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While setting up the website for the history classes I was finding the readings, mostly primary sources, on the internet and linking them. Since Abena is teaching the other section and she taught the modern Global class before, I’m relying on her picks. And she found this wonderful article in the Economist that came out recently. The article is called “Social Media in the 16th century: How Luther Went Viral.” It basically compared the Reformation to the modern revolutions that rely on social media in the Arab world. Very effective, I think and I also think students would find this engaging. It is a really good way to talk about Reformation. It makes me really look forward to the lecture too.

Papa sent me a link to these underground pictures of Minsk from roofs and forbidden buildings. They are quite nice. This is a city of my birth and, yes, while being in the country run by a dictator, it is a very beautiful city. Very interesting perspective on it.
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There was a terrorist attack in Minsk today. In the central metro station, on one of the escalators. 12 people died and more than 100 injured. I have ten minute break between lectures and I checked my phone and I saw that Papa called a few times and left a voicemail. The voicemail just asked me to call back but in a tone that was wrong. I called him back and the news was just a bit hard to process especially as I needed to give another lecture right then. It happened during their rush hour and no one knows why so far. Some think it might be the government opposition or even the government itself to distract from the insane economic situation where price have gone up 50% lately. No one had claimed responsibility. It just breaks my heart. It’s my city. I was born there. I lived almost thirteen years of my life there. I was just there in June. Every time I think about it, my chest tightens. My family is all ok, Mama called them as soon as she heard and I emailed my friend Sveta to make sure she was fine. But it doesn’t matter. It is my city. Who gets up in the morning and thinks that killing innocent people makes any sort of statement.

I still need to write about my day but everything just seems to pale.

In the morning I finished writing the lecture on the Mongols and their Empire in the 13th century. Most of it I’m learning myself and it is actually fun to do that. I then finished the Powerpoint as well. I started the lecture the night before but I knew I had some time in the morning. Then I gave that lecture in the afternoon. I think it went well. I gave my students time in class to read the Muslim perspective of the destruction of Baghdad so we could discuss it. That way I got some participation. I started writing down who talks too, and told them this, which got many to talk too. The most amusing moment of discussion was when one girl brought up Disney’s “Mulan” and how Mongols were portrayed in it and what it meant for their reputation.

Somehow the account of the horrors stuck with me; when I went to write my corresponding Methos drabble, that is what I focused on. This drabble fic, with one drabble for every lecture, each representing a period in history seen through Methos’ eyes, will be interesting to look back on and proofread in May, since it is fun to see what in each lecture struck me personally.

During my reliable lunch of chicken fajita wrap I also grade the quizzes for one of the sections. I really need to grade their Paper 1 this weekend.

Today was just a warm summery day. All students were out tanning and playing in the main quad.

House S7E19 )

Girls get to puberty faster. Doctors are not sure why? Really? And it has nothing to do with our food and air and and all the chemicals in our systems? Somehow I find it sad. Developing breast by 7? Sad. 15% of American girls start to hit puberty at 7. And for black girls it is 23%. That is full five years younger than it was for me and I was pretty average in my time.
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This morning, right before I woke up I had that sensation of holding an object in my hand while I knew my hand was empty. This time it was a phantom apple. My brain knew logically that I was still sort of sleeping and there wasn’t an apple but I felt I had one in my hand down to the curve of the top stem. Only when I flexed my hand that illusion faded, just like I knew it would. This happened before occasionally and that is always a weird illusion.

Leverage S3E14-16 )

Burn Notice S4E17-18 )

There were riots with police in Minsk today because of people protesting fraud in the latest election. Not that it would do any good. (Watching “Leverage” episode about elections and riots was a bit surreal.)

23 Sivan/5 June, 2010

Saturday, June 5th, 2010 10:00 pm
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Today was a really really long day. 31 hours with time change overall. And, on top of that, I barely slept the night before. We got up at 3am and were ready pretty quickly to drive to the airport in two cars. I drove to airport with Sasha, we managed to fit all the luggage in his car, while my parents and my uncle went in my aunt’s car. The drive to the airport was my favorite time with Sasha in the whole two weeks, since we just chatted by ourselves for more than an hour.

We got to the airport way too early and had to wait awhile. It was very cold in the morning, I’m glad I had on my leather jacket. Finally, an hour before boarding, the registration opened. They couldn’t find Mama’s and mine ticket, they had only Papa’s, so we had to go to ticket counter to sort that out. Thankfully, that didn’t take long. We said goodbye to everyone and waited to go on the little bus to get us on the tarmac. The one hour plane ride to Moscow was really easy. And the landing was nice and soft. I was occupying myself my reading National Geographic I bought in New York – I read two articles from the May issue while in the airport and on the planes: an article on China-Tibet Tea Horse Road , and the Science of Sleep . I liked seeing the difference in sleep patterns between children, teenagers, adults and old people.

In Moscow, since flight from Minsk is considered a local flight due to special arrangement with Belarus, there were no customs or paper checking whatsoever. There wasn’t much on leaving Minsk either, I didn’t get a stamp in the passport that I was leaving Belarus. It reminded me of when I took the Eurostar from London to Paris and discovered upon arrival in Paris, that no one cares and we could just go anywhere. We took a local bus to Seremetevo 2 airport (international flights) and meet some traveling companions who also came from Minsk and were going to New York to visit their daughter. One had to have Russian money to take the bus, thankfully, Papa got some the day before.

We spent four hours at the airport: getting something to eat, shopping for some Moscow souvenirs, then going through security. The initial security near the registration was annoying because of lines that didn’t seem to go in order, and then we all had to go through body scanner – my first, which was a weird experience. It didn’t feel like invasion of privacy at all, just a bewildering thing to go through. Then we did a bit more shopping, I actually got some perfume. And then they blocked off our gate and did a hand search of persons and carry-ons for all travelers heading to New York. They said it was standard to planes heading to America.

Finally we got on the plane to spend ten hours in the air – that was a really long time especially since the movies were crappy. I watched one Russian comedy that was funny, at least. I can’t read that much on the plane. They fed us twice. Still, ten hours is a long time to just sit there. I wonder what the pilots do at that time. There was a long circling descent into JFK that lasted at least 20 minutes if not half an hour, and we arrived on time for our landing. Still we had to wait. On the entertainment system, in front of each seat, they turned on a camera to show where we were, and that actually made the circling seem worse. Finally, we landed and then had to wait some more for a slow taxi into our gate. The crew had to tell several times for people to take their seat since we were just stopping but not at the gate yet. After ten hours of sitting down, most people just wanted to go. I called Bear to tell him we landed but that it might take a while – he was waiting by his car in the parking lot. At least there was a quick turn around at the actual airport; it is good to be a US citizen – no fingerprinting and no picture taking. The luggage also came quickly.

Bear picked us up in his Mom’s SUV that had plenty of space for all the luggage. My ears can’t hear after I’ve been on the plane, so arriving is always a surreal experience. Plus I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours at this point, which is a little like being drunk. And first thing you feel upon arrival in New York in the summer is the humidity. We went from chilly whether to 80+ degrees with humidity. The trip home was pretty fast.

As soon as the luggage was inside Bear and I drove to get Chinese food for him (I wasn’t hungry and only took a bit of his chicken) and did a little mini shopping while we waited to pick up the food. All of this while really sleepy, tired and stuffed up ears.

We did a bit of unpacking after we got home and ate and I was showing some Minsk stuff to Bear, including giving him his presents. Mostly I was trying to stay awake so I could try to go to sleep at normal time; I went to sleep at 10pm after 26 hours of being awake – I could not keep my eyes open. Flying this time wasn’t as bad, though.
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This morning we went for the last walk in the center of the city. We saw Children’s theater and President’s palace (with absolutely no traffic around it), Karl Marx street – with plaques where famous writers lived . We also saw the history department of Belarusian State University. I took a picture next to it. It was still very warm this morning and that area has very beautiful buildings.

