The Hotel

“It was about 10:30am when the sunlight hit the windows. I looked at the roofs of the houses with patches of snow and at the mountains far away. My face and shoulders got hot from the sunlight and I stood motionless looking outside. My husband had left an hour ago and the kids were jumping on the big hotel beds. We needed to checkout before 11am.

I turned to our bed and finished packing the suitcase. I closed the zipper. I put the suitcase down and moved it to the door. I turned around and realized I still had a lot to pack. I started with the toy cars on the table, then small airplanes, and books. Those filled the backpack. There were stuffed toys all over the bed. I picked those and put them in a plastic tote bag. Bunnies and bears with their brown feet sticking outside. The bag was moved to the door near the suitcase. I went to the bathroom and picked the toothbrushes and hair pins. There were perfume bottles, mine and of my both children. The makeup, the kids’ towels, the bath toys. I stood puzzled wondering how I managed to get so many things into a hotel bathroom. I packed a box with our bath things. I still had to find space for the kids’ plush towels and bathrobes.

I moved to the second bedroom. Books. The books and toys were everywhere. The kids clothes. Brown jackets, black jackets, boots, snow boots, hats, scarfs, jeans. Those were not fitting inside the suitcases. I took some of the bigger items and piled them on the table. I noticed a box with the dolls under the nightstand, a domino game, and a fire-track. I fetched a grocery box and put the toys inside of it. Then, I opened the hotel apartment door and started to move the packed items into the hall. The hotel manager passed by our door and I felt deeply embarrassed by the amount of luggage we had accumulated. I was not tired of packing, I was not stressed, I was not in a hurry. I was profoundly taken aback by the pile of stuff that I have gathered during our stay at the hotel.

It was close to 11am when I finished moving all the snow gear and clothing into the hall. I went back to the room and realized I have forgotten the blankets. Two thick wool blankets that we carried for the kids. Those were very expensive, good quality blankets, the ones that are handmade in small Norwegian villages. My family believed those to be the best ones and insisted on taking them with us on our trips. “So that the kids do not get cold in the hotels at nights,” said my mom. I pulled the blankets from under the sheets. I rolled each of them carefully and fit them inside a big suitcase. On top I piled some of the kids clothing. Then, I noticed tea cups on the table and some plates decorated with green dancing bears. We brought those plates from USA, years ago. I put the plates in between of the blankets.

Three white bookcases stood under the windows. The bookcases were full of books. Our books.

It was our third stay in this hotel this year. Each time we stayed for three or four days and occupied the same rooms. It was supposed to be fun, we skied, had dinners and stayed up late. The kids run in the fresh air, did sports and ate crepes for breakfast. Without noticing it, as we had fun, things grew around us. They occupied our time and space. They grew bigger than us, they bankrupted us. Then came the sudden realization of it.

“How did you go bankrupt?” a Hemingway character is asked in The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways,” comes the answer. “Gradually and then suddenly.” So it was with my personal life bankruptcy.

I stood in the sunlight in the hotel room and looked at the pile of things to pack. I did not move. All the things were mine. But they were not me. I bought those things. Generation upon generation told me that we needed those. We needed those blankets, those jackets, those books, those cups. And I got them all to keep our house warm. The kids enjoyed using them. The things have served their purpose.

Now I was in the middle of the room. Facing the window and the three white bookcases full of books. Behind my back were suitcases, and boxes, and bags. The kids were playing in the main bedroom. “We will just take some books and some toys,” I said to myself. And I stood still.

There was a knock on the door and the hotel manager came in and told me it was noon and we needed to leave the room. I told him that we will in couple of minutes. He looked around and did not say anything. He left the door open.

I took the books from the bookcases and put them on the table. A pile of books. Then another one next to it. While I was doing this, the sunlight was on my hands. First I felt the warmth, then it burnt my skin. It also brought the forgotten taste of pleasure. Sun touching uncovered skin. I sensed the sweetness under my tongue. I took a pile of books and placed it inside of a brown box. I put another one in. I lifted the box. It was heavy. Still I could carry it to the car. I heard the kids’ voices from the other room. They were playing a game.

