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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Hello There Comrade

I used to hang out with Russians.

Growing up, I had an impression of Russians gleaned entirely from the news strips shown in Social Studies during the 70s, wherein squat women in unattractive coats and scarves stood in mile-long lines hoping for shoes.

The kind of shoe, the size of the shoe? Unimportant. Once they had the shoe they’d worry about what to do with it.

Soviet Russia’s shortages were no joke. But my belief that all Russians were squat people in scarves certainly was.

Now, personally, I consider myself reasonably attractive. I’m not heavy, but not skinny; I fix my hair, even if “fixing” it just means brushing it; and I never leave the house without my lipstick.

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing a little lipstick won’t cure.

Headcold? You’ll look better with a little lip.

Heartache? Maybe a little lip color will make you feel better.

Just running to the store to pick up cigarettes? Hey – maybe a little lipstick, huh? You never know who you’ll run into…

The Russians in my life at that time were all met through the people I hired several jobs back to clean an office building, and to a man were physically fit, attractive, and elegant.

And that’s the other thing a little lipstick can do for you – convince beautiful immigrants that they should include you in the festivities.

And so it came to pass that I was invited to join in a celebration. A party of 16 people met at a local Russian restaurant for a couples’ 10th wedding anniversary. I was the only native-born American at the table.

Have you partied with the Russians? They leave their worries at the door. The men wear suits, the women wear dresses, and everything is pleasantries and vodka. The table is laden with the pickles, potato salad, marinated and smoked herring, hardboiled eggs, cold cuts and brown bread consumed between shots.

There will be dinner much later.

The first toast is to the women at the table.

The second is to the men.

The third one is open.

We have just finished the third toast when I am tapped on the shoulder.

I turn to see a handsome man in a suit.

He hold his hand out, says something in Russian which I am willing to bet translates as Would you care to dance?

I push my chair away from the table and smilingly hold my hand out, and he guides me on to the dance floor.

The band, consisting of drums, accordion, saxophone, and violin, plays music I don’t recognize; but he is a good dancer, and arm around my waist, we move among the other couples.

He is talking. I imagine that he is talking about the band, about the restaurant, about the beautiful evening. There are no questions, just him talking; and abuzz with vodka and the ease of being paired with a good dancer, I smile.

At the end of the song, he guides me back to my seat, and for the first time, asks me a question.

“I’m sorry,” I say, sitting down. “I don’t speak Russian.”

His mouth drops open, and then he recovers and closes it. He smiles, lifts my hand, and kisses it.

And I rejoin my table.



Was there a point to this post? Not really. I just wanted to relive that night.

46 comments:

Simply Suthern said...

It is amazing the difference there is between the Russians we learned in school vs the true Russian folk.

Sounds like a nice evening. I wonder if that night had anything to do with Liza Bean ending up at your place. ever find an X on your mailbox?

Oilfield Trash said...

Russians are pretty cool and relaxed people. I used to tutor a couple of Russians in math back when I was in college.

Pearl said...

It was a lovely evening.
And I had never considered that Liza Bean might be a "plant"...

Pearl said...

Oilfield, the majority of them are ready to stay up all night, too. Lots to drink, but lots to eat, too, and they're willing to get philosophical with you...

lime said...

well, sugar, that's a moment worth reliving. do enjoy the savoring and thanks for letting us share.

Camille said...

Vodka shots, pickles, smoked herring, a snappy dancer and a hand kiss...what a night. *sigh* Swoonin' over here Pearl.

ellen abbott said...

our mistake is we fail to separate the people from the government.

Jhon Baker said...

what a great night - reminds me of a story a friend of mine shared about Paris - she was leaning on some rail overlooking something when (she says) a beautiful Parisian starts whispering in her ear, she said it sounded sexy and that was all she needed - they went back to her hotel and had a hot night and in the morning the two girls had breakfast together - neither spoke each others language. Always liked that one. Maybe I'll turn it into a short story if I can get someone who speaks french to write the frenchy dialogue.

Pearl said...

lime, it was a lovely evening.

Camille, I swear, when you do a shot of vodka, pop a pickle -- the sour cuts the "shudder" factor immensely. And then you nibble. And talk, and nibble. And 15 minutes later, there's another toast. It's a the perfect way to get a little loose and still feel great.

ellen, absolutely right.