By the time we got to “Stolitsa” mall in center square this was the picture: the red church was on the right, Lenin statue was on the left and in the middle was the darkest cloud with approaching pouring rain. We got to the mall just in time. We went shoe shopping there. I got two pairs for sandals, one light blue, one brown. For $24 and $28 there were pretty cheap too and I figure that I might as well get the shoe shopping over with since I really don’t like it. I don’t linger over shoes, I pick fast, I try on, I’m ready to go. I got my fill of it today as my parents went to several other shoe stores to find white shoes for Papa. They were unsuccessful in their quest. Meanwhile, I found the first place to sit in each store, and I made a list of TV shows to watch when I get back that I missed in the last two weeks.

Finally, it was time to eat. We went to the same place where we ate twice before but it wasn’t as tasty this time. But we did get ice-cream afterward and I for my Eskimo ice-cream with yellow, lemon, cover. Mama bought cake and we went home. We had to run a little in the rain. It got colder too. We also had to walk home from the metro under one flimsy umbrella. It was easier to just walk under the rain.

After I took a nap in the afternoon, Papa and I walked to our old building again and even peeked at our door. (Papa met someone in the courtyard of our building earlier who recognized him and told him that some drunks live in our apartment now.) We took a trolleybus back.

Sasha copied all photos – mine, Katya’s, Uncle Tolya’s onto a DVD. Very convenient for me. Sveta and Lika came over. We had a table in the living room full of food. Lika ate only kolbasa – she likes meat. She also drew later with crayons, really well too. We said goodbye to them. Sveta needs to get on Skype more. I will miss her a lot.

We are trying to go to sleep earlier since we have to wake up at 3am to get to the airport by 5 for our flight at 7am. (Mama always likes to leave too early for flights). Tomorrow will be a really long day.

I started Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors.” I read the story in the introduction called “The Wedding Present” and the story called “Chivalry” that has Mrs. Whitaker as a main character and she found a Holy Grail in a antique shop and Galaad tries to buy it off her. Also I read a twisted perspective on Santa called “Nicholas Was.” I just love Gaiman’s short stories. Much more than even his longer works. He has nice twists and interesting ideas that stick in your head. Hopefully, it will keep me busy on the 10 hour plane ride tomorrow, although I’m sometimes too nervous to read on planes.

This is the last of my entries from my handwritten journal. Everything from now on comes from little notes I take each day.

21 Sivan/3 June, 2010

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 11:00 pm
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We are packing already. I’m ready to go home, these two weeks passed quickly. I will be sad to leave, it has been a really good vacation. Next time I would really love to show Bear the place.

This morning we separated and while Mama took the metro to go shopping again, Papa and I took a trolleybus to visit our schools. First #16, my school where I transferred in fifth grade and where I was studying until we moved to America at the end of seventh grade. It, like Papa’s school, used it be a school specializing in math (and physics), now, as it was explained to us in Papa’s school, there are no more specializing schools. They let us go inside my school and we walked on the first and second floors, being extra quiet with exams were still in progress. (The school year ends at the end of May, June is just for exams for 9th and 11th graders.) Everything is exactly like I remember it – all the hallways. The smell is different, though, probably because most students are done for the year.

Then we took a metro to Papa’s school and walked inside it too – he showed me some classrooms. Then we walked through Gorky Park and VDMKh building where there is still a book market. (Papa used to sell books at the book markets as a hobby when I was little, he would get them on his business trips, and I would sometimes help sell them. He only recognized one person now who still sells there.) I bought a cross-stitch kid of a bear sitting on a toilet reading a book. That was just perfect.

It was too hot to be in the book market for very long. There are no air conditioners in most places here, since it doesn’t get too hot that much, but today was a really hot day - 30C at least, even hot by New York standards. When Papa went to buy us ice-cream, there were very few brands left – everyone was cooling off how they could.

My feet were already tired by the time we got to Katya’s but we all left to go eat at that fast food place – I got draniki again, I’m feasting on them while I’m here – and then we walked toward Pushkin monument. Then we rested at Katya’s again before we went home while Katya and Lenya come over there a bit later to say goodbye, since Katya is working tomorrow.

I got an email from Graduate Chair with a schedule for me which I think will help me finally finish my frelling dissertation.

I showed Katya my Vermont photos before Aunt Vera, Sasha, Katya, my parents and I had a big dinner on a special living room table that only gets taken out on special occasions (I spend almost every new year at that table when I was little). Lenya was throwing a bit of a fit in the other room about not being allowed to go play outside alone with a friend, so he missed dinner. After dinner, Katya and I went through the whole Minsk book that Tanya gave to me yesterday and looked at all the pictures – that is one awesome book. We could even see Katya’s windows from the air shot in one picture. We said goodbye to Katya, which was sad to do. She said that she would come to New York for my wedding, once I have one. Should I count it in my game? It is really sad to say all these goodbyes.

I finally finished “Dune” today. I feel really sorry for Princess Irulan – why does she deserve that fate – to be a wife in name only because she is just a political pawn and a way for Paul to gain the throne. The book was alright in prose and general culture feeling but the plot and the characters just bugged me. No sequels for me. I will start on Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors,” a short story collection next.

20 Sivan/2 June, 2010

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 11:00 pm
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Happy Birthday to me!

It is my birthday – my favorite day of the year. And it was truly a very happy birthday. I couldn’t fall asleep last night since palpitations decided to make themselves known and, I guess, I was a bit worried for today, but they were manageable again by morning and it all turned out well. And the weather started out rainy and by 11am for all blue skies and sunny and about 28C (82F) and very hot, just my kind of weather.

I woke up and read a bit until my parents woke up, pulled my ears and gave me lots of presents. Mama got me a pearl necklace from Novica, the same type as I got Sveta only in my stone. Papa got me a Russian biography of Catherine the Great and printouts of the presents waiting for me at home including a Soviet Moscow Olympics coin for the year of my birth, W. Somerset Maugham’s “Theatre,” soundtrack to “(500) Days of Summer,” and Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution Cookbook” (Uncle Tolya mentioned that he is on TV in Belarus too). I also opened Bear’s card, that he gave me before I left, and it was perfect: he found one with a polar bear holding flowers with a big heart and inside Bear wrote a mushy message.

In the kitchen were three white-pink roses with a card and diamond-shaped pendant with a blue stone from my Aunt’s whole family. I wore it today with my violet summer shirt.

picture of my roses )

After a breakfast of omelet, we left under umbrella’s for Katya’s to pick them up to go to Park Gorkogo or Gorky Park. That part has lots of amusement rides for kids and it was always a favorite of mine. Not to mention the trees and woods are pretty too. So I saved the excursion there until my birthday. And that was loads of fun. We walked to it along the river back first and through another leafy park. Rain stopped by the then and it was a lovely walk with not a lot of people around. We got to Gorky Park right after 10:30, walked toward the rides and waited until 11 for the rides to open (you pay per ride). This is what we did:

• Bumper cars – I was going pretty fast there. Papa skipped this time. Still this one is always fun
• Ferris Wheel – not as scary as it used to be since the cabins are now fully closed. Well, one can go in one where you are just strapped in and your feet dangle but that is too scary for me. I’m not great with certain heights. Was still a bit scary going up even in a closed cabin, not as much going down. The view was amazing, though. Mama skipped this one.
• Swan ride – Mama and Lenya went on this one. A circular ride and you control how high the swan goes.
• Helicopter ride – Katya and Lenya this time. Same principle as the swan but smaller.
• Shooting range – Mama, I, Katya and Lenya all shot from this shooting rifle. We all had five shots, Mama a bit more. I missed all. Mama hit at least three targets, Lenya hit one and came close a few times (and that is with his not brilliant vision).
• Toilet – fun ride into Soviet times with a hole in the ground design and the privilege of paying for it.
• Fun house – Katya, Lenya and I went in a small room filled with fun mirrors. We had an awesome time. I liked the abstract mirror and skinny mirror.
• Soap bubbles – I used to love it as a kid so naturally I got me and Lenya some. We both had loads of fun with it. I got big bubbles out of it and we would try to catch some too.
• Lunch – pancake with mushrooms – a light lunch because of the café later and anticipation of tons of food.
• Boat ride – Mama wanted to go so we all went. Saw baby ducks and some views.

view on the river )

At the end, around 2pm, we stopped by the tall Victory Memorial with the eternal flame outside the park and were trying to figure out how many hero-cities there actually are. We were counting too many on the display. ( I just looked it up – there are 12 plus Brest has a title of Hero-Fortress.) Then we all caught the metro home. Papa and I got out a stop early to exchange money and I stopped by “Thumbelina,” my childhood toy store. Then we walked home lamenting the heat.

