Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Flying Pro Tip

I have learned, to ALWAYS order the vegetarian meal on a flight. Check out this little gem that showed up on my tray during my Moscow-DC flight with United Airlines:

Did You Spill Vodka in My Purse or Did It Always Smell Like This?

I recently flew from Moscow back to Tampa for a visit. I flew out of DME airport, the one that was involved in the bombings a few weeks ago. Although security was stepped up compared to in the past, there was still virtually no security when it came to female visitors/passengers. I don't know if this comes from a feeling that women aren't capable (how far can she get in THOSE heels?) or fear of the women (what will she do to me with THOSE heels if I hassle her?). Either way, while all the men in line were getting pat down, I breezed right through the metal detector, being given a friendly wave of passage when my watch set off the alarm.

My plan was going to be 4 hours late. This is fine, I don't ever bet on anything or look forward to too much now that I live in Moscow. Russia has really taught me to just appreciate the moment..

Sitting on a chair, reading a book, tuning out the thoughts that I am spending the day in an airport that was recently bombed, an old man came up and thumped me with a rolled up magazine. I had absentmindedly crossed my legs with my foot touching the chair. So sure, hitting me is a totally reasonable reaction.

Waiting in line to board, a thin tall Russian man with a crossbody purse edged up in my peripheral. Oh so you are going to try the bottle neck cutting approach? No. I know rationally we are going on the same plane, with assigned seats, and it makes no difference if you get on first or if I do. But he should know that too.  I give him the eye of inappropriateness, but he is Russian and therefore immune to such passive tactics. I offer him up a sharp shoulder  the bottom two ribs to assert my line position. I am not back on American soil yet, so this is acceptable. This translated nicely and he cuts the person behind me instead.

Happy to finally board and take my seat, I start reading my book again. I have the someone-is-staring-at-me feeling and look up to see my buddy from the line leaning over THE CHAIR IN FRONT OF ME....HIS CHAIR. He is smiling. I don't know what to make of a smiling Russian. I can trust them scowling, this is their baseline. He wants to shake hands and talk to me in Russian, despite me informing him (in both Russian and English) that I don't speak Russian. No worries. The look still doesn't work. I just thought I would give it another shot.

About a quarter of the way through the flight, the best seat neighbor ever, spilled his duty-free bottle of vodka inside my purse that was properly stowed under the seat in front of me.  He is passed out and doesn't notice. I am happy he had already drank half the bottle. I went bobbing for my blackberry, that now, won't turn on.

This is also around the time of the flight, for the customary, all Russians out of your seats, let's ALL pop the duty-free bottles and have a block party in the aisles. The two women next to me have unidentifiable brightly colored liquor in water bottles they are mixing with their bottles. TSA, I am giving you the eye now. I take another xanax, I will not be upright for the remainder of the flight.

The plan lands, and as is the normal, the Russians clap. I am always so confused why the plan landing is such a surprise that it requires applause. But this time, I got it and applauded too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Greekz N Da Hood

Another thing that is new to me since moving to Moscow is the amount of time off work I have. Some people may call this, vacation. 6 months ago I would have called it lucky. Now it is daunting. In Europe and with the frequency of time off,  going somewhere can't always be called a vacation.


[vey-key-shuhn, vuh-]  

a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday: Schoolchildren are on vacation now.
a part of the year, regularly set aside, when normal activities of law courts, legislatures, etc., are suspended.
freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.

Well ok, they are vacations by this definition. But not compared to what it should be in my head.  Restful, they are not. Maybe I relish routine and the day to day. I now work in communications at a school, which means, school holidays, about every 6 weeks, I have at least a week off. Nice? Sure....but also daunting. The pressure is on to do something every break. This is in total opposition to when I worked in radio advertising for the past 6 years and got 2 weeks off a year that should not be taken consecutively, and you're not thinking of turning your blackberry off are you? One week would be spent on a proper vacation, and the other I would piece meal some 3 and 4 days weekend together with, which were mostly spent sleeping to recover from my 80+ hour weeks and late nights.
So these vacations are in contrast to previous ones. Previously I had a year to save up and could fling the phrase around "Hell yes let's stay at the Westin, because after all it is my ONLY week off", but now with the quantity I'm cutting some corners.