Jhon, you wouldn't even need the dialogue. :-) It's a great story, and I hope it's true -- and even if it's not, if you can imagine it, I'm willing to bet that somewhere, it's happened...

Grant said...

And now suddenly I continue to have absolutely no desire to involve myself in their culture. No mention of J-bunnies, kimono, or soy and tofu products whatsoever. Epic fail!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You sly dog--you could've strung him along longer if you'd given him a coy smile and a little nod;)

Glen said...

Excerpt from “A life ironing curtains” by Russian heartthrob and director of cultural indifference's, Boris Johnson…

…It had been an amazing night; the world was indeed my Oyster. The cheque from the lottery had finally come through, confirming that I was now the 8th richest man in America and my closest friends were celebrating their 10th anniversary. I was just about to fetch a pickled egg from the buffet when I saw her… Oh my, did I see her.

From the instant I saw those lips, I knew what I wanted.

I was instantly in love and I had to find more.

I stood before her, held out my hand and said “Your lippy is so fresh, please - I must know what brand you use so I can buy some. Can I have a look?”

However she just laughed and dragged me to the dance floor.

I’m not sure what the music was, I’m not really into dancing – especially with drunk women that keep standing on my feet. Two or three times I asked her if she could take her heels off, so that they wouldn’t keep stabbing into my toes, but she just smiled and kicked me in the ankles.

Slowly I started to find this a little endearing, and I realized that the twinkle in her eyes was trying to suggest something, so as the music faded and we walked back to her seat, I pulled her close and said that I loved her, wanted to marry her and take her to my private Caribbean Island cat sanctuary for ever.

This mysterious vixen fixed me an Amazonian stare and spoke to me in an English accent that I never understood, but with the romance of the moment I imagined that she said…

“Meet me in the Gents toilet in 5 minutes and you can do me doggy-doggy”

I kissed her hand and made my way to the toilets, but she never came. I sat there all night but my dream woman never turned up. Worse still – I never found out what that bloody lipstick was!

Pearl said...

Grant, you suddenly continue!!! :-) Why I oughta...

Green Girl, :-) I had an attractive, single man on either side of me. I could've sat at that table for WEEKS...

Pearl said...

Very funny, Glen!
The true story is revealed... :-)

Belle said...

Sometimes when I read how other cultures celebrate, I envy them. My Spanish professor used to tell us about the town square and how everyone in town was invited to every celebration. There was music, dancing, food and friendship.
Your night with the Russians sounds magical.

Eva Gallant said...

No wonder you remember the evening! It sounds like a fantastic time!

Mollie said...

In Soviet Russia, the night relives you!

WrathofDawn said...

What he was describing his luxury dacha on the Volga and telling you you were the most beautiful woman in the world and would you please marry him and make him the happiest Russian multi-millionaire in the world.?

Hmmmm???

laughingmom said...

I think it sounds like a night that needs to be revisited more often!

Doubting Thomas said...

Sounds like a GREAT evening-the kind a few Americans could take a page out of. In South Texas, throw a few peanut shells on the floor, substitute armadillo for herring and Shiner Bock for vodka and we're in business. The accents are just as unintelligble ;)

C... said...

LOL - I like the end. He is dumbfounded thinking you knew what he yammered on about through the whole dance only to find out you didn't. :)

Drake Sigar said...

They almost sound English.

lisleman said...

Those Russian spies that were uncovered about year ago (?) had a very sexy beautiful lady among them. Being in the military during the cold war I was indoctrinated with the belief that the Russian were enemy number 1. Nice story.

Pat Tillett said...

What a great story! It was certainly one worth reliving. A good memory for sure...

Kate Mohler said...

I am *all* for reliving good nights. I enjoyed your memory. :-) Thanks for the birthday greetings. You can't be that much older than me!

a Broad said...

While all the Russians I have met are not short and square shaped, there do seem to be less tall dark and handsome than I would imagine. And the women are scary in their tall, skinny, hardness. This of course is grossly generalizing the Russians we met in NY.. they do have excellent taste in fur coats and diamonds though..

Your night sounds dreamy .. I don't blame you for wanting to relive it. I might relive it myself now.

Chl said...