I checked my email – Bear sent me an e-card as well with flowers, hug, cake and love and with a bear in it. I also chatted with Tjamke on Skype, which was fun.

Then I had to take a shower and get ready for the café and my party. My black dress that my parents gave me earlier is just awesome and very pretty. I wore my hair in a sort of low tail and put on my new pearl flower necklace, tan, stockings and heels. We left for the café a little early to find parking and we walked around the area a bit.

All guests arrived rather promptly at seven, which was surprising. We had ten adults and three kids. Tanya and Misha gave me a glass flower and an awesome book on history of Minsk. (The kids and I were examining it later – Lenya and I have love of books on common and it was great to relate to him looking at the book). Sveta gave me another beautiful set – a silver tray with a milk and sugar bowls, which I opened later at home.

The café itself was very nice. The food was very good - I got a steak – the music was perfect in that it wasn’t loud and we could have conversations, and our waiter Julia was lovely. I played with Lika a little. We took lots of pictures and stayed there for four hours. Misha sang for me and Lenya played a song for me on the piano. I has a really excellent day. If Bear were here it would have been perfect.

Oh, and something I didn’t anticipate: instead of marriage questions, I got all sorts of wishes to procreate and give me parents some grandchildren. (which would also solve their hovering problem, according to Katya). They all skipped the wedding part. Maybe I should have had a game about that.

Two more days here, I’m ready to go home. I think packing starts tomorrow. This is turning out into a really good vacation but I’m ready to go home to my life.

19 Sivan/1 June, 2010

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 11:00 pm
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I’m turning thirty in less than one hour. It is a bit surreal because it doesn’t feel like June yet. Tomorrow should be a fun day, though. I love birthdays, even one as daunting as this one.

This morning we went to the North cemetery again so Mama could visit my grandfather again. Aunt Vera went back to work this week, so we had to use public transport. We took a trolleybus and a bus and it took us about an hour in total. I finally took out my iPod during this trip – I haven’t listened to it since the first dacha visit. We didn’t stay long at the cemetery because a million mosquitoes tried to eat us all at once. It was still wet from all the rain, and they had a blast. After only a half an hour we were waiting to the bus again. This time it was bus, trolleybus and a metro to get to the center of the city.

We had lunch at the underground mall again. I had French-style meat and then stopped by a food store to get ice-cream (I wanted a vanilla covered in yellow lemon again but I got chocolate covered by chocolate by accident. We then walked through the center of the city to the main train station and the area there. Kirov street is wide and pretty.

Minsk pictures )

Then we walked to Katya’s and rested there for a bit and chatted with Katya who regaled us with stories of various train trips. Lenya was not in the mood for company and was a bit rude to his Mom and us.

We decided to finally stop by my first school, #136 where I was in grades 1-4 (equivalent to elementary school in US. In Soviet Union and then in all former republics, a student stays in one school and in one class all throughout school – grades 1 to 11. I just transferred to a specialized math school when I was in the fifth grade – which was unusual to do.) We got off Pushkin metro stop and went to all old store on Pritytskogo street (near to where I grew up). After a couple of stores, I went off to my school while my parents continued to look in more stores. The school was all freshly painted and renovated. I saw my old classroom on the ground floor and walked in to the front hall just to look around. It all looks pretty much the same inside, maybe smaller. The coat room where I once went home in a wrong coat was still there and all the hallways. I still remember the school plan very well in my head.

I then joined my parents at the sports store and I got Bear a T-shirt – dark blue with a Belarusian crest on it. On the way home, while my parents bought more food and I was waiting inside for them (since it was slightly raining) next to magazines. Out of boredom, I started looking at the magazines and I bought a cross stitch magazine with some great designs. Two caught my attention. One – a girl with a red violin and another of a woman in a modern art style. I think I found my future big project for when I feel up to tackling a big project again.

In the evening I had smoked salmon and salad. Called Bear. Talked to Sveta for an hour and a half on the phone. I also talked with Uncle Tolya a bit in the kitchen in the evening – it is a first time I’m relating to him as an adult really – last time I visited I was twenty-one and we lived in Katya’s apartment. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip, getting to know him as a person and not just an adult figure.

Tomorrow should be really warm, just the way I like it. And I get presents! That I like even more. My twenties were interesting – there are many food memories as well as not awesome ones, like being not well. But it was mostly good. I’m definitely in a very different place mentally that I was when I was twenty years old and when I look in the mirror now, an adult is looking back at me. I’m ready for my thirties.
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Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

I think by the Jewish calendar, it is my birthday today (but it isn’t yet by the solar calendar so I’m not recognizing it). Today is actually my grandfather’s birthday – he turned 83. Papa and I called him on Skype. He asked my grandmother to buy him a new apron as his present – he cooks in that family. Tomorrow will be the last day of my twenties, I will not give that up. :)

Vika named her daughter Iris. A very pretty name.

Today was rainy again – not a pouring rain, more drizzling here and there and it wasn’t cold or anything, just gloomy. And I was in a grouchy mood a lot because most of the day involved Papa and I waiting for Mama.

We left home at around 9:30 to go to a store on Tanka street for Mama to look for a summer jacket. It was to be a simple thing – store, shop, go operation – that turned into afternoon since the store only opened at 11. So we walked toward Yama (Holocaust memorial) instead. That sculpture is just so touching. I noticed more detail in it like a pregnant woman and her husband touching her belly. The rain was appropriate.

pictures of Yama memorial )

On the way back to the store, Mama noticed a hair salon and went to see how long it was until the next manicure appointment. It was really soon so we figured that it shouldn’t take a lot of time, so why not. Papa and I could go to a different store for a bit.

It took an hour. We went to a radio-technical store. We went to a little café and had a muffin and a cake dessert (it wasn’t all that good). And still we waited for Mama. I even looked into a movie theater to see all American movies on posters in Russian like “Sex in the Big City 2”.

movie posters in Russian )

And after that and more waiting, there was still jacket shopping. Mama bought two jackets in two neighboring stores. By the time she was done, it was 1pm. By the time we stopped by the bread store by the bread factory and left the stuff at Katya’s and then went for our first touristy destination of Troitsky suburb (old Minsk really), it was 2pm.

At Troitsky we found a nice place to eat lunch. I had draniki again with a special sauce and salad. I’m determined to eat as many potato pancakes as I can. The portion was enormous. It was very delicious and very filling. It restaurants here, they mostly cook pork for meat – I try to avoid it. But sometimes they put it inside the potato pancakes.

After lunch, it was time to go to the café where I will have my birthday party. We had to pre-order some things like appetizers and drinks so that it would already be on the table. We had a nice girl, Julia, helping us with the selection. There will be 10 adults and 3 children. The café is called “My dear.”

Then we stopped by the main church. There are homeless people there. Then we went back to Troitsky for a more thorough look. I found a honey jar shaped a bit like a bear – the lid had two bear ears and the jar had bear eyes and paws painted on it. It says “Myed” (Honey) on the back. It is very cute and I had to buy it. We also found a very original art gallery by Ostashov with fairy tales like sculptures. Very cool art.

