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Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.

Unbelievable.

 

The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill

 

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The Visa Lottery

I recently took a quick trip to Florida to see old friends. It started out with a cab ride at 7:30 in the morning. Way too early in my opinion. My driver was from Somalia. He spent some time complaining about the state of the world and over use of guns. When he was growing up in Somalia nobody had guns. Now they all have the light Russian guns. Rat a tat tat tat tat….

He had won the visa lottery. He asked if I knew what that was. Yes, I knew. I worked with a guy in Moscow who won it and I knew several people who entered every year. It was a program set up in 1990 and is officially call the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Every year the Attorney General looks at the immigrants over the previous five years and makes countries eligible or ineligible based on how many people from that particular country have immigrated to the USA.

The aim is to diversify the immigrant population. Every year there are about 50,000 people who get their visas this way. If they are from a qualifying country, they must have a high school diploma, two years work experience and two years job training. In 2008 13.5 million people applied for the 50,000 slots worldwide. People are randomly selected, hence the “lottery”. My cab driver hit the jackpot in 2006. Last year he bought a house. He is living the dream.

One downside of applying for the Diversity Visa is you have shown intent to immigrate and it is unlikely you will ever get a non-immigrant visa. However, it doesn’t seem to stop people.

I arrived in Florida to perfect weather. We didn’t go to Orlando for the usual attractions. I have never been to any of them. We went out on the lakes and were impressed with the natural beauty of the area. We took advantage of the fine dining and over the top cocktails. And we laughed till we cried.

As we cabbed and Ubered around the city we met a Russian and several Venezuelan drivers. All now proud to be American.

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From DC to Rangoon, 1952

Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….

 

Sunday, Oct 26, 1952

Dear Folks,

Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of. 

The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.

Leave Washington      1/29    12:24 pm

Arr New York             10/29  2:15 pm

Leave New York         10/29  4:00 pm

Arr London                 10/30  11:00 am (London time)

Leave London              10/31  5:55 pm

Arrive Beirut               11/1    5:40 am (Beirut time)

Leave Beirut                11/4    4:35 am

Arrive Calcutta           11/4    11:40 pm (Calcutta time)

Leave Calcutta            11/6    6:30 am

Arr Rangoon               11/6    10:55 am

Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.

With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.

I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.

We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.

On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.

 

…  I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.

Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.

 

 

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Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

I moved from the East Coast to the North (Minnesota). Same country. Should not be that big of an adjustment. But it is.

Change is not bad but can be challenging. In Virginia I could go into any grocery store and buy beer and wine. I could buy beer and wine at the drug store or the 7 Eleven. Here I have to go to a separate liquor store to buy any kind of liquor. First time I went to Trader Joe’s I panicked. No wine? Luckily they had their wine store just next door.

Food shopping takes getting used to as well. What grocery store is good for what kind of food? Where do I find my favorite things? Or do I have to discover all new food items? I live right across the street from the Farmer’s Market so when the temperature gets to a manageable number, it will open and I’m sure problem will be solved. In the meantime, I wander around trying to understand what I am looking at.

Another thing I noticed is the food tastes better here. Maybe I’m imagining it but it tastes closer to real food. I guess it is closer to the farm. People eat more locally. And it is easier to eat more locally.

People talk to you here. On the East Coast people rarely talk to you or acknowledge you. Here random people talk to you all the time. And most people are friendly. All very strange. Am I supposed to respond? Should I talk to these people or pretend I don’t hear them? I think I am supposed to talk to them.

Traffic. There isn’t any. Okay during rush hour there may be some crowded highways but that’s about it. No sitting in stop and go traffic for hours at a time. It is like living in a dream. I can go places without being obsessed by how much traffic there is going to be. And the really amazing incredible thing is once I get there I can find a place to park. That like never happened on the East Coast.

The average high this year has been 20 degrees F. Not so terrible. At least we don’t have the snow the East Coast got this year. Was able to avoid that nightmare. I do admit, though, the wind can cool you down. It’s cold out on the plains.

The music/art/theater scene is amazing. The DC area has nothing like this. It is local and accessible. People are doing interesting stuff. I live in the middle of a thriving artist community. I love it.

So challenges, yes. Problems, no. Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

 

Food and Beer with some other stuff thrown in – My Week

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I had an interesting week. After spending 12 years in the DC area and never going out or doing anything (at least very rarely), I know have a blooming social life. The DC area is spread across Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. You often have to travel an hour or more to see people and with the horrid traffic, it can take you much longer. It was easier to make the long drive home after work and just stay there. The Twin Cities are much smaller in area and I would call the traffic “light”. I would guess I could be anywhere I want to go in 30 minutes or less.

My week started on Sunday back at the Walker Art Museum. A friend of a friend was visiting from out of town. She happened to be staying with people who live a block from my new place and also moved here recently. I am living in an up and coming trendy area where old buildings and warehouses are being converted into lofts and upscale apartments. My building is an old dry goods store but their building is brand new. We went over and saw their place after a quick tour of the Walker. The apartment is spacious and very modern. They have a view of a parking ramp. But I suppose the price was right. And the location is perfect.

From there we went to eat at the “best” Indian restaurant in the city, India House. Our new friends were vegetarian and this place had many vegetarian options with “homemade sauces and secret spices”. I had the Tikka Masala with chunks of chicken, green peppers and onions in a tomato sauce. My brother, who went to boarding school in India, said he thought Tikka Masala was a dish they made up for the British and not really Indian but, when served in India, it usually had chunks of vegetables in it. I had never had it with vegetables before. The best part of the meal was the onion pakora appetizers. I have no idea how they made them but they were clusters of onion fried in a batter. They are also called Kanda Bhaji or onion fritters. They were delicious. And of course we washed it all down with a Taj Mahal beer.

– READ ON at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/food-beer-stuff-thrown-week/2015/01/23#sthash.gn0fHZIb.dpuf

A Tale of Two Malls

 

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Reposting from BPE:

There are really only two Malls in the US.

The National Mall is located in the middle of Washington, DC and is about 2 miles long and 1/3 mile wide. The park was originally designed by Pierre L’Enfant in 1791 and amended in 1901 with the McMillan Commission’s plan. It has evolved over the years but stayed true to the vision George Washington had of creating a place for the nation to celebrate their heritage and observe their First Amendment rights.

The Mall has seen presidential inaugurations, civil rights demonstrations, Fourth of July concerts, and Memorial Day parades. There are 43 fields where local clubs play softball, soccer, rugby, field hockey, volleyball, and polo. More than 25 million people visit every year and there are over 3,000 events scheduled each year. Seventeen museums and nine major memorials can be found on the mall. Along with all the structures are the 2,000 American elms and 3,000 Japanese cherry trees. All these things are free to the public.

– See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/tale-two-malls/2014/12/16#sthash.YHoZn8op.dpuf

Christmas In Africa – 1974

69-620x310My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.

I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.

I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.

I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.

I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.

She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.

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Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.

We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.

We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.

Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.

On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.

On my way to Treetops

On my way to Treetops

We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.