Monday, 17 March 2008

Russian Tidbits

There is a shop near my house by the same name - that has all manner of interesting yumbly things. Walking past always reminds me of the smell of my Granpa's kitchen - strange smelly socks cheese and cured meats.

After Grandma passed away and her Swiss-german style weiner schnitzel reign that my brother and I enjoyed for so long, came to a healthy close, our traditional family meal became simple rye bread (always with carraway seeds) served with cheeses and a variety of cold sliced meats or sausage.

Oh the sausage! Usually an amazing heart stopping variety that was a smoky concoction of unknown animal variety, spices and garlic that would repeat on you for hours and no doubt be "enjoyed" by all you encountered for the rest of the day.

Granpa was Polish, but he was international in his tastes, so I am yet to identify what kind particular sausage this was. But every time I go to Russian Tidbits I can smell it in the air. Unfortunately I don't speak a scrap of Russian and the place can get pretty jam packed with short but large folk who can be a little intimidating (especially when it seems their only method of communication is yelling at the top of their hoary voices). So I am yet to overcome my crippling shyness to ask for help in selecting and preparing my smallgoods. I usually get completely overwhelmed by the smells and noise (its all a little too close to home) and snatch some cherry jam before I escape out the door and seek refuge on a park bench where I can have quiet sit down to recover.

Anyway. This, by way of random segue, is a little tribute to some of my favourite russian tidbits, in no particular order. None of which are actually edible.

Of course topping the list is my Matryoska pictured above. I had a little a set of three growing up (that was I think was actually Swiss) Unfortunately one of the dogs got a hold of it and destroyed all but the littlest one. My repressed mourning lead me to collect a few "lost" individuals at garage sales and markets along the way (but they are buried in a box somewhere that will not be located). I remember also being obsessed with this clip from Sesame Street. To me the idea of 10 nesting dolls was the ultimate, so I was pretty thrilled when I finally got this set of seven.

And I've had to fight my virgo nature and refrain from pulling the sticker off the bottom.

Next are some great children's books I've also collected over time. I love folk art, and these in particular have such great illustrations.

The first is based on the 1835 poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, published in 1969.

The story is a tale of woe with a simple moral of those who are greedy end up with nothing. The nagging, never satisfied wife really encapsulates the "fish-wife" stereotype. Therefore, not necessarily a book I'd recommend to read to impressionable minds wanting positive role models.

But the water colour art is beautiful, and the palette timeless.

Second is the classic Peter and the Wolf.

The illustrations are by an English artist Alan Howard, of whom I can find little information on the interwebs. But I guess we can't all be famous.

Nevertheless his art is peppered with sweet folky motifs and a wolf who seems more hapless than big and bad. Petulant Peter gets his wolf - with due acknowledgment to the little bird who helps. Grandfather is suitably worried and gnome like. Although the hunters arrive at the last minute the fate of the wolf is relegated to being taken to the zoo - which though unlikely, I must remind myself is a classic childrens' tale (therefore generally completely unsuitable for modern children a la Brothers Grimm). So no room for a sensitive yet realistic denouemont here.

And staying on the petulant theme is this little gem:

Essentially a Russian version of the classic gingerbread man story. He gets made, he escapes (several times) he get's all obnoxious about it and pays the ultimate sacrifice for pride and gets eaten. But the art is very nice. My favourites are the down-and-out hippie wolf (who reminds me of this guy) and the honey stealing bear (who could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book). Copyright info here.

And last but not least is Vinni Puh. I adore Winnie the Pooh (or Winnie ther Pooh as Christopher Robin would stipulate). But it has to be "naked pooh" ie. E.H. Shepard - not the awful Disney stuff that makes him to be a pathetic idiot (The difference between simple and simplistic seems to be completely missed by some folk). Anyway, that is a tirade for another day.

Ample people before me have espoused the supreme merits of the Russian animated version and I would just like to include my voice amongst theirs. Quite apart from the exquisite and emotive art, Vinni himself is alive with vim and verve. Again very different from A.A Milne's subtle bear of very little brain, but delightful nevertheless. His machine-gun patois is a little astonishing at first, but soon enough natural and charming (even without subtitles). And the voice of Piglet is perfect.


Drewzel said...

'The little round bun' is beyond gorgeous! I heart it!

Sherrin said...

ooh! we have the little round bun!! my partner copy from when he was a small lad!