Mama wanted to go to Nemiga store again, so Papa and I waited at Katya’s for a hour or so. I took Lenya’s “Belorussian fairy tales” book and his Belorussian schoolbook – much easier Belorussian to read.

In the evening, I mostly hung out with Mama and Aunt Vera in the kitchen. I was looking at Lenya’s English textbook too and in their version of Goldilocks story little Bear and Goldilocks become the best of friends once little Bear finds Goldilocks sleeping in his bed. Even Disney have not white washed this story so much yet.
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Today we took a road trip to Mir and Nesvizh, two small towns about 100km south of Minsk. There are old castles/houses there, both undergoing restoration and are now tourist sites. At the same time we got to enjoy the countryside (including cows and goats). Belarusian flora and landscape, especially on a sunny and warm (21C or 70F) day like today, is so painfully beautiful. Flat green fields and birches and other similar leafy trees are all very pretty. We also made an accidental detour into a village. In Mir, all village houses have TV satellite dishes, of course, so even the villages are thoroughly modern.

picture of a village )

We went on our trip in two cars. Car 1: Sasha, Aunt Vera, Uncle Tolya, Mama and Lenya. Car 2: Vitalik, Papa, Sveta, Lika and I.

First, we drove to Mir. Mir has beautiful castle exteriors. We took lots and lots of pictures but didn’t go inside since there is not much there yet. The town had many Jews at one time too. We tried to find the old synagogue but couldn’t. I got a souvenir for Adviser – something medievalish and a magnet for myself. We also walked to the main square.

pictures of Mir )

Lika was a trooper all day. With the promise of ice-cream, she walked everywhere (well, sometimes she rode on her papa’s shoulders), didn’t whine and generally behaved herself. She was not shy this time. She gave me her toys to hold in the car and she held my hand sometimes too as we walked.

We walked around Mir not for too long, and then we drove to Nesvizh. We had trouble finding a place to eat there as many cafes were booked for some reason. There were very many tourists. Finally, we found a restaurant at the center square and we had a wonderful lunch –salad, potatoes and fish (Papa and I had fish, others had pork). When the server was giving us options for what the restaurant had, she also, like others here, first asked how much we planned to spend. They were also surprised at our answer that price doesn’t matter. And it was all very cheap too. Papa paid only $40 for 10 people. Granted we didn’t have soup with our meal, as is traditional for dinner, but still, it was a nice deal.

After lunch, we walked to the castle grounds where old Radiwill family residence is slowly being restored. There, my parents, Aunt Vera, Sveta and I went on a tour while the rest walked the grounds. We listened in on some tour group guides. That place used to have a gigantic library and archives, which immediately sparked my interest. I love touring old houses, or mock ups of rooms and seeing how people lived. It is my favorite kind of tour. A house with a gigantic library sets my nerd heart aflutter. After the tour, we joined the rest of our party and walked in the local park and a neighboring church. Both were also very pretty. We heard and saw lots of toads. Then we had some ice-cream at the end of our trip. Sasha ended up having two since Lenya had an upset stomach and didn’t want his, very sensibly.

Nesvizh pictures )

As Vitalik drove us home, he drove is through Dubki (a local neighborhood with lots of oak trees, where Sveta and I used to go sledding as kids). The streets were super narrow with all the parked cars.

At home I had some pelmeni (dumplings) that Aunt Vera made for dinner and called Bear and my grandfather. Then we looked at Uncle Tolya’s photos of the day. Then at my old photos from my flash drive. We showed them pictures of our Vermont trip from last year, New Year and even old Halloween pictures. I should probably clean up my flash drive a bit.

Then, in the evening, I had some tea and Uncle Tolya, Lenya and I watched a humor parody program on tv that had mockery of Harry Potter, gangster films of the 90s, a song parody of “I want to be with you” by Nautilius Pompilus” about a car and others. It was pretty funny. My favorite joke included Voldemort exclaiming about his broken wand “Made in China. I knew it!” Today was a really fun weekend day.

16 Sivan/29 May, 2010

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 11:00 pm
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Papa and I woke up early all ready to go to the book market. Sasha was supposed to pick us up at 7:30 but he was late and not answering his cell phone. Papa said immediately that he was asleep after having a bit to drink but Aunt Vera was adamant that he was always punctual and doesn’t drink too often. There was a bit of a worry panic between Aunt Vera and Katya as more and more time passed. They called his friends including a cop friend of his. Finally, after an hour Sasha called. Papa was right. He had a little to drink and went to sleep late and missed twenty two phone calls right by his ear. Finally, at 8:45, he picked us up and we drove to Katya’s where we picked up Katya and Lenya and went to the book market. (Sasha got to hear many lectures the whole day on not stressing his mother and sister).

As soon as we got to the book market, Papa immediately met a classmate of his. I found Kir Byluchev’s (my favorite sci-fi writer) early Alice stories for about $3 and got two copies – one for Misha and one for Lika. I also found an encyclopedia about animals for Lika and a children’s fairy tale book for Bear that includes “Masha and the Bear,” a tale of slavery and outwitting your captor, and “Three Bears,” a tale of a break-in and the thief and wrecker of furniture not being punished. Papa bought a bunch of books for himself and three for Lenya. Lenya is obsessed with the War of 1812 (the one where Napoleon invades Russia) at the moment.

After the book fair we went to Misha’s ‘lineika.’ This is a ‘last bell’ ceremony for 11th graders (last grade in Russian schools), some 9th grades (who can go to technical schools after exams and not to 10, 11 grade if they want) and where first graders are present for contrast. Misha just finished first grade. It was all pretty cute. I can’t believe that this graduating class was born when I left for America. There was a little girl dance group that was very age appropriate (unlike that “single ladies” video storming the internet), I gave Misha his book as a present.

Then we picked up Katya again (we dropped her at home to get some chores done), and left for dacha. We bought some ice-cream on the way. We had a delicious lunch, once we got there, of potatoes with mushrooms and salad and delicious shish-kebabs that were even better than last week. We then relaxed a bit as I finished the monkey cross stitch and Katya was making something with a hook.

Later Sasha, Katya, Lenya and I went to Kurgan Slavy (Hill of Glory, a WWII memorial – where four soviet armies joined before driving Germans out of Belarus). When we parked, some guy named Misha asked Sasha for a ride to check on order for some sort of party going on there. He left us his documents for security (he is a border guard at the airport). Sasha makes friends at the strangest places. After he got back (we passed the time with the tanks at the bottom of the hill), we climbed up Kurgan Slavy – it was drizzling a bit and windy, but the view on top is awesome. We counted about 250 steps.

Kurgan Slavy pictures )

We stayed at dacha until 7:30pm, relaxed, went for a walk in a real forest. The air there is just so rich and a bit wood smoky. Really wonderful air. We got home by 8:30 and it was still bright outside – at this time of year the sun rises very early and sets really late, we are north enough for a very short night. We called grandparents. Then we watched a little of Eurovision – about nine songs before we went to sleep. Eurovision is so popular in Europe and it is hard to believe that America really doesn’t know or care about it. So far out of nine songs, I like Spain. Belarus was ok - voices and costumes were really good but the song was a bit boring.
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My feet are much better after a day in other shoes. I will need sneakers tomorrow but hopefully my feet won’t complain too much.

