that time with the cat

I recently remembered this event from my childhood and thought I would share it with you all.

When I was still living in Belarus I spent a lot of my time with one friend in particular (I can’t even remember her name now) and our favorite activity was roamin’ around our neighborhood.  We would go to different playgrounds, parks, the nearby woods, and generally completely disobey the boundaries set out by our parents of where we were allowed to go.   I remember we would even sometimes take the bus a few stops without paying (it was an honor system at the time), which I am pretty sure I also wasn’t allowed to do.  I would have been seven or eight at the time and Minsk is a very big city but from what I remember I almost always felt safe.

Anyway, one day on one of our outings we spotted a cat that was also probably just roaming around and minding its own business.  We didn’t see a collar on it so we naturally came to the following two conclusions.  One, it didn’t have a home.  Two, we were the perfect people to take this cat in. Despite the fact that we lived in different apartment buildings I think we had a plan to own this cat together, the details of which I am sure we were planning to figure out later.  We carried this cat to my friend’s apartment, gave it a bath (!), blew dry its fur (!!), and, having decided that we wanted to go back outside to play some more, stuck the cat into a cupboard under some bookshelves, closed the doors, and left.  What still surprises me to this day is how complacent this cat was.  I don’t remember how much of a fight it put up, but when I think about how  my current cat gets when I even hold him for too long, I am quite surprised my friend and I lived through the experience and still kept our eyes.

A few hours later we returned to the previously empty apartment to realize that my friend’s mother had come home.  I am pretty sure that at this point we also assumed that we could have a secret pet cat.  We nonchalantly said hello and made our way into the room with the hidden cat only to discover that the cat was nowhere to be found.  Had it fled?

It was at this point that my friend’s mother came into the room and with the vaguest trace of a smile across her face asked what we were looking for.  I believe we weren’t too quick on giving up the truth about our feline friend, but when the mother said she came home to find an empty apartment with a well-groomed cat hanging about, we knew the jig was up.  She also told us that she had taken the cat outside and let it go.

I can’t remember what happened at this point.  I am not sure if my friend got into any trouble and I also can’t remember if I said anything about this to my parents.  I have a vague recollection of trying to find this cat on our next few adventures in the neighborhood but I could be wrong about that as well.

What really interests me now is how the rest of that cat’s day went.  Did it actually have a home to go back to at which it later presented itself smelling of shampoo, its fur now slightly puffier than it had been when it left?  Did it spend a few hours contemplating what had happened and trying to find some sort of rationale for the events of the day?  Did it actually spot us first at a later date and ran for the hills?  Or, did it try to find us the next time it wanted a free meal and a wash and blow out?

I will never know.  All I really hope is that we didn’t traumatize that poor animal.  We were just trying to give it a good home.



some privacy please

For yesterday’s post I was searching through some old family photos that my dad has now saved digitally.  I didn’t find any that had been taken at a dacha but I did find these of me which I thought were just too funny not to share.

I think that at a young age I thought I was destined for the spotlight.

“No pictures, please.”

no pictures please


But I also knew that sometimes you had to give up the goods.


“Well ok, just one.”

well ok just one


-The Postliminary-

Click here to see one of my all time favorite pictures of me.  Like the above, taken by my dad.

nostalgic consumption

If I had to pick one, I would say that my favorite dish is one that hails from the memories of my childhood.  Freshly picked wild mushrooms, potatoes, and butter fried up in a cast iron skillet.  That’s it.  When I was growing up in Belarus many members of my extended family, including my parents, were given plots of land outside the city (called “dachas” in Russian).  Although these functioned as summer cottages (I spent many weeks out of my summer vacations at my grandparent’s dacha), many were primarily used as fruit and vegetable gardens.  I remember seeing tomatoes (the smell of greenhouses still takes me back to being a kid and watching my parents tend to their tomatoes), potatoes, radishes, lettuces, herbs, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries, cabbages, carrots, beets, turnips, cucumbers, peas, flowers, the list goes on and on.  Much of this produce was consumed during the summer months, but many things were also brought back to the city for canning.  I remember at one point our apartment being filled with tubs and tubs of tomatoes that I started eating like apples…just because I guess.  I also remember fondly my mom’s patience when I made her sample many strawberries after I had already taken a bite out them because I was convinced that I had found a particularly delicious one!

according to the six-year-old me, not all strawberries are created equal source:

One of the best memories of my childhood was getting a bag full of freshly picked pea pods from my grandmother and going out to the neighboring woods, where we had hung up a hammock, and lazily munching away on the peas while watching the tree tops above me sway in the summer wind.  The sunlight playing through the leaves and that slow moving hushed sound of rustling leaves high above.  The hammock slowly swinging back and forth….bliss.