I had a group of Albanians take me out one night in NYC (our respective companies are both vendors for a big-box retailer). We ate an an Italian place, in Chinatown (formerly Little Italy!) owned by more Albanians. Also at the dinner was an Israeli who lives in Hong Kong. It was an EXPERIENCE. The kind you typically only see in movies. And it was a lot of fun. All night long the Israeli and I were shooting each other looks of "did you see that, can you believe that just happened?"

Minxy said...

OMG. Russian men are so hot. The only reason I watch the Olympics are to ogle the Russian men.

*drool*

who said...

telling the story is a great primer for the mind, especially since you have so many readers. The more readers you have the more likely you are to meet someone who could easily by type cast for an improvisational re-enactment with optional endings or new leads into new chapter beginnings.

I guess thats why imaginative folks don't wait till they run out reasons, to be able to choose to through caution to the wind. They make sure they make a trip to the pharmacy, or at least the pharmacy section of a store, and at the very least walk slowly on the way home.

It's the reason creatively wild imaginationary types are sometimes still wet haired from the shower, while slowly walking home with twelve new reasons to fast pitch caution no where near the plate. Devious laughter making obvious your intentions coming off the mound to sidle up next to the batter so that he doesn't resist your playful grip of the belt's buckle that is weaved through the loops of his pants.

Gigi said...

I agree, Pearl - you never know what doors will open all because of a little lip color! Sounds like a fantastic evening!

And, of course, Liza Bean is a plant! Didn't you notice how nervous she was getting when they picked up that sleeper cell?

Pat said...

A question? It could have been a proposal!

Lazarus said...

Russians are certainly funsters. I recently was in the market for a diamond ring and the Russian jeweler who I dealt with in NYC's Diamond District told me that the purchase would also include me buying a bottle of vodka "which we will drink together!" I think they come out of the womb partying!

Rene/ Not The Rockefellers said...

ahhhh....you gotta learn how to play the balalaika

jenny_o said...

What a lovely memory to have - I wonder what he was asking?

HermanTurnip said...

Growing up I used to watch a lot of Hogan's Heroes, and always thought that that's how Russians used to act. Years later I was told that Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz were Germans.

Needless to say I was a very confused child...

Daisy said...

I smiled all through this post! I think a few more "toasts" and you would have been speaking Russian too!

Karen said...

Sounds like a lovely evening.

Susan in the Boonies said...

Gosh, I totally relate to this post!

When I lived in Switzerland, a Swiss, French-speaking engineering student-nerd taught me to dance: "hahrock-anhd-rohl". He looked like a nerd, but he was more smooth that Fred Astaire. I smiled a lot, and let him lead me around like a lamb to the slaughter.

It was magnifique!!!

KSK said...

Beautiful Story!

who said...

susan,

unless s-laughter is the same as e-laughter except that humans accidentally uncovered that word way to early in the alphabet of time, it sounds like troubles a brewin, and I have an awful lot riding on the bet that humanity is more good than evil (mankind's existence on earth to be exact)

it's kinda sorta coming down to the wire, and technically, coming down here and interfering is against the rules. Getting caught making wagers on outcomes we are not supposed to be betting on is worse than loosing the bet (at least that's how I felt the last time I got caught) So hopefully that fact illustrates the seriousness of this minor dilemma happening here.

please try to be conscious of the possible irony of your comments, is nothing sacred to you?

On My Soapbox said...

That's quite a compliment to be included in the festivities. Apparently, you were quite a hit. ;-)

That Janie Girl said...

I could see you dancing with him. A language that transcends all others.

River said...

My German dad used to tell a war story of being on the Russian front on Christmas day, instead of shooting bullets or tossing grenades at each other, they tossed things from their supplies, like food or whatever, and both sides sang Christmas carols in their respective languages. Of course the next day it was war as usual.
I remember from my childhood newspaper stories and pictures of Russian women lining up for days or weeks at a time for rations like one roll of toilet paper per family, one small bag of rice or flour per family, one loaf of bread per family. I was always very glad I lived in Australia.

Gary Baker said...

Lipstick, huh? What's the best colour? I'm a winter ...

Jocelyn said...

Now THAT's romance--wherein every moment is heightened and full of pleasure, and the whole thing ends before reality comes crashing in.

Hey, for me, the story isn't over, though, until you give us a tally of how many shots you did before the night was over.

hoodyhoo said...

doo-Jesus, did it just get warm in here? I LURVE pretty much all Europeans -- they know how to eat! "Is that your sandwich?" "Well, it's my APPETIZER..."