This morning we drove to a supermarket to get alcohol for my birthday party and to get food. It was a real huge supermarket, definitely not something I saw as a kid. I changed $20 too. We went to the fur store next (well, it was the story for hats that also had fur coats), and after a bit of trying on coats, I bought myself a new fur coat for about $450. There was a nicer blue one that I liked a lot but it was too tight. My Aunt bought that one. Mine has a hood and cute decorations. Mama didn’t like it as much as another one but I loved it and so did Papa and Aunt Vera. It was my purchase (and my credit card) so it was my call. I really didn’t plan to buy a coat nor did I really want a new one since my winter coat is super warm, but my old coat is ten years old and does not look very impressive, and it is a bit cheaper to buy in Belarus and my grandparents are giving me money for my birthday. So overall, I bought a new coat and it is soft and fuzzy.

After that we went to Katya’s where Aunt Vera and Mama went shopping for the day, thankfully alone, and Papa, Lenya and I went to the WWII museum. I love that museum. I became a pioneer there so it holds special memories. I really liked the exhibits on the advancing Nazi troops into Belarus, evacuations, partisan (guerrilla) units, deaths in occupation and a room dedicated to Masherov. They are building a new site for the museum so next time I will visit, this building will be gone.

I’m getting oriented in the center of the city again. I’m remembering where everything is and how to walk there. This took about a week. After the museum, Papa wanted to check out some buildings and then we went to PatioPizza, an Italian restaurant at the center of the city. We sat inside and got Gifts of Sea pizza and Mexican Pizza for Lenya (he doesn’t like fish or mushrooms). We also got a basic pizza for free because we had a child with us. The pizza was decent, but, of course, I had better.

Lenya was very shy throughout the excursion. He would answer questions on the basic level but would not really talk that much. He is still adjusting to us. I wish we had more time here. We also stopped by a store or two to get some souvenirs and Lenya’s magazine (100 Great Russians – a weekly magazine- Feodor Dostoyevsky today). And then we went home to wait for Mama and Aunt Vera to get back from shopping. Meanwhile, I listened to a gory program on TV about Gogol’s death and I was cross-stitching. Then we went home to get ready for the theater.

I read a weecap for “SYTYCD”. I’m just missing the audition episodes. Watching that show feels like summer.

We went to see Gerhart Hauptmann’s play “Before Sunset” with Rostislav Yankovsky – he a big actor name. He is over 80 and he carried the play on his shoulders which was very impressive. I really liked the acting. I didn’t really like the music or style of the production or the play itself very much, though. The plot is about a 70 year old widower who gets involved with a very young woman and how his four children and children’s spouses can’t deal with it. (“Copenhagen” remains my favorite non-Shakespearian play that I saw live.) Papa sat right under the air conditioner and he got really cold so tea was in store for us all when we got home. The play was in the Russian theater (former synagogue). I used to go there often as a kid since Sasha’s and Katya’s other grandmother worked there in the wardrobe and we would get in for free.

picture of the play )
Tomorrow – book market. We are getting up early.

14 Sivan/27 May, 2010

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 11:00 pm
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My brain feels different here. Surrounded by Russian, I’m thinking in Russian again and just generally my mind set seems different a bit.

My feet hurt. New sneakers, one week of lots of walking – not a great combination. By 3pm all my feet wanted was to rest. Tomorrow will be easier day and different shoes.

In the morning, we were all a bit sluggish getting out of the house but at least the weather improved – sunny and no longer cold. I’m still wearing a leather jacket, but it is much better. We took a metro to “Academia Nauk” (Academy of Sciences) to visit my parent’s university. Some of their professors still teach thirty years later. On our way to Botanical Gardens, Mama stopped by a shoe store much to my and Papa’s chargin. At least I saw a really cool building while waiting for her.

picture of cool building )

Botanic Gardens themselves were as pretty as I remember. I took lots of pictures. I do need to ration taking pictures since I still a prehistorically tiny memory card on my camera – and I really need to get a new camera soon anyway.

pictures of Botanic Garden )

We then went to Park Cheluskintsev. There was this terrible restroom there where we had to pay about 20c to use (they gave us some napkins then to use). Very old school soviet union there. Mama did some shooting at the shooting gallery at the amusement part of the park – she got two out of five. We then rode the bumper cars, although in Belarus this is called “autoracing” and bumping is actually expressly forbidden. We just drive as fast as we can in a circle. I did manage to still bump my knee a bit. When I was little, this was my favorite ride. Papa would buy enough tickets to go for three rides in a row and there used to be huge lines to get in.

After the park, we took a metro to Independence Square – the central square in the city with the government buildings. The Metro is still called Lenin Square after its former name, and the station comes complete with a sculpture of Lenin. A giant sculpture of Lenin still stands in front of the government building. We had lunch at a café at the new underground shopping center under the square. It was fast food style but with real food and big portions since dinner is served in the afternoon. I got sausage and mashed potatoes and salad. What amused me is that there was a contest for the best tile-master in the mall.

Then Mama went shoe shopping and Papa and I went up to the square proper to see the new fountain. I stopped by the red Catholic church that is a big part of the square (during the Soviet times the church was converted to an archive, now it is a church again) and I bought a calendar and a little plate with St Mary for Bear’s grandmother.

picture of the Red Church )

I hung around the square a bit and then Papa and I went to the main post office to buy some collectible stamps. Mama still shopped. My feet were really hurting so I dragged Mama out of shops and went to Katya’s. Papa bought ice-cream. Aunt Vera got me a really pretty dress – red with while polka dots summer dress. While Mama and Aunt Vera and Lenya went to Lenya’s music school and to research cafes for my birthday party, I cross-stitched and Papa and I watched TV (we were too tired to walk anywhere). We caught the end of “Legally Blond.” (it was dubbed, of course, most foreign stuff is dubbed. Subtitles are used very rarely). And then we watched their sci-fi channel which had a tail end of “Smallville,” second episode of “Heroes” and a beginning of “Star Trek: TNG”. All TV in English is dubbed as well and it is funny to listed to the familiar voices in dubbed form. I can’t believe there was “Star Trek.” And, of course, I could identify the season and episode by the opening scene. Dubbing of title sequence was especially hilarious since instead of stately Patrick Stewart voice you get not as stately actor.

Once Mama came home, we drove home. My feet were grateful for the break. I talked to Sveta a bit and had tea. I had to compose an email to Advisor so that took a bit of time. One of my documents wouldn’t attach, so I had to improvise. Then I called Bear for a bit. My feet were grateful for a hot shower too. For tomorrow and Saturday we have an easier plan at work for our feet.

13 Sivan/26 May, 2010

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 11:00 pm
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My cousin Vika had a little girl yesterday – congratulations to her!

It is rainy again and cold. Here the sky is blue in one part and them another part is gray cloud and rain. It was alternating like this all day.

I had eggs for breakfast for once. Papa made them for me.

My feet are really tired from all the walking in the past week. I have new sneakers too, which I don’t think helps. Today, first we took a metro to Yakub Kolas station to another general store and did a bit of random shopping. We saw a magnifying glass that was only $2, for example. I also bought lipstick and blue eye shadow. Lipstick was only $2 as well, much better than $14 in New York.

After the store we went to Komarovskiy Rynok – a big covered market (there is uncovered seasonal fruit and vegetable section too. The prices here are lower and it is a bit like farmer’s market). We got some kolbasa and cheese and had nice baked goods. Papa bought honey as well. My camera batteries died just before we got there, so no more pictures the whole day. I forgot to bring my extra batteries, they were in my bag at home.

We took the trolleybus to Nemiga and dropped all the shopping at Katya’s before we went to Belarus fast food place where we ate yesterday and got lunch. I had fried potatoes and a chicken cutlet and salad this time. It was ok, nothing special. Still, I’m eating as much potatoes as I can while I’m here.

