Just Across the River From the Czar’s Palace

  Dormitory No. 6, Leningrad State University (Neva River hydrofoil in foreground) (Photo: Michael Alberts) Here’s a bit of color about a little-heralded aspect of life in the bad old days of the USSR. The story comes from my first visit to the Soviet Union – as a graduate student – in the summer of 1967. […]

Ever Lingered So Long After Dinner That the Restaurant’s Emptying Out?

Yeah, that’s happened to me. Several times. But the time I’m about to describe takes the prize. Like a few other stories in this blog, this one took place when I was working at the U.S. consulate-general in Leningrad, 1976-78. One fine early summer evening, my wife and I went out to dinner with Ilya, […]

Have You Ever Run Out of Gas?

Troitsky (Kirovsky) Bridge I have. Probably more often than you. I believe it’s in my genes. My dad told me he was notorious, as a young man, for returning home on fumes after an outing in his father’s car. On at least one occasion, according to these stories, when my grandfather went out in the […]

The Best Language-learning Experience Ever

Prabha Gupta, my first Hindi teacher (I discovered this photo in my slide archives over a year after I published this blog post) Part of the good fortune I’ve had in a career that afforded me the opportunity to live and work in several other countries has been the chance to learn other languages and […]

Membership Has Its Privileges

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an item from the time I was working at the U.S. consulate in Leningrad. It was about my very young daughter Naomi and her friend Perry. Today’s post is a story told to me back then (probably in early 1978) by Perry’s father, whose name I regret I […]

What Happened to Your Penis?

Last week’s post was a funny story about my son Adam, from when he was 7. This week, in the interest of “equal time,” I’d like to put my daughter Naomi in the hot seat and tell about something that happened when she was about 4. (In the photo above, taken when we were on […]

‘You’ve Got Communism’

Soviet propaganda poster: “Forward. To the victory of communism!” Banner shows profiles of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin. Foreground figures are idealized representations of a laborer and a collective farmer in the “workers’ paradise.” On the eve of Labor Day, I’m reminded of an incident that took place back in early 1978, when I was posted to […]

Eyewitness to an Astonishing Moment in History

Palace Square Last week, on the eve of July Fourth, I wrote about my late father-in-law, Bob Kelley, and his Bicentennial Essay in The American Historical Review. With the fireworks still (figuratively) echoing in my ears, I’m writing this week about another personal connection with the Fourth of July. On that date in 1978, I witnessed […]

Lumpy, Crunchy … Yummy!

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia Six weeks ago I posted an item about my experiences with tea – chai – in Russia and India. This week I want to invite readers back to both places to share another culinary/cultural recollection, this time in connection with two sweet-and-sour dairy products that I find nearly identical […]

Helping Bring Progress to the Third World & Crack Open the Iron Curtain

The following are some thoughts I was invited to write about “national service” – in view of my having served in the Peace Corps and the U.S. Foreign Service – for inclusion in the Class Book of the Yale University Class of 1966, in preparation for our 50th reunion next weekend (June 3-5, 2016): Don’t […]