I told them I would load the car and be back. They jumped down to kiss me and continued what they were doing. Outside the air was fresh. The snow crisped under my feet. I opened the car trunk and placed the books there. There was enough space for a suitcase and couple of bags. The white metal of the trunk was cold. I put my hand on it to see the thin layer of snow melt around my fingers.

Then I headed back to the hotel to pick up the kids and couple of more things. “I should ask the kids if they want their blankets during the trip.” At the half past twelve we went down the hall. I handed the keys to the hotel manager, smiled and the three of us left the hotel.”

I woke up. It was still dark. The night was over.

The last day of the year

Mont-LouisI was waiting at the cafe in Mont-Louis for my family to pick me up. It was the last day of the year. December 31st of 2013. It was cold in Mont-Louis. Earlier that day we went to see the church and the small town around us; Three streets inside of the fortress walls. There was only one cafe, one restaurant, one small grocery store, a pharmacy and two newspaper and souvenir boutiques. That was it. The kids dug the snow on the small plaza in front of the church. It was getting dark. Finally they were taken inside of the hotel to get changed and ready for the New Year’s Eve. I walked through the town a little bit longer and ended up at the only cafe that was open. The place was almost full with locals. Plus two or three couples that came down from skiing. Still in their skiing pants. Their faces fresh and red from the sun and the cold air.

I asked for a coffee and took the newspaper. It was the local newspaper and it covered the news of the towns around Mont-Louis. Then I dropped the newspaper and vaguely listened to the people around me. Everybody talking in French. I like to sit and listen to people in the cafes. People talking about the mountains, about the snow, about the TV shows. People discussing the skiing season, the weather and the lottery tickets.

I walked to the grocery store and got some cheese and wine. And talked to the store owner. I asked him if he was open the next day. He said he never takes holidays. He is open all year round from morning till night. He has the only grocery store in the town. He was nice. Then it was dark and there were no stars on the sky and I walked to the hotel, because it was windy and cold and there was nothing else to do in Mont-Louis on the last day of the year.

Next day we spent the morning skiing at Station de la Quillane, I think it is a part of La Llagonne. The morning was sunny and bright. The perfect skiing weather. The kids tried alpine skiing for the first time in their lives. They lasted for about three hours, then it was lunch time and we drove to the town. Everybody went to the hotel to change. I was already in a dress and decided to stay in town. After making the reservation at Le Dagobert I just wandered around. It was windy. The grocery store was open and I saluted to the owner. I talked to the newspaper stand lady and then ended up at the same cafe as the day before. There were five local men at the cafe. Too early for the skiing crowd. I ordered my coffee and took the newspaper. It was the yesterday’s newspaper. It felt awkward to open and read it, as if everything I read happened far away in the past. There were four pages dedicated to the stories about kids’ Christmas choirs. It covered the maternelle section of the French public schools, the kids ages 3 to 5. There were bright pictures of the kids singing and stories about each school, choir, songs and festivities. I read all the stories. I was touched by the dedication and enthusiasm of the music teachers. It made me think about the music teachers of my own kids.

Then I sat there lost. With the stories of the kids’ singing rounding in my head. Everything that touched me seemed to belong to the past. Like the newspaper from the last year. “The future must be so different,” I said to myself.


La toupie, la corde à sauter & les billes


These are the three games that my first grader constantly plays at school. Every day she drops in her bag a jumping rope, a bag of marbles and her wooden top. La toupie, la corde à sauter, les billes. La peonza, la comba, las canicas.

jumping rope

They speak French and Spanish in between of the classes. With two of her friends she speaks Spanish, with her other friend French. All the kids are bilingual; trilingual if you count Catalan. The game names are in French and in Spanish.

They share the patio with the older kids, some of them are really good at one or more games. My daughter says she watches how the big kids play top or marbles and learns. Then, she plays with her own friends. Myself I went to school in Moscow, Russia and as a kid I never played marbles or top. Thus, I am starting from zero here. My daughter showed me how to play marbles and we manage to play it at home. However, I can’t make the top roll as it should. Yesterday we had guests and they were able to show my daughter how to make the top roll. In Spain the kids games in school have not changed over decades. Everybody knows how to play marbles, roll tops and jump rope. I found it sort of cool.


