Stremba
& Company
 
 

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PHONES, COUPS,
& TRANSFIGURATION IN THE USSR

The Cates Tapes

19 August 2006

"Some men outside want to see you, Mr. President."
Gorbachev reached for a telephone. Dead.
A second phone. Also out.
Scrambled to a third. Not a hum.
Was the Party over? Fifteen years, now, since that attempted summer coup (a hardline plot to restore the Soviet Union to its pre-Gorbachev state, which ironically only hastened its demise) and Stremba and Cates reminisce with tapes of their phone chatter. Click on title to see the whole transcript.

"B" IS FOR "GRANDMOTHER"

or The Power of Childhood Language

13 January 2006

All it took was one word, I dare say. One word sinks into her soul, and this Tatar-Uzbek girl discovers joy in a multitude of words, and soon thereafter the pleasure in all manner of music. Years later, the girl grown up, she shared this story from her Tashkent childhood.

DANCING IN RUSSIA

The Mystery of the Ex-Patriate Mind

Summer 2005

What're your feelings these days about Russia? Had enough of op-ed assessments of Putin and the authoritarian culture his country is fast reverting to? Did you experience any irritation this summer when our US Senators were made to cool their heels at a Russian airport, for hours, before being allowed to depart for Ukraine? That episode, by the way, took place in one corner of my Bride's old Russian work territory: Perm. In Soviet times labor camps in that region housed political prisoners alongside nasty criminals. But the Mizzus loved the city of Perm. No accounting for people's affections, eh? This piece looks at a few other Americans crazed over Russia.

RUSSIA IS A DISEASE, THE RUSSIAN SAID

or Going Back For More

Summer 2005

Back in Russia on a quick trip in late July 2005, an American friend of Stremba and Bride from their days in Yekaterinburg, writes: "Even in Moscow, where new Stalin-style skyscrapers go up overnight, there seems to be little change in the lives of average people in the span of this past year. After being away for over a year, I returned to Sheremetevo II, with its bizarre lighting, long passport control lines, and pushy taxi drivers, to attend a reunion conference for scholars who had studied across Russia. I recount here a few impressions and conversations from a very brief (4-day) stay."

TASHKENT
IN TIMES OF TROUBLE, SORROW & JOY

31 May 2005

Barbara had just arrived in Tashkent mid-May to participate in the last memorial meals honoring Hadicha's mother, the late Aklima-opa, when anti-government demonstrations in eastern Uzbekistan escalated into violence. Back after two weeks there, she recalls the news coverage and reminisces about Hadicha's mother. Aklima-opa's story reflects well the travails of folks in the early days of the USSR far from cosmopolitan centers.

KONETS i BOGU SLAVA;
THAT'S ALL, FOLKS,
AND GLORY BE TO GOD

or Wrapping Up Russia With Fun In Cyrillics

4 July 2004

The Cyrillic alphabet, a first love? You bet. When I was a mere boy I learned to decipher Old Church Slavonic so I could chant the Apostle Paul's epistle at the Liturgy. But I had little idea of what it all meant, sort of like an Uzbek boy who masters Arabic script and can "read" the Quran. That love of Cyrillic characters has, like my preference for brunettes, endured.

NA ULITSE
OUT & ABOUT IN RUSSIA AND UZBEKISTAN

or Another Installment Towards
an Anthology of Conversations

30 June 2004

Househusband-storyteller continues his collection of conversations recorded off the streets of Yekaterinburg in Russia and Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Translated from Russian and, in some cases, reconstructed from independent source material, the topics range from light and not-so-light, reflecting the Soviet and post-Soviet lives of a cast of thousands including taxi-drivers, and dedushki and babushki and beggars, Bolsheviks, Christians, Muslims, and his friend of no category, Oleg.

VESNA

Russian Spring and Resurrecting the Past
or How Many Baltimoreans Does It Take
To Change A City?

Easter 2004

Why had Philip Arnoult come to Yekaterinburg, of all places? Director of the Center for International Theater Development, he has been in Russia and eastern Europe countless times. Into East Africa, too. The afternoon we caught up with him was at a meeting with a young Russian who has formed an amateur theater group for doing English-language plays, and recently been granted rights to stage a new American script about a very Russian subject.

ZIMA

Winter in the Urals, Our Last

"Zima" 29 February 2004

Best way to spend a Russian winter [zima] is make some soup, find a warm well-lighted spot, curl up with a good book, slurp and read. But as the days get longer, the Mizzus organizes a foray outdoors to salute our last Urals winter, me with reluctance, she with a camera.

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Journal Entries on American Literature in Russia

19 January 2004

Surrounded as I am by Orthodox Christianity, I might wonder why my January dreams didn't feature Jesus wading into the Jordan. Surely my dream of Poe complaining about being stuck in Baltimore was a sign of something.

TOWARDS
AN ANTHOLOGY

Conversations & Interviews
from the Land of Tzars & Commissars

12 August 2003

"Storyteller?" Nastya asks. "Is that a common profession in the USA?"

"Not terribly common, Nastya, but we're there. Yet — well — okay — sometimes it does seem as if everyone and his grandmother are coming out as storytellers. Out of the woodwork."

"Grandmothers?" Nastya puzzles. "Wood-workers?"

THE GARDENER OF EDEN

Oleg: A Portrait

February 2002

Finding him sprawled with a book on three dirty sofa cushions lined up on the concrete floor of the summer kitchen, I asked "What're you reading?" in Russian, startling him. Laughing at having been found out, he answered "Gahlz-wur-see," which I soon determined to be the Russian version of Galsworthy.... He loved retelling stories he had read. Like the plot of Stendahl's "Red", in Russian and in mime, there under the cherry tree. I corrected his pantomime: "That's not where the guillotine strikes."... But let's get to how it was I dared smack a citizen of Uzbekistan.

TO YOUR HEALTH!

Oleg: A Sequel

19 August 2003

Now, westerners normally sip their hard liquor. Slavs, however, have long modeled tossing back the full shot, the way Pennsylvania coal miners used to do it.... Raising glasses, they knocked back the vodka. Raising eyebrows as I toasted with just a sip, leaving the remaining 98 grams for the succeeding toasts (there are always more toasts).... "Next time you come, Mr. Matthew, I will be dead and buried." "And who will get the priest for your panakhida?" Oleg roared at the hilarity of religious rites over his dead body. He grew up in a very Soviet home.

TAKING THIS CITY STREET BY STREET

Second Installment: Casualties of the Campaign

16 April 2003

A fellow Baltimorean wrote recently graciously reminding me of street names back home that resonate with America's revolutionary era: Franklin, Paca, Lafayette. Accomplishing independence and naming our streets, all of that pretty much moved in step with the city's growth — Baltimore, a young thing baptizing streets aborning. Yekaterinburg by 1917, however, was a great-granny looking at roadways named generations earlier.

THE CHURCH OUTS ITSELF FROM THE SANCTUARY:

Na postu: E-pistle Two

27 March 2003

This change in Russia wouldn't fascinate me except for the lasting impression of what it was like all those years ago, when it seemed things would never ever be any different. Then it was more than a matter of Soviet society ignoring Lent.

FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS

Na Velikom postu: The Church In The Kitchen

19 March 2003

Our dear friend Hadicha, studying English, was always getting the nouns "church", "kitchen", and "chicken" confused. The chicken choir. The kitchen service. The church sink.

Matthew's topic is not that funny: the dizzying change in the Church's place in this formerly Soviet society. In less than 15 years! Think of it, every daily newspaper here carried notices announcing the Lenten period.

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