Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!

Today Lady Liberty celebrates a very big birthday. Six score and three years ago, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Miss Liberty was inaugurated by President Grover Cleveland.

Here's the view of Lady Liberty that comes up here in Russia on my Yahoo weather forecast. I have to laugh at that. As though I need a chance to live and work in the USA.

Here's Miss Liberty again in a photo banner. In Russian it says, your country is participating in a lottery. So it's a chance to win a green card. Or something.

Say, talking about the statuesque, here's a lady even taller than Miss Liberty. This is Mat' Rodina (Mother of the Homeland) in Kiev, to commemorate victory over Fascist invasion of World War 2. The former USSR had this thing about massive statues. Look carefully and you'll see me at the base waving to you. . .and you. . . and you.

Here's Mat' Rodina from a different angle. She's located in central Kiev, overlooking the Dneiper River.

Several hundred miles east-southeast in Volgograd, Russia is this statue, also called Mat' Rodina. (See the people at the base?) This represents Mother Russia calling citizens to defend the country during WW2. As you know, the battle for Volgograd was a decisive battle of the war, when Fascist troops were finally defeated. They say that the Volga River flowed red with blood after the battle. But that's where Hitler was turned back.

Here she is from another angle. Visit this statue and the museum nearby and majestic music playing, all very stirring. But hey, let us not digress. These two Motherland statues may be taller than Miss Liberty, but whose birthday is it, anyway?

Now showing at a Rostov movie theater - Lady Liberty decorated with spaghetti and meat balls. She doesn't appear to be too thrilled. Not that we would blame her. . .

Banner - Yahoo! Don't miss your chance!

Oh, but here she is in all her majesty. Dear blog reader, have you visited The Statue of Liberty in person? Please tell us about your visit! And Happy Birthday to that breath-taking symbol of the USA and the many freedoms she represents.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Visit Alaska: No Russian Visa Needed

On October 18th, Alaska celebrated the date on which the state officially became property of the United States in 1867. The day is known, quite fittingly, as Alaska Day.

Have you been to Alaska? Oh. . . you lucky globetrotter, you! Myself, I'm just dreaming of the day. . . (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Davis Kimball. Click image to enlarge.)

Alaska was once owned by Russia, of course. The two are separated by only 55 miles at Bering Strait. The map above would indicate that the Aleutians, that group of volcanic islands that strings west into the Pacific, are divided between the U.S. and Russia. But a big atlas here and other sources seem to indicate otherwise. Anybody have the definitive answer on that? Well, not to worry. . .

What majestic scenery, eh? What a place to explore, see exotic animals, mountains and enjoy the fresh air. What a place for a boy to build a seaworthy vessel. (Photo courtesy J.D.Kimbell)

Here's a copy of the canceled check, made out for $7.2 million or approximately 2 cents an acre. In today's dollars, that would be around $100 million. Or so they say. . .

The purchase of Alaska was originally dubbed Seward's Folly with a nod to William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, second from left. Above is the treaty signing in 1867. In recent years, we've come to realize how absolutely wise was that purchase. Alaska finally was admitted as a state in 1959, nearly a century later.

Yes, the U.S. and Russia are closer than one might imagine, as noted in the booklet above, developed by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to celebrate 200 years of diplomatic ties with Russia.

It started with Thomas Jefferson and Tsar Alexander I who corresponded and exchanged books.

In the letter above, dated June 15, 1804, Thomas Jefferson addressed the tsar as "Great and good friend. . . " Eventually John Quincy Adams, pictured, became the first U.S. Minister to Russia in 1807. He lived and worked in St Petersburg from 1814 through 1819. Later, when he became president, Adams used his connection with Russia to establish a strong trading relationship.

In the letter above, from Tsar Alexander I to President Jefferson, I got a little puzzled trying to find even one familiar Russian word. Closer examination with a magnifying glass shows that it's written in French. Oui.

US and Russia: Closer than we think. Sometimes the waters are rough but always there are magnificent opportunities to learn and grow.

What a rich cultural heritage belongs to Alaska. What adventures await in the final frontier! But trust me when I say that we can be so very thankful that visiting Alaska does not require getting a visa to Russia. Thank you, Mr William Seward! (Photo courtesy J.D.Kimbell)

How about you, dear blog reader. Have you visited the land of the midnight sun? Seen a polar bear? Sailed across the tundra behind a team of huskies? Please share your special memories of Alaska! Have to admit that I haven't even made it past page 50 in James Michener's, Alaska. But I'm betting that you have!

