Excerpts from a recent email inviting me to join a literary trip to Cuba led by Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction magazine:


I am writing to invite you to take part in the precedent-breaking workshop I will be teaching this winter in the enigmatic country where Ernest Hemingway wrote his most inspired books: Cuba.

What makes a country enigmatic?! And is Cuba only mysterious to you because you’ve never been there?

Afternoons and evenings, we’ll explore the city, the countryside, museums, markets, sporting events, and cafes, interviewing and observing the Cuban people and learning about the diversity that makes them unique.

Sounds like visiting a zoo.

If you click through for more information, it doesn’t get any better:

To enable you to become a better writer and truly begin to understand this enigmatic country, the spirited and gracious Cuban people are the focus of this program.

The $3,695 trip is sold out, but you can join the waiting list here. Or just poke fun at this on the internet. 😁

That whole “shit X people say” meme trend has come and gone, but I just found some hand-written notes I must have written at some point in 2012 when I was still living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Here’s my own attempt at “Shit People in Crown Heights Say:”

  • “Goddamn it car alarms”
  • “I love you Queens but the G train is just not a real train”
  • “You’re in the Bronx? Uh, I just assumed the Brooklyn Botanical Garden”
  • “Take the 3 to the S to the B/Q” (a la this SNL skit about Los Angeles freeways!)
  • “I’ll just double park on Bedford Ave. while you run in”
  • “Fucking dog shit everywhere when it snows”
  • “Are you really eating a fish sandwich on the B44 bus?”
  • “No free Jehovah’s Witness bible, thanks though”
  • “Are you Jewish?” “Yes, but no thanks”
  • “I’ll take four doubles with extra tamarind sauce”
  • “Our mouse lives behind the stove”
  • “Do you use T-Mobile or Metro PCS?”

Not even sure these are relevant anymore as the neighborhood has fully gentrified, as evidenced by the presence of a STARBUCKS.

A Facebook friend who’d moved to the U.S. from St. Petersburg in his thirties recently posted a frustrated status update in which he complained about a younger writer. This writer had immigrated from Russia as a child, and now wrote an overwrought (in my friend’s opinion) essay about her conflicted identity. His basic point was that since she’d grown up in America, she was essentially American. Her memories of the old country were childish and vague or, perhaps, even second-hand, based on photographs and stories. Not only did she speak English without an accent, she was more comfortable expressing herself in English than in her first language. The only experience of adulthood she’d had was an American experience. Most importantly, Americans didn’t perceive her as “other.” Because of this, my friend said, her identity issues, if not entirely made up for the sake of her readers, were greatly exaggerated. She didn’t face the daily oppression of being treated like a foreigner, of having to distinguish herself from a stereotype that rose like a wall in people’s minds whenever they heard accented speech. She didn’t experience the difficulty of navigating around cultural knowledge gaps that persisted in older immigrants long after they mastered the vernacular of everyday life. So why, my friend wondered, why was she being such drama queen about the difficulty of her bifurcated identity? My friend found it unseemly. Nabokov, he argued, had never made a peep about his identity troubles.

Above quote from Anya Ulinich, in her introduction to Karolina Waclawiak’s novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms (bolding my own).

If her friend is right, I guess I should just stop writing. All my stuff is about complicated identities, but as an American-born daughter of Soviet immigrants, I suppose I have no real reasons to feel such complications. LOL.

I formally introduce for your internet distraction and pleasure:

The Weekly Russia Roundup of Humor

Welkome to my new weekly internet column (see, I spelled “Welcome” with a “k” to make it seem more like Russian!)  I’ll be distilling a week’s worth of important Russian jokes, photos, videos, stories, news, and internet humor into one condensed post. Any comments or requests are encouraged.

Joke of the Week
During his visit to the USSR, Nixon was intrigued by a new telephone capable of connecting with hell. He spoke briefly with the devil, and the call cost him 27 cents. When he came back home, he found out that this same service was now available in the US too. He tried it again and received a bill for $12,000. Nixon was distressed.
– How come?! The same call only cost me 27 cents in the USSR.
– Well, said the operator. Over there it is a local call.

News of the Week
Sochi, a Russian southern resort town on the coast of the Black Sea, is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.  As usual, the preparations are plagued with corporate scandal as less-than-environmental construction projects attempt to distract from the fact that the area still does not even have adequate plumbing, water, or electricity. It’s a disaster in the making.

According to human rights activist Garry Kasparov, numerous families are being illegally evicted in preparation for (past-deadline) construction projects, and all the work combined is costing Russian taxpayers more than three times what it has for the last three Olympic games combined (see this story for more details).
Russia! magazine highlights the best part of this ineptness:

Early this year, 24 hours before the International Olympic Committee inspectors landed in Sochi, the Black Sea-resort town which will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, there was an emergency meeting held in several local schools. Teachers were instructed to put on their best clothes, pack their best luggage and hand-pick five students each. Instead of going to class the next day, they were told to arrive at the local airport and stay there for a full day, posing as tourists and making the airport look packed with travelers.
Video of the Week
Following up on the theme of the insane bureaucracy and inefficiency in Russia, check out this footage of some tenants dealing with inept construction and coming up with unusual solutions.
That’s all for now – come back next week for more!


I can’t stop laughing.  Not good.

Seen first here.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, English Russia is one of my favorite blogs evar.  Their two most recent posts really reaffirm this for me.

First we’ve got a post about homeless puppies in the Moscow subway system.  The photos are great (adorable, sad, cute, depressing)…

…but it’s the writing that really makes this post:

The four legged oldest human’s friends demonstrate real smartness such as riding the Moscow metro every morning to get from their suburban places of living to the fat regions of Moscow center. Once they arrive to the downtown they demonstrate different new, previously unseen for the dog skills. Those skills can include “the hunt for shawarma” for example, the popular among Muscovites eastern cuisine dish.

Next we’ve got some photos of Soviet-era condoms

…with the added tibdit that:

Officially [the condoms] were called “product no. 2″, because the product no. 1 was a rubber gas-mask of the same factory.

The writing is clearly written by someone for whom English is not a first language.  It’s weird because the title of the blog makes it seem like it’s intended for an English-speaking audience, but from what I can tell, most of the commenters don’t speak great English, either.  See the about page for outraged Russians who feel like this blog is being too harsh on them:

The site is full of negative info about my native country. Looks like an American anti-Soviet propaganda of Cold War times. Have you guys seen anything in Russia except drowned tractors, street fights and drunk subway bums?..

This blog always has such gems and little cultural insights.  I dunno, maybe they’re only funny to me.

Click this link – it will change your life.

Some highlights: