Posted in 1920s, Couples, Ivan, Left-Handedness, Lyuba, Russian novel sequel, Writing

Happy fourth anniversary

This post was originally put together on 6 October 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. Though not part of the batch of twenty posts I created on 24 June 2012, it’s obviously from the same sequence. After I put those posts in my drafts folder, I went back and made a few more with important sequences I’d left out.

This differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use pedantic accent marks, and I discovered there was no “traditional” fourth anniversary gift in 1927. Lyuba and Ivan’s anniversary gifts for non-milestone years remain the same, just without references to them being traditional materials.


This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America.” It’s 6 September 1927, Lyuba and Ivan’s fourth wedding anniversary and the last day of their annual Long Island summer vacation. In spite of their worsening marital and personal problems, they put their issues aside for their anniversary.


Lyuba wakes up on the morning of her fourth anniversary to the smell of chocolate waffles and sausage coming from the first floor.  She’s not looking forward to heading home later today, but she intends to savor the last gasp of summer vacation as long as it lasts.

“Happy anniversary, Mrs. Koneva.” Iván reaches under the bed and hands her a wrapped box. “I put a lot of different things in there, but they’re all part of the same present. I went out yesterday and got you something else too. Before you woke up, I snuck downstairs to retrieve it from Katrin’s kitchen. You’ll find it on our kitchen table.”

Lyuba carefully pulls the blue tissue paper off, opens the box, and starts pulling out a series of small decorative bags. “What exactly is this?”

“The traditional fourth anniversary presents are fruit and flowers. Since those aren’t very permanent things, I wanted to get you something as lasting as possible while still being traditional. They’re indoor flowering plants that can live all year. When we have our farm, you can transplant them to the garden and then move them inside during the winter.”

She snuggles her face against the curve of his neck. “You’re a good husband. As many struggles as we’ve had, I’m still glad I chose you. Can you believe we’ve been husband and wife for four years now?”

“Did you get me a present too?”

“Of course I did. You’re getting more and more overeager every year, you bad boy. You used to be able to wait till later in the day to exchange presents. Now you’re giving and demanding them first thing in the morning.” Lyuba puts the seeds back into the box and gets two wrapped parcels out of the closet.

Iván unwraps a transparent glass picture frame with dried flowers pressed between the two layers, and a light green shirt with a subtle floral pattern. “So my sweet little wifey still loves me, after everything I’ve put you through.”

“I will love you till the last breath leaves my body, Ványushka. I want to be with you through all our future lifetimes, till the world comes to an end. But you’d better get a real job once we’re back in the city, or I may have to start nagging you and starting fights with you again. You know I hate having to do that, so you’d better do the right thing.”

Lyuba smiles at the sight of the wildflowers on the vase on the kitchen table after she’s thrown on some clothes and left the bedroom. Iván has always known she’s not the type who goes for flowers, perfume, and chocolates, so the few times he does get her such trinkets, she knows it’s for a very special reason and not just a meaningless gesture he does out of some obligation to be romantic in a certain way. She appreciates how the flowers are just regular wildflowers, the type anyone could buy for cheap at a florist’s, and not some big expensive bouquet of roses or orchids. At least he’s saving his money for more important things now, while still making an effort to buy nice things for her on special occasions.

“Can we go downstairs and eat breakfast now?” Fédya asks.

“You can go right on down, my sweet little pumpkin. Then we’ll have one last day on the beach before we pack up and leave for the train. Just think, on Thursday you’ll have your first day of school!”

“I don’t want to go to school. I’m scared of the teacher hitting my hand.”

“They stop eventually,” Iván says. “After a certain point, they realize they’re not converting you and leave you alone. I must’ve been twelve or thirteen years old by the time they finally stopped hitting my hand, thumping me on the head, and threatening to beat me. You just have to be brave and let everyone know you’re carrying on a family tradition. No one switched me or my Dyadya Ígor, and no one’s going to change you either. Now why don’t we think about nicer things, like breakfast.”