I enjoy the games the kids are playing at school. Every day my six year old shows me the new marbles that she won from her friends, she is excited about those colored crystal balls. Les billes. She admires kids who can jump a rope for 20 times in a row or who can make the top roll and then pick it up on their palm while still in motion. For whatever reason I thought that kids did not play those games any more. And now, I am reverenced when my first grader, already dressed in her boots and winter coat, runs back to her room because she left her bag with marbles next to her pillow.

“Mon sac de billes!”

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked my kids (Part 2)

My son will turn four in February 2014, thus he is almost four now. To the amazement of our  frequent guests he loves to spend time with books. If the guest is willing to read to him, this will be a never ending story. He will accommodate himself on the guest’s knees and bring book after book to be read to him.

He also tells stories to us and our guests. Yesterday he told our friends who came for dinner “You know, I just ate a mouse!” And he went on enjoying the details of his imagination.

I asked him to give me some of his favorite books, and these are the ones he brought me.

(note:  because our family has moved three countries since he was born, he speaks good Russian, Spanish, Catalan, French and some English)

Favorite books of my almost four year old son:

1. Ecoute les bruits de la foret (Listen to the sounds of the forest)

Ecoute les bruits de la foret


2. Усатый-Полосатый Маршак (Children poems by Marshak)

Усатый полосатый


3. Chuggington magazine



4. La historia de El Cid Campeador adaptacion por Carmen Gil-Bonachera (The Story of the Cid adapted by Carmen Gil-Bonachera)

Cid el Campeador


5. Elmer by David McKee



6. Let’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

Let's go for a drive


7. 10 Petit Penguins por Jean-Luc Fromental (10 Little Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental)

10 petits penguins


8. The Empty Pot by Demi

The empty pot


9. Tante Bruns Fodselsdag by Billedbok and Elsa Beskow (Aunt Brown’s Birthday by Billedbok and Elsa Beskow)

Tante Bruns


10. Bonne nuit, Petit Ours! by Didier Zanon (Good Night, Little Bear! by Didier Zanon)

Bonne nuit, Petit Ours!


11. Como mola tu escoba por Julia Donaldson (Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson)

Como mola tu escoba!


12. Palmier de Noel pour Audrey Poussier

Palmier de Noel


13. Le Plus Malin pour Mario Ramos

Le Plus Malin


14. Renato aide le Pere Noel pour Maud Legrand et Virginie Hanna

Renato aide le Pere Noel


15. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

The Gruffalo


16. Лучшая книга для чтения от 1 до 3 (The best book for kids 1 to 3 in Russian)

Лучшая книга для чтения


17. 1001 cosas que buscar en el pasado (1001 things to spot long ago)

1001 cosas que buscar en el pasado


18. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

The Tiger who came to tea


19. Приключения Незнайки и его друзей Николай Носов

Приключения Незнайки


20. Sant Jordi i el drac por Anna Canyelles i Roser Calafell (Sant Jordi and the dragon by Anna Canyelles and Roser Calafell)

Sant Jordi i el drac

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked my kids (Part 1)

Every year I ask my kids what are their favorite books. I want to document their likes, because a lot of times I am curious to know what were my favorite books when I was their age. And I wish somebody would have done the list of what books I read the most when I was three, four, five, etc.

Last time I asked my daughter about her favorite books when she was five. Right now she is six and a half and the 2013 is almost over. I asked her and my son this morning to select about a dozen of their most favorite books. I will publish both lists.

Part 1Favorite books of my six and a half year old daughter
(note: she was born in California, USA, currently living in Barcelona, Spain and going to a French school. Her main languages are Russian, Spanish, Catalan and French, and some English)

1. El Mago de Oz por L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)

El Mago de Oz

2. Jean de la Lune pour Tomi Ungerer (Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer)

Jean de la Lune

3. Les Trois Brigands pour Tomi Ungerer (The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer)

Les Trois Brigands

4. Georges le Dragon pour Geoffroy de Pennart (Georges the Dragon by Geoffroy de Pennart)

Georges le dragon

5. La historia de los Reyes Magos (The story of the three wise men)

Los Reyes Magos

6. Чудо Чудное Русские Сказки (Russian Fairy Tales)

