Stories from Mother Russia #2

Some Russian books I have yet to read. Some other books that I have.

I have an ex who, right before we drifted to sleep, would always ask me to tell a story from Soviet Russia.  Friends have always joked about me being a Commie and a Russki and I personally find them hilarious and take no offense.  In fact, I do them myself all the time.  “In Mother Russia blog writes you!” sort of jokes are a staple of my own repertoire.  Because I’ve Americanized myself as much as I have , my attitude toward my home country walks a strange line between two views.  The exotic tourism standpoint of most Americans – think, stackable Matryoshka dolls, that funny crossed-arms-flailing-legs dance that everyone loves, the Cold War, Grandpa Lenin, etc.; and the viewpoint of a native who has an intuitive sense of how an actual Russian mind works.  In that mind, the dolls are kitschy and loved, the flailing legs dance is actually a pretty difficult thing to do, Americans are swimming in hypocrisy, and “Grandpa Lenin” was a common expression among kindergarteners well into the early ’80s.

I am only now starting to develop a serious interest in Russian politics, brushing up on my Russian and writing down some of my memories of growing up in Moscow until age 11.  My goal for this section of this blog is to keep myself more or less accountable for research, reminiscing and writing about the Russian experience as I see it in myself and as I perceive it in the world.

Technically, my first story from Mother Russia, was a post I made a little while ago about the old cartoon about a hedgehog lost in the fog.


The world seems to be spinning faster and faster. Information is reaching me sooner and sooner. And I’m smoking more and more cigarettes. Since death by lung cancer isn’t enough to convince me to stop smoking altogether, I’m going to put forth three other reasons that I’ve found for quitting. Three’s a charm? I’ll update you on my progress.

1.) Wrinkles

Yes, even I’m getting them. Yes, even I am not ready for them. I still talk up gray hair and a wiser mind, but I’m just not ready for wrinkles yet and won’t be for at least another 5-10 years. This means cigarettes have to go.

2.) Circulation

I’m convinced that by age 30 most self-aware people should have an idea of the natural causes most likely to bring on their demise. In my case it’s circulation. From the looks of it now, I’m guaranteed varicose veins. For a few years I would wake up with a racing heart for no particular reason at all. I can’t say that strokes, aneurysms, heart attacks  and the like are the norm in my family, but they do pop up here and there. Strokes are awful, but the other two don’t seem like the worst way to go. Either way, cigarettes (and birth control) clog that shit up, so it’s time I laid off of them.

3.) Voice

This is a recent one. After Memorial Weekend (see Facebook photos 6.28.12) I’ve literally listened to nothing but ABBA. Also, my mighty Miata stereo was stolen and I haven’t replaced it yet. These two factors combine to create an off-key singing monster, complete with sunglasses, sadness and SPF 30.

Let me tell you this — I know what I sounded like singing Chiquitita when I was 16, and I know what I sound like now, and it’s not pretty. I’ve never had a problem catching a note, but recently I hear myself singing off-key and it sounds like somebody else. I know that I can have that note, I can reside in that note if I really want to, but it’s been harder and harder to tune myself. When I joined the Jingletown parade last Sunday, I tried to join in singing, but I knew for a fact that I was off. I could’ve sworn that I saw one or two of the T-Sisters glaring at me for fucking up their perfect harmonies, although that easily could’ve been a T-Sister of my mind.

If Timi and I are ever going to start that ABBA cover band I’m going to have to quit smoking cigarettes altogether ASAP.

I hope your Memorial Day weekend was at least half as lovely as mine.

Also, I’m an aunt! Well, a second-aunt (my cousin had a baby boy), but an aunt nevertheless! A transatlantic one. Who knows when I’ll get to see my second-nephew.

Tactile Sound

It’s official. I listen to noise and I love it. Amon Tobin, (Pictured above. What? You can’t see him inside the big cube in the very middle?) has been blowing my mind for the past day thanks to a reminder by my great friend and fantastic DJ William Wardlaw.

Most people who get to know me even a little bit soon realize that I’m seriously into electronic music, as in, that’s mostly what emanates from my speakers anytime people come over. I like house, minimal techno, some breaks, but not glitch, a lot of drum ‘n bass (I’m so ’90s…), but not much dubstep. Nu disco has my heart. I appreciate German techno, am willing to bop my head to electro and I’m a sucker for deliciously textured pop remixes. When I first began listening to electronic music in the late ’90s, trance was it. I also listened to happy hardcore sober. For about a month. An admirable feat indeed.

To some that may seem fairly specific, but my DJ friends would certainly scoff if they read that list. You see, sometimes I like to hang out with electronic music snobs. They’re actually quite nice, some are very dear friends and all guarantee a fun night.