We spent December in Greece. This decision was made by saying, "OK we have another 3 weeks off, I don't want to go somewhere colder than here, where is a cheap flight, and sure I've always wanted to see the Acropolis, right?"

Based on some hotel recommendations, from this guy, I booked an inexpensive hotel that was admittedly small, but clean and in the middle of everything. It was in the middle of everything, easy to get to by metro (when the workers weren't on strikes, Merry Christmas), walking distance to restaurants, and an ancient stone's throw to the Acropolis. When we first went into the room it was completely acceptable, sure it is small but I don't mind, I'm excited about the savings. Yeah, my closet in Florida was bigger than this bathroom, but at least it's clean! I am an adventurer! I am the type of girl that likes roughing! I am craving some granola and pass me my patchouli oil. Right?

 By day 5 quaint, family owned, budget friendly hotel in the heart of things turned into motel bates of doom I am going to fling myself out of the window any moment. I was a stark raving lunatic. I couldn't be in the room without stepping on clothing, a suitcase, or my husband. It was impossible to shower in the bathroom because the shower curtain would attack you, requiring itself to be shut in the door with a stern warning to stay the hell away. One of my last pairs of clean socks got nudged out of room and fell off the porch/ledge. I couldn't sleep because the oldest son portion of the "family owned and operated" phrase, who ran the front desk, chain smoked all night and it wafted up into our room while I slept in my TWIN BED. I just wanted to shower.

Yeah...that's some sort of animal part

We packed up, checked out, rented a car, and headed north with dreams of anything-is-better-I-will-stay-anywhere-else-as-long-as-it's-not-here-ever-again dancing in my head.

We went up to Meteora (a truly beautiful town in northern Greece) where I almost agreed to stay at the very first hotel we came across. The man running the hotel (who's mom was giving me the evil eye from the couch in front of the fireplace) tried to persuade me to leave my passport to ensure we would come back after we got lunch. As we drove away he shouted "you don't need to leave for lunch. If you stay with us momma will make you Antelope for lunch!" I am not sure if this is one of those lost in translation things, or if momma was going to cook us Antelope. I had to double check Antelope was even a real animal and was not like a Jackalope. It is real. If momma was going to for real cook me antelope, it must have been imported antelope.

This cat liked Feta. Proves that everything is betta with feta.

We ended up at a lovely bed and breakfast in Meteora that I couldn't have loved more, and if I could remember the name I would tell you.

After our one night in Meteora, it was off to Delphi. We rolled into the sleep ski-esque town in the early evening and happened upon a really nice hotel in the middle of town who was willing to only charge us 50 Euros for the night and provide us with an actual king bed. Check IN!

After checking in, we discovered there was really nothing open in town and no WiFi in our room. So we ventured to the lobby which was laid out like a family living room, couches, big screen TV, ornery old grandpa in a recliner yelling at the TV.

Greek-pa kept his distance for a while, like a seagull at the beach trying to scope out the best way to steal your sandwich. Then he came a little closer with his perfectly clear English "where are you from?" we explain we are from the United States but now live in Moscow, Russia.

He responded agreeably enough "I don't like the Russians. Damn rude communists, they come here and they don't speak to nobody. Very dumb people, no know English. I don't even want to rent rooms to them. Bleh."

Ok, well a polite smile is my response as I continue looking for a movie to download on iTunes.

Silent minutes pass, I think he is waiting for more of a response. An agreement maybe?

He comes a little closer "So what is going on with the United States? Your dollar is SHIT"

Shit, my polite smile can't pass for a response here. "Umm, yeah the country got into some financial trouble, a little like Greece is going through now, it'll work out"

Greek-pa, "Obama"

Polite Smile?

"Greece has no problems, just Gypsies. Gypsies are a problem. Your problem is Detroit, there are crazy black people there. They are very dangerous you know. They can't be trusted. Hoodlums."

Response time, should I squash his racism now and go to my room? I still have 45 minutes left on my download, "well we all have our problems".

"You also have a lot of Jews. That's a problem. Where are your parents from, you look a little Jew-y"

How did his English get so clear all of a sudden?