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Oh and on a silly note, here's A Song for Sarah, written by Vlad and friend Boris: A Russian response to Mrs Palin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Local Cuisine: On a Roll, in a Dumpling

Anybody else partial to McDonald's? It's a great place to meet people. And besides that, their country-fried potatoes with cheese sauce on the side are simply yummy. Say, does your McDonald's have Caesar Wraps? Well, welcome to Russia!

In Russian, it's just called Caesar Roll. (Click image to enlarge.) It's breaded chicken with salad ingredients and dressing. Pretty good, actually. Oh, and about that green neon sign on the right. As you see, it says РИС, pronounced reese. It's the Russian word for rice and that's a little suchi restaurant. Not that I have an intention.ever.of trying that any time soon. But we digress. . .

Back to our Mickey D's billboard here, let's zoom on in. The black word in the upper left says Caesar. In Russian, it's pronounced very close to the English. But the first letter represents a sound that we don't have in English. *Ц* is pronounced ts which is so close to the English s sound to my ear. But I'm often corrected to get the t sound in there too. The Russian ear can really hear the difference. And this is the land of the Russian ear, after all.

The next consonant is *З* which is like the English letter z. And then the last major letter, the *р* makes the r sound. The little squiggle after that, much like a small b is the soft sign. And we won't even start talking about the soft sign, now will we? Nyet! ;)

Hey, while we're here in the neighborhood, just beyond this Caesar Roll sign is a major supermarket. This is where I find exotic stuff such as peanut butter and celery. Say, how about a stroll in the freezer section. Because there in the freezer section we will find a classic Russian fast food, pelmeni!

These are little dough dumplings that need only to be boiled in water. A serving might be 8 to 10 of these. Pelmeni can be filled with ground beef or potatoes or cabbage. And then there are sweet ones filled with cherries and such. As I recall, the sweet ones are called vareniki. (Now please don't make me look that up. I'm already past my look-it-up quota for the day.)

Looking down the aisle. The whole array of dumplings. Your mouth watering yet? These little pelmeni can be ho-hum. But they're easily jazzed up. Hold on, I recall a photo of jazzed up pelmeni here somewhere on this very computer. . .

Ah yes, here we go. . .

Here's a bowl of your basic ho-hum pelmeni. Usually served with a dollop of sour cream and a spring of parsley. And that works. Those garnishes - sour cream and greens - are nearly requisite here in Russia. So these are the bare bones pelmeni. But hold on, there's more. . .

Here we go. Looks like red peppers, celery and. . . oh yes. My personal chef remembered mayo - which will do in the absence of sour cream - and something green. Oh yeah!

You know, much as I like the McDonald's Caesar roll and country-style fries and meeting new people there, I can be happy as a clam with a quiet dinner of pelmeni while watching the all-news channel out of Moscow.

How about you dear blog reader? McDonald's in Russia? Pelmeni - ever make it yourself? How 'bout Russian garnishes? Want to hear about your experiences!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moscow: Scrambling for Space in Life and After

(Image from New York Times, photographer Sergei Kivrin)

From a recent New York Times article by Michael Schwirtz: Much of a Muscovite’s life is spent jockeying for space. Officially, some 10.5 million people live in the capital, though unofficialestimates, which include the city’s undocumented immigrants, put the figure at millions more.

On the roads, drivers become knotted in enormous traffic jams, while masses of people twist and tumble through the subway at rush hour. Housing is so sparse that feuds over property deeds are common — and sometimes end in bloodshed.

But, for the families of the 120,000 people who die annually in Moscow, the search for an afterlife dwelling is a singular challenge. . . (read more)

Photos of a Russian funeral and traditional cemetery here in Rostov-on-Don are posted here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mrs Clinton Chooses Tatarstan for Second Stop

Hillary Clinton visited Kazan, capital of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan today. She noted that Orthodoxy and Muslim religions co-exist peacefully there and the republic serves as a good example of religious tolerance.

Earlier, after official meetings with high ranking officials including President Medvedev, Mrs Clinton addressed students at Moscow State University and participated in the unveiling of a statue of American poet, Walt Whitman.

