An important (IMO) book was just released by Russian Life, a non-profit based in Montpelier, Vermont, that publishes books, magazines, and other items of interest for Russophiles around the world. I mention it here because it has everything to do with family history, the subject to which this blog is devoted. For anyone who is interested, here are the details:
RESILIENCE: Life Stories of Centenarians Born in the Year of Revolution
Call it resilience, grit, or just perseverance – it takes a special sort of person to have survived the last 100 years of Russian and Soviet history.
The 22 heroes in this volume were all born in 1917 – Russia’s year of revolution – somewhere within the bounds of the Russian empire as it then existed. They lived through Civil War, Collectivization, World War II, the Cold War, and the collapse of the USSR. Indeed, their lives are a living reflection of the past Russian century, and their stories show us a side of history not available in any other resource.
The authors of this project sought out these centenarians for months, then traveled over 20,000 kilometers across Russia and Eastern Europe, from sprawling metropolises to tiny villages, capturing poignant images, moving life stories, and stunning video. This book is the fruit of those efforts.
“Each of these stories is different, but all of them are tales of survival… of heart and courage… of family and community… of resilience.” –From the authors’ introduction
At $40 plus shipping, the book (soft cover) is not cheap, but as you can imagine, traveling around such a vast country searching out these stories was an expensive (and remarkable) endeavor—the result is truly priceless.
Note: A film is also available; you can pay $9.99 to stream it via your device.
I suppose my family history blog is as much about me as anyone else in the family tree, so I’m giving myself permission to upload a memory/souvenir from my travels. Below is a photo of a young artist (last name ‘Kozlov’) painting 22 years ago on the grounds of the Peter & Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia. The small painting I purchased from him on 24 July 1994 brings back great memories of a great city that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting at least a dozen times. Perhaps, this young fellow, who must be in his late twenties/early thirties by now, is a successful artist today—and still enjoys his en plein air painting. I’d like to think so.
I’m always interested in stories of longevity, so when I came upon this one right after preparing a big old pot of borscht, my favorite soup, I could not help but feel validated about my cooking choice.
It was about a South Dakotan who’d made it to 100 (in 1920) and was living with his 96-year-old wife. They were originally from a place once known as Kulm, Bessarabia, South Russia. Today this location is known as Pidhirne, Odessa Region, Ukraine. The couple emigrated to the US in 1880, and of their 11 children, only one was still living in 1920.
Their lifestyle and her cooking seemed to be what kept the two of them going all those years, and apparently she was still doing the cooking at age 96. Perhaps, almost a century later there is something we can learn from them, or at least reinforce what we already know is key to a healthy, long life. Their “secrets”:
- Low stress – they never spent time worrying about anything (although their life was not without heartache);
- Physical activity – they performed manual labor on their farm every day;
- They never worked too hard;
- They never ate in excess;
- She never baked him pies, cakes, cookies, etc., and they never ate any of those things;
- They never ate candy—ever;
- They never ate fried meat, except bacon on rare occasions;
- They only ate Russian black / whole wheat / rye bread;
- They drank milk in unlimited quantities;
- Meat, eaten rarely, was roasted or boiled;
- Soup – lots of it, every day; borscht was their favorite 😉 ;
- Never used tobacco products;
- Alcohol abstinence for last 20 years; just occasional wine before that.
Any surprises in the list? Just one for me: that they avoided cakes, pies, cookies, and candy altogether. I think I’d find it challenging to go even a week without at least one cookie. But reading their story does make me want to cut out processed sugar…. and eat more borscht!
Now, I know that there are many different styles of borscht, a dish that got its start in Ukraine. The one I am used to is Moscow-style borscht, and it is so delicious, I could eat it every day. I’ll leave you with the recipe. It’s very simple, and can be adjusted—you can easily make a vegetarian version.
Stay healthy and well, everyone, and have a good day.