Friday, February 26, 2010

Extreme Car Skiing in Moscow

Definitely extreme skiing: Being towed by a car along Moscow streets and highways.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23: Honoring Defenders of the Fatherland

Today is a big holiday across Russia. Once known as Red Army Day, it has evolved into a men's day of sorts.

Nowadays it's appropriate to congratulate males of all ages, from aging veterans who have seen things they'd rather forget to little tykes who defend their toys from rivals. That reminds me, I've got two big packages of Pampers to deliver to the orphanage. I can't think of a better way to honor some of my favorite little fellas.

Seriously though, I think of the men here whom I appreciate so much: Brothers in our church who provide spiritual leadership, neighbors who have rescued me in various ways. Typical gifts would include flowers - dark colored, nothing pastel the florist guy told me, chocolate, cards.

Wish I had some Empire State muffins in the works but the main thing today is to honor the men in our lives. You see, Women's Day is just around the corner on the 8th of March. That's such an over-the-top holiday that I say we need to torque up 23 February to provide some balance. So Congratulations, Guys!!! I'm going to get busy here in a minute and send out some text messages. Misspellings or not, I think they'll be pleased!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Shall Assemble. . .

You need to meet Elena Lalaevna, 88, our oldest sister who is basically confined to her little one-room apartment.

I'm always in need of a Russian grandmother to call my own, so I elected her. Elena Lalaevna likes my chicken soup and I like the candy she foists upon me. When I was there recently, the indirect sunlight was reflecting so nicely off her face.

We decided to sing a bit, no small feat when we're without a songbook. But you might recognize this little snippet. It's *We Shall Assemble.* Have to admit, it's best when *the person* behind the camera shuts up and lets Elena Lalavena take it away!

Only thing, it's hard for Elenea Lalaevna to receive graciously. She's a retired nurse of WW2 vintage as a matter of fact and besides candy, wants to give me plastic bags, tea to drink and such. And I tell her that what I need most from her is her prayers. Love these moments with a dear, elderly saint.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Life of Russo-American WWII Hero Celebrated

This just in from Russia Today: The life of US paratrooper Jumpin' Joe Beyrle is being celebrated with an exhibit in St Petersburg. He is thought to be the only veteran who fought for the US as well as Russian forces during the war. Oh, this is a fascinating story. In a nutshell, he escaped Nazi prison camps, ran into Soviet forces and joined up with them.

And to add to the wonder of the story, Joe's son, John Beyrle now lives and works in Russia. In fact, he is the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Naturally his love and respect for things Russian runs deep and strong.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Greatest Love of All

The perfect thing for Valentine's Day: John 3:16 with a twist.

(Click image to enlarge.) The best thing about this perfect love is that it's unconditional. God loves us whether or not we love Him. He loves us when we're in the prime of our youth or already past it. He loves us skinny, just-right or carrying a few extra pounds. He loves us regardless of our wealth or position.

In a relationship, one person is more in love than the other, they say. That's how it is with God's love. And he's stark, raving, crazy-in-love with each of us. He initiated the relationship in the first place and longs for us to respond. He's hovers near the heavenly phone, as it were, hoping we'll reach out to Him. He's always watching, scanning the earth, looking for those who would be His.

Here's a Russian version, thanks to Nadya Aleshcheno. If you'd like a printer-friendly version, feel free to contact me at eileen.emch*

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Soviets *Liberate* Budapest: 65 Years Ago Today

On this day in 1945, Soviet forces booted Nazi troops out of Budapest. Speaking of boots, can you imagine who once filled these? One little clue: It was not George Washington.

These boots here belonged to Joseph Stalin. (Click photo to enlarge.) Which was worse: to live in a nation occupied by Nazi troops? Or by Soviet troops? So glad you asked.