Seems to me that Hillary Clinton is well equipped personally and professionally for her work as Secretary of State. I'd say she's a great choice for that job.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Day Khrushchev Bared his Sole: October 12, 1960

On this day in 1960, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium during a dispute at a U.N. General Assembly. Or so goes the legend.

There's a bit of a question about that. Witnesses noted that Khrushchev arrived at the meeting armed with a house shoe, as above. The footwear that he's shown brandishing in the photo above does look like a typical slipper. Whatever it was, apparently this podium pounding incident was premeditated. Unless, of course, he was in the habit of attending high-level meetings with a slipper in his pocket ;)

That Khrushchev was quite a fellow. I was surprised to learn that - for whatever reason - he is not buried behind Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square as are dozens of Communist Party leaders.

Well here is our hero, Nikita Khrushchev some 15-plus years before the footwear banging incident, visiting with friends in Ukraine during World War II. (Click to enlarge. Photo from the Ukrainian National Museum in Kiev, Ukraine.)

Back during Khrushchev's rule, during the height of the Cold War, there was the Red Scare. Standing up to the Communists was was a key issue between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater in the U.S. presidential election of 1964. Goldwater was seen by some as more extreme, having once threatened to lob a nuclear bomb into the men's room of the Kremlin.

Goldwater was prepared to protect US children from Communism.

Say, had Khrushchev visited Rostov-on-Don, here's betting that he would stop by this fading sports bar. The big letters say USSR and the heading says (something like) THE PROLETARIATES - that is, the industrial workers - OF ALL COUNTRIES ARE UNITED!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

50 Years Ago Today: First Global Airline Service

On this date in 1959, Pan American World Airways announced the first global service for passengers. Mercy, how international travel has changed in the last 50 years.

Are you one who traveled internationally before 1959? If you sailed overseas to work please share your story. If you were on an early international flight, please tell us about that! I'm assuming getting your luggage scanned was not a requirement!

PanAm began the first scheduled service to Russia nine years later in 1968.
(Photo courtesy LIFE magazine.)

How about you dear blog reader? Do you remember your first international flight? Or even your first flight? I'm betting we have some interesting stories out there!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Peterhof in Autumn

A visit to Peterhof, the palace designed by Peter the Great (1672 - 1725), is nearly requisite for the traveler to St Petersburg, Russia. Tsar Peter wanted a palace befitting the very highest of monarchs to celebrate victory over Sweden in 1709 and so he employed a staff of 5,000 ranging from architects and engineers to landscapers and sculptors.

Peterhof is especially beautiful in autumn when the muted sunlight reflects softly off the gold and gilt. One recent September, I was fortunate to be in the area for a women's retreat. Care to join us for a look around the palace gardens?

Tsar Peter found design inspiration at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris. His lead architect was French and showed a fondness for gilded Baroque statues. The focal point of the fountain area is Samson Tearing Open the Jaws of the Lion, seen here, representing Russia's victory over Sweden. Here's dear Marilu in front of the gold statues and the palace. Originally from Michigan, Marilu now serves in Warsaw, Poland with her family. (Click photo to enlarge.)

What girl wouldn't feel like a princess wearing such a magnificent crown? This young lady's grandmother plaited leaf stems to make this halo, an example of the Russian creativity with autumn leaves.

Looking from the palace out toward the Bay of Finland. Water from the sea sweeps in and powers the fountains with such strength that the water jet in the central fountain shoots 22 meters into the air.

The canal enabled tsars to sail from the gulf almost to their front door.

Strolling through the gardens, we spotted these urns on pedestals.

The original Hermitage was a private dining area designed by Peter the Great to allow him uninterrupted meals with guests. The building is surrounded by a moat and access is via drawbridge. The plan was for servants to stay on 1st floor and use an elevator of some sort to hoist food upstairs to guests. Here is dear friend Samantha Farrar, who at the time was based in Simferopol, Crimea (Ukraine) working with Pioneer Bible Translators.

Heading back toward the palace, another view. Soft autumn sunlight, the sun coming in at an oblique angle being so far north. I was surprised to discover that St Petersburg is as far north as is Anchorage, Alaska.

Looking back toward the fountains and statues.

Leaving the property, the palace chapel is in the background. The palace is just behind that and the fountains and all would be off toward the right. Above is dear friend Marina Noyes of Kiev, Ukraine.

How about you, dear blog reader. Have you per chance visited Peterhof? Would this palace nurture your inner prince? Princess?