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Apparently, there are words I still don’t know in English. Like apron.

March 8, 2012
Vyertolyet - or wooden helicopter toy - a word I often forget in English

I forgot the word for helicopter the other day. For the rotor, actually. And I didn’t forget so much as remember it in the wrong language. My brain froze up and then offered me nothing but a very Russian “vyertolyot”. The end result is that I have a toddler who will never know what those…

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My KGB file – Yes, there was probably a file with my name on it

March 7, 2012
My KGB file

*Updated at bottom Excuse me while I continue to geek out on Soviet government memos… As I flip through, I’m continually amazed at the level of specificity in these memos, and to realize that “Big Brother” genuinely read all letters received from North American activists and government officials. (Paging Amnesty International.) We like to complain…

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The loneliness of crossing oceans

March 2, 2012
Umbrellas on the Spanish Steps

I’ve been writing about a trip I took to Rome with my parents a few years ago. We tried to find the apartment we’d lived in while we were waiting for our Canadian paperwork, but then didn’t. We did eat a lot of gelato and drink a lot of wine. But one of the things…

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Apparatchiks with typewriters, or, in the Soviet archives

February 28, 2012
Russian Cyrillic typewriter of the type found in Soviet archives

I recently got my hands on a research collection from the Soviet archives of government documents on Jewish immigration, dating from 1957 to 1989. The book was published in 1998, just as the post-collapse euphoria came to a close and Russian archives began to fold back in on themselves, so these documents are no longer…

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The Potemkin effect: Colour photos from Russia in the black-and-white days

February 12, 2012
Old colour photos from Russia - peasants harvesting in a field

There is a fantastic collection of old colour photos from Russia – Tsarist Russia, to be exact – taken between 1902 and 1912 on the Boston Globe site. Strictly speaking, they’re not colour photos – the photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) – shot each image three times, using a red, green and then blue filter. He…

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Soviet Jewry books: A reading assignment

February 6, 2012
Russian Reading List for trip

I made a reading list! Or “curated” if you want to be fancy about it. You all should go read it. It’s for the Jewish Book Council and covers what I consider some of the best reading on Soviet Jewish history. The books are: When They Come for Us, We’ll be Gone: The Epic Struggle…

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Not my perestroika: Shades of might have beens

December 15, 2011
My Perestroika documentary screenshot

Every year, on September 1, Russian children start their first day of school. All of them, en masse. And before them, it was Soviet children. My mother went to school in pinafored uniform, braids and bows in her hair, flowers in her arms. Twenty years later, a carbon copy photo of my cousin doing and…

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The Soviet Samovar! First issue! Wednesday!

October 3, 2011

*Updated – Check out the first issue of Soviet Samovar here. I spend a lot of my online time doing what most of us do – reading stuff, looking at stuff and sending stuff around. Savvy internet types have even wholescale co-opted the term curating from the dry, dusty bowels of museums to give all…

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Live, in the kitchen, from Moscow

September 26, 2011
The Kitchen Debate - Nixon and Kruschev in Moscow at the American National Exhibition, 1959

It took the Kremlin until 1959 to realize how starved for things the nation was. In July of that year, Moscow’s Sokolniki Park hosted the American National Exhibition. …In just two week two million Russians had had their faces mashed into a perfect tableau of Yankee wealth. The Cadillacs, the TV dinners, the cosmetics, the…

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Hiding out in the ‘burbs

September 21, 2011
Film still representing the lives of immigrants in the suburbs

Surprisingly to some, many of the people living in the suburbs – places like Peel or Scarborough – do so voluntarily—almost as if they like it or something. Moreover, a very significant chunk of those suburbanites aren’t white and weren’t born in Canada, a fact that raises some rather sticky questions. To wit, as downtown…

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