Due to a fortunate concatenation (do you like that word? I learned it from Bertie Wooster) of circumstances, I got to tag along on Sam's trip to Moscow, Russia. He was presenting at a digital painting workshop, they invited me along, and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up! I admit the flight (especially home) was quite . . . taxing, but otherwise, I loved every minute of it!

I always like it when I get to see Sam in "professional mode." It's especially fun to watch him with his classes because he's such a great teacher. He's so good at explaining things in a way that makes sense and that is engaging. By the time he's finished, he always has me half-convinced I could be an artist by just implementing the things he's talked about. (When I get an actual drawing instrument in my hand, I am soon disabused of this notion.)

It was interesting to watch how Sam's presentation played out, having to go through the Russian interpreter first. It seemed to me like the interpreter was doing a good job (but how would I know?) but it was kind of odd to watch the two waves of comprehension pass through the audience at various times (many of them did speak English). Even weirder was listening to the other presenter speak in French with a Russian interpreter. It reminded me of the time in Frankfurt when I saw Yevgény Onégin performed in Russian with German supertitles. I feel like if I just . . . listen . . . hard . . . enough maybe I'll get something? But no.
There were so many people there! About 400, I think I heard someone say.

I spent several hours talking with the workshop organizer's darling wife, Lilya. She said she didn't speak English (and my Russian is non-existent, obviously) but I thought it was amazing how well we managed to communicate with the words she did have, plus sign language and lots of giggling. Later when her husband was there to translate, he kept bringing up subjects where Lilya and I would say at the same time, "Oh yes, we know, we already talked about this!" I don't know how we covered so much ground, but we just understood each other! Our babies are due at the same time, which made us like each other right away, and we definitely felt we were kindred spirits. One of the most pleasant surprises about the whole trip was just how NICE everyone was to us---no one seemed annoyed with our ignorance of the language and everyone was happy to help us whenever we needed it. And Lilya was the nicest of all of them. I felt kind of sad that she had been living in the same world as me all this time and yet I would have never known her if it weren't for this unexpected intersection of our lives. And yet it's an amazing thing, too, that you can find friendship so suddenly half a world away. I hope our paths will cross again sometime.
I knew Sam had "a following" in Russia but it still made me giggle to see people asking for his autograph and getting their pictures taken with him. Some girl asked me, "How does it feel to be married to Sam Nielson?" Ha, wouldn't you like to know. :)

The event photographer was really nice too---she took some pictures of the two of us and we were really awkward in half of them, which is why we never have pictures taken of just the two of us. "What do you mean, gaze into each others' eyes?" But I am always happy to have pictures of us together, and I always wish later that we had more of them, so I was happy she made the effort with us.

It was a beautiful (if cold) walk out along the Moscow River afterwards to our ride. It was great to have a ride, but I must say the driving in Moscow is the scariest I have EVER encountered. Apparently lanes are just sort of . . . optional? As are one-way streets? I just looked out the window and tried to pretend I was watching a movie. About very bad driving.

Max and his friends took us out to a "traditional Russian restaurant" afterwards, which caused great inter-lingual merriment among the group as we discussed which aspects of the decor, exactly, were "traditionally Russian." (The lion with a fish on its tail? The balloons taped to the wall? The pickled tomatoes in jars with wooden cats on top?) There was much toasting and yes, vodka, but no one seemed to mind our lack of familiarity with the protocol (or our orange juice). The meal was long and elaborate, with course after course. I didn't try everything but I tried mostly everything and it was all good, or at least interesting. The borscht tasted just like my mom's vegetable soup. There was much discussion and hand-gesturing and confusion about the "vereniki" on the menu, which everyone tried to explain, and which Google Translate told us meant . . . vereniki. They turned out to be a sort of dumpling, with both sweet and savory fillings. They were my favorite part of the meal. I liked the little bread-rolls with potatoes and meat in them, too (I forget what those were called). 

It went on for hours, and I got very full and kept trying to demonstrate with hand gestures just how little room the baby leaves in there for my stomach. After some drinking, people started making expansive comments to Lilya and me about how "children are the flower of life" and so forth. Very nice, but we were too busy nibbling on the decorative basil from the salad plate (yum!) and commiserating about how some children never sleep anywhere but their own beds no matter how tired they are, to contribute much to a discussion of such philosophical matters.

Anyway, it was such a fun evening and a great chance for us to meet "regular people" in Moscow! We really loved it.
Max, Lilya, me, Sam


  1. What an amazing experience. Who stayed with the children (note that the mother/buddy's first concern is freak out about the children), and thank heaven you didn't crash and disappear into the ocean because NOBODY COULD TAKE YOUR PLACE IN OUR LIVES. NOBODY. But how fun to have been part of this with Sam-the-man. I've never been that far east - or west for that matter. Paris. I think that's as far as I will ever get. And blogging has done that kind of thing for me, connecting with people in Canada and South Africa and Australia and England and the Alps - people I'd never have had a chance to meet. Leaves you reeling at the thought of how many spirits there are out there you have the potential of loving as your own. Glad you're home, wee one. Very glad.

  2. My dear mother had the children. I was going to write "my sainted mother," but that makes her sound like she's dead, which she isn't, although she very well might have been after taking on all 5 of them for 6 days. But she seems to have borne up rather well. Bless her heart. :)

  3. You're so beautiful and awesome. I wish I were you, in that I had that experience, but it was such a great experience because you were the one experiencing it, I think. Really cool. So, how DOES it feel to be married to SAM NIELSON?!?
    I can answer that for you right now: humboto 2511


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