We walked up to Komsomolskaya street to Karl Mark street to the National History Museum. We bought tickets to all exhibition rooms including the special collections. (The tickets are sold separately, in case people want to just see one room or two, or don’t have money for the whole thing. It cost us $4 per person and the museum sales person did ask us first how much money we were planning on. We were being extravagant. ) We saw ancient artifacts room that included Neolithic stuff and the first printing press. Then we went to see the special collection of Medieval Torture Devices. Well, it was actually late Early Modern Period torture devices, but “Medieval” looks better on the poster. Gruesome, cool display. There was mannequins to illustrate various tortures. I also learned that when a head is cut off, it still lives from a few seconds to a minute. That is just awful. We also saw a room of paintings about the Battle against Teutonic Knights (knights lost eventually). There was also lots of stuff about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Belarus was part of that for a while) including awesome family trees going back 500 years, modern fashions, photographs and musical instruments and such from a century ago and a room of uniforms and weapons of the twentieth century.

After the museum – my legs were already killing me – we stopped by a book store where I bought a map of Belarus and a map of Minsk, postcards for grandparents, a book in Belorussian and a Russian-Belorussian dictionary. And a notebook that teaches first graders how to write in Russian for Bear. After seeing Belorussian everywhere, I figured I need a bit of a recap in it (I had Belorussian language and literature in school from third to seventh grades). I get the easy stuff like street signs and announcements on trains but literature is hard. Plus, it will be cool to have another dictionary. Papa recommended Bykov as a good Belorussian writer (he also translates his own work in to Russian, which we have at home). I tried reading some of it in the evening – I definitely need a dictionary. I can read easier children’s prose mostly with no problem.

Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian are three Slavic languages that are very similar in a lot of ways. Vocabulary is at times different but a lot of basic grammar rules are the same. Most people in Minsk speak Russian from birth, Belorussian is mostly spoken in villages. Since 1992 there is a bit of more of a movement to revive it and a language on the same level with Russian. Now Belarus has two official languages: Belorussian and Russian but all the signs are in Belorussian. It is not too hard to learn one if you know another but it is still a different language. Belorussian is a bit of a mixture in vocabulary between Russian, Polish and Ukrainian.

My parents also bought so much candy at the candy store. I keep eating little cakes all the time here, since they are so delicious.

While we were waiting for Katya, before going home, Mama and I stopped by Lidia Soveilevna’s apartment. Her view is just amazing – looking toward the river and the center of the city.

Mama went for her cosmetology appointment at 5:30pm while we went home and Aunt Vera fixed us dinner of venegret (salad from beats) and pickles and kolbasa. Then it was time for my own appointment. They didn’t have facials but they had face masks and I got one of those. It was very relaxing and everything. I felt very fancy.

In the evening we were too tired to go anywhere so we just hung out at home. Sasha only paid for the internet after nine, so I could only call Bear at ten. He already finished the latest Dresden Files book I gave them so we discussed Harry Dresden for a bit.

12 Sivan/25 May, 2010

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 11:00 pm
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A weird day.

I woke up early, went back to sleep, got up at 8:30 this time. Day is rainier than yesterday and cold (yesterday, it got warmer in the afternoon). I finished Part II of “Dune” this morning and then went to have breakfast. Nothing unusual so far.

We took the car to the new National Library. It is a pretty cool building. The tours only started after 1pm – so, hopefully, we will come back at a later date. But that is definitely one thing I would love to do – and I want to see the archives room. There is a monument to Francisk Skarina in front of the library – he introduced the printing press into Belarus and is one of great people in history of literature here.

Library Pictures )

We, then, drove to a new church. It is still not finished inside but outside it is grand and pretty. (There were some churches in the Soviet Union when I was little, but not many went there, and some were converted to archives or theaters. Now there is a resurgence of religion and more churches, both Orthodox and Catholic are being built.) Right next to it is a wooden church – we went in there. Mama bought some souvenirs. While we waited for her, we watched a priest bless a car outside – with holy water, prayer and everything. That was quite amusing.

Priest blessing Car pictures )

Then we drove through the streets of Minsk. Again, I feel like I’m in a brand new city – there are some familiar things but not as many. We parked near Katya’s and went up for a brief stop. Uncle Tolya went home to go to work. Papa and I went to change some money while Mama and Aunt Vera went to the store. This is where I started to feel very weak. No palpitations, just general sense of weakness and tiredness. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was walking too much in the last few days since I was sitting on my behind too much in the past month, or my blood pressure just fell – but I was not up for much for the rest of the afternoon.

The money exchange person didn’t take one of my $20 because it was torn a tiny bit on one end.

I got some hematogen (it has iron in it but it tasted like candy) and Papa and I got some lunch in hopes of restoring some strength. That did help a little. I had draniki with meat and sour cream and a new fast food place (except they cook pretty regular food in the back) – it was very delicious. Meanwhile, Mama managed to try on and buy a fur coat. I didn’t feel up to anything and I knew I had to rest since we had to go to the opera that evening. So Papa and I went to Katya’s to rest while Mama and Aunt Vera shopped for a fur hat. I napped just a bit until Lenya came home from school with a few friends. Then I cross-stitched. I still felt weak but a bit better. Papa made me some tea with sweets. Then Mama and Aunt Vera came back (and Papa went to pay for the hat) and we left for home. When we got home I took a really long nap for at least an hour and a half. After the nap I felt much better.

I took a nice hot shower (the hot water finally kicked in) and used my new robe – very handy. I had some tea with kolbasa sandwich. I felt human again. I finally was able to talk to Bear by phone through Skype – modern technology is awesome. Then I got ready for the opera. I wore my black pants and a purple shirt.

Opera House pictures )
At the opera house, we saw Misha and Tanya and Tanya’s mother right away. They got tickets separately and it just happened that it was on the same night. Misha is just adorable and he smiles a lot. I wish we could spend more time with them. I did invite them to my birthday party, of course.

We saw Verdi’s “Nabucco” in four acts. I’ve never seen it before and I was actually surprised by the plot – it is about Assyrian invasion of Judea and the destruction of the First Temple. Jews are portrayed in a very positive light here. Of course, the ending in the opera was a happy ending – the Babylonian King accepts Judaism! The whole destruction and exile are sort of ignored there. Still, an opera about Jews as heroes and playing in Belarus to high acclaim is very cool. We sat in the third row center. They also used projection and other state of the art new technologies in the opera – in the prologue we see tourists on stage who laugh as people praying at the Western Wall, through magic of projection we see a globe spinning and they are sent backwards in time to be the characters in the opera and learn to respect the religion and traditions, so they don’t giggle and disrespect it. (Never mind that men and women would never come near the wall together). I did like the use of technology and projection. The main woman villain, Abigail, was great – at singing and in good nuanced portrayal of the character.

We got the program before the opera started and as I was reading it, I completely did not expect the following line (in English on translated page) “And the King was struck by lightning and turned into a werewolf, surrounded by ghosts with bloody rain pouring down.” That was awesome on many levels even as in the actual opera he merely goes crazy.

My watch battery finally gave in today after five years, my uncle replaced it – he is crazy about watches and clocks. It is kind of good that it happened here.
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Woke up after six, looked back at the clock and went back to sleep until eight. I’m bringing my sleep patterns back to normal.

This morning we went to the cemeteries – first, North Cemetery Gate 2 for Aunt Lucy (Sveta’s Mom who died tragically six years ago at the age of 50 and was Mama’s good friend). It took a bit of wandering to find the right plot, we even consulted the map at the front. We left flowers there and then drove to Gate 1 for my grandfather’s grave. The tree there grew very tall. My grandfather died pretty young too in 1978 so I never knew him. After Mama cleaned up and visited we went to find the grave of our California relative’s father. We knew the right section number but it took a bit of searching before I finally spotted the hardly visible letters of his last name. We took a picture to send to him. The morning was cold and rainy, and even as the rain stopped before we got to the cemetery, the ground was still wet. The place closely resembles a forest, much more than American cemeteries so my shoes got wet too. (Well, I figured out that my sneakers are not really waterproof for walking in wet grass.)

