07 June 2008

Nina the Moldovan Grocer Interprets the Parents

Part One: Interaction One Week Ago

I roll up on my favorite local produce stand and launch into my usual inquiries and orders:

“How are these strawberries? Good?”

“Sweet and strong.” Krepkie—I didn’t even know strawberries could be krepkie. “You should buy them. But where are your people today?”

“What people?”

“Your people who were with you last week!” she demands, referring to a couple of visiting friends from last month.

“Oh, they went back to America, but now I have new people—my parents just flew in yesterday so I thought I’d buy them some fresh strawberries. You’ll probably see us around sometime soon, they’re here for a couple of weeks. Could I get a half kilo of the strawberries?”

“Yes, yes. Are your parents here to work?”

“No, no, just visiting me. That’s all for today, Mom’s already made dinner.” Maybe my mother is here to work a little, actually. “Next time, I’ll bring her around.”

Part Two: Interaction Yesterday

“Good evening! How are you?” Sometimes I like to bust it out all first-year Russian style.

“Good, good, thank you. And you?”

“Excellent. My parents have come to see where I bought those delicious strawberries last week.” Here you can see me artfully bumping things up to second-year level.

“Oh, pleased to meet you!” Some translating of pleasantries ensues.

“Your mother, she looks just like Belokhvostikova!”


I won’t lie. At first, I totally thought she said my mother looked like a white-tailed woman (that is, I heard belo (white), khvost (tail), then some feminine ending) and I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Natalya Belokhvostikova. The actress. From Teheran-43. Belokhvostikova.” She says the last word as though each syllable were its own word so I could look up the proper spelling later.

Translation ensues. Then my mom asks, “Who, then, does Buster Sr. look like?”

So I translate, “She says thank you, nobody has ever told her she looks like an actress before. But she also wants to know if you think my father looks like anyone famous?”

Silent staring for a good minute while people in line behind us start leaving as they realize they won’t be getting any delicious cucumbers, berries or tomatoes from Nina anytime soon.

“Jimmy. Jimmy the disco dancer.”

“Who?” I ask, a little astounded that someone just said my seventy-year-old father looks like a disco dancer.

“From the Indian films. Jimmy the disco dancer! From the 1970s.”

Apparently it’s one thing for me not to know classic 1980s Soviet cinema, but 1970s Bollywood trash—what’s my problem? Did I grow up with some old Bengali gentleman who thought that the existence of such movies was a travesty and instead made me watch old Sabu films when I was a little boy and then Satyajit Ray later?

“Does he dance?”

“No, as far as I know, he does not dance.”

Mom loses it again when I translate the “disco dancer” bit and any remaining people in line decide it’s not worth waiting at this stand that no longer serves produce but instead has taken to entertaining a howling lunatic woman and two old brown dudes.

Eventually, I get my produce and Nina throws in some free pomegranate juice for my parents’ health after encouraging me to supply them with more grandchildren soon. Oh, did I forget to mention that she took a full family history and congratulated my sister on her sons? This whole part, by the way, went untranslated to my parents.

But really, only when I got home do I realize how awesome these comparisons were.

Natalya Belokhvostikova, AKA Buster’s Ma:

Buster Sr. says it only looks like her from the bridge of her nose up, which may be a polite way of noting that they both have big foreheads. I guess that kind of subtle phrasing keeps a marriage going for forty years.

You can see some low-quality bits of Teheran 43 with Natalya in her early prime here.

Jimmy, AKA Buster Sr.:

Of course, what Nina was really getting at, as I understand the situation, is that Buster Jr. here has big-time star quality—I mean, he must be the product of the best of the late 1970s/early 1980s world cinema!

p.s. Yes, thank you, I know about the MIA "Jimmy" song already.

p.p.s. Remember when my real life friends and family used to comment on my blog back in the early days? Elwood, McFly and McFry, lizzie b, Didi, and the rest of you? Sorry guys if I've gotten so boring even my loved ones can't take it anymore!


Anonymous said...

And did you, as a matter of fact, "grow up with some old Bengali gentleman who thought that such movies were a travesty and instead made me watch old Sabu films when I was a little boy and then Satyajit Ray later?" I just discovered that most of the best-known Ray films--the Apu trilogy, Ghare-Bhaire, The Music Room--have never been released on DVD in the US. (There were VHS releases 20 years or so ago but those have gone out of print and most surviving copies are in pretty bad shape.) I sent Criterion an email and another to the SF Chron movie editor pointing out that this isn't an isolated anomaly, it's a yawning abyss, like not being able to get any Renoir or Carol Reed or Mizoguchi... we'll see what hapens.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...


You can join my dad in this complaint. According to the last time he went on about this particular travesty, I think he said that Criterion was going nowhere, but some small place out of Jackson Heights was putting out medium quality DVDs of Ray's work, without much in the way of extras. In fact, the place he was scoring this items was a little video store on University Avenue in Berkeley, though I can't remember which one in particular. I'd know it if I saw it, but can't remember any pertinent details that might identify it to someone else.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be a complete Ray set, high quality with amazing extras. Just, please, don't let it be one with any introductions by Martin Scorsese. His blathering drives me bonkers. See *The River* for a good example of why!

Let me know if you get any traction with the Criterion people. I'm sure Dad will mobilize all his Subhas Chandra Bose fanatics into this cause if he has the sense that it might pay off.

Anonymous said...

medium quality DVDs of Ray's work, without much in the way of extras.

Unless the extras include English subtitles, I'm embarrassed to admit, I'd be lost; I've seen those movies, but not recently, and not often enough to murmur the dialog the way I can with "Double Indemnity."

Can you or your dad recommend a good biography (in English) of Bose? My knowledge of him is disgracefully sketchy but I'd like to fill it out.

I'll take your warning about Scorsese's commentary on "The River," which I haven't seen since I was about eight. (I remember a cobra but not much else. Behold the early formation of an Orientalist outlook!)

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...


I think Leonard Gordon's Brothers Against the Raj is a pretty standard account and, though I haven't read it, I imagine it to be fairly readable based on other writings by Gordon. There was also, according to my dad, a BBC piece done recently that caused a stir back in India and might be a quick and easy introduction, if you can find it. I don't know the title off-hand. Also, I hear that there was an Indian movie biopic not too long ago, but again, I haven't seen it. That's a start. Maybe I will ask my dad, but that will involve no small lecture on the importance of Netaji and hints that I should switch dissertation topics. A lecture I can never enough times, in some people's estimation.

Iras said...


BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Iras, THANK YOU for bringing that to my attention. Obvs, I think the MIA song and video are better, but the Russiana angle forced me to watch that clip four times in a row.

lizzie b said...

Wowzers -- I am totally moved to comment that Nina was definitely dead-on with the Natalya comparison. And I'm glad that Busterova was so pleased with the comparison of her husband to a Bollywood disco dancer. Actually, I think it's the ability to freely take amusement in such things that is the true key to a successful 40-year marriage.

Renegade Eye said...

That was a great story.

I like strawberries and this blog.

Chrisius Maximus said...

I remember the big Disco Dancer retro craze back in, what, 2003? It was all Bollywood, all the time.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Hmmm, in 2003 I was in southern New England and had no intention of ever coming back to Russia. Whatever disco I saw then--in Rhode Island--was certainly not retro.

Chrisius Maximus said...

Apparently Disco Dancer was an enormous hit in the Soviet Union, and a few years ago one of the TV stations, I forget which one, had a huge ad campaign around their airing of it. I remember that Komsomolskaya Pravda had a big article about how Chakravarti had become grotesquely fat and the female lead was now in the Indian parliament (BJP, I think). It was in 2005, I see by consulting my elaborate records about such things. :)

I found the article, from 2005: http://www.kp.ru/daily/23495.3/38831/

McFry said...

well, i've never actually met the 'rents, so i feel i'm lacking the fullest possible appreciation of the story. [altho' i enjoy it]
however, given my new digs, i hope this situation will be remedied sometime in the next year or so.

Malathi said...

Hey, you've got to give Nina credit for getting the ethnicity right -- she didn't compare him with Raj Kapoor.

Oh, those dubbed-out-of-sync foreign movies! How we loved them! They gave us our money's worth at about a ruble a ticket at the new-and-shiny Zagreb kino in Kiev. The alternative was to have somebody keeping pace with the dialogue, reading along in one voice--live!--from a small room at the back of the theater. Do they still have that option?

marry said...
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