Given the choice, Hungarians decided they weren't too fond of Communism either. Actually, they were not given the choice. But after Stalin's death in 1953, and after Nikita Kruzhchev's secret anti-Stalin speech in 1956, Hungarians got busy and staged a revolt. In no time flat, Stalin got nudged off his pedestal.

Let's zoom in closer to see what's left. This monument and dozens more from the Soviet era have been collected into Statue Park, located on the outskirts of Budapest. Those folks had a clever idea: Rather than demolish these huge things, Hungarians decided to gather them in one spot, not to honor, but rather, to remember that chapter of history. Oh, I have so many more photos of that park. And a booklet. And postcards. Guess living here in the former Soviet Union is what makes this all so interesting. You'll forgive me, will you not, for not sharing more statue photos?

Because it's Valentine's Day weekend, for pity sake. How about we have a look at something a bit more delicate.

This will pass for delicate: A nice lady stitching up a storm. Visiting this indoor market is a must when snooping around Budapest. This place is filled with souvenirs, none of which is a particular bargain. And bargains, I do like. Unless we're talking about books. Then I'll fork over the cash rather easily.

Look what she makes, these magnificently embroidered items. Breathtaking to behold. Of course I bought a little something from her, maybe it was the little beaded purse for my niece.

By the way, I was raised on a Hungarian street in Ohio. Wait, let me rephrase that. We lived on Kertesz Road just south of Akron, Ohio. It had been the farmland of a Mr and Mrs Kertesz who had immigrated from Hungary years before we moved there in June, 1963. Kertesz means gardener in English. My point is. . .

Here we are at the corner of Kertesz in downtown Budapest. In Hungarian, it's pronounced close to Curtis. But we residents of Kertesz banded together and went a more exotic ~ kur-TEZ. That made things easier somehow.

See, up close: It's Kertesz Street. I'm wondering if Mr and Mrs Kertesz might have immigrated from Hungary during the revolution. That would have been a fine time to exit the country. Wish I had thought back in 1963 or so to ask them. . . All I knew back then was that they talked funny. Now I realize that they had seen so much history in their younger years.

So back to the very center of town, some more interesting architecture. A very European-looking church spire there in the distance. And. . . a McDonald's! Now that's a sure sign of independence!

How about you, dear Blog Reader. Have you any Hungarian connections? Been to Budapest? Or have you ever been involved in demolishing a statue? Please share! It's just us here, you know. ;)

PS: A Hungarian heart for you, *just because!*

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cold War Spy Exchange Drama: On This Day in History

On this day in 1962, Soviet officials exchanged U2 pilot Gary Powers for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel who was being held in the US. The exchange happened on Glienicker Bridge near Berlin and Pottsdam, Germany.

Thanks to Wikipedia, here's a shot of the bridge and surrounding area. I've been across that bridge myself, not as an exchange of course, but didn't manage to capture a picture of it. Reporters dub the structure Spy Exchange Bridge because during the Cold War it was used as such three times.

Now let's talk about the principal characters here. You might be familiar with Gary Power and the story of his plane being shot down on May 1, 1960. He was captured live, confessed to spying, all quite controversial, of course. Not surprisingly, Mr Kruzhchev enjoyed surprising President Eisenhower with that news and he positively relished announcing the capture on May 1st to the dignitaries gathered in Moscow. You might be interested in my earlier post, May Day Memories: The U-2 Spy Plane Incident. There is posted video about that incident, thanks to YouTube.

By the way, last summer at our Christian Singing School in Donetsk, I met a woman who witnessed Gary Power's plane being shot down. She was walking to the neighborhood grocery store when she saw an explosion in the sky near Ekaterineburg. Later on the news she learned that it was an American plane.

The Russian spy was known as Rudolph Abel. A hollowed-out nickel was part of the puzzle that eventually led to his capture. He had worked as a master spy in the US for nine years.

Here's a bit of video footage about his capture.

Here's the New York Times article about the spy exchange in 1962. Registration might be required to read that story, but if you too are interested in Cold War drama and intrigue, it's certainly worth it.

How about you, dear blog reader. Have any interesting spy stories to share? Please do so. It's just us here, you know. . . ;)

Monday, February 08, 2010

McDonald's Celebrates 20th Anniversary in Russia

In recent days, McDonald's celebrated 20 years in Russia. Yes, beloved komrades, it's true. On January 31, 1990, when Moscow's first McDonald's opened and 35,000 customers were served, all company records for an opening day were broken. I'm just thinking, that's a whole lot of Welcome-to-McDonald's-ing and smiling in a culture where such is generally reserved for those near and dear.

As the video mentions, twenty years ago, a trip to McDonald's was more than a burger and fries. It was a trip out of the then-USSR. McDonald's offered a taste of freedom and travel to the west without the hassle of a visa.

Across Russia, there are now 230-some McDonald's, three of them right here in Rostov-on-Don. I could eat at McDonald's once a week if I allowed myself, especially when the menu includes these great new burgers.

In time for the 20th anniversary, the Beef a la Rus with bacon was introduced. Oh it's delicious. The country-style fries pictured there have long been standard on the menu, an option to the regular French fries. Thing is, these burgers are already old news in these parts. Mickey D's has already moved on to a Big Mac redesigned for the Winter Olympics, another subject entirely. . .

Because you have the right to know, here's a zoom-in the placemat: Twenty years in Russia.

Here's the box top. Brought that home with me so you could see for yourself. It says, New for the season! (Or maybe, The season's new thing!) Beef a-la Rus with Bacon.

The audio on this video is in English, so I'm not sure who would be the intended audience. It's a little saccharine anyway, but the video makes it worth watching. Besides, I'm okay with saccharine. How about you?

How about you, dear Blog Reader? Have you eaten at a McDonald's overseas? How was it alike or different? Or any other American chain overseas?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Flashback to the Yalta Conference: February 4, 1945

On this day in 1945, leaders of three allied countries ~ the United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain ~ met secretly in Yalta, Crimea to work through plans for wrapping up World War II. This was the second time Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met during the war, their earlier meeting being in Tehran, Iran in late 1943.

(Click to enlarge.) September of 2008, I spent some time in Crimea and got to see Yalta for myself. And of course, a tour of Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference, was a must. I was thinking about you, and You and YOU, of course, and took lots of photos. Care to come along for a look around?

Livadia Palace was built in 1911 as summer home for Russian Csar Nicolas II and his family. Follow this link to see pictures of the family area of the palace. Oh, by the way, in the distance, can you can catch a glimpse of the Black Sea?

Thanks to Russia Today for this video. Interesting, the Russian take on the relationship of the Big Three.

Time out to orient ourselves. Above is a map of Crimea. It was part of the USSR during the war, now part of Ukraine. And quite a prize, I must say. Yalta is located on the southern coast of Crimea, just north of the ship in the map above.

Let's take a giant step backward for a wider view. You see Crimea dangling down from Ukraine into the Black Sea. Now, I'm recyling this map from earlier traipsing around Ukraine, lines show my trips around Ukraine and also home-sweet-home in Rostov-on-Don. So, you get the idea. . .

So, meanwhile back at the . . .at the palace. . . Say, care to come on into the palace? What we'll see today is related mostly to the Yalta Conference. This is the main entrance to the palace, located on the north end of the building.

This was a big, heavy door. It open directly into the meeting room. Here's a peek in.

Here at the round table where the Big Three sat, surrounded by aides. The armchairs were for the leaders and the chair here in the lower right belonged to Stalin. He liked to sit facing the door so that he could keep an eye on the entrance. Sounds familiar. . .

Several photos of the conference were up and on display. Above is a meeting in progress with movie footage being shot.

Soviet officers plotting, plotting. And plotting some more.

The sailor from the USA, left, looks as though he'd rather be home. Guessing the other soldier is Soviet. Can't help but wonder if they could communicate the slightest bit. The sign behind them directs toward Livadia.

