Bittersweet Postscript to My Friend Henry’s Story

Last week I wrote about the adventure of teaching Henry Harutunian, my ex-Soviet Olympic fencing coach friend, to drive. As promised, there’s more to his story. In those first couple of years after Yale, with a recent graduate’s typical enthusiasm for the success of his alma mater’s teams, I followed the ups and downs of […]

Bringing Thrust and Parry to New England’s Highways

With my friend Henry Harutunian at Harvard, spring 1968 The story I’m about to recount took place over half a century ago, in 1966–68, when I was working on my master’s degree in Soviet area studies at Harvard. During the first year of this two-year, multi-disciplinary program, I continued my study of the Russian language, […]

Russian Drinking Tales — Round 3

A year or so ago, I published two posts (here and here) related to wine, beer and another, quite exotic, alcoholic beverage in the former Soviet Union. Previously, I’d created two other posts (here and here) about experiences with vodka in the USSR. Today, I’ll briefly return to the subject in a sort of “hair […]

Trump’s Impeachment Reminds Me of a Soviet Era Joke

Leonid Brezhnev The passions whose flames are being fanned on both sides by the Trump impeachment trial bring to mind a joke that Russians would tell each other (if they felt confident the KGB wouldn’t overhear them) back in the 1970s when I was posted to the U.S. consulate-general in Leningrad (today, St. Petersburg). At […]

Creating a ‘Newspaper’ for an Audience of One

Visualization of Soviet fighters intercepting KAL 902 I’ve begun reading a fascinating book, Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, by Jack Matlock, who, as the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, 1987–91, had a bird’s-eye view of history in the making. I’m still in the early chapters of the book, but a few days ago […]

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Former U.S. Consulate, Leningrad We had a mini-emergency a few days ago in our senior community/mobile home park in Santa Rosa, California. In the dead of night, the pump that supplies our homes with well water tripped a circuit breaker. In order to be on time to a 7 o’clock meeting the next morning, I […]

A Soviet Citizen’s Reaction to a Western Department Store

Stockmann, Helsinki Here’s a vignette from the time I was posted to the U.S. consulate-general in Leningrad, 1976-78. Sasha, one of our Soviet-citizen drivers,* had just been granted a passport, a privilege that very few Soviet citizens enjoyed. This allowed him to drive the consulate’s truck (a vehicle very much like a UPS delivery van) […]

National Doughnut Day — Did It Roll Right Past You?

Naomi (here in a forest outside Leningrad, 1977 or 78) in the hooded snowsuit which, with its neck slightly unzipped, prompted a passerby to claim she was “naked” I hope you didn’t miss National Doughnut1 Day this past Friday. If Facebook had not brought it to my attention, I certainly would have. As it turned out, […]

Who Said History Is Boring?

Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Zaporozhian Cossacks Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan Advisory: Despite this blog’s ordinarily being family-friendly, this post is not appropriate for readers under the age of 18 (no nudity, just language). The painting above is one of the strongest possible refutations of the notion that the study of history is dull […]

Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox — Can You Tell the Difference?

Russian Orthodox church, Kizhi Island, Lake Onega, Russia Years ago, I belonged to what must surely have been the funniest, most enjoyable carpool since the invention of the wheel. My “fellow carpudlians”* and I used to spend most of our commuting time (between Reston, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.) regaling each other with amusing — and […]