Lyuba holds her son’s left hand tightly as they’re going downstairs to Katrin’s quarters, praying her sweet, sensitive only son is treated nicely in public kindergarten and not subjected to the same fate her husband and late uncle-in-law went through in primary school. Naína and Kátya have told her the policy of the new Soviet Union is right-handed writing in schools, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that majority mold doesn’t have the option of protesting. Right-handed writing is mandatory. Lyuba always figured God made certain people that way for a reason, since an all-powerful being who can do whatever he wants would’ve made everyone right-handed if that were truly the only proper way to be.

Posted in 1920s, holidays, Movies, Silent film

Old dark house done right (mostly)


The Bat, released 14 March 1926, is a classic of the old dark house genre. It was based on a 1920 Broadway play, written by Mary Roberts Rinehart (known as the American Agatha Christie) and Avery Hopwood (the most successful playwright of the Jazz Age). The play in turn was based on Mrs. Rinehart’s 1908 mystery novel The Circular Staircase.

Mrs. Rinehart was a born lefty, but like too many lefties of that era, she was forcibly switched and shamed out of her natural inclination.

The clichéd phrase “The butler did it” comes from her 1930 novel The Door.


The Bat stars Jack Pickford (Mary’s little brother) as good boy Brooks Bailey; comedian Louise Fazenda as maid Lizzie Allen; Emily Fitzroy as feisty spinster Cornelia van Gorder; Jewel Carmen (wife of director Roland West) as Cornelia’s niece Dale Ogden and Brooks’s fiancée; Robert McKim as Dr. Wells; George Beranger as Gideon Bell; Charles Herzinger as Courtleigh Fleming; Arthur Houseman as Richard Fleming; Tullio Carminati as Detective Moletti; Eddie Gribbon as Detective Anderson; Sojin Kamiyama as butler Billy; and Lee Shumway as The Unknown.

As much as I enjoyed this film, the bloated cast is a definite shortcoming. I love ensemble casts, but you can’t just throw characters at us fast and furious and expect us to remember exactly who everyone is and what purpose they serve. Either introduce a large cast gradually, bit by bit, or introduce everyone around the same time without immediately giving each person an important role.


After millionaire Gideon Bell receives this threatening letter, he sets out to try to defend himself and his property. Alas, his attempts are most unsuccessful, and The Bat makes off with the emeralds, even with a bunch of cops nearby.

The Bat leaves a note for the chief of police (on a piece of paper shaped like a bat), announcing he’s going to the country for a short vacation. The chief sends for Detective Moletti, swearing he’ll send The Bat to the chair if it’s the last thing he does.

During his getaway, The Bat lands on the roof of Oakdale Bank and witnesses a robbery.


We then shift to the dark old house where the rest of the film transpires. Courtleigh Fleming, Oakdale Bank’s president, designed and built this lonely mansion. It’s currently being leased by Miss Cornelia van Gorder of New York, who wants peace and quiet. She and her maid, Lizzie Allen, are hands-down the best characters.

Cornelia gets a lot of the best lines, like:




Lizzie is terrified of The Bat, so much so she sets up a bear trap outside. She sees The Bat lurking outside a window, and is convinced he’s in the house (which, of course, he is). Through the course of the night, Lizzie becomes more and more terrified, and suspects everyone is The Bat, including the Japanese butler whom the Flemings included with the lease.

We then see a front page of the local newspaper, announcing the police are searching for Brooks Bailey, a clerk at Oakdale Bank. They think he stole the $200,000.

The person reading the paper is Richard Fleming, the spendthrift nephew of the bank president and designer of the old dark house. Dr. Wells takes him to task for leasing his uncle’s house almost as soon as he kicked the bucket, and accused of grabbing money any way possible to square his gambling debts.

Dr. Wells tells him the house can’t be occupied now, and says they’ll have to scare away Cornelia and Lizzie.


We then meet Cornelia’s niece, Dale, and her fiancé Brooks Bailey. Brooks has come to the house to try to find the stolen money and clear his name. Since he can’t be recognized, Dale makes him take off his glasses, though he protests he can’t see without them.

Dale brings him in under the pretense of being a gardener from the Employment Agency, though her aunt knows they’re both lying.


A note is thrown through the window, warning them to leave the house at once. Presently, Dr. Wells and Detective Moletti arrive. While they search for The Bat, Brooks tries to find the money and keep away from the detectives. I won’t give away any of the twists and turns from this point on!