Not only did we grow our own food on the dachas, we also went out into the forest to pick different types of berries…and mushrooms!  My family members (and I assume much of the Belarussian population at the time) were/are extremely knowledgeable about wild plants along with keen eyes for spotting these hidden natural treasures.  One of the times I went back to Belarus to visit, my uncle took me out mushroom picking and I remember walking through the woods, the ground completely covered in pine needles, and hearing him exclaim “Oh there is a gorgeous fellow right there!”, then proceeding to walk a few meters, kneel down, wipe away the needles, and show me a beautiful mushroom that I did not even see until it was uncovered by him.  Let me just say that I was thoroughly impressed.  And despite the fact that my uncle and my parents claim this is just ability that comes from experience, I can’t help but think that there is a certain pride that comes from being able to not only find, but also identify the various species of this sometimes-poisonous fungus.  Although my parents may deny this, I get the impression that their egos may have been ever so slightly bruised when, following a family summer getaway, they discovered through further research that the mushrooms being picked by our neighbors at the resort, which my parents had been sure were of the poisonous variety, turned out to be perfectly fine to consume.  If nothing else, the fact that this story comes up every so often over family dinners, suggests to me that this was not an error to be quickly forgotten.

which are good, which are bad? source:


However, the fact that this misjudgment was such an uncharacteristic one, also says a lot about this “folk” knowledge that my family members possess.  The best way to illustrate this would be to bring you back to those days at the dacha when the mushroom pickers would return with baskets and baskets of mushrooms to be cleaned, and consumed or saved for canning.  Perhaps my memory has been exaggerated through the lens of nostalgia, but from what I remember we had a few good hauls of wild mushrooms (and berries) every season.  And although I look back at this as a really cherished memory now, I would be lying if I omitted my other memory of my reluctant efforts to help with the sorting and cleaning of whatever was brought back from the woods.  But that was just me being a kid I think.

And that’s where we circle back to my favorite food.  Wild mushrooms, butter, potatoes.  Simple, flavorful, and full of many memories, without which this would just be some food on a plate.

and you thought the hermitage cats were cool…

Just to go along with yesterday’s post on the feline employees of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, did you also know that Russian feral dogs in Moscow have not only become quite clever at stealing food from pedestrians but have also managed to navigate and use the expansive subway system?

Well they have and I am pretty sure we can all start panicking…!  Because we all know that their intelligence will only continue to expand, pretty soon they will be wearing pants, and driving cars, and stealing our jobs, and eventually forming some sort of world government (in collaboration with the Saucer People) and it’s all down hill for us from there.

So enjoy the freedom while you can simple humans, I am going to try to win over on the canine side.  First step, let’s all look at some pictures and watch this video about our imminent overlords.

don’t worry, I’ll get the next one!

Some extra reading:

abc NEWS –  Stray Dogs Master Complex Moscow Subway System (2010)

Wikipedia – Feral dogs in Moscow (last edited 2012)

The Wall Street Journal – In Moscow’s Metro, a Stray Dog’s Life Is Pretty Cushy, and Zoologists Notice (2008)

hermitage cats

The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia is the Eastern European version of the the Louvre.  Formerly the winter palace of Russian royalty, this beautiful and grandiose building now houses a huge art collection.  What is often said of the Louvre, definitely goes for the Hermitage Museum – you can spend days in it and only see a fraction of the art.

I have personally visited twice and both times were equally impressive.  You can find galleries dedicated to almost any time and any place in the world here, and the actual building itself is absolutely spectacular.  Many remnants of the Russian czars remain as well, including the Throne Room, which left me awestruck (pictured below).

What I did not know when I had visited is that the Hermitage is also home to over 60 cats!  These furry guards were brought into the building in the late 1700s to combat the mice and rat population and have been a fairly permanent fixture ever since.  Although not usually allowed in the exhibition halls, these felines are comfortable wandering the grounds and the belly of the building where they are taken care of by a dedicated team of staff.  From reading numerous articles about this it seems that the Hermitage has adopted many stray cats over the years, ones either brought in by the staff or left on the grounds by local residents who know the cats will have a good home.  Due to this fluctuating number of feline friends, the Hermitage also has an adoption program to find the extra cats good homes.  And they even come with a Hermitage certificate!  These cats really are royals!

However, no matter the surroundings, even these cats can be silly and rebellious.  Here is an example (Tatyana Nikolayevna Danilova is a supervisor at the museum):

However, it’s very difficult to totally deny access for the cats to the exhibition premises. Many times the Hermitage supervisors have found runaway guards strolling amongst the visitors. Last autumn, an alarm bell called Danilova to an exhibition room where the art and culture of ancient Egypt is presented. Entering the room she heard someone yelling terribly. A cat named Chipa was stuck between a showcase and a plinth. Tatyana immediately called the local fire department. Chipa was finally set free from the trap by two strong firemen, who lifted the metallic plinth with the help of a crowbar.