"Ohhh my parents are from American too-- before that my family is Italian and German"

Greekpa "Maybe. You know, I have 150 American TV Channels here. Has a black person ever robbed you?"

Hurry up download, "No. What? Why?"

GP "I see them on TV all the time. Having sex, babies, shooting people, crazy"

American TV, that is where he is getting his information. Tyler Perry, you are going to be the death of us all one day.

He went on, "I'm going to put some American TV on for you here," as he flips through the channels.

Uh-Oh, is that Boyz N Da Hood? What the hell are the chances that this 80+ Greek man in Greece just turns the TV on and finds the movie Boyz N Da Hood?

He is now very excited black people are on TV and is anticipating something good, "look watch them, look what they're going to do. I bet they're going to steal something"

The scene is 4 young black men in a record store. Surely they're not stealing anything.

Then they did.

Has he seen this before?

Next scene, a black man robbing a liquor store.

This is now his favorite movie, he is rocking back and forth from his cane to the sofa in delight and anticipation of what is next.

I bury my face into AOL Instant Messenger and my download. I do not want to engage anymore. I just want to download my movie. I don't want to be a defender of equal rights, yadda yadda.

So with as straight of a face as I can muster, I tell him that the real crazy people in the United States are all from New Jersey and that New Jersey is such a cess pool of people that we are thinking about selling it to Canada or Mexico at a loss just to be rid of those hooligans.

 He ate it with a spoon like it was Greek yogurt.

Goodnight Greekpa.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fake Breasts

I have been food obsessed since before moving to Russia. Not in a get-me-my-own-show-on-a-cable-networks-I-can't-stop-eating way. My obsessions has had to do with the quality of food I eat. I read this book, the Omnivore's Dilemma and went on a half hearted mission to eliminate corn syrup from my diet. Living in the United States this was impossible and did not last. After moving to Moscow, I instantly dropped weight without trying or really changing the amount of food or types of food I ate, and am convinced it is due to the lack of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the food here. Russia doesn't have government subsidies to grown corn, and therefore a huge surplus of corn with nowhere to go but into other non-related corn food, even including our meat. Then I read this Princeton article about how rats being fed HFCS and consuming the same amount of calories as rats consuming cane sugar gained DOUBLE the amount of weight at the end of the year, and was further convinced of the evils of corn syrup.

This made me excited about living in Russia, free from the tyranny of corn. Then I stumbled across this article yesterday called The Dark Side of The Bird. This article talks about America's obsession with white meat chicken, and disdain for all things dark. The problem is, chicken (and women...too obvious?) are not only breasts, and what can we do with all of the extra parts? Sell them to Russia. Well, up until last year (2010) when Russia said "No Thanks". Prime Minister Vladimir Putin barred U.S. chicken from Russia due to "health and safety reasons" last year. Russia, the leader in accidental deaths, the place where Ferrel dogs run freely in gangs along the street, where old ladies shove you on the metro, where the sidewalks are ice luges in the winter, is afraid of U.S. chicken? The article seems to speculate that the health and safety reasons may be bogus, and that a goal to be independent of foreign experts may actually be behind the ban. But I am skeptical considering the article ended with a solution to the glut of unwanted dark meat in America. A scientist has come up with a way to turn dark meat into a white meat milkshake that could be used for burgers and nuggets. This process involves a lab and a CENTRIFUGE.

Even though I have to dodge speeding cars that park on the sidewalk (and sometimes drive down it too), all large crane operators here are all blind, and the sidewalks are slip and slides in the winter, I am glad that when I buy food here I know it is just that, food.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shopping 1996-2010, I will never forget you

I don't miss the food. Sure the food is pretty bland and, at times gross, here, but it is easy to stick to a diet when calf brains is a hot item on a menu.

I don't miss having a car, I love my metro family. You know, the Ferrel dogs, the people who haven't ever gotten their coat dry cleaned, and the guy who physically picked me up to move me out of his way last week? hugs all around, guys!

I don't miss the sunshine. Living in Florida, tan maintenance can feel like a job. Every time I was inside on a sunny day being lazy I would think: I can be lazy outside in the lawn chair getting a tan, I shouldn't be inside. But maybe I just WANTED to be inside. I didn't need the sun's guilt trip. Bonus, I probably am buying 10 years back on my face living in the land of no UV.