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It’s got a great script, great intertitles, some great characters, beautiful cinematography, great settings, and a great mystery. I wish the print were sharper and the soundtrack better, but neither was unbearable.


In 1930, the film was remade as The Bat Whispers, also directed by Roland West. In 1959, the film was remade again, once more titled The Bat. Altogether, the costumed villain of these films served as inspiration for the character of Batman.

Posted in 1940s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Igor Konev the younger, Left-Handedness, Violetta, Writing

WeWriWa—Not a born levsha


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, as Igor reassured Violetta his older brother Fedya didn’t share any personal stories about her. Igor then realizes something is different about her now than when he last saw her in childhood.

This has been slightly modified to fit 10 lines.


My Sennelier soft oil pastels, the same brand Violetta uses. Her pastels are just regular soft pastels, since Sennelier’s oil pastels weren’t created till 1949 (for Picasso). The original soft Sennelier pastels were created in 1900 for Degas.

“Say, I remember sitting at the children’s table with you at my oldest sister Tanya’s wedding. I was so jealous when you talked about how fun summer camp was, since I didn’t get to do that out in farm country.” Igor watches her blending the blues. “I don’t remember you being a levsha then; maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but that’s the kind of thing that’s always stood out to me. Levshi notice their own kind immediately, while right-handed folks usually care less.”

“I wasn’t always a levsha.” Violetta puts down her blender and picks up a nasturtium orange pastel. “I had a very serious injury to my right arm when I was twelve, and after I recovered, I had no choice but to switch my dominant hand. Drawing is what helped me gain strength in my left arm and hand. If I had stayed right-handed, I doubt I’d be an art student today.”


On Saturday, 4 June, And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth (the long-delayed Volume Two of the story of Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder) will be released. It’s available for pre-order now. I’ll announce more details on Monday’s post. I always like my release dates to be dates important to my characters, and 4 June is the day Jakob and Rachel reunite after 13 months apart. It’s the story of their first proper year of marriage, Jakob’s first year in America, a lot of culture clashes, and Rachel’s search for a midwife.

Posted in 1940s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Igor Konev the younger, Left-Handedness, Violetta, Writing

WeWriWa—Common interests


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes immediately after last week’s, as first-year NYU art student Igor Konev has gone to meet the woman with sexy feet and discovers her hair is just as alluring. He asks if she minds company, and they finally have the first proper meeting of their lives. Igor and Violetta met a few times as children, but they never had a reason to become friends, since they lived in different states.


She turns around, revealing very large, deep brown eyes and a face without any makeup. “Who are you?  Have we met?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I noticed you drawing, and I’m an art student.  Maybe we can exchange ideas about subjects and techniques.  I also think it’s really swell how you’re a southpaw.  I am too.  You don’t find very many left-handed women, or at least I don’t.  Please, may I sit down?  I really enjoy meeting other southpaws and art students.”

Posted in 1920s, Movies, Silent film

“Just one more floor!”

(Given the date of this post coinciding with Shabbos, I’ve obviously pre-scheduled it. I never post in real time on Shabbos.)


Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid are hosting the “Try It, You’ll Like It!” blogathon from 5–7 December, wherein participants post about potential gateway films to entice someone unfamiliar with classics. By the parameters of this blogfest, classic means anything made in or before 1965.

One of these gateway films is Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923)


Harold Lloyd (20 April 1893–8 March 1971) was the third genius of the silent cinema, but, until relatively recently, his films weren’t widely available. Baruch Hashem (Thank God), all his major films are now on DVD. We’re so lucky so many survived, when silents have such an abysmal survival rate. Sadly, most of his earlier Lonesome Luke shorts were lost in a 1943 fire, but the percent of his surviving films is still excellent.

On a personal level, Harold is not only one of my favorite comedians, but also one of my inspirations. Most silent fans know the story of how he almost died when a prop bomb went off in his hand, near his face, but the story of his recovery and determination to get even better at his craft especially means a lot to me because I’m also a burn survivor. Because of that near-fatal accident, Harold had to learn a new handedness, and it makes me so happy to see him doing things left-handed. Whether you’re a lefty by birth or accident, you’re part of my family.

On to the actual film review!