Tatyana also remembers a case when one curious cat climbed from the basement through a ventilation tube up to the second floor of the New Hermitage, where the exhibition room of the famous Dutch artist Anthony Van Dyck is located. The exhibition supervisors tried to lure the cat with the help of food, but all efforts were useless. Finally, the hungry animal surrendered to the staff after spending two exhausting weeks in the museum’s ventilation system. From that day on the cat was called Van Dyck.

Perhaps because of my fondness for cats those stories make me grin from ear to ear.

I am sure I will wind my way back to Hermitage at some point in my life so next time I will keep an eye out for these “guards” and maybe even try to sneak them a little treat.

Some extra reading:

ABC news – St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum Home to Masters…and Cats

Russian Life– Hermitage Cats: The Guards of the Russian Crown Jewelry (a great write up)

girl singer crushes Part II

Tatyana Nikitina

This amazing vocalist can hardly be called a “girl” as she was born in 1945, but she definitely fits into the category of “amazing female vocalists”.  Her and her husband’s (Sergey Nikitin) recordings were a staple in my house when I was growing up so I have all sorts of nostalgia associated with a lot of their songs.  I thought that this number would be perfect, speaking of nostalgia, it’s called “When We Were Young” and it’s all about the optimism and positive world view one has when they are young and full of beans and big ideas. :)

girl singer crushes Part I

I realized after posting something about Florence Welch a little while ago that although she is my newest girl singer crush, I actually have a whole bunch of them that also deserve some props.  So I am thinking of dedicating this week to some of the other ones that make the top of my list.  By no means will this represent them all, but I figure some girl power might be in order!

Number 1 – Regina Spektor

This girl is cute as a button (watch some interviews with her), has some amazing vocal capabilities, and is a first generation Russian immigrant like me!  I have liked her work for years and years and I think she just keeps getting better.  Below is one of my favorite songs, super Soviet and it has some Russian in it (I totes know what she is singing!).

Beirut (the band) and my childhood memories

I am going to see Beirut live tonight and have been brushing up on their songs for the past few days.  I don’t know about you, but a lot of the music reminds me of funeral processions.  Maybe it’s the brass instruments or the melancholy feel of the songs, but there is something about their “vibe” that makes me think of funerals.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the compositions are amazing and moving, but there is an edge of the morose that I can’t help but pick up.

When I was growing up in Belarus in the 80s funerals were a pretty public affair.  My family and I lived in a high rise, with our building being one of many that were attached and which hugged an inner courtyard that contained benches, kids playground equipment and so on.  If you have ever been travelling in eastern Europe you probably know what kind of buildings I am talking about.  Well when someone passed away in the “complex” of buildings there would be a funeral procession…on foot.  I could be mixing something I saw in the movies with actual events, but I am almost positive there would often be brass instruments on hand to provide the funeral march.  I remember having a very morbid fascination with these events as a child, an irresistible urge to witness them even though a part of me found them quite frightening.  I sometimes get a very similar feeling listening to Beirut – something fascinating but also something private that perhaps I should not be a part of.  That is a pretty weird way to describe it I suppose, but that’s just the way it is.

A couple of Soviet jokes

It’s been a while since I have published any Soviet Nostalgia posts so here are two jokes that my dad told me.  The first he started telling me when I was a kid and the second was probably told to me when I was 16 or so.  For some reason they are much funnier in Russian so I apologize if this serves no purpose to your day and ends up a waste of your time.

Joke #1 – this one just might seem funny to me because of the childhood nostalgia factor.

Dad: Why do elephants have red eyes?

Me: I don’t know.  Why?

Dad: So they can hide among tomato plants.

Me: What the?!

Dad:  Well think about it, have you ever spotted an elephant among tomato plants?

[giggling on my end ensues]


Joke #2

A lion is hanging out one day and sees a hawk soaring high above him in the sky.  The lion thinks to himself “Well that doesn’t seem right.  I am the King of the Jungle and I can’t even fly”.  The lion finds the hawk and asks him for his wings.  The hawk asks what he will get in return.  After thinking about it for a moment the lion suggests that he can give the hawk his mane.  The two trade and part ways.  The lion takes his new wings, attaches them to his body, climbs the tallest cliff and jumps off.  Lions can’t fly of course so he plummets to his death.  The hawk, not knowing what possible purpose a lion’s mane may serve him, decides to use it to freak out his wife.  He puts the mane around his head, goes home, rings the doorbell and waits for his wife to open the door.  When she does, she is so terrified by this creature with a lion’s mane that she reaches for a gun and kills her husband.  The moral of the story?  Women should never be trusted with guns.