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.

http://vitalykuzmin.net

http://vitalykuzmin.net

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.

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www.kremlin.ru

 

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

 

Babies Abroad

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While living in Moscow during the 90’s I got pregnant and went to the US to have my baby. I retuned when he was seven weeks old.

On arrival at the airport after traveling for 15 hours, we were ushered to the head of the line at passport control and breezed through customs. My husband showed up about 10 minutes later saying he had a flat tire. So we took a taxi to the tire repair shop and waited for it to be fixed before finally getting home.

The apartment was a horrible mess. Boxes everywhere. Our previous landlords had kicked us out of our last apartment mainly because our one year lease was up but also because we had moved some of the books they left in the living room. They didn’t want us to touch any of their stuff. Go figure. So on to apartment number 4.

The new apartment had no furniture except for a couple of chairs in the living room and a crib for the baby so we had to sleep on the floor.  Luckily there were armoires so we could at least unpack stuff. I spent the first three days doing nothing but unpacking and taking care of my child. It finally got to a point where I could tolerate it. Unfortunately the washer started acting up so there was laundry up the wazoo.

I breast fed my baby for six months and then I had to go back to work so I switched to formula. I found one that didn’t make him sick and managed to get a regular supply at the children’s department store, Detsky Mir. After a few months they ran out. I went to every store I could think of looking for formula. Sometimes I could find it at a kiosk on the street. I was then forced to switch to a different brand and hoped he could tolerate it. Luckily he did but that brand disappeared as well. We did make it through until he went off the formula but there were times when I thought I would have to beg somebody to ship me some.

I’m sure some of you thinking – formula? Ugh. She could have made her own or pumped. Ugh. I had plenty of other problems to deal with so it just wasn’t an option. I never considered it. But he survived and grew into a healthy child.

A large healthy child. I used cloth diapers until he grew out of them and then I switched to paper. He got so big I had trouble finding diapers to fit him. I went through the same drill as with the formula, hitting every store I could think of. I finally connected with a woman who knew of a place where I could get extra large diapers.

She gave me an address in a Soviet apartment block. The entrance was around the back and downstairs into the basement. A very large man in a leather coat guarded the door. I felt like a criminal. Inside was a large room with a man sitting at a small desk in the entranceway. Boxes of diapers were piled high in the back. He had what I was looking for and I bought a large box to keep me going for a while. Sometimes he would be out and I would either have to go back on the prowl or buy a smaller size. Potty training didn’t come soon enough.

By the time we left Moscow, six years later I could have purchased any formula and any diaper I wanted easily. My timing was off.

By the time I left, they had Ikea. Civilization had arrived.

 

 

Books from Asia, Moscow and Turkey

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

I’m always interested in expat stories, expat memoirs, and third culture kid stories. I usually pick them up, get a few chapters in and set them aside. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t grab me. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the focus. Although I usually finish them at some point even if I just scan through them. Here are a few I read recently and liked.

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The Sullivan Saga, Memoires of an Overseas Childhood by M.H. Sullivan, was an interesting story about a girl growing up in a Foreign Service family in Asia and Africa. In the TCK stories I can usually find some personal connection that keeps me going. The thing that grabbed me about this book was she started out talking about returning to the US for college and wondering if she was “American” enough. Her family was very different from mine but there were some similarities in the experiences she had. I could totally identify with the story about her father having to go into the bushes and take his pants off because he was being attached by army ants in Africa.

 

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Lenin Lives Next Door, Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Eremeeva is about a woman married to a Russian and her experiences living in Moscow for twenty years. She fell in love with Russia at 13 when she read “Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert Massie. She studied Russian history and language and eventually ended up in Moscow running tours and hosting trade show delegations. A fellow tour guide introduced her to her future husband and she has been there ever since. Her book is all about the characters she meets along the way and the challenges of living in Moscow. It is very funny and some things are hard to believe since truth really is stranger than fiction. I could identify with a lot of what she talks about having lived in Moscow for nine years myself. And funnily enough I actually knew Jennifer when I lived there. I recommend it – it’s fun and fast paced.