But back to Amon Tobin. His productions are so precise and orchestrated, it’s hard not to appreciate them even if electronic music isn’t your thing. He’s one of those artists that demands to be recognized by fans of all genres. Nevertheless, I know that to most it will sound like noise and there is nothing that I can do to convince them otherwise. I imagine that older people are even more of a challenge since electronic noises aren’t as familiar to them.

Let it be known that I listen to complicated classical music and really appreciate it. From where I’m standing (or dancing), the best composers of our time are in the electronic field. I think that we’ve moved past complicated melody to complicated, textured rhythms, and that’s what contemporary electronic artists are to me.

Tomato, To-mah-to.

When Ben and I first started dating, it was a little hard to tell the difference between our preferences in, well,  life. We live in and prefer the same style of neighborhood. We have a similar aesthetic in art and interior design. We like a lot of the same music (give or take 15 years). We have similar values — loose where they need to be, rigid where it counts. And better yet, a few similar personality flaws which means that we not only get along well, but also know where the other one is coming from when we’re not getting along so well. Yeah, it’s pragmatic like that.

So I am pretty sure that our little enamored hearts sank when a month or so into this thing it was discovered that I don’t always love it when it’s overwhelmingly hot outside — his one and only favorite weather. He is also always, always miserable when it rains. I find rainy days tolerable at the very least, and often pleasant. When it’s not too awful, I love walking and shopping in the rain. Ducking in and out of shops, getting coffee, huddling together. I’ll have to break him in with a warm coat, a scarf and some gloves.

But we’re staying strong despite this heartbreaking chasm of tastes. We enjoy and appreciate one another’s favorite dishes, but when given a choice, I’m all about sharp acidic tastes, and he loves the creamy and the smooth (except where Tabasco is concerned). He likes his liquor dark, I like mine clear. Oh, but he doesn’t like garlic. Where can this relationship possibly be going?

On good days we can finish each other’s sentences, but don’t because we both try not to interrupt one another. On stressful ones, it’s a mess of misunderstandings and apologies followed by quiet stewing time.

That’s pretty much how the day started, but between food in our bellies and eight different methods for curing a hangover (none healthy, but all of them helpful), we mostly forgot what we were so grumpy and bothered about that morning.

A lighter note. A heavier taste.

My grandma’s memorial involved a lot of food. This made me pretty happy that day, and the next. And the next. There are a lot of leftovers and they are really freakin’ scrumptious.

That and seeing relatives I haven’t seen in years and meeting some very interesting new people. One in particular is writing an Azerbaijani cookbook with a very active blog and Facebook page, and has written for Azerbaijani International magazine which I’ve flipped through a few times at my grandparents’ house.

Some of them hadn’t seen me since I was a gangly 14 year old and most of them barely recognized me. This was okay as I didn’t recognize most of them either. I was about that age when I decided that my parents could no longer make me to hang out with distant relatives, nor force-feed me yummy national foods. This, you see, is teenager torture. Do you see what I had to endure as a child? Well, do you? I will tell you about it and then you will understand…

Those of you in the Bay Area might remember the short lived restaurant simply named Azerbaijan, on Oxford and Allston Streets in Berkeley. I planned and planned and planned to go there, but didn’t quite make it. Somebody at The Pub told me it closed down and of course I was really sad to have missed the opportunity to go scrutinize it.

What can I say about Azerbaijani food? It involves a lot of lamb and a lot of good healthy fats. I’m not even being sarcastic when I say that. My grandparents ate ridiculously rich, oily foods and continued to shock their physicians with low cholesterol levels well into their eighties.

Think eggplant seriously soaked with olive oil, served with rice that is also cooked in oil. My dad says that rice that sticks together doesn’t count as real rice. Yes, sushi rice is in this category of “not real”. Outside of the varietal, what makes rice not stick? Oil.

The fattiest lamb pieces you’ve ever seen cooked into a think, brothy soup called hash with oil circles the size of $1 coins floating on top. This is major YUCK to me ’til this day.

Butter mixed with butter, mixed with sugar and cooked, adding some flour and some more butter at the end, then calling it dessert. Repeating this with crushed almonds stuck on a flaky pastry crust. This is really delicious and I must learn to make it.


SHISH KEBAB! Lamb, chicken, beef, vegetables… I think that all you need to do is yell KEBAB!!! out in the street and people will go, “F*&^ yeah, kebab!” Everyone loves kebab. Like any self respecting study abroad participant, I got obsessed with doner kebab, otherwise known as gyros while studying abroad in Spain. Best drunk food ever.

I will close this with an apt quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Aunt Voula: What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? [the entire room stops, in shock] Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.

Basic Sterling Silver Ring Making

I made a ring. It was fun. You should try it too. Or another class at The Crucible.

I’ve been volunteering at The Crucible for almost two years now. They don’t pay me in money, but they pay me in heavily (HEAVILY!) discounted classes in all sorts of industrial arts. After months and months of indecision (there are SO many cool classes… I really didn’t know what to start with) I finally decided to take a class.

