Changing the World Through Generosity

December is a special time of the year when generosity blooms to its fullest. What makes us so special? Why do we give? Do we give because we care so much about others, or does it just feel good to give?

I believe it is a mixture of both.

Studies show that giving to others achieves a sense of self-determination and, ultimately, greater happiness.

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Immigrants contribute to U.S. — and San Antonio

I have been reading lately about the expected 10,000 Syrian refugees, whom President Barack Obama has agreed to resettle in the United States as millions of Syrian women, children and men have fled their war-torn country ever since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad’s government.

I am also aware of stories in the media about presidential candidates and governors who aren’t exactly, shall we say, immigrant-friendly.

In any case, it’s possible that many Syrians, who have had to uproot their lives in search of safety and asylum, could eventually settle in San Antonio or other Texas cities.

As a Russian immigrant to the United States, which I have grown to love, appreciate and call home, I am reminded about the countless contributions that immigrants have made to this country in terms of culture, arts, economics and education, to name a few.

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What’s wrong with you!

Vienna Resident Chamber Orchestra

Vienna! There is so much to see! I decided to visit the Leopold Museum in my remaining time before our ship’s departure. The ticket’s roster listed all the usual categories, adult, senior, student and in addition to it one I had never seen before- unemployed! Funny! In US I believe the thing is, if you do not have a job-go get it! I came to the counter and announced that I am employed and need one ticket please. The guy at the ticket counter smiled recognizing that I must be American “ Yes, we are a socialistic country and this is the way things are.” I entered the museum with great anticipation.

Within the span of a few decades, the physician and collector Rudolf Leopold assembled a collection of more than 5,000 carefully selected artworks. Masterpieces by Gustav Klimt, the world’s largest Egon Schiele collection and key works by Oskar Kokoschka provide fascinating insight into the art of the 20th century. I discovered artists I did not know about from my favorite art time, the beginning of the 20th century. The work of Egon Schiele became the subject of my new fascination. I loved the museum and took a lot of pictures for my daily reports on Facebook.


The grand finale of our visit to the city of Enlightenment Vienna was a concert at the Royal Palace presented by The Vienna Resident Chamber Orchestra. The program consisted of light works of Mozart and Johann Strauss and included ballet numbers as well as couple of light operatic duets. The ladies in the orchestra were wearing evening ball gowns and noticeably enjoyed familiar melodies. The public mostly consisting of the Viking river cruise audience loved the program and overall it was a delightful evening. My favorite was the ballet couple–world-class!

During the trip I was very much impressed by the way Austrians are not afraid to let contemporary art into their old spaces. I totally agree with the vision that time is moving on and brings its own artistic language. I loved the way they decorated the concert hall where our little outing took place. The central stage was taken by bright, happy abstract artwork that brought new life to the old classic space. This trip reminded me how much I love Europe! Culture, culture and more culture on every corner! Our tour guides went on and on impressing us with their PhD-level knowledge in all aspects of European history.

Until… at some point you need to use the facilities and that is when the fun begins! On the left of the Royal Palace, where the concert took place, a little door with magic WC letters was located. Naive American tourists run there in hopes of relief…not so fast! Inside the little room lives an old witch dressed in home slippers and dirty old gown and her job is to watch the WC like a hawk making sure nobody gets in for free; no tourist, no local – NOBODY! She is there to change money as the automatic thingy does not change paper money and tourists stay in a long line and feel bedazzled to say the least.

We have a lot to learn from the Old World. Deep down I am jealous that most of the art organizations in Europe are 100% supported by the government and the position of Director of Development does not exist and Artistic Directors do not wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from financial uncertainty. The only problem I have with all of this is the pay toilets situation throughout the entirety of Europe. Maybe governments spend all of the money on the arts and there is no money left for free public toilets? Hmmmm… if it would be up to me what would I choose?



Bet 1My first Viking European river cruise itinerary this summer included among other spectacular destinations a one-day stop in Vienna. I was salivating over the many cultural opportunities there and planned my activities long in advance. The day before the Vienna stop our handsome Norwegian program director apologetically announced that one of the locks on the Danube was broken and our ship could not get to Vienna. We would have to disembark on the border between Austria and Slovakia and take a two-hour bus ride to the city center. Later, we would embark on another Viking ship that would wait for us on the other side of the lock. Unfortunately, this small inconvenience will translate into reduced time in Vienna. Oh No!

When one has three hours in Vienna, what is one supposed to do? Indulge in chocolate shops sipping coffee with the accompaniment of the famous Sachertorte, casually stroll down the beautiful old streets decorated by picturesque windows covered in flowers, run to the opera house, drama or comedy theaters, numerous concert halls, countless museums, spectacular palaces, intoxicating rose gardens and parks? Or maybe pay respects to the mind-boggling quantity of famous people residing here at one time or another! This list of geniuses can go on and on and would include representatives of all possible departments of human thought, philosophy, literature, architecture, art, science and of course music.