 

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Yesterday I picked up Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Yes, you can read it in a day. It is fast paced and light reading. Two married gay men from Britain decide to chuck everything, quit their jobs, sell their property and all their belongings and move to Turkey. Most people thought they were nuts. It is something many people dream of doing but would never actually do. They did it. The book covers their first year in Turkey. They were not completely prepared for what they were getting into and it seems they should have done some more research on the weather but they manage to keep a positive attitude and stick with it. After making some adjustments, and meeting some unpleasant expats, they eventually find their way and their own group of friends. It is a fun read.

 

My Expat Friend

I met Linda Montgomery through the American Women’s Organization in Moscow, Russia.  I was editor of the newsletter and I could always count on her for an article or two.  We became friends and kept in touch.  She sends out an email from time to time about what she is doing.  I received my previous post on Helen Thomas from her and re-posted it.  Linda also sent me some information about herself and I am including it here.   Please be sure to read both of them!

Linda and husband Dave in Moscow

Linda and husband Dave in Moscow

I’m a native Texan, born in 1947…one of the original Baby Boomers, which meant that my demographic was the one that swelled school populations so much that old Army barracks were used as additional classrooms until new schools were built. Now we’re being blamed for bankrupting Social Security…I guess not enough of us died before retirement age.

My father was a journalist who worked for UPI the majority of his career, then was editor of the Editorial page at the Fort Worth Star Telegram the last couple of years before retirement. As you know, I married a journalist, and from my ode to Helen, you know I never had any other aspirations in life. The truth is I never wanted to marry. I was serious about getting to Washington, and I did, eventually, but with a husband and two kids in tow, and it was his career, not mine that got us there.

After college, I worked for the Dallas Times Herald and covered everything from obits the first few weeks, to the murder/suicide of a prominent Dallas architect and socialite. It was undoubtedly the happiest year of my life. I was young, single, doing what I had always wanted to do and was good at it. The Herald was an afternoon paper with early deadlines, so after we finished working on the next day’s copy, a group of grumbly old veteran reporters and I would retire to the bar across the street to tell tales of scandals and news stories from long ago. I listened, in rapture, until Dave took me away to become a married woman. There was a nepotism rule at the paper, meaning no married couples could work there at the same time, so one of us had to go. My City Editor tried to talk me into living with Dave, rather than marrying him, but in the late 1960’s, that just wasn’t done, at least not in the South.

After our wedding, I worked as PR Director for a Dallas College and hated it. I wrote press releases every day so I could go to the paper and hang out. I quit after a year and took a position with a Dallas advertising agency in their Public Relations department. That wasn’t good, either. Finally I left daily work and freelanced for several magazines. I was also the Dallas stringer for Hill & Knowlton, the largest PR firm in New York, and did outside assignments for various agencies, including one on Hurricane Carla for the Insurance Board. That was fun…you know how journalists love to cover disasters!

We moved to Washington D.C. In January, 1981, just as Reagan was taking office. Dave had to go right to work, but the kids and I had a bird’s eye view of the biggest show in town. Every limousine on the East Coast had been rented and sent to Washington for the inaugural, and it was wild watching the traffic jams with VIP’s trying to out-prestige one another.

I didn’t do much work for pay the next decade, but began writing friends and family in what would much later be called a “blog” before there was such a thing. I was especially prolific after we moved to Moscow in 1998, and I could no longer use the telephone to communicate. Life was so strange and different there. It gave me enough copy to last a lifetime. I wrote virtually every day and as my friends and family passed my letters around, my “audience” grew. From an initial contact list of ten or so, I had more than 50 people getting my daily updates from Russia by the time we left almost four years later.

The only paid freelance job I had in Moscow was an article for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I forget what the pay was, but whatever it was, I know it disappeared at Ismailovo the next weekend. However, I did continue to publish stories in newsletters for both the American Women’s Organization and the International Women’s Club.

