. Favorite delicacy of our hero, John the Baptist. Oh my, I forgot to ask Mr Honey if per chance he had any wild locusts for sale. Still, the shades of gold and amber were beautiful. I asked him why the variety of color.

Color differs according to when the nectar was collected, he said. In the early spring, the bees are busy with fruit trees. Later they're all abuzz with the wildflowers. Mr Honey has hives throughout the area and has labeled jars with the village from which that honey was collected and/or the price in rubles. He's got this down to a fine art.

Moving right along, we come to McDonald's.

Say, ever had a Greek Mac? That's what's pictured above the building here.

And here's a very big, Big Mac, pronounced Beeg Maac - the Russian a is soft, as in father.

And our Greek Mac. These were introduced summer of 2004 when the Olympics were in Athens.

Well I got caught taking this picture. Photography is forbidden here, a manager made a beeline toward me from across the dining area. Her voice was loud and strident and her manner aggressive.

Your menu is just so interesting
, I said. She wouldn't have understood anything about my responsibility to you, dear blog reader, had I mentioned that you want and need a glimpse of the menu.

Fortunately she smiled and that was the end of it. She didn't ask me to delete anything. Because if she had, well, I would have been tempted to adjust my lunch plans. . .

But first I managed to capture this sandwich for you, the Chicken Myth. Yummy, sounds Greek too, does it not?

Later that afternoon and out on the street, a large advertisement which covers the entire side of a building.

What jumped out at me was the word, American. Just today I spent some time clarifying this billboard and I must say that I don't expect that I'll be going there any time soon. It says American 'L' Pizza. At the bottom in white, Friendly 'L', then A network of beer sports bars.

Curious as I am about this so-called American L Pizza, think I've got plenty of other places to visit. For one thing, look what else is in the very same complex. . .

Can it be? Can it really be a Subway? Let's zoom on in for a closer look.

Sure enough, Subway sandwiches and salads.