Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vacation 2010: Baltimore, Maryland


warning: this blog post contains photos of russian food, vodka and members of my big fat russian family. these elements were the main fixtures of the first stop of my train tour up the east coast: Baltimore, Maryland, where my father’s two siblings and their families live. my parents and i paid them a visit over the recent Labor Day holiday. hijinks and hilarity ensued. well, not really, but a lot of drinking, eating and laughing did.


la migra! i hope you know this about me already, but considering that my closest friends forget that i am foreign-born, please make a note that i was not born in the U.S. despite how americanized i seem. i immigrated (legally) from what was then the Soviet Union (now Ukraine) with my family when i was 3 years old. this was in 1979 when an exodus of jews with “political refugee” status left the former U.S.S.R. for greener pastures and greater opportunities.


my pops and his siblings: i came over with my parents and most of my mom’s side of the family, but my dad’s side stayed behind until the 1990s, when they began making their way over, landing in Baltimore. my pops, left, is the youngest of his three siblings, who are actually half siblings born of the same mother.


my baba Anna: my grandma’s first husband died in the war, leaving her with two small children whom her second husband (my pops’ dad) adopted and raised as his own. sadly, she passed a few years after immigrating to Baltimore. while we were in town, we made sure to visit her grave, leave her flowers and tell her that we miss her very much. she was a good grandma.


the food: oh, the food. russian food is really in a class of its own. given the climate, there’s not much seasonal, fresh, organic fare crowding russian menus. however, there are a lot of potatoes, beets, pickled things, salty fish, cured meats and colorful salads. the cholesterol and fat content are off the charts. admittedly, i don’t love all of it (aspic is pretty gross), but the food i do love (hello, salty fish!), i love immensely.


speaking of love: i know this is gross to most, but sardines are one of the great loves of my life. (herring, too!) i eat canned sardines weekly, usually in a homemade pate with hard-boiled eggs and mayo, and hit up a nearby armenian store to get my herring fix. i’m also in love with sprats, pictured above, which are small, sardine-like fish from the Baltics that are delicious beyond measure. so delicious i could lick my computer screen.


the family: considering the amount of food that was prepared, it made sense to invite a lot of family over to consume it. the party was at my cousin’s house, in his disco basement, which is wallpapered with faux brick.


100 grams: vodka shots for russians consist of 100 grams (“zhto grahm”) taken in one fell swoop after a toast is given. here, my pops is giving one of the first toasts of the night (many more followed). in typical jewish fashion, the toast sounded something like, “i’m happy that we’re all gathered here for a joyous occasion instead of a sad one, like a funeral.” good one, pops!

Another Toast

l’chaim! my cousin, Oleg, also gave a toast. it was decidedly less morbid and amounted to, “thanks for swinging by. drink up!”


my cute moms! she was there, too, looking beautiful as always and partying it up like it was 1981.


speaking of 1981: this is a picture of my parents taken in that year when they were fresh off the boat and partying like rock stars. (yes, i know i look just like my mom.) i have this photo framed in my house. it’s hard to tell, but my pops has a gold front tooth in the shot. he was so gangster!


back at the party: the karaoke machine, disco ball and flashing neon lights were fired up and ready to go. just add drunk people.


and here are some now: my cousin’s kid, Alisa, took her new American boyfriend, Eric, to the festivities, where he sampled the weird food, met the crazies and witnessed the chaos that is a family gathering. considering that he didn’t bolt toward the door screaming, i’d say he’s a keeper.


me and my favorite uncle: he’s a little bit famous and all kinds of awesome. a well-respected mathematician — first in Russia and now in the U.S. — my uncle is endlessly fascinating and exceptionally smart, a true russian intellectual. but throw him and my pops together with a bottle of vodka and prepare for the stories of grade school misbehavior to unfold. lets just say i learned a lot about my pops as a young man during this visit. gangster indeed.


not so hard anymore: the angioplasty he had earlier this year really did a number on his heart, making it so open that the slightest provocation of sentimentality renders him weepy and emotional. once a sergeant in the red russian army, my pops is a big ole softie now. and i am still his little girl who thinks he is the greatest man on earth.


another daddy’s girl: seeing my family interact, you’d think we were all molesting each other given the way everyone feels everyone else up at every opportunity. but the truth is that we have always been an affective bunch, even without the vodka.


now you tell me! i found a book of translated russian proverbs at my cousin’s house, many of which made no sense. i’ve been hearing proverbs like these all my life, usually from my mom, who once told me, “don’t be so dumb that you don’t notice the piece of herring on your face.” sure thing, mom!


cheers (again)! i’m sure there are a lot of great tourist things to do in Baltimore, but i did none of them. aside from a day trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the Newseum, which will be featured in the next post, i spent my three days in town shuffling between relatives’ houses — moving from one meal to the next, one toast to the other. despite how tedious that sounds, i had the time of my life and i can’t wait to go back.

more family shots in the slideshow:


Lacey said...

These stories and pics are so great! They are definitely my kind of people. It makes me miss big family gatherings.

Milla said...

Lacey! you need to marry a russian so you can join my crazy family. i have a single cousin but he's only 16. that's not too young for you, right?

Wade said...

The brick wallpaper is so Charm City. Does your cousin live in Hampden?

I knew a ton of Russians growing up... makes me nostalgic! Plus, starving! I mean, who doesn't love pickled fish? Apart from my wife?