Anya von Bremzen · 339 pages
Rating: (2.9K votes)
“On Sundays Mom invariably ran out of money, which is when she cracked eggs into the skillet over cubes of fried black sourdough bread. It was, I think, the most delicious and eloquent expression of pauperism.”
“Six paradoxes of Mature Socialism: 1) There’s no unemployment, but no one works; 2) no one works, but productivity goes up; 3) productivity goes up, but stores are empty; 4) stores are empty, but fridges are full; 5) fridges are full, but no one is satisfied; 6) no one is satisfied, but everyone votes yes.”
“Mayakovsky, brazen poet of the revolution, sicced his jeering muses on gourmet fancies: Eat your pineapples, gobble your grouse Your last day is coming, you bourgeois louse!”
“The Queue consists entirely of fragments of ochered’ dialogue, a linguistic vernacular anchored by the long-suffering word stoyat’ (to stand). You stood? Yes, stood. Three hours. Got damaged ones. Wrong size. Here’s what the line wasn’t: a gray inert nowhere. Imagine instead an all-Soviet public square, a hurly-burly where comrades traded gossip and insults, caught up with news left out of the newspapers, got into fistfights, or enacted comradely feats. In the thirties the NKVD had informers in queues to assess public moods, hurrying the intelligence straight to Stalin’s brooding desk. Lines shaped opinions and bred ad hoc communities: citizens from all walks of life standing, united by probably the only truly collective authentic Soviet emotions: yearning and discontent (not to forget the unifying hostility toward war veterans and pregnant women, honored comrades allowed to get goods without a wait).”
“Inevitably, a story about Soviet food is a chronicle of longing, of unrequited desire. So what happens when some of your most intense culinary memories involve foods you hadn't actually tasted? Memories of imaginings, of received histories; feverish collective yearning produced by seventy years of geopolitical isolation and scarcity...”
“Food was fuel for survival and socialist labor. Food was a weapon of class struggle.”
“Back at the Davydokovo apartment, we sat mesmerized in front of Grandad's Avantgard brand TV. It was all porn all the time. Porn in three flavors: 1)Tits and asses; 2) gruesome close-ups of dead bodies from war or crimes; 3) Stalin. Wave upon wave of previously unseen documentary footage of the Generalissimo. Of all the porn, number three was the most lurid. The erotics of power.”
“It was my mother, my frequent co-conspirator in the kitchen and my conduit to our past, who suggested the means to convey this epic disjunction, this unruly collision of collectivist myths and personal antimyths. We would reconstruct every decade of Soviet history - from the prequel 1910s to the postscript present day - through the prism of food. Together, we'd embark on a yearlong journey unlike any other: eating and cooking our way through decade after decade of Soviet life, using her kitchen and dining room as a time machine and an incubator of memories. Memories of wartime rationing cards and grotesque shared kitchens in communal apartments. Of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning and Stalin's table manners. Of Khrushchev's kitchen debates and Gorbachev's disastrous antialcohol policies. Of food as the focal point of our everyday lives, and - despite all the deprivations and shortages - of compulsive hospitality and poignant, improbable feasts.”
“Sometimes it seems that for nineteenth-century Russian writers, food was what landscape (or maybe class?) was for the English. Or war for the Germans, love for the French - a subject encompassing the great themes of comedy, tragedy, ecstasy, and doom.”
“Mom and I argued about every other dish on the menu. But on this we agreed: without kulebiaka, there could be no proper Silver Age Moscow repast.”
“In just a bony fistful of years, classical Russian food culture vanished, almost without a trace. The country's nationalistic euphoria on entering World War I in 1914 collapsed under nonstop disasters presided over by the 'last of the Romanovs': clueless, autocratic czar Nicholas II and Alexandra, his reactionary, hysterical German-born wife. Imperial Russia went lurching toward breakdown and starvation. Golden pies, suckling pigs? In 1917, the insurgent Bolsheviks' banners demanded simply the most basic of staples - khleb (bread) - along with land (beleaguered peasants were 80 percent of Russia's population) and an end to the ruinous war. On the evening of October 25, hours before the coup by Lenin and his tiny cadre, ministers of Kerensky's foundering provisional government, which replaced the czar after the popular revolution of February 1917, dined finely at the Winter Palace: soup, artichokes, and fish. A doomed meal all around.”
“My mother is finally rolling out her kulebiaka dough, maneuvering intently on a dime size oasis of kitchen counter. I inhale the sweetish tang of fermented yeast once again and try to plumb my unconscious for some collective historical taste memory. No dice. There's no yeast in my DNA. No heirloom pie recipes passed down by generations of women in the yellowing pages of family notebooks, scribbled in pre-revolutionary Russian orthography. My two grandmothers were emaciated New Soviet women, meaning they barely baked, wouldn't be caught dead cooking 'czarist.' Curious and passionate about food all her life, Mom herself only became serious about baking after we emigrated. In the USSR she relied on a dough called na skoruyu ruku ('flick of a hand'), a version involving little kneading and no rising. It was a recipe she'd had to teach her mother. My paternal babushka, Alla, simply wasn't interested.”
“The sense that I'd fled my Jewishness in Odessa added painful new pressure to the dilemma I would face at sixteen. That's when each Soviet citizen first got an internal passport - the single most crucial identity document. As a child of mixed ethnicities - Jewish mom, Russian dad - I'd be allowed to select either for Entry 5. This choice-to-come weighed like a stone on my nine-year-old soul. Would I pick difficult honor and side with the outcasts, thereby dramatically reducing my college and job opportunities? Or would I take the easy road of being 'Russian'? Our emigration rescued me from the dilemma, but the unmade choice haunts me to this day. What would I have done?”
“Food equaled utilitarian fuel, pure and simple. The new Soviet citizen was to be liberated from fussy dining and other such distractions from his grand modernizing project. Novy sovetsky chelovek. The New Soviet Man!”
“Why are you emigrating?” “Coz I’m sick of celebrations,” says the Jew. “Bought toilet paper—celebration; bought kolbasa—more celebrating.”
“of her pitiful dedushka peeling warty potatoes, from the catastrophic”
“Little boy and little girl.I don't know how old. Sweetest family in the world, of you listen to the old folks around here." Xander was stunned. "And nobody knows what happened to them?"
"Some say they high-tailed it to Europe." She raised her eyebrows at him. "Most believe he took them somewhere and killed them. Then took his own life."
Dad forced a smile. "Just old rumors," he said.”
“I don't have a story," I said. "I'm still waiting for one.”
“Daddy gave me real useful information to protect me in the real world. If anyone hits me, I'm not to hit them back. I wait until their back is turned, then hit them in the head with a brick.”
“-Entonces simplemente tendrás que aceptarlo, olvidarlo y seguir adelante con tu vida.
Ojalá fuese tan fácil.”
“The camera should never anticipate what’s about to follow.”
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