Чудо Чудное Русские Сказки

7. Planeta Tierra (Planet Earth)

Planeta Tierra

8. Маленький Принц Антуан де Сент-Экзюпери (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Маленький Принц

9. El Sistema Solar por Rosalind Mist (The Solar System by Rosalind Mist)

El sistema solar

10. Busca los Caballos (Find the Horses)

Busca los caballos

11. No Es Una Caja por Antoinette Portis (Not a Box by Antoinette Portis)

No es una caja

12. The Wonderful World of Knowledge, Transport

The wonderful world of knowledge. Transport.

13. Ponis por Laura Marsh (Ponies by Laura Marsh)


14. Les plus beaux chevaux (The most beautiful horses)

Les plus beaux chevaux

15. L’imagerie du poney et du cheval (The visual dictionary of ponies and horses)

L'imagerie du poney et du cheval

16. Diccionario por imágenes del bosque (The visual dictionary of forest images)

Diccionario por imágenes del bosque

Drawing On the Paper Napkins

“This one,” would say my son pointing to a shiny glass Christmas ornament. “I want this one.”

I would smile back at him and nod. Then he would pickup that big and sparkling Christmas ball and hold it carefully in his hands.

“Can I have two? Both are very small,” would say my daughter and show me two tiny glass birds, one green, one silver.

“Of course.” And then we would stay in line to the register and both kids would hold their christmas ornaments.

Out on the street they would let me carry the package. We would walk through the streets and stop in front of every decorated storefront.

“Shall we have a coffee?” I would ask them.

“Yes, yes!” would shout loudly both of them.

It is cold on the street. We would enter a cafe and kids would order a cake or doughnut and I would get my coffee. Then they would ask to open the bag with the Christmas ornaments. And I would tell them that we should wait till we get home, as they could break them easily here. They both would agree and start singing or drawing something on the paper napkins of the cafe. Drawing small flowers and hearts and themselves dancing. I would look at them, smile and without fully realizing it  I would start drawing with them too.

The Dotted Line

(from a midnight dream)

She saw him first. It was October and she was walking with the other passengers to the aircraft. Her flight to Munich was scheduled to depart at nine twenty five. The flight attendant led them to a small white airplane. It was dark and the yellow lights illuminated the dotted lines on the field. She saw an airplane taxied to its dock. She saw workers unloading luggage into the carts. Then she saw him. He was walking with a group of passengers from a flight that has just landed.

He looked tired and it was dark where he walked. She stopped and at that moment he also saw her. They stood for a second, then walked towards each other.

“Come,” he said standing very close to her.

She moved closer to him. She felt his lips on her hair, then on her forehead. Her hands were touching his face. Her fingers on his skin sensing the weightless print of years that have passed since she last saw him. She slid her fingers under his chin. They looked at each other. Silently, winning over the strong wind, his lips touched hers. Not a glimpse of tiredness. The tenderness of unknown victory. The victory over the past years. Over the short emails, calls, random conversations around midnight. The victory over the weeks of silence when life was too busy or too much to handle.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered in to the night air close to her face.

She looked at him softly pressing her hand to his cheekbone. He kissed it. They stood in silence. One more minute. Vividly aware of the presence of their bodies they omitted the words. Resting her face on his cheek, she thought that words, especially love words, were empty shells. One walked on them on the beach and they made cracking noises. What mattered was that now they stood so close to each other. His hands around her.

She looked at the dark airfield. The beginning of a dotted line. One dot after another and the line did not have an end. “And if this line has an end the wind must take you up into the air before you reach it,” she thought and fixed her eyes on the line.

A minute has passed.

“I have to go,” her lips touched his ear. She made an intent to move away. Her ring got caught in the brown wool of his sweater. She untied it with special care and once more caressed his cheekbone. He kissed her, and the moment she left his lips were brushed by the wind. His face was numb from the cold October air.

She did not turn back until she got to the aircraft door. Then, up on the stairs, she looked in his direction. He knew she was watching him. He wanted to smile, but could not. He waved at her instead. She waved back and went inside the aircraft. He turned and headed to the airport building. The wind blew hard against his face.

Seconds later, pushing the cold glass of the rolling door he entered the empty hall. Everything was quiet. Outside the wind was sweeping over the dotted line.

“Crazy wind,” he said to himself.

Talking about Miro’s paintings with my six year old

Fundacio Joan Miro Barcelona

August 8th 2013:

“What have you seen today?”

“A bird that ate the sun.”

“What is your favorite painting in the museum?”

“There are two of them. The firebird (The Firebird) and the white bird. The white one with two color spots (The bird of the paradise).”


August 11th 2013:

“What do you remember from today?”

“Not from today. From the first time we went to the museum I remember two things. I saw them again today. The yellow egg on a chair, because of the color. And the second thing is a painting of woman, flower and fire.”

“What painting are you talking about. I can’t remember it.”

“It has a woman looking sideways, fire, flower. There is a red wall behind the woman. I can draw it for you. It has lots of red and yellow.”

(Flame in space and naked woman)


August 24th, 2013:

“What did you like today the most?”

“The two drawing of the garden” (Personajes en el jardin II and Personajes en el jardin IV)

“Why did you like them?”

“Because the garden was full of fruits”

“Those were not fruits, those were people’s faces”

“They looked like fruits to me”


“My favorite three paintings are of the birds and the sun. I like the one where the bird ate the sun.”

“What do you like about them?”

“All three paintings have a bird, a blue rectangle, a sun and a star. The star is important and easy to draw.”


Miro's painting

“I know how he did this one. He used cotton swabs. I am going to do one at home too.”

Lorena's painting ….

“Can we lick the mercury fountain?”


“Is there fish in the fountain?”


“Hmm. Let’s stay here for a while and look how the water falls.”


“I do not know whether I want to be an artist or a horse as a grown up.”

and a little bit later

“… I think I can be both. I will be an artist in the mornings and horse in the evenings.”

Las Montañas de Nieve

The salt mountain, Cardona“Where will we go today?”
Miro is three years old. It is August and we are in Spain.
“I do not know. Let’s look at the map and see what is around here.”
“Let’s go see another castle.”

After we pass Montserrat the main color is yellow. Sunburnt country. The hills before the Pyrenees are green. We stop at Cardona.
“What language do we speak here?”
Lorena is six. She has asked me this question many times this summer. Every time the car stopped in a new town.
“Spanish or Catalan. Whichever you prefer.”

“The fence is from the 12th century. The frescos have been removed, you can see them at MNAC.”
It is cold in the crypt. I sit on the stone and watch my children run around the crypt and the church. We are the only visitors here. The kids are playing horses. The guard, who opened us the church door and is standing next to it, smiles at me. The church is cool and empty. After the hot August sun the air inside is like water.

“The white mountains?”
“Yes. We call them Las Montañas de Nieve. What you see from this window is salt.”
We buy a card and a book from the guard and leave.

The entrance hall is empty. We are the only visitors again. We are charged 28 Euros to be taken inside the salt mine. The kids are excited. We board on a 4×4 and drive to the mine. The road is made of salt. Then we walk on salt.

“All the mountain is salt. There is no rock or other elements inside of it. It consists of three types of salt, potassium, magnesium and the regular salt. Magnesium salt is mostly orange.
It breaks easily. Miners hated it,” Monica, the guide, is taking us on a walking tour inside the salt mountains.
“Can I lick the wall?”
Both kids are licking the walls with enthusiasm.
“Umm. I love salt.”

It is cold inside the mountain.
“We are 46 meters deep now, the temperature is stable at 17C here.”
“Was the temperature an obstacle to the mining?”
“It was, but not here. The mines go up to 1300 meters deep inside the mountain. It is all salt. The miners were only interested in potasa (potassium). It was used for gunpowder. In this mine about 30% of the salt is potasa. Every time there would be no more left, miners would go deeper into the ground. At 1300 meters the temperature of the earth is 50C. Miners worked at these conditions with ventilation installations. Also, the ground waters were dripping non stop and it required a lot of machinery and human labor to keep the mine dry and in working conditions. In 1990s the mine was closed as the operating costs surpassed the profits. Ten years ago it was opened for tourism.”