After a visit to the North Cemetery, Aunt Vera and Uncle Tolya dropped us off at Moscovskoye cemetery where my father’s grandmother is buried. There was a cool computer system by the entrance that shows who is buried where and gives a convenient map. We found our California relative’s mother’s grave easily using it – which I don’t think we would have without this computer. Nine years ago, Papa and I searched for a hour to find my great-grandmother Fanya’s grave. There is a new stone on it now. This cemetery also has graves of famous people, writers and politicians – so we looked a bit at those too.

After all the visits, which took up the whole morning, we took a Metro to Kastrychnenskaya to the city center. All the metro stops and announcements are now in Belarusian. Metro still looks ridiculously pretty with all the marble and it still smell the same (the train smell, still familiar after so many years away).

Papa wanted to try McDonalds here to compare – he thought the products should be tastier here, made of local ingredients. I haven’t had a Big Mac in four years (there only thing I get at McDonalds now are ice-cream and hash browns) but I got it now. It all tastes exactly the same. Hopefully, he got it out of his system so now I could just have Belarusian food – like more potatoes.

After lunch, we went shopping at the a sort of Russian mall, with a little bit of everything. I bought two little notebooks and a planner that every schoolchild uses (it also records grades and parents have to sign it every week). This dnevnik (or ‘daily’) is in Belarusian now too with national anthem on the inside cover. I bought a little owl for Marianna, Russian Tarot cards for Medusa, and a Minsk magnet and a city coat of arms magnet for myself. Papa also saw a cross-stitch kit of a monkey with a banana which I bought to make for him. I might buy some Russian theme cross-stitch later.

Then we walked to Nemiga street – it is a shorter walk than I remember – and went to the store there. (Mama loves shopping, Papa and I not so much but a little shopping must be done). I got two pencil cases for Kid and her brother and I found the robe I liked at Katya’s the night before –one with a zipper and no sleeves. We ran into a girl who was with us on a plane to Minsk. I also bought napkins and table cover in traditional design with “Minsk” written on it in Belarusian for Bear’s parents. And I saw a teatowel with polar bears with a big heart and love written on it – which I just had to get too. It was very very hot in the store and my parents still wanted to do a bit more shopping, so I took our big bags of purchases and went to Katya’s apartment a minute away. I started my monkey cross-stitch there. It is very small and I want to finish it here.

Then we took the Metro to Aunt Vera’s. Mama went to get a manicure and Papa and I went home to eat. Once Mama got back we went for a walk to our old neighborhood. We went through our yard to a local grocery store. The design is the same, there is just more food. The bread is in the same place. Then we passed my old kindergarden/day care and crossed to the corner of Pushkin street. We were too tired to walk all the way back so we took a trolleybus.

Tried calling Bear, couldn’t reach him. He did write a nice long email though. I’m walking a lot again, I do like that but my feet hurt nicely. I watched a bit of History Chanel with my Uncle once my parents went to sleep - Japan was signing a treaty on “Missouri” to end WWII – and also a bit of British version of “Who Do You Think You Are.” That was kind of fun.
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Woke up at 7 this time. I had breakfast with Aunt Vera. It was nice to talk to her and hearing her talk about her life. She is always very positive.

Sveta, her husband Vitalik and their four years old daughter Lika (pronounced Lee-ka, short for Angelika) came over at 9:30. They gave us a beautiful gift - small cups for wine on a special stand (if you pour into the top cup, it will pour into ones on lower level). We gave them their gifts. Lika was extra shy and clinging to her mom, since there were so many strange people looking at her. She is a very cute little girl.

After we chatted a bit, Sasha and I left with Sveta and her family on our excursion while my parents went to the city center. We went to Belarusian national open-air museum of architecture and everyday life at Strochitsy. It wasn’t really a long drive, it was close to the city. This museum reflects the life in Belarusian villages in 19th-early 20th century. Buildings like traditional village houses, barns, churches, mills were moved there along with many traditional tools, furniture and other things from everyday life. The idea is to have eight clusters of buildings from all regions of Belarus. Right now there are three, with a tour guide talking about the first cluster and then we could wonder around the others. First a tour guide (who could have talked in Belarusian, and English but we, of course, preferred Russian) showed us a barn and explained that part of village life.

barn 1

barn 2

There was also a schoolhouse with a room for a teacher attached to the building. I really liked the alphabet display.

school house

Then we saw a church. It was a Unitarian church – joint Orthodox and Catholic one – since Belarus went from Poland and Lithuania (Catholic) to Russia (Orthodox) with some Protestants mixed in all the time and people were of both denominations. I actually didn’t know much about at least 200 hundred years of active Unitarianism in Belarus (that began in the 19th century).

Unitarian Church

Then we saw three village houses – a poorer Orthodox one and a richer Catholic one – the difference is reflected in the icon decorations in one corner of the room. Orthodox have just one. Houses were full of decoration and furniture that the guide explained had to be in a certain place. The table, for example, couldn’t be moved. She also explained why the entrance to the house was so low – so people would automatically bend over when they enter the house to respect the spirits. The tour guide was a nice young girl, who graduated with a history major for the university.

Orthodox House

living quarters

We got the special tour of the mill, where we climbed to the upper floors and she showed us how everything worked. It was a really nice tour.

We then walked around other clusters of buildings – those had houses that were built with a courtyard in the Russian style instead of a line in Belarusian style. I bought a little magnet and a sheep whistle made with ‘ancient’ clay technique. It was just nice to hang out all together and Lika was very interested in everything and never complained.


We had lunch at their traditional Belarusian restaurant there – so to keep with the traditional theme we got draniki (potato pancakes) and kvas (fermented non-alcoholic beverage). Sasha and Sveta had beer and I tried a bit of that too. Draniki were with mushrooms and onions and were supposed to come with pork too, but I asked to hold the pork. We had interesting conversation about good age to have children – all others at the table have children but they agreed that today in Belarus is was getting more normal to have children a bit later.

After lunch we drove to Sveta’s apartment for tea and delicious cake. I discovered that I’m no longer afraid of an elevator in her building like when I was a child (it is very narrow and a bit claustrophobic). Lika, by the time we got to her house, was much less shy – she showed us her dolls, made me open her new Barbie that I got her, was styling their hair with new hairclips. I’m glad she liked her presents.

We left at 3:30 since they had to drive me to Katya’s to get ready for the ballet. Having a real hot shower – awesome. I also really liked Katya’s robe – it had a zipper and was very comfortable. Lenya played on piano a tiny bit and I surprised Katya by picking up the sheet music and playing a bit too. I wore my summer green dress with light peach shawl. Saw Lidia Soveilevna, Katya’s neighbor, whom I knew since I was a little girl. Her first question to me “So are you married?”

The renovations at the opera house were really pretty. Ballet was called “The Creation of the World.” It is a modern ballet by Petrov that had God, angels, devil, Adam, Eve, people. My favorite segments were “lament of Eve”, “Adam, Eve and the devil in hell (which I saw as a threesome – ballet is not really my thing, unlike opera, so I need to amuse myself and keep myself awake)” and “introduction of Eve.” Eve rocked in general and devil was cool too, God was too Jesusy. Act II, in general, was much more interesting. Decorations were awesome. We also ran in to some friends of Aunt Vera.

Called grandparents on Skype when we got home, Bear’s phone was off. Checked email. Someone did a review of my story and another added me to favorites. Yay.

Cat threw up on Papa’s shoes. (He is a big fat orange cat named Faust).


Being here is much different than even nine years ago. Mentality is a bit calmer too. And I’m being and feeling more touristy too.

9 Sivan/22 May, 2010

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 11:00 pm
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Got up at 6:30 this time, read “Dune” a bit. Took a ‘shower’ – really water heated on the stove and a cup. I really forgot what it’s like not to have hot water all the time. I so take it for granted. Checked my email and Entertainment Weekly website for TV news. (I leave and some news happens, of course. James Marsters got engaged. I didn’t realize his fiancée was only 24 to his 47. Still, good for him.)

