Monday, May 31, 2010

A Russian Birthday: Gheorge's 70th

On a recent Sunday, we had a special celebration after worship services. Our beloved brother, Gheorge – that's Gee-OR-ghee, the Russian version of George – hit 70. George is such an interesting person with a intriguing life story, another tale entirely.

We're meeting in office space each Sunday, up to 20 of us packed into this room, but it works for the moment. In honor of Gheorge's birthday, we received letters of congratulations from several Christian friends in the US as well here in Russia.

Three brothers read these messages, a complete surprise to Gheorge. Others brought bouquets of flowers. In Russian culture, the number of flowers given is a vital consideration, more accurately, that for a happy occasion, an odd number of flowers be given. Only for a sad occasion - most notably for a funeral - is an even number of flowers given. And who needs that on a 70th birthday? ;)

Say, hungry for a little lunch? Why not join us for lunch at Gheorge and Anya's place. . .

Lucky me, got an invitation to Gheorge's birthday lunch and here's the spread that awaited us. This is just the first course of salads and cold foods. Dear Anya and members of extended family were busy whipping this up. Let's zoom in a bit closer.

Salad Olivier is a classic Russian salad and credit goes to a Monsieur Olivier, chef to Tsar Nickolas II, for concocting it. Main ingredients are chicken, potatoes, pickles, egg and often tomatoes and olives for garnish. Life was kinder to Monsieur Olivier than it was to Tsar Nickolas. Besides having this salad named in his honor, he managed to escape Russia after the revolution and then founded a restaurant in Berlin. At least that's the story according to The Best of Russian Cooking.

Somebody has an eye for design. I love the way the kolbasa, cheese and ham are arranged on this plate. That reminds me of a story my mom used to tell. Mom had some artistic talent and Grandma said, You sure never got that from me! Mom said, Well really I did. When you can peaches, you know how to make them look so nice in the jars. So yes there's an art to arranging cold cuts and cheese. Personally, I'm not all that wild about some of the sausages in this neck of the woods. Just thought I'd mention that very quietly here in this secret forum.

How about seeing your age written in red caviar? Such roe is quite the delicacy in Russia. Then there's herring in there, I'm guessing, and cheese and eggs. Certainly made with lots of love. And lots of mayo. Two of my favorite ingredients!

Here's the birthday guy, our Gheorge at the table. Gheorge has quite the interesting life story and here's my favorite part: Years ago, he was an administrator in the local Communist Party. But then one day it happened that a woman on the street in Lithuania, as I recall, handed his first Bible. He started reading it and shortly thereafter resigned the Communist Party. Another story there too. . .

Our brother Misha re-reading the letters of birthday wishes for the benefit of family who weren't at church. Gheorge didn't mind one bit hearing these wonderful letters a second time.

A video from oldest daughter, Tatyana, was a highlight of the afternoon. Tanya is in Barnayl, a Siberian city located three time zones east of Rostov. Tanya and her husband sent birthday greetings in a video that we downloaded from the internet. Family members watched with interest. Gheorge and Anya were so thrilled to see Tanya which made it well worth the effort.

We were so honored to be invited to Gheorge's birthday. In small apartments, guest lists have to be limited, but from our congregation is Misha, Artash and Karina and me around Gheorge and Anya. Celebrating others' big birthdays makes us consider our own. My 60th is several years away but I find myself thinking who I want to be, what I want to have accomplished by the time I'm Gheorge's age. One thing's for sure, I'll never have muscles like he does. That man has biceps the size of melons.

How about you, dear blog reader. Experienced a genuine Russian birthday party? Was it anything like this? How about your biceps? Huge or like mine, slightly bigger than one caviar egg?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Testing BlogJet

I have installed an interesting application - BlogJet. It's a cool Windows client for my blog tool (as well as for other tools). Get your copy here:

"Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination." -- Albert Einstein

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crunchy Crab Salad

Got dinner plans? How about some crunchy crab salad! Crab salad is popular here for special occasions and this version is a twist off the usual. Typically it's crab, hard-cooked egg and corn for the basic ingredients. But this we'll call Crunchy Crab Salad because it's got some texture thrown in there.

(Click photo to enlarge.) So the crab we buy packaged and ready to go. It's probably that imitation crab with lots of added salt. Okay, whatever. This version has chopped celery and cucumber then canned corn. A bit of onion, parsley, mayo, salt. Oh, this recipe throws in chopped apple. I used a tart one, a Granny Smith. Got this recipe out of Liza magazine, can't take credit for the jazzed-up version.

This made a big container for our brother Volera who's in the hospital and dear wife Lyda, who's staying there with him. See, in the hospitals here, the dietary department is scaled way, way back. Seems as though the hospital provides a basic sustenance diet - like thin soup, bread. Mostly it's family who feeds the patient. He's flat on his back, so here's hoping this can be spoon-fed easily to someone who's horizontal. Myself, I scarfed down a bowl of it likity-split.

Friday, May 14, 2010

U.S. Soldiers March Through Red Square

Allied soldiers from France, England and the U.S. were invited to Moscow in recent days to participate in last Sunday's May 9th Victory Day Parade through Red Square. This was a first. You may have caught glimpses of the parade and evening fireworks on CNN. The festivities in Red Square were duplicated - on a more modest scale, of course - in probably every city across Russia. The motto here seems to be, If it's worth doing, it's worth doing on a massive, over-the-top scale. Gotta love it!

Below are U.S. Army troops practicing in Moscow in the days before the parade, photo courtesy of the U.S. Army website.

Photo by Bob Close

There's a wonderful human interest story here. First a bit of background. Seventy-five soldiers from the U.S. Army Europe, Company C, 2nd Battalion traveled from their base in Germany to Moscow for the festivities. They were accompanied by a 45-piece band from the U.S. Naval Forces, Europe.

According to the army website, back in 1943, a platoon leader of the Soviet Red Army, a Major Alexander Peteryaev was killed in action. Decades later, in 1996, some of the major's descendants immigrated to the States from Vladivostok, the largest city in Russia's far east. And so it is that Major Peteryavev's grandson, 1st Lt. Ilya Ivanov, Russian-born but now a Texan, serves as executive director of Company C. The lieutenant is understandably excited about being back on Russian soil for the festivities.

The video below shows The Allies coming together for the 65th anniversary celebration of the end of the Great Patriotic War, as it is known here in Russia. Of special interest is the attendance of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, who attended as a special guest of Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. Unthinkable in 1945. Amazing how time marches on and wounds can heal.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Victory Day 2010: Sunday, May 9th

May 9th is Victory Day across Russia, celebrating the surrender of Fascist forces in 1945. This year was extra-special being the 65th anniversary of the end of The Great Patriotic War, as it is known.

Sixty-five years of victory: Russian retro art - it warms the heart.

This year the parade here in Rostov was a little different. For one thing, the veterans didn't march the parade route because it's getting harder for them to do that. So, as I understand it, they sat in the reviewing stands overlooking Theater Square. But along the parade route came the military hardware. The parade started at 10:00 on Sunday morning and I was able to capture some pre-parade shots before heading to our church services which started at 11:00, three blocks north of the parade route.

However, thanks to Artom, a friend from English Discussion Club, who offered to shoot video of the parade and get interviews with veterans after the parade. Thanks to his efforts, we have lots of great video footage. So I'll pick the best of that and get it edited and translated for you. And for now, here's what I saw of the pre-parade plus lots extra of Rostov adorned for the festivities.

(Click photos to enlarge.) Veteran finding his way to the staging area, asking directions. Go east young man, go east three blocks and you'll be there.

Security was a major concern, with recent bombings in Moscow. These officers were polite but quite thorough in checking through bags and backpacks.

Daddy and baby hurrying to catch the parade. Bouquets for veterans nearly requisite.

Sister Mariam is a war hero, as her medals indicate. Here she is serenaded by Anya and Sofia before church service begins. Our Mariam worked as a digger of trenches during the war. Later, she worked for the Moscow circus. Mariam is compassionate and generous in her own sweet, quiet way. I'm convinced that there's a special place in heaven just for this dear soul. As I mentioned, she's a war hero.

Artash, our preacher, with Mariam. Victory Day was quite the day for Mariam. She was simply glowing. This has been a challenging year for Mariam. Last fall as she was exiting a bus, the driver closed the door and started off before she was completely out. The door closed on her arm, dragging her along with the bus. Her arm got pretty well banged up and an arm bone broken length-wise. And she declined to fault the driver because she didn't want him to lose his job. That's just the kind of lady she is. Mariam is a hero, no doubt about it.

The Berlin store: Have to laugh at the irony of this. . . and I just know that you'll want to laugh too. In 1945, To Berlin was the slogan for Soviet troops going west toward Germany to defeat the Fascists. And now in 2010, there's an upscale clothing store named Berlin here in this very city.

Zooming on in to the Berlin store, the white letters. Need to pop in there for a look around. Guessing it's German-made and/or designed apparel.

Along the street after the parade, guys drinking yogurt and more, sitting in front of an athletic supply store. I was interested in the Nike ad behind which says, Believe: You are stronger than you think. The one guy was downplaying the slogan saying, It's just some American propaganda. That's not something we would say.

Yours Truly with a poster, (Congratulations) with the Holiday!

* * * * *

Got to admit that I'm quite pleased with myself for heading to Theater Square early Thursday to get some shots in the morning sunlight.
This ended up being a splendid idea, without the crowds. Plus ended up with the ultimate photo opportunity, more about that later.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing in a huge way, seems the Russian philosophy. This massive
mural covers an entire side of the Stella Bank building, proclaiming 65 years.

No one is forgotten; Nothing is forgotten, the banner says over the entrance to Regional Railway Administration building, adjacent to Stella. Who is Stella, you might ask? Well, you'll get to meet her shortly.

School children bringing bouquets to Stella. In early May, lilacs and tulips are most popular. Children are so photogenic, you know, that I decided to just follow along with them and capture the moment.

Here is Stella. Overlooks the Don River and the steppe. Stella is taller than Lady Liberty, as I recall. Got the details on that around here somewhere. . .

The children presented their bouquets to a group of war heroes who happened to be there. Once I learned who these veterans were, things got extra interesting. This little story merits a blog post of its very own, one day very soon.

Leaving Stella, I happened upon this school group of hearing-impaired students. I asked the teacher if maybe they could sign a song for me to tape. Well they're so young, she said. They can't really sing yet. Okaaay.

There they are. Everything is dwarfed by Stella.

Leaving the area, here's Stella and a plane headed to Rostov International Airport.

The bench says (Congratulations) on the holiday! (Congratulations) on the 65th-year of the Great Victory! Indeed.

Four flags: From left is the flag of the Rostov Region (comparable to a state), then the tri-color of Russia, then the red flag of the Communist Party but nowadays with a gold star replacing the hammer and sickle and then the Rostov city flag. We seem to be in fine shape flag-wise.

Statue of mother and child, overlooking Theater Square from the northwest.

Mother statue, wide. Taken from Bolshaya Sadovaya (Big Garden) Street.

Welcome home poster of a homecoming, set in Red Square with a Kremlin tower in the background. Got to love this retro style of Russian art. Located at
Theater Prospect and Maxim Gorky Street.

Zooming on in to this joyful reunion: Sixty-five Years of Victory.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

And So Begins Dacha Season

We're wrapping up the May Day weekend here in Russia, a holiday that has evolved in recent years. Back when the Communist Party was in its hey-day, the 1st of May was a day to show solidarity and involved a military parade through Red Square. You might remember May 1, 1960, the most memorable May Day ever. On that day, a U-2 spy plane from the US was shot down over Siberia and the pilot, Gary Powers, captured live.

Folks remember May Day of earlier years with nostalgia, when they attended the local parade as a family, kids dressed in their Young Pioneer uniforms, all marching behind the red flag with the hammer and sickle.

Nowadays, the parade is more low-key and folks hurry out of town to their dachas to get started on their vegetable gardens. In fact, the city is significantly quieter with so many people gone.

Care for a first-hand look at a Moscow dacha? Sashlik is on the menu!