Big Three leaders each visible around the conference table. Stalin at left, smoking.

To the left of the conference room was a suite reserved for Roosevelt. He was in poor health during the meeting and so Stalin invited him to stay at the conference site. Churchill stayed at another palace, 20-some miles away. Guess we shouldn't be surprised that Roosevelt's room was carefully rigged with eavesdropping equipment. Translators worked feverishly through the night preparing transcripts of recordings to that Stalin could read through the notes during breakfast.

The desk set above is a gift to FDR from Stalin, as I recall. Well, for whatever reason, the items are still at Yalta.

White telephone in FDR's suite. Fun to imagine the ears listening to every conversation.

Churchill, FDR and Stalin smiling. This February meeting, 1945, was their second during the war. A third meeting was scheduled for that summer in Pottsdam, Germany. But of the three, only Joseph Stalin would be present. FDR would pass away in April, two months after Yalta Conference, and Winston Churchill would be voted out of office.

Anna Roosevelt, center, accompanied her father on this trip. On the left is the US Ambassador to Great Britain.

Sara Churchill, left, accompanied her father, Winston Churchill, and Anna Roosevelt, center.

This sign publicizes an upcoming exhibit about the Yalta Conference.

In this courtyard, the famous Big Three portrait was taken. I asked if it could be opened, but this is as close as we could get. Besides, there's that big, fierce watchdog guarding the place. ;)

Hope you have enjoyed this look at the Yalta Conference, February 4, 1945. How about you, dear blog reader. Have you by chance been to Yalta? Any special interest in the Yalta Conference? Please share!

Monday, February 01, 2010

And Ze Vinners Are. . . !

Dear blog-reading friends, thank you so much for helping celebrate my 11 years in Russia by taking a few minutes to stop by and say preev-YET - that's like howdy in these parts. It's been simply delightful to read your comments and learn a bit about you and your interest in things Russian.

So here are our prizes to be awarded to three lucky vinners. Oh first, let me explain why we're talking so funny here: The Russian alphabet does not include the W sound. It does have several sounds we don't have in English, but not the w. So Russian-speaking folks, when speaking English, tend to substitute the V sound for the W. Oh, and then also, there's no th sound in Russian, so when learning English, that often that becomes a zee or es sound. But that all pales in comparison to the matters at hand, which are these items made from white birch, a tree common to the massive timberlands of northern Russia. Birch wood makes for nice little souvenirs, да (da)?

So we have eleven comments, which is perfect for 11 years here and the names are above. As you see, what we have here is a high-tech operation.

And here into the little bowl sugar bowl go the randomly-generated names.

Oh time out to talk about this pottery, called SemekaraKORSK - at least that's how I say it - made in a nearby village of the same name. One of the most popular souvenirs I take back to the US is a little salt dish with a hen sitting on the edge, made from this pottery. That might be fun for a future drawing, yes? But let us not digress. . .

And here are the winners! First place goes to John from Kansas. Second to Mica and Charlie. Third to Katie (and Tony). Oh this is perfect! John from Kansas has stopped by my blog nearly from the get-go back in January 2006, back when the blog got maybe two hits a day. Thank you John! I have really appreciated all your encouragement and comments over the years!

So, what goes to whom? Well, of the top 3 winners, Katie (and Tony) mentioned the square box. Other two didn't specify, so I trust you'll be happy with whatever. So John, how about the round box goes to you. And Mica and Charlie, the little shoes to you. That might be just perfect, considering the charming legend that goes with the shoes and your dear son from Chelyabinsk, Russia.

So will ze lucky vinners please contact me by email (eileen.emch* with your mailing addresses. Oh and thank you all, Each and Every One, for stopping by and saying hello! I'm going to read through all your comments again here in a minute and that will warm my Slavic soul on a cold, mushy, slushy Monday!