I ask Monica how did the city life changed with the mine closure.
“I think it is good that the mining was terminated here. Otherwise in 50 years there would be no mountain left. We would have lost all the resources and the scenery.”
“How do the people live here now?”
“Does it give enough?”
“Not yet. Tourism is a longterm investment. We are very young in this sense. We have the castle (Cardona Fortress) and the mines. In 20 years from now it will be better. It will give us profit while conserving the heritage.”

Living off the heritage. I fall silent. I look at the mines. They are beautiful and motionless. The quietness of not living. My eyes see people working. The effort and excellence of human mind and body created kilometers of tunnels, clogging the salt rock with the machinery noise and dust. You must be good! You must be damn good at what you do in order to do it! Otherwise you would not touch this mountain.

While we are waiting for the 4×4 Lorena talks to Monica in Catalan. I can’t hear her. I am surrounded by the absence of sound that comes from inside of the mountain. I can see Lorena hugging and kissing Monica on the cheek.

“I have seven horses. Come to visit me and you can ride there. I live close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. There is a swamp called La Llosa de Cavall. You will find me there. There is only one house along the swamp, this is where I live. And I have a 10 year old daughter. Come over for a visit.”
“Can we visit Monica?”
“Of course.”

In the car I write down the name of the town and the place.
“You do not need my phone number. If I am not at home, go to the town and ask for Monica de las Casas, this is how they call me here. You will find me.”
“We will. We will come over next Saturday, will you be there?”
“I will.”

“Mom, I love Monica. What color do you think are her horses? Will she have white ones? I do not like white horses.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. This is why I do not like them too. They are awful, right?”
I look at her and laugh.
“Nope. Some of the white ones must be fine. It is just the one that I rode was bad-tempered. Almost broke my hands once. Others must be good. Do not be afraid to ride white horses.”
“I am not.”

We drive in silence. Then kids start talking about the salt mountain. They want to go there again.
“Are you tired?”
It is close to midnight when we get on B-20 towards Barcelona.

Cardona FortressCardona Fortress.The church, CardonaSan Vicente church within the castle.CardonaThe view from the castle.Salt MountainThe Salt Mountains, CardonaInside the salt minesInside the Salt Mines, Cardona.salt mountainsSalt Mountains CardonaSalt Mountains.San Vicente churchInscription on the floor of San Vicente Church within the Cardona Fortress: Valer o Morir.

Where the Wind is Dry

Alquézar, Aragones, Spain

We stood on the top of the hill and the wind was dry. It was dry and it blew hard. The wind is never this way in the city. It was neither strong, nor noisy; you could not even say it was windy. All you knew was that it was very quiet. Just the burning sun over your head, and the wind that dried the hills in this part of Aragon. The Somontano region. Your skin was being burnt, acquiring the color of the red sandy rocks that surrounded you. The wind blew hard till you seemed to have no flesh left on your face and hands. You touched yourself: skin and bones. And the hot rocks under your feet. This is how the wind was in August in this part of the country. It made you become quiet and not feel anything except respect for this land and its people, it made you be strong.

You walk uphill. Burnt by the sun. The stone paved road to the castle is steep and hurts your feet. You turn again. All you hear is the silence of the dry wind. You want so much to walk this road.

This land is not mine, but I would fight for it. With no emotions, no feelings, no patriotism. I would fight for it willingly, consciously, with precision, like operating a delicate machinery. With passion for living. This is the only thing one can do under this dry wind and the burning sun.

I like to walk the roads that are hard. I do it purposefully. When I hurt myself, I neither complain, nor feel the pain; I appreciate deeper that I live, and learn to walk better. I attached myself to people and things, only to realize that I do not love people and things, I have nothing in common with them. They became a burden. When you walk uphill you know that the only thing one can be passionate about is walking. The dry wind and sun burn your skin; they also burn the grapes in Somontano. The wine carries the silky taste of strength and you are not thirsty or tired any longer.

Years before you came here, you knew you walked in the land where the roads are steep and the wind is dry.

AlquézarAlquézar townAlquézar rocksMonzón castleMonzón towerMonzón castle detailMonzón entranceVineyards in SomontanoPomegranate tree in Alquezar