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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Learning Russian Fast-Food Style

Now that we have covered the basic Cyrillic alphabet, let's proceed to a reading lesson. I chose to spend my one free day in Moscow last May wandering the Arbat and silently phonetically mouthing out the names of familiar fast food franchises. I highly recommend this strategy for those trying to learn the seemingly impenetrable Iron Curtain that is Cyrillic.

First, we visit McDonalds. This one is easy, right? MAK=MAC. The fourth character looks like the Greek delta Δ--which is D. O becomes an A sound in Russian when the syllable is unstressed, so we've got DO. In our previous lesson, we learned that H =N, so HA is NA. The third to last character is the Cyrillic version of L. Then we are back to delta, and C=S. What does it spell? McDonalds.

Very good. Now, let's get a cup of KOФE. Note the third letter, which looks the same as the Greek version of F (phi). Sound it out. You have coffee. Excellent. But where to get our coffee? Perhaps CTAPБAKC.

Now we need a doughnut to accompany our coffee. We do not get coffee at the pink and orange establishment above, because we cannot read the sign that says "Coffee & More". After all, we are reading in Russian. But ДAHKИДOHATC sounds Дelicious. To translate, we need to close the one hole in our doughnut sign literacy.  И =ee. Hence, Dahnkeen Donahtc. Close enough.

Let's moo-ve/MYB (merely a transliteration) on. 

MY MY, or Moo Moo, is a popular fast food chain in Moscow. If you can't read the Cyrillic, just look for the black and white корова.
Finally, let's wash this all done with a bottle of BOДA. B=V. The O sounds like A, due to the stress. Voila, Vahdah. Let's take a sip and call it a day/ДEHb. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Learning Russian: An Olympian Feat

I have been taking Russian for the past three weeks. Actually, full disclosure, as I am not trying to be a K-G-Beast, I took an introductory class three years ago, but I didn't get high marx. In fact, I never got beyond learning the ABC's...or in the case of the Cyrillic alphabet, the AБB's.
 My knowledge of that alphabet was enhanced by
 last year's trip to Russia, where I putin free time
 attempting to read restaurant (pectopah) signs. 

I will detail that exercise and my steppe-by-steppe progress 
in Russian classes in upcoming posts. Meantime,
for those confused by the order of the Parade of Nations 
at the Sochi Opening Ceremony, let me attempt to 
explain, given my rudimentary knowledge of Cyrillic.
I hope it will be godunov for you.

As you can see from the chart above, Cyrillic has a variety of 
characters. Some look familiar to those who know English; 
some look familiar to those who know Greek (pi); 
and others look downright unfamiliar.

Further mucking up the works is that many of the letters that look 
familiar are not pronounced the way we think they should be. 
B=V; P=R and H=N. Our B is the Russian Б (sort of); 
our P is the character that looks like pi П; and our H does exist. 

And don't even get me started on Ч, Ш, Щ or the bI.
Transliteration: Blini
So, let's refer back to the chart above. Because B which actually 
sounds like V is the third letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, 
Venezuela (Венесуэла) and the Virgin Islands (in the Winter Olympics?) 
were near the beginning of the parade and the Czech Republic (Чехия) and Chile (Чили), featuring that damned Ч (sound similar to the ch in chai), were near the end. Jamaica (Ямайка) and Japan (Япония) were the last to enter alphabetically. As is tradition, the host country  Россия, came last.

By the way, for fans of the Olympics Cold War style, remember the CCCP worn by Olga Korbut and her ilk? It stands for Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик. Gogol it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Valentine's Day Travel: Sweetheart Deals

As Valentine's Day approaches, hotels and inns are deluging me with press releases featuring all sorts of sweetheart deals. Here is a selection of some that had me doing double-takes.
The Library Hotel, New York City
Trying to get your significant other to be more romantic while whispering sweet nothings in your ear? If so, check out the Poet in Residence program at New York's Library Hotel  During February, Love Poems for Two: A Couples Massage for the Mind and Soul, is being offered by one Karen Clark, poet. The private 90-minute workshop is designed to help couples express their deep thoughts to each other literally literary-ly. The tab for the workshop is $125 per couple, who must be checked in at the Library Hotel or its sister properties.  

Now then, how about a Valentine's Day deal for four? Yep, Love is in the Air at Pennsylvania's Omni Bedford Springs Resort for a couple of couples traveling in concert. The package for four includes champagne, chocolate, a hot air balloon ride, couples massages, and a suite. Hmmmmm. The package starts at $2,500 per night for the foursome. Note that the suites in question sport two bedrooms, so the deal is tamer than it appears upon first glance.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort
The same property is also promoting a Lonely Hearts package for singles. Come with a platonic buddy and enjoy accommodation, chocolate and champagne, and spa treatments. The package rate starts at $229 per person per night.

The Inn at 202 Dover in Easton, Maryland is celebrating Valentine's Day, Presidents Weekend, and Black History Month all in one fell swoop. The luxury inn is offering special Valentine's Day dinners at its Peacock Restaurant and African-American history tours of the historic Hill neighborhood in Easton.

For more ideas, bargain hunters should head to Groupon for a list of curated deals for romantics. You'll find specials on weekend and week-long vacations in the U.S. and in the Caribbean, Central America, and even London and Paris. Just be aware that some of the deals have blackout dates on Valentine's Day weekend. 

For more sweetheart tips, watch my appearance on WJLA-TV news in Washington, DC on February 6.