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?

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