Posts

Guns, not Butter

The “Czar Cannon,” cast in 1586, stands in the Kremlin. Former U.S. and Russian presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev provide perspective on its size. Here, from my personal recollection, is an interesting footnote to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 38 years ago this month (Dec. 24, 1979). It illustrates the overarching principle governing Soviet […]

Bolshevik Revolution – A Somber Centenary

The defining moment of the October Revolution, as Soviet propaganda wished the world to see it. Like so much else in the Soviet version of history, it is a false picture. As a student of Russia, I find it impossible to ignore the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which took place this past Tuesday, […]

The Ambassador Wanted My Scalp

Train following the Rhine, like the one on which I came down with chicken pox You’re getting ready for next week’s business trip to Europe and your kid comes down with the chicken pox. You don’t remember ever having had chicken pox when you were a kid. What do you do? Well, that’s what happened […]

Consul – Council – Counsel: What’s the Difference?

Russian consulate in San Francisco The latest round of tit-for-tat “undiplomacy” between the U.S. and Russia was in the news this past week. The State Department ordered the closure of three Russian diplomatic offices, including the Russian consulate-general in San Francisco. This reminded me of the time, back in the 1970s, when I was serving […]

Russian Drinking Tales – Round 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about my initial exposure to vodka, back in 1967 during my first stay in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, when a friend and I sat on a park bench and shared a bottle of “the white stuff” with a partially – and soon to be totally – inebriated Russian guy. On that […]

Russian Drinking Tales – Round 1

In my junior year of high school, our history teacher began the year’s first lesson by telling us that “America is a hard-drinking nation.” We may well be, but in my experience, Americans don’t hold a candle to the Russians. I’ll come back to tales of Russian drinking prowess in a future post, but today […]

Happy Easter!

Russian Easter Eggs Have you ever locked yourself out of the car? With the motor running? On a narrow street? With traffic stuck behind you? Because you’re just outside the Russian Orthodox Cathedral as the Midnight Easter Service is about to begin? Yup! It happened to me. Which is a self-exculpatory way of saying, “Yes, […]

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 […]