When we returned to Washington D.C. In 2002, I felt a sense of loss that was completely unfamiliar. I had never lived overseas before, and probably would not get a chance to do so again, but the experience in Russia had been life altering. I couldn’t get Russia out of my head. The decompression took a lot longer than I imagined. It was nice to drive a car again, great to have my independence back, wonderful to be able to speak to and understand everyone again, but there were so many other things I missed. I was having such a difficult time adjusting that a friend suggested that I write a book about my time in Russia. Before long, I had four chapters written just from memories of our arrival in 1998.

The project was shelved when life intruded once again. The very fact that we had to live somewhere, eat something, wear clean clothes, drive and refuel cars, contact relatives, visit sick friends and correspond with bill and tax collectors, bank depositors and middle management of every bureaucracy known to man, took more time and attention than it should have.

By 2008 I had lost both my parents and Dave was getting tired of his 56 mile round trip commute downtown from the house we found in Centreville. Inflation had moved in since we left Washington and we couldn’t even afford to buy our old house again. An opportunity came up to take back his old position in Austin as Bureau Chief for the newspaper. It was a different paper from the one he had worked for before, but the job was the same. We jumped at the chance to get back to Austin and out of Washington’s obsessive Type A behavior and moved in before Christmas.

While recuperating from back surgery, I needed something different to do than reading and watching the infernal television, so I joined Ancestry.com online and researched my genealogy. I found a patriot who supplied guns from his foundry in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to the Revolutionary War soldiers, making me eligible to join that venerable institution, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Had you told me in my youth I’d be joining that group someday, I would have argued with you to the grave. But I love history, believe in historic preservation, and knew of no international groups to join in the middle of Central Texas.

Within a year as a member of one of the state’s founding chapter’s (1899), I had started their first newsletter. I never know when to stop. I’m now knee-deep in writing about DAR projects, historical preservation, the wonderful old home we meet in, and some of the 300 members of my chapter. I started something they all love and, of course, want more of, so I dug my own hole and am stuck in it.

The other volunteer work I got into in Austin came about with our two rescued dogs. Both are Scotties, which we have had before, and I decided to get into Scottie Rescue rather than buy puppies from breeders  from now on. I like the people involved and started doing home visits for Scottie adoptions. As our Scottie friend base grew, we met people who published monthly catalogues, magazines and updates on Scottie care. Yes, I’m now writing for them, too.

I hope to get back to the book someday, but am happy with the projects I’m involved in with my writing these days, too. On down days, I still reflect on what might have been, and there have been moments when I wished Dave and I could have switched roles, but no one has the power to change such things, and it’s futile to focus on what didn’t happen. I love the short but brilliant times I had in the newsroom, and am grateful for that. Some people never reach a goal like that, but I did and can be proud that I made it to the top, even if I didn’t stay long.

Dave keeps telling me to tell you about how I worked for the Texas Business Press Magazine, Texas Homes, had a column on historic homes in that magazine, and how I lectured a journalism class on invitation a couple of times. When I quit the job at the college because I couldn’t take the boredom any more, the Editor of the Dallas Times Herald asked if I would be interested in taking a job as Press Secretary for a cantankerous but successful businessman in Dallas in 1972. I was unemployed and agreed.

My boss turned out to be Bill Clements, who later became Governor of Texas, and he was the State Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect the President…Nixon’s team! While my friends expressed their political horror, I asked if any of them wanted to pay my salary. That stopped the conversation. Clements was a cantankerous old oilman who was bright, outspoken to the point of being rude, and sassy but he was also loyal, a good businessman and truly convinced he could help the state and country he loved so well. We got along famously. Known for his quick judgments, I wondered how it would work but he liked me from the beginning and we had a close, personal relationship that lasted until his death a few short years ago. He never quite trusted Dave, since he was a journalist, but always trusted me and my judgment. I miss him, too.

Food Friday: Peanut Chicken

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This is a variation of the West African Ground Nut Stew.  I adapted it to serve to people when I lived in Moscow.  I could find the ingredients and it was mild enough that everybody liked it but it was also a little different.

