Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

Shoes on the Danube River


As tourists take a leisurely stroll along the Danube River in Budapest, they come upon sixty pairs of bronze shoes set into the concrete embankment at the edge of the water.  This is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who were shot there in the winter of 1944-1945 by members of the Hungarian Fascist Arrow Cross Party.

Before they were murdered, the Jews — men, women, and children — were ordered to take off their shoes, which could be used or sold on the black market. Then the victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped into the Danube.

Sometimes the militiamen tied several Jews together, then shot one of them so that the dead body would pull the living adults and children into the river.  If any of them survived the fall, the militiamen used them for target practice.  This didn’t happen often, though.   Most of the Jews – especially the children — died quickly in the freezing water.  Oh, humanity …


  ©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

What can be more adventurous than venturing into the world of magic?

Street magicians, Prague, 2014

Street magicians, Prague, 2014

My first introduction to this world took place when my parents gave me a book “Starik Khottabych” (Old Man Khottabych). This book (also made into a movie) featured a twelve-year old Soviet Pioneer Volka who accidentally found an ancient bottle at the bottom of a river. Being an energetic and curious boy, Volka opened the bottle, and a genie named Hassan Abdul-rahman ibn Khattab emerged, loudly proclaiming that he was ready to fulfill Volka’s every wish. It was a great and funny story, since the Young Pioneer, who suddenly found himself empowered by the old genie, kept getting into all kinds of trouble — mostly because of differences between the life style and the morals of the ancient world and those of Soviet Russia. It was also a variation on the tale of Aladdin and his magical lamp (a fact I discovered much later, when I got my hands on a copy of The Arabian Nights). Not only did the story entertain me, but it also motivated me to learn how to swim — for I, too, wanted to find an ancient vessel on the bottom of a river.  (Regrettably, that never happened, although not for lack of trying:).)

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My second introduction to magic took place at the Moscow State Circus. The trip to get there lasted for 1.5 hours – thirty minutes on a streetcar, fifty minutes in the metro (with two transfers) and a ten-minute walk to the huge, tent-like building of the Circus. There my mom and I watched impossibly slim acrobats in sparkling tights glide above our heads at the top of the circus dome, two white-faced clowns in clumsy shoes cause the audience to die laughing with their jokes and tricks, and a magician in a black cloak pull doves and rabbits out of his top hat. The latter especially struck me so strongly that, for a while, I considered becoming a magician myself, although that desire was soon dampened by the fact that I was allergic to rabbits.

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My latest adventure into the world of sorcery is my longest one by far. My husband and I had to travel to London to experience it.  I’m not saying that London is a supernatural place where magicians with doves and rabbits pop up at every corner.  Yet it is a place where wizardry is put on permanent display for everybody to see.  I’m talking about Warner Bros. theme park “The Making of Harry Potter.”  Not being a Harry Potter fan myself, I would never have thought of touring this park (nor do I at the age of 62 still believe in magic:().  Yet my nine-year old grandson, Alex, who lives in London with my daughter (his mother), my son-in-law (his father), and his younger sister Amelia, were eager to go there.  (Amelia always wants to do whatever her older brother does:).).  So, if I wanted to witness my grandchildren’s initiation into magic, I had to fly to England.


As a librarian, I, of course, knew about the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s books and the movies that are based on them. But I had never read the books nor seen the movies, so I did not expect much from the theme park. Well, I must admit, I was wrong. Everything there was impressive and imaginative: the original sets for the rooms and offices, the Burrow, the Hogwarts Bridge, the Knight Bus, the Potions Classroom, the wigs, the costumes, and numerous other props. To my surprise, I liked everything there. I enjoyed the energy of the crowd, and I especially enjoyed watching my grandchildren’s excitement as they walked through this fantastic world, learning how to fly a broomstick or cast spells with a magic wand.


“Well done!” I thought to myself through the whole experience – until we found ourselves in the inevitable gift shop. (Benjamin Franklin should have added “gift shops” to his list when he said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except for death and taxes.”)  Predictably, both of my grandchildren wanted to buy magic wands. At first, they approached their mother, who quickly directed them my way: “Go ask your grandma.” They appeared in front of me with two ordinary looking plastic sticks in their hands — at a price of twenty-five pounds each! A calculator in my head began clicking: two plane tickets to London, six tickets to Warner Bros. Studio, meals and presents, and now these absolutely useless toys, which, at the rate of one British pound to $1.68, would cost me about $80!

“No,” I wanted to say.  “We don’t have to buy them here.  We’ll buy them for you at a regular store where they’re less expensive.” But I looked at Alex and saw tears welling up in his eyes.  Whether or not these wands were useless — for him, at this moment, they were magical, and I could not deny this magic to him.

“O.K.” I said to my grandchildren, while avoiding looking at my husband. “Make sure that these wands are good ones.”

The kids expressions immediately brightened, and a wide smile graced my grandson’s face.

“This is one of the best days of my life!” He said, his eyes sparkling from recent tears.

I put my hands on his head, stroked his unruly hair, and a sense of pure pleasure suddenly filled my heart.  My grandchildren were right.  After all, toys that could give all of us so much happiness must be magical.  And because of that, they were priceless, too.

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  ©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to read more of my essays, click here

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

I know that the quality of these pictures is rather low :(.

However, the way I see it, this is Summer Lovin‘ to a T :)


The Kiss

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One more — for good measure

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And, of course, flowers :)

Formosa Tree

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©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to learn more about Svetlana, click here

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

rel·ic ~ an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.

It’s been a long time since I looked at these letters – twenty years for some of them. Yet I still keep them in one of the oak cabinets that sit in my study.  To tell the truth, it’s not really a study, more like a room where I keep books that I brought with me from Russia but never reread, several pieces of furniture that came from my first American apartment, a copy of a famous Russian painting I no longer have an attachment to, clothes I no longer wear but haven’t taken to the Salvation Army yet, documents that are not important enough to store in my safety deposit box, and my family’s old photographs and letters. Why don’t I use this room?  The light is not quite right for writing; the old chair is no longer comfortable for my aging body; and also spending time there feels like visiting my own mausoleum.IMG_9588

Yet just recently, while looking for an object that could symbolize WordPress’s new photo challenge “relic,” I opened the cabinet and reached for the letters, packed neatly in an old shoe box. I took off the lid and pulled out the letters.  Most of them were written by my mother (the envelopes were signed by my father), several by my first cousin,  and a few obligatory letters from my daughter.  I opened the first one, and a time-switch in my head flipped on.  The letter was dated March, 1990, and it was written soon after we – my ex-husband, my thirteen-year-old daughter, and I — left Moscow for Vienna, which turned out to be a four-month-stop on our way to America (although we didn’t know that then).  We received that letter a couple of weeks after we called my parents.  We had very little money, and international phone calls, expensive at that time, didn’t allow for long conversations, so all we were able to say was that we were okay, that we were given a room in a four-story house, and our daughter was healthy. We placed our next phone call before our departure for America.  In between, letters were our main means of communication.

My parents, who immigrated a year after us, didn’t save my letters to them, but I saved theirs. These letters flew with me over the ocean, and I was looking at them, sitting on the floor in my study, one after another. The first ones were filled with worries and concerns for us. The later ones described my parents’ own preparations for their departure for Israel, and later, their lives there – their futile attempt to learn a new language at the age of sixty, their difficulties in adapting to a different climate and culture, the gradual improvement in their living conditions (which corresponded with the progress of my brother-in-law, who was working to obtain a license to practice medicine in Israel), and, finally, their ailing health.


I had no recollection of reading these letters (although I must have done so).  Still, as I read them again, the twenty-four years that separated me from the day I left my repressive and anti-Semitic motherland were erased. In my mind’s eye, I saw once again the waiting room at the Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport and the hateful glances of a custom officer checking our luggage, the tiny room in Vienna that was furnished with two metallic beds and our suitcases, the line in the American consulate where several American officials interviewed my family before issuing us a permit for entering the USA, our first apartment in Columbia, Missouri, our increasingly unhappy marriage and divorce, my daughter’s departure in search of her own adult life, my first American diploma, my second, this time American, wedding, and much more.IMG_9599

It wasn’t just memories that these letters evoked.  They brought to life people who are no longer alive, and they reminded me of people I no longer see – some because they are too far away and some because I no longer want to see them.  They resurrected my old feelings, too, some joyful, some shameful, and some sorrowful.  In the end, they reminded me that unless you come to a new country as a child, your immigration is never over, even if by ordinary standards you’ve done well.  Whatever your circumstances, a scar is left behind that never heals.IMG_9601

Was going through these old letters healing or hurtful?  I cannot say.  When I closed the box, my eyes were wet and I had trouble breathing.  I can say, though, that I will keep them, even if I never read them again.  True, they are just reflections of the lives and events long gone.  But what other proof of my previous existence do I have?  I have very few photographs from Moscow, since all we were allowed to take with us were two suitcases per person.  I don’t even have my Russian passport — it was taken from me before I left the country.  These letters, however, connect me to my past, to the places I came from and to the decisions I made on my way.  And while they have no historical value, and they are not sentimental, they are my only true relic.


  ©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to read more of my essays, click here

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No Weekly Photo Challenge :(

I’ve been waiting for our new photo challenge, but I think it won’t be posted until Friday.  In the mean time, I decided to post a photo “report” of my 4th of July weekend.

These are the things we did:

1. We biked to the nearest winery — a 28 (trail) miles round trip, and yes, we still can do it!

2. Had lunch at a local winery (saw hummingbirds by the winery door and several llamas nearby)

3. Had dinner at a funky local restaurant

4. Took a walk along the Missouri River (saw deer, too :))

5. Went to see fireworks ( I didn’t take my camera to the fireworks, and I was very sorry afterwards :( )

6. Through that all, I took pictures of my friends and family — as well as complete strangers:).

Anyway, here it is :)

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©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved