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 […]

Who’s Thirsty?

Tasting the Lithuanian version of Manischewitz sweet, kosher wine — which I wrote about last week — was only one of three non-vodka alcoholic adventures I had in the USSR.1 The other two both took place in Riga, Latvia. The first of these was a taste provided by my Soviet-Latvian hosts of what today we might call […]

Everything (Well, Almost) You Ever Wanted to Know About Sweet Kosher Wine … But Were Afraid to Ask

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on an article reporting that “Americans like sweet wines, but nobody talks about it.” The article piqued my interest because my first encounters with wine came as a child, when I’d be offered1 Manischewitz Concord grape wine at traditional Jewish Friday evening meals at my grandparents’ home and, of […]

Нет, Моя! No, It’s Mine!

Under Lenin’s gaze, Naomi, age 4, in blue dress at left foreground, participating in her Leningrad preschool’s celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution’s 60th anniversary, November 1977. One year ago, calling it a “somber centenary,” I wrote about the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution (October Revolution). Now, on the revolution’s 101st anniversary (actually last Wednesday), a […]

Cuneiform and Clay Tablets — the Only Thing More Cumbersome Than 3 x 5 Cards for Taking Notes

Cuneiform tablet This month marks the 70th anniversary of what, when I was studying there from 1966 to 1968, used to be called the Russian Research Center. Today, this modest corner of scholarship at Harvard University is known as the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and it is housed in a much newer, […]

One of the World’s Great Museums Is Also the Czar’s Attic

Winter Palace, home of much of the Hermitage’s collection Two recent events — one mundane, the other calamitous — came together in my mind and prompted me to write this short piece about one of the world’s greatest museums, the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The mundane event is my recently begun exploration of the […]

Adventures at the DMV – and Elsewhere

My Soviet driver’s license (and, yes, I certainly needed a haircut!) I’ve just passed the written and vision tests needed (perhaps thanks to advancing age) to renew my driver’s license. The experience with the California Department of Motor Vehicles reminded me of a long-ago brush with Virginia’s DMV. It happened in 1978, shortly after I […]

Want to Have Your Palm Read? Me Neither!

Roma (Gypsy) women Every once in a while, as I drive down the street or highway, I’ll spot a sign calling attention to what is usually a pretty low-rent establishment – a place where, according to its sign, you can get your palm read and your fortune told. In the interest of full disclosure, readers […]