Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Excuse me, is that your GOAT...eating your purse?

We met great friends recently at one of our fave Georgian restaurants in Moscow called Khachapuri.  (Side note...Khachapuri is a type of melt-in-your mouth bread served with melted cheese and egg poured in the middle.  Safe to say all Georgian food is packed with flavor - delicious sauces, lots of nuts = heaven!).  

Khachapuri - all world!

We arrived at the bustling restaurant and began the 5 minute minimum required undressing process...the removal of layer, upon layer of cold-blocking accoutrement.  During this exercise I happened to glance down and notice a medium sized dog (caught him from the rear view) wandering about the restaurant.  This was strange, I thought, as we’ve been to this lovely restaurant many times and never caught a glimpse of a dog roaming about.  Unlike most of Europe, dogs are not so welcomed in eating establishments in Russia.  

And then I did a double take...................this was no dog....................this was a goat...............yes, a GOAT!!!

Now this restaurant is no road-side, throw your peanut shells on the floor, bare lightbulb from the ceiling kind of joint.  It is a well-lit, cozy, more of an “upscale” kind of place.  Never have we seen a goat here, nor a dog, not even a mouse.  And this was no ordinary goat....he was dressed to the nines wearing a very stylish, expensive, Burberry winter coat - apparently custom made as it fit him to a tee with zipper up the back and red trimmed side pockets.  The side pockets were for.....carrying a spare tin can?  He was also sporting a diaper, (bonus for everybody!), and of course a hoop earring.  It was the most bizarre -- and perhaps intriguing thing we’ve ever seen.  My first thought - where is sanitation control?  We’re about to order a couple rounds of food, drinks, dessert...are we supposed to share with the goat?  Then I quickly remembered we’re in Moscow where anything and everything goes.  The goat stays.

"Ummmm...tasty shirt..."

Throughout the night, the goat meandered about the restaurant - sniffing around, grazing on dropped crumbs and munching on the contents of open purses on the backs of chairs (not kidding).
Our friends arrived before us and witnessed the goat’s exclamation when the live piano player stopped playing to take a break:  “BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”.  His version of “ENCORE!”?
As the night went on, the little fella came to grow on us.  He had obviously passed obedience school with flying colors as he was quite polite and mingled nicely with the crowd.  He was also down right cute and appeared to have just had a bath - well manicured hooves, nicely combed fur.  Fresh from the salon!  

Hi little fella...

Towards the end of the night I felt my paper napkin disappearing only to realize the goat needed a snack. Our friend, Margo, tried to feed him some lamb, which he balked at.  Must have been an acquaintance. “No thanks....that’s my friend, Bob.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

And the winner is....


I contemplated ending this blog post here as kind of a "nuf said!", but, actually, there’s more to the story.  I think it’s clear my blog is in no way a repository for political banter but I would be remiss not to share our local observation of the political history that has taken place in Moscow over the last 75 days. 
We have had a unique and, I think, special opportunity to literally walk out our front door and observe the protests first-hand.  A political hum started here in Moscow back in December that has worked into a protest anthem that's being sung by Russians loud and clear.

In Moscow, from all accounts, after speaking to many locals, the contempt isn’t necessarily with Putin, although there’s plenty of room for argument there.  Putin is often viewed locally as a stabilizer of the country over the past decade or so.  From what I’ve observed, what Russians most want is an end to corruption and unfair elections.  Those sound like reasonable requests.

Police poised with a brigade of water guns...that were not used.

It’s an interesting phenomenon -- to walk among protesters. (Side note:  we haven’t run out to actively mingle with the crowd....we literally could not walk to the gym, the grocery store, the metro without being engulfed by throngs of opposers).  It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in the U.S.  We left, of course, before the “occupy X” hysteria took residence in big cities across the U.S. and in other necks of the worldwide woods.       

White ribbons worn as a statement of solidarity

The first big organized protest took place shortly after the Duma (their government) elections in early December.  Some accounts say upwards of 60,000+ showed up in a park next to our apartment.  Amazingly, no violence reported.  The protestors were well dressed, academic types - the emerging middle class. 

