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Friday, May 30, 2014

Folk Dance

 Russia is known for having exquisite dance performances.  I'd been dying to see one so I carefully selected a folk dance show.  I've seen the Russian Ballet perform the Nutcracker back home, so maybe that is why a different type of dance appealed to me or maybe it was because folk dance tells the stories of the everyday people.
 Many regions of Europe and Asia were highlighted.  The footwork was amazing and the costumes were delightful.  As I watched I thought about how much of folk dancing is done in a community to celebrate life.  They did it at village gatherings and weddings.  So many of the dances were filled with joy and fun.
 Other dances told stories.  History is preserved in this unique form that is passed on from generation to generation.
The best story of the evening for me though, had nothing to do with the dancing but rather with a particular woman we met.  When we came into the performance center we were a bit disoriented with all the shows going on, coat check and where to go.  A batty little old woman approached my husband and asked if he had an extra ticket.  We actually did have an extra ticket with us as one person in our party cancelled at the last minute.  She was probably a bit surprised when he handed it to her.  I'm assuming she comes every performance and tries to get a free ticket.  She shuffled off and disappeared around the corner.  We hustled in forgetting about her as we figured she had walked outside the theater to sell the ticket.  Halfway through the first dance the bent-over woman made her way up the stairs.  Transformed she was now wearing  an old knit dress and some bright orange beads that matched her bright orange, thinning hair.  She carefully carried her pocketbook with one hand as she gripped the railing with the other.  She settled in next to Chad and gave him a big smile as if he were her prince charming.  Throughout the show she proceeded to chatter very loudly to Chad in a mixture of English and Russian.  She was a true lover of the arts.  She enjoyed the performance and my gracious husband gave her all the attention she craved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Victory Day

Victory Day was a great thing to experience here in Moscow.  Think Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Fourth of July all wrapped up into one grand holiday.  May 9 marks the day Nazi Germany surrendered to The Soviet Union in the Second World War.

For the girls and me the celebrations began on Monday at school.  A choir of Veterans and another of war widows came to the school to perform.  Although feeble in body, they sang strong the old war songs.  They were proud of their country and the service they had given.

Celebrations start on May 9 with the Victory Day Parade.  This is where Russia displays her military power for the world to see - or at least those of us in Moscow.  This was different than any other parade I have ever watched.  People quietly lined the empty street.  Three police cars led the processions of a kazillion military vehicles.  There were no crowds cheering, clowns throwing candy or fire engines blaring their sirens.  It was silent.  The military men did not smile from their tanks or wave little Russian flags.  They manned their weapons and stared stoically ahead.  The earth rumbled as the tanks drove past worrying me a bit that the old crumbling US consulate building behind me would collapse.  It was a sobering parade yet well worth watching. 

Machine Guns

Big Machine Guns

Tank Guns

A Bigger Tank Gun

Fighter Planes that I bet had guns in them.


Lots of big missiles and more fighter planes.

Red, White and Blue smoke - cool.

Scary looking missiles

I don't want to think of the damage these babies can do.

Truck after truck of bombs.

Not sure how they launch it, or for that matter get it off the truck.

This one didn't even fit in the picture.

In keeping with the normal daily duties, a line of street cleaners (33 to be exact) filed out after the last bombs with their sprayers going to wash all the "filth" away.
Throughout the afternoon people give veterans flowers in Gorky Park and Victory Park.  I have heard that the entire family must accompany the veteran just to carry the armloads of flowers they receive throughout the day.

In the evening we headed over to Victory Park to watch the fireworks.  The kids and I agreed that it was the best display we have ever seen.  Only America fires off one firework then waits while everyone ooohs and aaahs before shooting off another one.  Here they shot off twenty then before the twinkles were gone from the sky, twenty more were bursting in the dark.  Suddenly a shot, no a boom reverberated through the air, stopping my heart and shaking my clothes.  Eighteen canons were lined up on the hill behind us and every 30-60 seconds, another went off.  It was quite spectacular.  A good day and I am looking forward to next year when I plan on getting close to Red Square and having a glimpse of the 10,000 soldiers in formation.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fortunately this was not a typical Russian Day