Sure, I miss my friends, and the list can go on of the things I miss and that I DON'T miss. But, what I miss the most is SHOPPING.

Not the big sprees. I miss popping in Anthropologie on my lunch break to see what's on sale, hitting TJ Maxx on the way home to see if any rogue JCREW popped up again, scoping out the trade market over at EffortlessAnthropologie. and ordering up some good deals.

You see, it is a HASSLE to get mail in Russia. It is a 50/50 shot that it will even arrive. If it is something a customs agent may be interested in? Forget it. I have been told by coworkers not to even bother.

And mall shopping here? The VAT tax is obscene, and even cheap stores like H&M and GAP are ridiculously expensive here. The CHEAPEST thing you could come out of H&M here with would be about $35USD, and it will suck. They have sales twice a year, only, January and June --where things get marked down to maybe be what they would be FULL price in the states. Aside from the prices, there is just a lot you can't find here. Maybe I do not want a sweater dress with a bedazzled bugs bunny on the front? Pity.


So when a friend, who is visiting the states for a week, offered to donate me a portion of her suitcase on the return trip? I peed a little. I of course have to limit it, because I can't be greedy with her space, and my husband is wanting some things too.

So I am limiting myself. Which is easier than it may seem, because I have never been a binge shopper. I don't like big sit down shopping meals. I like to space my shopping out. I am a shopping snacker.

It feels like I have been on a diet for 5 months now and someone is offering me a really rich meal.

Hopefully, the diet has shrunk my shopping stomach. Would that be my shopping bag?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

From Russia...With Love

This title had to be used eventually. I get a pass on the cheesy factor and expectancy because it is Valentine's day, yeah?

Our first mistake was trying to recreate what Valentine's Day was for us in the states. Flowers, fancy dinner, dressing up...yadda yadda...I don't know why. We know nothing in Moscow works out if you put in in an American box. But we tried...hard.

We won dinner from the local Ex-Pat magazine, Element. I was nervous about trying a place we haven't been to before considering how pricey a meal out can be in Russia, and how hit or miss the food is, and miss the service is. The website had no English, but we decided to give it a go anyway.

I rushed home after work pretty-fy. My husband booked a cab. I told him I may wear boots despite the cab since we have a history of cabs not working out and being as door to door as you would expect from a cab. He assures me it will be fine and to please wear heels.

The cab was late, we sat in Moscow traffic for over an hour, decided to ditch the cab and make a go for the metro. My nearly 5 inch miserable-going-in-the-trash-as-soon-as-I-get-home (i vowed all night, but they're back in my closet now, all forgiven) Jessica Simpson heels helping me to slip and slide my way across the street.

We metro'd, found the restaurant, and were completely blown away by the ambiance. Rarely, do pleasant surprises happen here when it comes to food.

There were a few typical how-do-they-eat-this-ew dishes on the menu:

But overall, normal fancy menu. We stuffed ourselves beyond capacity. I wasn't drinking due to the events of Saturday night and the-hangover-that-should-never-be-talked-about. It was so nice to have a normal meal for once here in the land of hidden herring.

The restaurant was full of typical Russian couples. Which is: super-model-gorgeous young girl, and older man who does not seem to shower or own a clean shirt. There was same-side sitting all around.

While I was in the restroom, the manager came over and in broken English asked my husband if he was pleasuring himself. We took it to mean having a nice time which he agreed he was. If that is not what he meant, then well I guess he thinks Americans are bolder than he thought.

The manager presented us with a special dessert which is amazing because I am not sure I have ever been given anything free here, and usually wait staff acts like you should be giving them free dessert:

Obviously I had no self control, and a picture was a complete after thought. How could I? This is what greeted us when we walked in the restaurant, so I knew what goodness was coming:

Nom Nom Nom Nom

The cab ride home was the most successful ride we have had yet. We participated in the gypsy cab phenomenon in Russia (basic common hitch hiking) got in a car with a stranger, who was sitting on the wrong side of his car (drivers here drive on the same side of the street and same side of the car as America....typically) and watching TV and surprisingly gave us door to door service.