28 February 2013

Valentine shorts

A little late for Valentine's Day, you think? Here in Russia, the spirit of Valentine's Day lasts for most of a month. More about that later, but first for our own Valentine's story.

A couple of weeks ago, my little mobile phone fell out of my pocket at our local bus stop. I noticed it was lost about two minutes later, and walked back to the bus stop. Nobody had seen it, so I assumed it was in one of the deep puddles through which bus tires were constantly splashing. Nothing I did could get a remote response out of the phone, and if anyone else had somehow succeeded in breaking the password, they apparently weren't able to use my phone number before I had it blocked.

I blocked it by going to our nearest MTS store (the company providing my cell service), about ten minutes' walk away from our home. I gave them the contract and my passport, and in a few seconds they had blocked the old SIM card and had given me a new card with the same phone number. (Or at least that's what I thought.)

I decided to wait a couple of days before buying a new phone. Maybe by some miracle the old one would re-emerge. But by Valentine's Day ... no such luck. And we also had a new problem: Judy's phone was also not working. One of us certainly needed to be able to contact the outside world, so I went to the phone store and bought a new phone and put in my new SIM card. Worked fine--and plenty of money remaining. More than I thought I had!

So I slipped and slid back home to troubleshoot Judy's phone. First thing I did was text her phone from mine. To my surprise, as soon as I pushed "send" the text message came right back to me. I checked to see what number I was calling from. You guessed it: it was hers! Somehow the people at MTS had put her number on my new SIM card; and, of course, in doing so they blocked the number on her own phone. No wonder she couldn't use her phone. We went together to MTS, with both passports, and they quickly set things straight.

Yes, we are close, but all the same, we're not interchangeable!

Valentine's Day (also called "the Day for all those in love") is relatively new here, and not really all that popular. Towards the end of the day I asked a group of adult students how they felt about this holiday, and one answer was typical: she only remembered the holiday because there had been a television news story about it in the morning.

Nine days after Valentine's Day, Russians observe Defender of the Fatherland Day (February 23). Originally set up to recognize the formation of the Red Army, it got its present name and status as a national holiday in 2002. It honors both male and female soldiers but has informally become a sort of men's counterpart to International Women's Day, March 8. I think that these two holidays, Men's Day and Women's Day, claim a lot of the warmth and fun that might otherwise go into Valentine's Day.

My Shalom medallion
On Men's Day, we men at the Institute receive a gift; on Facebook and Vkontakte we receive lots of electronic greetings. On the evening of February 23, after meeting for worship, several of us Quakers went to the Purim play "A Cheerful 13th" at the Shalom Jewish Theatre. As we passed the ticket-takers, the men in the group were awarded mysteriously heavy medallions on red ribbons. They turned out to contain solid disks of chocolate.

Then, on Women's Day, March 8, we men will give congratulations and candy and gifts and flowers to the women in our lives, and we will be extra attentive. Women also give greetings and gifts to each other. Over the years we've been here, I've grown to be very fond of these two holidays, whether or not they can bear much deep cultural analysis. (An opportunity for very superficial analysis is provided by the two greeting cards above!)

Galina Orlova at a gathering in our
home, holding the world.
Back in December, I mentioned the death of Galina Orlova, a person of central importance in the recent history of Friends in Russia, and a founding staff member of Friends House Moscow. The latest newsletter of Friends World Committee for Consultation, European and Middle East Section, includes Patricia Cockrell's appreciation of Galina, which I highly recommend. The newsletter, Among Friends (issue 126), can be downloaded as a PDF file from this page.

A week ago we lost Morris Holt (Magic Slim); and yesterday another great musician died, one far better known here in Russia: Van Cliburn. Here's a tribute on the Voice of Russia's English-language site.

Nate Macy speaks the uncomfortable truth. "We are not held accountable as individuals, but instead as a society. My own personal piety is not a saving grace, we’re in this together. When the Israelites are sent into exile, it's the whole lot of them, the good folks and the bad. As a society of rugged individualists we don't like to hear it, but we're in this together."

"Is the Pledge [of Allegiance, in the USA] good for our kids?"

"More than entertainment"--Rodney Clapp on violence in the movies:
Christians can’t buy the "it's just entertainment" argument. For Christians, all of creation is God's creation. That includes art as well as the tragedies of the "real world." Hence the Bible includes poetry as well as history. Worship is about how we play as well as how we work. And Christian discipleship is about forming whole persons, not persons fractured between "entertainment" and the "real world."
"Israel denies entry to American teacher" working at the Ramallah Friends Schools. Haaretz registration may be required to read this article.

"The Graciousness of God": Naaman and Elisha, Cornelius and Peter ... and an "implicit rebuke to those who want to keep God local and confined."

"U.S. private sector hopes to send older couple to Mars." I wonder if, around the world, thousands of couples enacted this scene: one spouse begins reading this article aloud, the other provides a swift reality check.

In place of my normal blues dessert, something deeply, wonderfully rich: Van Cliburn, Rachmaninov's Concerto no. 2.

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