Sasha picked up Papa, Uncle Tolya and me at ten and we went to meet Katya and Lenya at Lenya’s music school. We all crammed into a car with Lenya on his grandfather’s lap and drove to “Line of Stalin” - a new attraction outside Minsk. “Line of Stalin” refers to WWII defense perimeter that is now full of tanks, planes and bunkers and other war memorabilia. It was much cooler than I thought it was going to be. I learned to shoot a machine gun (one shot with blanks cost about a $1). I wore earmuffs so it actually wasn’t loud at all like that. I kept the leftover casting but I doubt I will be able to get it through the airport. Katya also shot a rifle and Papa posed for pictures. Lenya didn’t want to shoot.

Papa also bought me, Sasha and Katya ice-cream. That was delicious. We walked around through the place with trenches, old bunkers and rusted tanks. There were newer tanks too. And the place had a decent bathroom, not bad for trying to build a tourist industry. It actually got pretty hot as we were walking around and I really needed water. They like sparkling water there, it is harder to find regular one.

line of stalin 1

line of stalin 2

line of stalin 3

After the exhibit we drove to dacha (dacha is a house in the country with a plot of land for a garden, people mostly live there in the summer, on occasion) where Mama, Aunt Vera and Galya (a family friend) were already and they greeted us with a delicious lunch.

dacha and outhouse

I sunbathed a bit with Katya before the sky turned dark and it got much colder and warned of rain. So we hung out inside a bit.

Misha and his mom Tanya came – Misha is so tall for his age, he is taller than Lenya and he is three years younger. He looks like Tanya but there is a lot of Sasha in him too. The boys helped their grandfather make shish-kebabs. There was lots and lots of food again and good time and we all came home at 10pm or so.

I made plans with Sveta for tomorrow, chatted to her a bit.

I wish I could be closer to the boys but we are still new and they are still wary. It is nice to finally meet both though.

8 Sivan/21 May, 2010

Friday, May 21st, 2010 11:00 pm
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I woke up at 6am. Still adjusting to new time. Still late evening in New York so we could call my grandparents on Skype. Had oatmeal for breakfast.

My parents, my aunt and I went for a walk in the direction of my old apartment building – about 15-20 minutes one way. While we were there looking around I rang Sveta’s apartment (she lives in the next building) but no-one was home even so early in the morning. On the way back we stopped by a grocery store – there are live fish and M&Ms. And bread! Got some local chocolate.

We needed to register our passports with local authorities for our stay (just having a visa is not enough, they needed the address were we lived) and we needed o buy health insurance for that so we drove to Katya’s apartment (Katya is Aunt Vera and Uncle Tolya’s oldest child and she now lives in the apartment where my grandma Tanya used to live and where I spent a lot of time as a kid. It also is in a center of the city.) There was an insurance office close by. But, first, before we left, we waited until 10:30 for Sasha to stop by and bring Mama’s earrings which she forgot the night before when we there showering.

Katya’s apartment has also has very nice renovations. She fits a lot into one big room and a kitchen.

I love that the grass everywhere (except public streets) is uncut with dandelions (which are considered pretty, not weed). It just brings such a natural look to everything.

After we got insurance and Papa and Uncle Tolya left to go register our passports, we went shopping a bit. I changed some money. $1=3,000 rubles which makes for some interesting calculations and large denominations.

We picked up Lenya from school at after noon (Lenya is 9, he is Katya’s son and he just finished third grade). He is a bit short for his age and adorable. A bit shy at first. Last time I saw him in person he was seven month old. He is a real person now.

Then my Uncle called and told us that we needed to come and personally register our passports. So we drove to their local police station to register. All bureaucratic hoops. Then we went home to have some lunch and I washed dished in the water warmed up on the stove. Ah, learning to live again with no hot water. I showed Lenya postcards of New York.

After a nice nap, I translated some comic books for Lenya and his friend. Mostly “Shrek.” Then I showed them American coins.

Katya came over after her long overnight shift in the hospital and it was so great to see her. We hung out, talked, had supper – on small plates that we could fill up as needed. And I forgot how small real, not chemically induced potatoes are. No wonder I remember that two potatoes was a serving, it was these small potatoes, not humongous American ones. We also had cake Mama bought earlier that day.

Then we drove Katya and Lenya home and went for a walk there with Lenya and my Aunt. We stopped by a bookstore where Lenya, raced around to pick at book, very happily (biography of Suvorov). I got picture books – one on Minsk and one on Belarus and a few little Minsk calendars. We also saw a new fountain next to the river – very pretty.

Finally got a hold of Sveta (Katya actually had her cell phone number) and made plans for Sunday. So I will meet her daughter then.

I will also meet Misha tomorrow (Misha is Sasha’s six year old son) and I’m looking forward to that.

7 Sivan/20 May, 2010

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 10:00 pm
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I listened to some music on the plane, read “Time,” watched a couple of Russian cartoons. They gave us breakfast in the middle of what is a NY night – but I’m adjusting my thinking to adopt to seven hour time change and eating helps, I hope, with jetlag. Or maybe it is the opposite. The landing was a bit rough (my ears hurt), but finally we landed 1:40 local time in Moscow – one hour late. That left two hours to make our connection. The connection was in a different section of the airport about 15 minute-ride away and we had to pick up our luggage first too. So two hours was not a lot of time. And if we missed this connection we would have to wait for many, many hours. This was an adventure. We thought for sure we wouldn’t make it.

But as we got to passport control, a woman called everyone for connection to Minsk to come forward in the line. We got hope that they would wait for us since it appeared there we many people in our situation.

But then waiting for baggage took forever. There was some sort of technical difficulty and again we weren’t sure if we’d make it. The woman was waiting, anxiously, for 10 people, she said. Finally, the bags came and we made our way to a transit bus waiting for us to take us to Terminal B. By that point there were seven of us traveling together. My parents, myself, my Mom’s friend and three others,

We rushed through security five minutes before the plane was supposed to leave (and we got bit of a pat down and questions about what was in the bags to our frustration) and found that the flight was indeed held for us. The drove us on a little shuttle bus into the field and we boarded the plane. We even waited in the plane a bit before taking off around 4pm local time.

When you fly, it feels like forever. I’m so much in the present moment. It is a weird sensation. At least it was a normal one hour flight (and with one hour time difference we arrived in Minsk at the same time we left Moscow).

The grass in Moscow airports was such a Russian grass – my heart was filled with gladness about it. I’m very much American now but a piece of my soul, if I can resort to such a cliché, is still Russian.

Short customs and fast luggage collection and then we were hugging Aunt Vera and Uncle Tolya who picked us up in a van. Driving on the highway into the city I kept looking at our flat Belarusian land with many trees.

First impressions: A lot of new construction with buildings painted in bright colors. I forgot how spacious the streets are. I didn’t recognize a lot because of all new buildings.

Sasha was at home and it was great to see him. (He is Aunt Vera’s and Uncle Tolya’s younger child, and he is six month older than me. We grew up together. Aunt Vera is my Mom’s sister.) We had some food. Mama unpacked and gave everyone their presents.

Since there isn’t hot water at my Aunt’s apartment right now (periodically the city shuts down hot water for maybe two weeks to test the pipes, which threw us right into ‘nostalgia’ phase), Sasha drove us to the apartment he is staying in for the next two weeks – he lives with my Aunt and Uncle but my parents are in that room now, I’m in the living room on a new foldable couch (my relatives have nice new furniture and new renovations on their apartment, it looks really nice) – so that we could take a nice hot shower after the plane. It was a great shower.

When Sasha drove us back, he drove us to our old apartment building – no renovations there yet, they are just beginning, it looks really old and run down.

my apartment building

building's entrance

my yard

I was trying to call Sveta all day – no luck at her house phone.

Called Bear on Skype, checked email and went to sleep at ten or so.


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