Several other protests took place over the last several months and again after the presidential election on Sunday and a day after the election this past Monday.  This activity will go down in history books as the loudest political “voice” the Russians have had since the Soviet Union fell in 1991.  It’s been amazing to hear their voice just outside our windows. Is the Kremlin listening?  Time will tell...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chattering Teeth

May I vent for a second?  IT’S FREAKIN COLD IN MOSCOW!!!!  

Thank you, I feel better.

I know, I know...what did we expect?  It’s Russia after all.  But this winter has been bitter.  The kind of “don’t expose your skin for more than 10 minutes at a time” bitter.  Today started at -25 Fahrenheit.  While we want to experience the true essence of Moscow...spring is now welcome...at any time.   
I keep thinking of the scene in Dr. Zhivago when they walk into their long lost home in Siberia to find it completely frozen over....

Our apartment

This is Steve coming home from the office:

(not really)

This is us on the way to the gym:

Now you really can’t experience the full force of winter without constant dry, sandpaper, thirsty skin.  I’m hunting around Moscow for a full body dipping service....similar to a flea dip for dogs.  I’m all for a big vat of moisturizer or paraffin to dip my entire self into several times a week.  Perhaps my next entrepreneurial gig!

Full body size please!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lost in translation...

Santa brought me a new iPhone for Christmas....love you Santa!  As I walked into the small phone store in our neighborhood to get a Russian phone number, it became apparent that the three, very nice employees, spoke no Angliski.  This was expected and par for the course.  And so the full force effort to communicate began - from their side and my side - the charades, the nodding of heads, the shaking of heads, the shoulder shrugs that say “no remote idea what you’re trying to communicate”.  I mean really, how do you act out “I’d like a new mini SIM card for my new iPhone”?   General charade gestures typically don’t cover this kind of stuff.  

Finally, one of the employees walks me over to a new computer (which was for sale) and we stood there taking turns at the game of Google Translate.  Quite genius!  Now the Google Translate website is a "go to" for all American ex-pats everywhere in the world - we use it daily to try and understand what the heck is going on around us.  Thanks to the brilliance of this employee, this was the first time I used this method to actually “talk” to a Russian in a store.  Now why didn’t I think of this sooner??  Click a button, he’s typing in Russian - converting to English.  Click again,  I’m typing in English, converting to Russian.  Felt very much like playing competitive chess...you make a move, hit the clock, your opponent makes a move, hit the clock.   

So back and forth, back and forth, we lobbed phrases to each other in our typing ping pong match.  This went on for 40 minutes.  Now you would think a conversation about a mini SIM card would not take this long.  But it became quite comical as there were apparently lots of phrases completely lost in translation from both sides of the equation. Lots of sideways glances, like “??????”.   For example, if I typed “that’s not going to work...”, that could translate into Russian as “that’s not your office...”
 Here’s pretty much how it went down:
Me:         Good idea to communicate on the computer....I’m a bit lost in translation.
Employee:    You lost what?
Me:        No, nothing lost, I just didn’t know what you were saying...
Empl:      You didn’t say what?
Me:        No...I mean....ummm, let’s move on...
              I have a new iPhone
Empl:    Where did you buy it?
Me:        In the US
Empl:    In the UK?
Me:        No, in the United States
Empl:    I’m afraid I might break your phone
Me:        Oh no, that would be bad...why do you think that?
Empl:     Your hat looks like mud...
Me:               (sideways glance...)
Empl:        (retyping)
               Your phone won’t work in Russia
Me:       Well, actually, it should....this is an unlocked phone
Empl:      Don’t play stupid with me....
Me:            (sideways glance with cocked eyebrow...)
Empl:        (retyping)
               I see...then it should work
Me:         Da
Empl:     Is that your yowza?
Me:                 (wide eyes...quick head shake...)
Empl:         (retyping)
              Is that your phone cord?

And so it continued...  A small crowd actually gathered to cheer on the match - apparently curious about our communication technique.  
This was all quite liberating - I felt like I was having a complete conversation with a Russian, in Russian.  I wanted to go on and on and ask things like -   “Where can my husband find a good barber?  Where’s the best place to buy ripe avocados?”  Instead, I walked out with a working iPhone.  Yahtzee!

