Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Monday, September 18, 2006

Fakt checking

A couple of notes on that last post:

1. In the first photo, that's not a T-70 tank or even, as the Comrade witheringly pointed out, a tank at all. It's just a garden-variety cannon. What can I say -- in the '80s I took Joni Mitchell at face value and resolved to Study War No More.

2. The dozen brides, one of whom is in that last photograph, were at St. Michael's, not Lavra. No one is getting married in Lavra monastery, where one of those Ukrainian grandmas will read your (rosary) beads if you so much as peck your significant other on the cheek after making fun of her for souvenir-shopping in the house of the Lord. Just ask the Comrade.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Country of Brides

Dearest readers,

When I wrote that Ukraine was a country rife with brides, I wasn't one of them! An alert reader asked if that was my way of being coy, but it was just my way of being literal -- every day of the week the place is crawling with wedding parties being photographed in front of landmarks and especially picturesque trees, usually with an open bottle of Soviet champagne in tow.

As you can see, I was desperate to capture this phenomenon but didn't have the derring-do to just point and shoot, so the Comrade was pressed into service as my decoy. What that means is that here you miss the high points: the groom in the first photo who very gallantly swept his new wife off that T-70 tank; the bride in the second photo who, minutes before I snapped that picture, was sighing and smoking in front of the vending machine, carefully ashing outside the perimeter of her lame-trimmed gown*;or the day at Lavra monastery in Kiev, when there were at least a dozen brides swanning around in all that saturated blue.

* And seconds after I snapped that picture, she was being photographed in front of City Hall with her bridesmaid, back to arched back, in a girl-on-girl pose that I'm going to kindly refer to here as softcore, while the groom and groomsman stood placidly by.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Orange(-Haired) Revolution

When one is busy making the world safe for those who love freedom, it's difficult to find time to blog; thus, my regrettable extended absence. Last Sunday I was in Kiev's Glory Square, the most stirring WW II monument in a country rife with WW II monuments (and brides, and brides being photographed in front of WW II monuments). I don't think you can see, in this photo, the little guy perched in the cleft where the two cannons meet, but if you look closely you'll notice the tanks have been painted in a wheat motif: from swords, ploughshares!

The Comrade's brother lives in Kiev with his parakeet, Grisha; the two of them can see the gold domes of Lavra monastery from their window. The Comrade and Comrade frere are fast friends and really love each other, in a way that makes me only-child envious. On our last night there we sat outside at a gypsy festival (horseback tricks, dangling coins worn without irony), and the Comrade was cold, and Comrade frere just put his arms around him to warm him up. Their sweetness makes me feel a little ruined. One day in the metro we passed a television that was playing an old Ukrainian cartoon that featured wedding revelers and a drunken wolf, the hilarity of which was not immediately apparent to me, and the Comrade got terrifically excited and stopped C.f., who also got terrifically excited, and the two of them stood giggling like little kids. Not the way I would giggle at Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, though (Sid & Marty Krofft and their wacky tobaccy!) -- they laughed because they thought it was funny.

I thought of that when I passed three American college kids -- two girls and a boy, in the requisite hooded sweatshirts and windbreakers around their waists -- walking into Domashniya Kukhnya, a cafeteria-style restaurant. I was curious about them, wondering if they were doing a semester there or just passing through, whether they spoke Russian, and so I turned to gawp at them from the other side of the glass doors.

Just in time to see one of the girls gesture to the cafeteria trays and say something whilst making air quotes. Then they all laughed, and the boy repeated whatever she'd just said, and he too made air quotes.

"Oh, look, 'cafeteria trays.' What a scream!"

"I'm having a 'Big Mac Attack.'"

"Can we ever have an 'authentic life'"?

I was torn between exasperation ("Don't you realize all this compulsive satire is eroding our capacity for fellow feeling? And some lip gloss, girls -- we look like farmhands here!") and, well, envy again. I would have liked to make air quotes with somebody, too. Or at least a couple of Yakov Smirnoff jokes.

Readers, I know you understand. I'm sorry I've been gone so long. Watch this space for more photos, and more tales of ruined sentiment and eroded feeling!