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Peanut Chicken

2 green peppers

1 medium onion

2 Tbsp oil

1 (6 oz) can tomato paste

2/3 cup peanut butter

3 cups chicken broth

1 tsp salt

2 tsp chili powder (or real chillies)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

4 cups cubed cooked chicken

6 cups cooked rice

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Fry onions and green peppers in oil.

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Combine tomato paste and peanut butter, stir in broth, salt, chili, and nutmeg.

Add peanut mixture to the green peppers and onions

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Stir in cooked chicken and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Serve over rice.

 

 

Food Friday: Mashed Potato Quesadillas

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My son went to Moscow last year and ate Mashed Potato Quesadillas in a restaurant one night.  He has been on my case ever since to make them for him.  I had never heard of such a thing!  He said they had veal in them. I’m not a huge veal fan so I have substituted chicken but I think any meat or no meat would work fine.

Mashed Potato Quesadillas

2 cups mashed potatoes

1 lb. boneless chicken, cooked and diced or shredded

1/4 cup red onions

Shredded cheddar cheese

8 flour tortillas

Salsa

Sour Cream

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Make the mashed potatoes with butter and milk and a little salt

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Cook the chicken in garlic and adobo with the onions

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Chop the chicken and mix it in with the potatoes.

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In a large skillet, spread the potato mixture onto half a tortilla and top with shredded cheese.

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Fold over and cook till the cheese melts and tortilla is lightly browned.

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Serve with salsa and sour cream.

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Expat Alien: Book Excerpt

Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Chapter 8

Apartment 2 of 6

I was not looking forward to another move, but we found a new apartment that was much airier than the old one and Nicholas could have his own study to make his mess in. It was on the 14th floor and had a distant view of Red Square.  It was farther from the Metro but was also near to a large park. The bathroom was all in one room so more “western”.  The only problem was that it had ants that hung out around the faucets and there was no way to get rid of them.

On this occasion, several people helped us move. When the truck was loaded – three of us sat in the back of the truck and the driver tied the tarp down in the back and Nicholas rode up with the driver to navigate.  It was like the ride from hell.  Here we were in the dark, riding across Moscow with all this stuff (not tied down in any way).  Nicholas’ cousin Valery kept peeking out through a crack in the tarp giving us a running dialog of where we were, all in Russian of course.  Plus due to the enormous Russian potholes, I was airborne several times.

People in Moscow would rent out their apartments for one year, sometimes two, and move in with relatives someplace else.  They would save all the money they earned in rent and then use that money to renovate the apartment when they moved back in.  We lived in six different apartments in 9 years.  The landladies kept kicking us out when they were ready to move back in.

The air seemed to be cleaner in our new apartment and I couldn’t see one smoke stack.  At night we could look out the window and see St Basil’s and one of the Kremlin towers all lit up.

The second day we were there I filled up the kitchen sink to do the dishes.  When I was done I just pulled the plug and all the water went rushing down the drain and came pouring out all over my feet.  They had put new pipes into the sink but when it reached the old pipes going into the wall they didn’t fit together so they just rested the new pipe into the old one.  When water came pouring out all at once, it got backed up and overflowed. They didn’t finish the job correctly (no surprise there).  We called the landlady and she said she would call a plumber and come over the next day.  Well, I came home next evening and she had been here all right, and now there was a big rag neatly wrapped around the pipe!

One morning Nicholas was working at home and I left to go to work.  I got into the lift and hit the button for the bottom floor.  The lift moved in a jerky way.  It felt like it went up.  Then it stopped dead still.  I was on the 14th floor.  Panic.  I hit the intercom button not expecting anything to happen.  I hit it a couple of times.  A woman answered.  She wanted to know what my address was.  I told her.  I was screaming in a panic.  Somehow I managed to get her to understand me.  Pretty soon I heard somebody come to the landing.  I yelled at them and they could hear me.  I told them to go get my husband and gave the apartment number.  After a while, I heard Nicholas’ voice.  He said, I’ll be right back, I have to go get the video camera for this!  Lovely.  Finally a woman showed up, crawled in on top of the car and managed to get the door open.  I was just below the landing and was able to crawl out.  All caught on video.