                 “Advantage Russia....game, set, match.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tighten the saddle....let's ride!!

Welcome back to the land of Borscht!  I fell off the blogging saddle.  It’s a bit like taking a day off from the gym  ....  then 2 days  .... then 2 months  ....  and you know the rest of that story.  A tremendous thank you to all my loyal blog followers - family and friends - who have encouraged me to hoist myself back up in the saddle.  I have remounted the tall steed...ya horsey!!
The blogging hiatus started with a trip back to the states for 3 weeks at the end of August. So here’s a mini recap of what the heck’s been going on since the "icy water" post:
  • Contrary to popular belief, it does get down right warm in Moscow in the summer.  The high this past July was around 93 degrees F.  
    It appears this thermometer needs a cleanin!   (This is in celsius.)
    • Moscow underwent a sidewalk makeover over the summer.  Every inch of sidewalk was torn up and reset in brick pavers.  Sounds great.  Er, not so much.  When the sidewalks were torn up - there was no “plan B” for pedestrians - everyone was forced to walk smack dab in the superhighways they call city street traffic here.  Also no forewarning of exposed manhole covers, etc.  I can only imagine the tally of broken bones, sprained ankles and, well, deaths due to the upheaval.  The Jimmy Choos and roller skaters had to be extra diligent. Perhaps most interesting, the brick company that “won” (using the term loosely) the work to repave the entire city is owned by the wife of the former Kremlin chief of staff.  Spousal cronyism?  Naaah.  By the way, the wife is Russia’s only female billionaire...
    Notice no warning tape saying "don't walk here"... P.S. go ahead and risk your life walking into on-coming traffic...
    • Found those fond of XC skiing staying in fine shape with these summer time contraptions:
    • Of course Russia is in the midsts of one of the most interesting political periods in its history. More in a future blog on the protests...one of which took place right next to our apartment.  We couldn’t help but casually stroll over and check it out first hand, (we were safe Mom, promise!).  
    • We also took in the Bolshoi Theater and had many incredible trips to European locales as we are enjoying taking advantage of all the great travel at our fingertips.

    You may remember how I prided myself in not making one banana peel (major wipe out) on the labyrinth of undulating ice and snow that engulfs Moscow every winter.  Well...paybacks.  Day one on the stuff this year - heels up to the sky...a direct hit to my knee and perhaps most horrifying - the designer purse settled in a huge, deep puddle of ice, mud and soot.  To make matters worse, I was holding on to Steve’s arm...which I proceeded to pull out of its socket.  That was one heck of a welcome back to shock us into reality.  Welcome to winter, now go mend the hole in your pants and strap a sling to your husband’s shoulder...

    We officially live in the land of the dark.  We now have one less hour of daylight in winter.  This started when the rest of the world switched to daylight savings time last fall.  President Medvedev officially cancelled daylight savings time in Russia due to the stress of having to change all the clocks back (true story).  The sun currently rises at around 10 a.m., sets at 6 p.m.  All good...if you’re a vampire.  Hello vitamin D.
    This is what it currently looks like outside at 9:45 a.m.:

    As comedian Ron White would said, today started with “no temperature”.  It was 0 degrees F.  Getting down to -9 tonight.  Fun times right there.  I was at an American Women's Organization meeting recently and in the middle of it, a woman started clapping.  We all looked over and she was clapping...for the sun....because it came out for .08 seconds before it retreated back to its normal comfy spot behind thick grey clouds.  It’s the little things that  make us happy here.

    So here we are at the grocery store yesterday....you’ll remember me talking about the exorbitant food prices.  

    A quick run down of what you're looking at...  Blueberries on the left for 390 Rubles (that’s approx. $10)....yes, expensive for a small container of blueberries.  To the right you see regular red bing cherries under the yellow Rainier cherries, (these cherries just happen to be my fave).  Now for those doing the math at home, to convert to dollars, you basically divide Rubles by 30.  You will see this small pint of bing cherries is 2,250 RUB or $75 and the Rainier cherries are a mere 2,800 RUB, or $93.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.  I slowly backed away from the cherry section....but did buy the $10 blueberries as a nice consolation prize...