The film opens with an awesome sight gag which I won’t spoil the details of. Harold opened several of his films with such sight gags, giving the impression of something much different from what we expected. During this first scene, he heads off to the big city to make good, and his girlfriend Mildred (his real-life future wife, Mildred Davis) promises to join him when he’s made a name.

In the big city, Harold rooms with Limpy Bill (Bill Strother), who recently broke his left leg in real life. They live hand to mouth and have trouble paying rent on time, though Harold paints a much different picture of his finances in his letters to Mildred and buys her gifts far beyond his means.

The only real dated scene is the Jewish pawnbroker shop. I know this was a stock stereotype and not intended to be offensive, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable. (They’re also working on Shabbos!) Unfortunately, Hollywood hasn’t become much better at creating accurate, well-rounded Jewish characters and storylines over all these decades, but that’s the subject for another post!


Harold always comes to work super-early, but one morning, he gets stuck in a towel truck by the employees’ entrance and thus is completely rerouted. He faces obstacles including an overflowing streetcar and a would-be chauffeur who gets a parking ticket. The way Harold finally gets to work and cheats the time clock is so ingenious, but again, I won’t spoil anything.

We discover he’s a fabric salesman in the DeVore Department Store, on the ground floor of a 12-story building. We also discover, via a pay stub and misconduct ticket, that his character’s full name is one and the same as his. He always played a Harold, but he used another surname in all his other films.


During the work scenes, Harold writes and uses scissors with his left hand several times. This makes me so happy and excited, and I can only imagine how proud the lefties in the audience were. This was a time when many lefties were shamed, bullied, and forcibly switched from their natural inclination, yet here was a huge star using his left hand for all to see.

After work ends, Harold runs into his old buddy Jim, who’s also moved to the big city and become a cop. They horse around a bit, and then Harold tells Bill he’s got such pull with the cops he can get away with anything. Unfortunately, the cop they play their prank on turns out to be a different cop (Noah Young), and Bill is the one caught and blamed. To escape, Bill scales the wall of a nearby building. This sets the stage for the film’s famous dramatic climax.


Mildred’s mother suggests she join Harold in the big city, and Mildred’s unexpected arrival forces Harold into the charade of having a much more important position. He’s eventually roped into impersonating the general manager, and while he’s thinking up a ruse to get back into the office to retrieve Mildred’s purse, he overhears the general manager saying he’ll give $1,000 to anyone who can attract a huge crowd.

Harold suggests a mystery man climb the building, which was a huge crowd draw in the Twenties. People loved watching daredevil stunts like flagpole sitting, building climbing, and aerial shows. Unfortunately, the cop is on the prowl at the same time Bill is set to climb the building, and thanks to a drunk (Earl Mohan) showing him the newspaper story, the cop immediately realizes this faceless mystery man is one and the same as the guy who pushed him. Keep in mind, this is pre-Miranda Rights!


Bill compels Harold into starting to climb in his place, and at the second story, Bill will put on his coat and hat so people will believe Harold’s still the one climbing. However, the cop is hot on Bill’s heels, and Harold is compelled into climbing just one more floor every time. Along the way, he encounters near-disasters including pigeons, hot coffee, a plank, a flagpole, a tennis net, a rope, and, of course, that famous clock.

Over 90 years later, this is still a thrilling sequence. There were several different façades to make it look like the same building getting higher and higher, but he was never that far off the ground. Footage of Bill is used in the long shots. However, had Harold fallen to the right instead of straight down, he would’ve fallen to his death.

Safety Last, 1923 (1)

Besides the awesome thrill sequence, and overlooking the dated but essentially harmless stereotype of the Jewish pawnbroker, this is just such a perfect, fun, charming film, on all possible levels. This was all done without CGI, including some rather advanced special effects like Harold using a bald head as a mirror and watching each item of a businessman’s lunch gradually disappearing as he buys a half-off lavaliere for Mildred. Knowing they were a couple in real life makes their scenes together even sweeter.

Harold’s films have been called less timeless than Keaton and Chaplin’s, since they’re such time capsules of the Twenties. However, that’s a reason why I love them. It’s fun to see life as it was, like department stores with soda fountains, old-fashioned streetcars, Brass Age cars, vintage coins, the price of living, and steam locomotives.