In Intro to Jewelry and Metals I our project was a sterling silver ring made with the skills that we learned in the class. I really wanted to start with my initial sketch of the design, but me being me, I lost our first class packet. Wah wah wah… My ring is still awesome though (to me… don’t hate!). Here is how I made it.

For my paisley design, I had to make little paisley pieces in order to press the design into the actual piece of silver that was to become my ring. There are a billion ways to do things in jewelry and this is just one way that my teacher recommended.

These pieces were made out of copper. First I made the little squiggly shapes out of wire, and pressed into the copper. Then I drilled the little holes with a drill press. This was hard because I wanted the holes to be really tiny. I broke about 5-6 drill bits doing this. Sigh…

Then I had to cut the pieces out with a special saw blade. Saw blades break easily. I broke about 3-4 saw blades doing this. So did everyone else though.

It’s amazing how easy it is to cut through metal when you’re using the right tools. Yes, I broke saw blades, but dude, I was CUTTING through metal. It was cool.

Then I’m going to skip waaay ahead because I missed a class and had to rush through things. While I was taking the photo above my teacher came up to me and said, “Ok, Rena… I’m concerned about you…”  This is in a recreational  jewelry class, mind you! Nevertheless it made me feel bad, so I stopped taking photos and got to work.

I pressed those little pieces into my silver, shaped my ring, sautered it shut, shaped it and filed it and this is what I got!

It’s shiny and silver and I made it (almost) all by myself!

Not too shabby, me thinks…

And this is me looking awfully smart, wearing my ring.


Doing Too Much

Over the past few weeks I have been doing so much stuff, that by the time I sit down to write about any of it, I can’t focus on any one thing. All are blog worthy. All have passed me by. I can’t decide whether to blog about them or to just start fresh with the new day.

Life has been so crazy. I almost never know what will happen when I wake up in the morning. I like it that way though.

Here are some interesting things I’ve done in the past few weeks:

– take on a bunch of new responsibilities on Patch. I’m now the calendar editor for Albany, El Cerrito, Piedmont and Alameda Patches. Eeek! PLEASE, if you know of any awesomeness happening in those four cities, send it my way. I’m especially excited to get into the art scene in Alameda. I think I’ll do well in this position, but I do feel like I’m in a slight stupor about the whole thing. I have all these work tabs open and I keep clicking around and trying to do things, writing emails to this editor and that editor and above all, worrying, worrying, worrying, but not accomplishing as much as I would like. I think the dust will settle by next week and I’ll get a handle on all these new duties. I’m excited to keep paying the bills, to tell people where to have fun, and to have a bit of time to do my own stuff too. But first I need to organize: work and other life.

– start taking an introductory jewelery class at The Crucible. I’m making a sterling silver ring with a paisley design. Fucking hippie… Sounds weird, but I think it will look pretty interesting. Will blog the whole process when it’s finished.

– host a birthday party and bake a favorite childhood cake for my best friend. I asked her mom for the recipe and surprised her with it. The whole thing was pretty sweet, in all senses of that word. The party, the cake and the subsequent San Francisco outing all turned out quite well. This was a great time, and if I had better pics of the cake I’d totally blog the recipe. I iced it right before I brought it out, so there wasn’t much time. It looked gorgeous and I kind of couldn’t believe that I had accomplished this Martha Stewart-esque feat.

– visit the California Academy of Sciences for Nightlife. Pretty freakin’ cool, but… I don’t know if I wasn’t in the mood that night, but it didn’t blow me away the way I expected it to. Didn’t make it to the rainforest and really wanted to see the tropical birds. There was an artist there named David Tomb who does these amazing drawings and paintings of tropical birds. This might be worth blogging about.

– meet other great writers and freelancers and feel validated in what I’m doing with my life. This would be more of a whiny ohgodamidoingitright sorta entry and I might spare you all.

– go to a couple of great parties, one at a wonderful new gallery called Zughaus that my friend William DJs at (great mix above). The manager, Douglas Cain, is one incredible and creative guy, as are his two roommates. I’m not talking rough-industrial-cool creative… that stuff is great (I partake at the Crucible on a weekly basis), but everyone and their mother is doing that in Oakland. I’m talking true, discerning taste. This guy’s got it. I talk to him and I think, “Oh, hello Andy Warhol 2.0.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I’m easily excitable, but I’m not that easily impressed. Doug impresses me to no end. Blog coming.

– finish Eat, Pray, Love, which really deserves another blog entry once I’ve thought about it some more.

– vow to do yoga every day of February, then fail miserably. I seem to be all or nothing about certain things. Like this blog. I need to just commit to every day. And yoga. With my schedule I can commit to every day for at least a month. Just to develop the habit and convince myself that I DO have time for it, if I MAKE time for it in my day. Same with photography. Same with music. These things are possible, but they require focus. Not my strongest suit.