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    10 days of a freezing cold hot summer...

    Post-it note to self:  “Take nothing for granted!”  This presently applies to the joy of having an unlimited supply of hot water running through the pipes of the apartment. We are in the middle of what I call the "10 day challenge"...currently experiencing 10 invigorating days without a drop of hot water.  Translation:  icy Siberian showers and a selection of cold water rinses for the dishwasher and washing machine.

    As relative newbies to Moscow, we are being initiated into the concept of no hot water throughout the city for 10 days.  And let me tell you...cold water in Moscow, in the summer, is darn frigid!

    While Moscow is emerging from the shadows of Soviet times and starting to come into its own as a flourishing city, a few items of old-world deprivation remain.  Most buildings in Moscow get their hot water from a central city plant rather than from hot water boilers in the basement, as we do in the U.S.  For 10 days, the hot water is turned off throughout the city for pipe maintenance.  Hello breath-taking mornings!

    Me after the cold water douse...

    As you know, depending on the heat, and workout activity, many summer days are “2-a-days” in the shower department.  After our workout yesterday, Steve and I looked at each other and said “you first”!  My cold water shower survival tactic of choice is the “hokey pokey”.  I put my right arm in, I pull my right arm out, I soap my right arm up and I rinse it all about.  Then lather, rinse, repeat with my other limbs.  And I'm not opposed to “turning myself about” as it makes the whole experience that much more pleasant. 

    Two more days to go....then hot water heaven!

    This method makes more sense to me...perhaps we can get the neighborhood to chip in for one of these...

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Sky high heels!

    The stereotype of the beautiful Russian woman is, for the most part, spot on.  Kate Moss comes to mind - mixed with a little Gisele and topped with a smidgen of Heidi Klum for good measure.  And there’s no shortage either.  Russian women out number men by approximately 10 million, (76.7 million women, 66.2 million men).   Some say because of this illegible men shortage - competition is fierce - and, so, the young Russian woman is dressed to the nines 24/7.  I give them full credit - it’s quite amazing, really.

    And...high heels abound!I We’re talking really, reeeeeeally high heels, in the 4-8 inch category!  All day, every day, through the rains of spring and the deep snows of winter, ascending the steepest of hills and foraging across broken, cracked, iced over, undulating pavement.  Unfazed. Unflinching. They carry on.  I have to think the podiatry clinics here are making a fortune.   As I’ve mentioned, Moscow is very much a walking city - it’s not unusual to walk 5-6 miles a day depending on what’s “on the list” and where we’re going. I’m not quite sure how the heels do it - no insole cushion or strap relief gel pad can stand up to the beating these women dole out on their feet.  Dr. Scholl’s - where are you?  You'd make a killing.  

    When we first arrived in Moscow last November, I was completely dumbfounded as to how these women were navigating the elements so gracefully in these stilts. Finally, after weeks of watching these high heeled aficionados navigate over the frozen tundra, I walked into a shoe store and picked up a pair of these shanks to see what gives.  Viola!  Many are made with something like this.... 

     No wonder these gals are prancing on the ice like ballet dancers from the Bolshoi.  Bravo!  (Brava! in Russian).

    Now these look very practical....some sort of heavy gauge wire...good for piercing the ice...with solid traction on the ball of the foot - genius!

    Here is a hero if there ever was one....I like the way this gal thinks....if I decide to go the high heel route in winter - I’ll just have Steve carry me around.  He’s big and strong after all.
    There’s even an annual high heel sprint race in Moscow. Looks competitive and somewhat dangerous...with some banana peeling along the way...

    These seem to make a bit more sense...a little clunky maybe...

    I posted this photo in an earlier blog entry....but I love it!!!!

    This sums it up....

    I’ve also heard during Soviet times, high heels were not available....today, the more the merrier!

    Shoveling in stilts - impressive!

    This link will take you to a video that is an absolute representation of what I would look like on ice, in heels.  It’s a bit lengthy - no need to watch the whole thing - but at the one minute mark you’ll see the knee gear - where can I buy a pair of these???!!!!

    I think I’m up for the challenge this winter... I understand “function over fashion”....but what fun is that?  No pain, no gain...maybe.