Maybe it was the weather here in Moscow that caused the crazy to come out in everyone today.  There seemed to be a front of some sort coming through. Overcast and a bit windy it brought a chill to the atmosphere that was not welcomed or friendly. For me it brought out the laughter.  I had four distinct encounters within four hours that gave me a glimpse of the stereotypes I often hear about but rarely encounter here in Russia. 
Elena and I were walking to take the metro to soccer practice. The busy street we had to cross always has a long red light with no pedestrian signal counting down the seconds.  Typically I shift from foot to foot wondering if the light will every change and I will get to cross.  Today an old, fat, wrinkled babushka with a cane stood a few people over.  Wisps of stringy, grey hair whipped wildly in the wind free from the traditional scarf she had tied around her head.  She quickly became agitated and impatient.  Waving her can wildly at the light she began to yell. Next to me a woman with a horrified look on her face was trying desperately to ignore the situation. The babushka made several attempts to step out into the heavy traffic each time ending with another tirade.  "I do not understand, I do not understand" was all I could pick out from the little bit of Russian I know. At one point I actually leaned over and put my hand in front of the babushka stopping her from stepping forward. This only quieted her down for a moment before she began her rant again. And then I saw it.  In slow motion the babushka leaned back, her face full of vengeance for the traffic that has taken over this city, made a horrid guttural sound then thrust her face forward. A wad of spit and phlegm flew from her lips.  The wad spun through the air, little spitletts separating from the whole as it rotated around before landing on the side of a bus. I couldn't contain myself any longer.  As I doubled over in laughter the light turned and the little old babushka was lost in the sea of people.
Soccer practice was almost over when yelling caused me to turn and see what the ruckus was all about.  Clearly drunk, a man, yelling to no one in particular between swigs from his bottle, sat at the end of the stands. In one fluid motion that he had obviously practiced profusely to the point of perfection, he tipped the bottle back, took one last drink and tossed the it high above his head and over the fence behind him.  Stumbling off the bleachers he sauntered onto the field. Fortunately this man was a happy drunk as he walked around passing out hugs to any willing player.  
Back on the metro it was crowded with evening passengers.  Fortunate enough to find a seat I sat shoulder to shoulder with my fellow travelers. To my right sat a tall, slender man with salt and pepper hair.  Like Ichabod Crane his nose was unusually long and bony.  He turned and looked at me.  No, it was more than a look it was a stare. There was no room for him to lean back for this long stare so every bump or rattle of the train swerved me dangerously close to having my cheek pierced with his weapon of a nose. I began to notice that every time I turned to look at him he quickly turned his head forward and looked at me in the window facing us.  Just as I would look forward again our eyes would lock I the glass before he turned his head to a ninety degree angle to stare once again.   This situation lasted for a full twenty minutes as I sat there staring forward frozen in my seat with no place to escape due to the crowded train.  I about collapsed in relief when we got to our stop and I could flee the car. 
Personal cars cannot be parked on the compound where we live. Because of construction we have to park them at a hotel which is a royal pain in the butt. I had left my car on the compound after picking up Maddie at 2:00 in the morning from a school trip. My plan was to move the car in the evening when traffic lightened up and I had a bit more time. Of course I was busted with my illegal parking before I could sneak the car away. So after the soccer practice and cramming my dinner in I got in my car to leave the compound.  I drove through the security gates and waited in the driveway to turn onto the street. Traffic had not let up for the day so I sat and waited, and waited. There are Russian "security" guards who stand just outside the wall that keeps us in, hidden from the world outside. We have no obligation to them.  Their sole purpose seems to be to watch us go in and out and harass us a bit from time to time. So as I sat there waiting two guards walked up and stood on each side of the car looking at me.  I don't know what it was today, maybe I was looking particularly dashing but I was getting rather tired of being stared at.  The guard to my left stood at ease about two feet back.  He looked at me then looked at the car then back to me.  However, the guard to my right stepped so close that I swear his nose was smashed on the window. As he stood there peering my mind began to run away from me. 
"Are the doors locked?"
"Crap, no.  I need to figure out how to have them automatically lock when I shift into drive."
"Should l lock the doors?"
"No, I can't move a muscle right now.  Just look forward."
"I bet I could reach my phone and take a picture of him.  Better yet I could move really fast, lean back and do a selfie with him peering in. That would be hilarious, but bad idea.  Just stare forward."
"I could roll the window down and have a conversation in the ten Russian words I know but I'm sure that will leave a streak of snot on the glass."
"Thank goodness the traffic just cleared and I can get away!  Thirty more minutes of Russia to survive today before I am tucked away in my home for the night!"