• DIARY

    100 Midnights in Paris

    Russia, 2000: It was a sleepy March morning in my third-grade class. We dragged ourselves to school in the dark in our bulky winter coats. Classes began at 8.05 – no exceptions, including on Saturdays. Russian school is known for a hardcore curriculum – Dostoyevsky is read by 14-year-olds; excerpts from classical literature at an even earlier age. We were yawning uncontrollably when our teacher, Lyudmila Ivanovna – barely keeping awake herself – requested that we open our literature books. Always the start of an adventure into another time and culture: a glimpse of immortality through the eyes of children, fresh from the realm of immortality itself. Those literary ‘excursions’…

  • DIARY

    MY NEAR-DEATH PARTY

    When I was living in Russia, I was diagnosed with a heart problem, demanding complex surgery. The path to the bus-stop from the hospital led through an old cemetery. Twilight crept over the graves. A light snow was falling.  My mother stopped, my hand firmly clutched in hers. I was 10 years old, reading her thoughts and swearing to myself not to burst into tears. Later that night, I heard her crying behind the closed door to my parents’ bedroom and made another promise to myself: the surgery would not happen. I didn’t care how. It just would not happen. Two months later, I came in for another test to…

  • DIARY

    A Lesson In Greatness

    Prior leaving to Canada, my parents decided to take the 10-year-old me to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Visiting St. Petersburg – the city of my maternal ancestors – I got a fever after sailing down the river Neva. I didn’t notice that fever, especially not in the Hermitage – where my heart quickened from the thrill of the artwork, and the vast majesty of halls, gilded and marbled to imperial perfection. I was a sponge of impressions, absorbing millennia in their quintessence. A worker at the museum observed to my parents that she had never seen a child studying the Roman and Greek sculpture so intently. It was both an…

  • DIARY

    Two Debuts

    My mother went into labor on a night of a new moon in April 1990. Then-president Mikhail Gorbachev was making a speech at the “Palace of Youth” – a recreation centre – a block away from the hospital. When I was born there were 30 or more medical students watching my “debut to the word.” I was born before an audience and to the sound of applause. Now, I must live up to that. When I was 8 years old, I made my official debut on stage at that same Palace of Youth, this time in April 1998. On the same stage where Gorbachev was giving his speech in 1990…

  • DIARY

    Does Human Nature Change?

    Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The Gregorian calendar was adopted by Russia in 1918, following the Revolution. The Julian/Old Style calendar is 13 weeks behind the Gregorian. For this reason Russian Christmas is celebrated later than in the Catholic tradition, moved forward by 13 days to accommodate the Gregorian calendar reform. On January 7th, 2001, I was taken to see the “Story of the Nativity” for children under 15. The actors were running late, and “Jesus” walked out on stage with a red ball, to entertain the young audience. He started throwing the ball into the audience, and the children threw it back. “Whoever catches that ball will be blessed…

  • DIARY,  ESSAYS

    A Peculiar Speed Dating/e

    One of my acquaintances went to Speed Dating. She had met 20 or so men within the limit of two hours. Those men could have been “anyone,” and she ended up getting six numbers. “Amazing people,” she commented. “Physically?” I wondered. “Emotionally too!” she assured me. “I doubt it…” I shrugged. The idea that you could sample a personality – and a compatible one at that – through so brief an interaction, got me thinking, “What if Speed Dating had a night where men or women from history would get a few minutes’ acquaintance with you? How many fanatics, ruthless mass killers, and dictators would you recognize in those couple…

  • DIARY

    The Unexpected Effect of Silver Water

    I would get sick every few months in Russia. I enjoyed walking barefoot, eating icicles too much and doing everything I could to avoid school…Having earned an epic case of sinuses one vicious winter, my sneezes caught the attention of a kind lady doctor who lived downstairs. She came to the rescue with what she called a “traditional treatment”. But I refused to be rescued when she showed me the medicine. Two long silver sticks, reminding of sharp knitting needles. The cotton swabs on their ends glistened with odd-smelling moisture. Those were about to impale my nose and dab the sinus glands with what the Russian country-folk called `silver water`.…

  • DIARY

    Footsteps in Time

    From a letter to a friend this summer. Some memories of the Caucasian Mountains, South of Russia. Going to my friend’s, I had to climb a hill. The scent of lilacs followed me like a veil, with fragrances of late May permeating the air. I remembered myself being nine, visiting my paternal grandparents, and exploring the hills and mountain passes in the Caucasian Mountains, near Krasnodar and the Black Sea…How hot were the summers there, how lustrous the days! My ancestors on my father side – Russian nobility of Cossack descent – used to ride horses in the Caucasian mountains on military missions for the Kuban Cossack Host in the 1800s (one…

  • DIARY

    School 69

    Neither of my parents were in Russia on August 31st, 1997. They were then visiting Canada, which would become my second home. I was watching Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and told my grandmother that I would like to fall asleep and not wake up tomorrow – my very first day in school. I ate a red apple, hoping it was poisoned…I woke up to find it snowing on the first of September (!). A friend of the family, Larissa, came to escort me to school with my brother, Boris, and our grandmother. My parents left me glossy boots to make my way to school for the first…

  • DIARY

    Dare Devils

    The riskiest daredevils I’ve known in my life were 3rd graders in Russia, running beneath the icicles. Naturally, I was among them. The icicles were huge and sharp, trembling from the children’s laughter… I used to call them “ice-bouquets from winter’s garden.” They seemed to drip with glassy dew when the lazy sun appeared for a few minutes per day. But they also reminded of fangs, sprouting from the eaves of an 80 year old building, which was ironically named the Teplopunct (the Heating Centre)…As we grew a little older, my classmates and I decided to save the next generation from the errors of our own. Making snowballs we shot…