I do not know what other people would do, but I started my three-hour journey by paying homage to Mozart and visited his three-story apartment museum located in the heart of Vienna behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The first floor of the apartment is the authentic core of the building – the rooms in which Mozart and his family actually lived. It is the largest, most elegant and most expensive apartment that Mozart ever had – and the only one in Vienna to have survived. Mozart lived there from 1784 until 1787. During that time he composed a number of major works including Le Nozze di Figaro. I do not know what came over me but I suddenly got all teared-up. I could not believe I was walking on the same floors he walked on and looked out the same windows he did.

bet2After drying my tears of (who-knows what), I jumped on a little pedicab (a bicycle rickshaw) and we headed to one of Beethoven’s many apartments. After a short and very pleasant drive masterfully avoiding masses of tourists and locals with little dogs on the leashes all going different directions; we arrived at Beethoven’s apartment address listed on Google map. The front building on the little street looked like a cute toy gingerbread house placed there by magician’s hand in preparation for Christmas festivities. To my dismay, neither my pedicab driver nor people in the neighborhood knew where Beethoven’s apartment was located. Eventually I found a plaque on the side of a building but the apartment/museum was closed for the summer holidays.

I was disappointed but my resourceful pedicab driver and a student of a local university at the same time had a very simple explanation. Beethoven often moved from one apartment to another when he was running out of money to pay rent, and that is why there are many apartments and museums of his in Vienna. If one is closed for the holidays it is not a big deal. At the end of my first hour in Vienna I kissed the closed door of Beethoven’s apartment, both figuratively and literally speaking. Well after all, life is going on and especially when you have just a few hours left in the middle of the European Cultural Chocolate Tort-Vienna. I had no choice but to collect myself and head to my next destination. And that will be the subject of my next blog.

Bet 3

A Double-Bill

The Santa Fe Opera holds a soft spots in our hearts and is the main reason for our annual travels to the Land of Enchantment, along with 58-degree nights, which doesn’t hurt. These two reasons combined to create a perfect experience under the stars with the horizon going as far as the eye can see. The Santa Fe Opera is an open-air amphitheater located a bit north of the city on a high view point and is surrounded by the rolling hills of New Mexico’s minimalists landscape, masterfully painted by the descending sun. People get there early and indulge in casual dining in the parking lot. Tailgating here is bit more sophisticated as among other generic items like folding chairs and folding tables, it includes small but very pleasant attributes of civilization like nice wine, nice wine glasses, flowers and candles.

IMPRESARIO-RAE-MORLEY-ARWADYThis summer we attended the The Impresario by Mozart and Le Rossignol (Nightingale) by Stravinsky both one-act operas presented in the same evening. The Impresario is a sort of a backstage farce displaying the “joys” of producing an opera and included of course, opera divas at their best as well as a “very favorite” part of all performing arts institutions – THE FUNDRAISING. Let me tell you, this business has not changed much in the last few centuries. The production director brilliantly connected these two very different operas. He moved an Impresario from the Mozart’s time to the fin de siecle in Paris and turned it into live auditioning for Le Rossignol premiered by Diaghilev in Paris in 1914. So Diaghilev became a central character of Mozart’s opera that was written about two centuries too soon – The Impresario himself!

Nightingale, sophisticated and incredibly beautiful was a stark contrast to the corny diva auditions in The Impresario with the same divas performing divinely during the Nightingale after the intermission. The burlesque display of arrogant coloraturas played against the unashamedly buxom mezzo Frau Krone in The Impresario was reconciled by the purity of a high art in Nightingale. The set was truly a multimedia display of creative thinking utilizing modern technology allowing the nightingale to fly and a Miro-like painting to be drawn in real-time on the entire stage set. It added a totally new dimension to the opera. Stravinsky, Diaghilev and their connection to the rich Bohemian arts scene of Paris in the first quarter of the 20th century came to life in this brilliant production – The Golden Age of the modern art-my very favorite art movement!

I saw many Russians in the audience, good-looking, well dressed and sophisticated. I felt proud to be a part of this great culture; Diaghilev, Stravinsky, high arts. In a long line to the restroom during the intermission one of the very friendly ladies asked where my lovely accent was from. I said it is Russian and for the first time in my 23 years in US, I felt that people did not know how to communicate with me. There was a passenger plane shot down on the Russian Ukrainian border a few days ago and I am just as disgusted as the rest of the world. And I have a very good idea who did it and I do know that this was a fatal mistake and I do know that it will take a very long time to heal this in the backstage of the world politics. I do not know how proud I am at the moment for my Russian roots.

Thank goodness for the arts, or the world would be one very depressing place to be.

PS While I was looking for pictures on line I stumbled onto this review.

Treasure Hunting

Anya with tango dancer Zoya Altmark

Anya with tango dancer Zoya Altmark

A Third World country somewhere far away, tropics, hot and humid, beat-up old roads, intoxicating unfamiliar aroma of street food on every corner, a lot of weird people, dirty streets, everything screams DANGER! Yes, I am describing a very popular Discovery Channel TV show about hunting gemstones.  A couple of brave guys go, let’s say to Burma among other places, with the mission to find precious gems and sell them in the west for a hefty profit. I am in a similar business, but I hunt talent, not for profit but for pure love of world class art and this time my mission took me to New York (for the most parts fits the same description…) I was met at the airport by a very petite and charming tango dancer Zoya. She was recommended by my reputable sources as the best tango dancer in New York. I was very surprised to find out that she is Russian. She invited me to an Argentinean Tango theater in Soho so I could handpick the couples for the Music Without Borders International Music Festival in May 2015. We took the subway and talked on the way. It turned out she was a figure skater while living in Moscow, then immigrated with her parents to Israel. Many years later she danced in Italy and then New York. Why tango I asked?  “It was a love at the first sight,” said Zoya…and I did not feel like digging any deeper. Zoya and her dancing partners were my first significant find in New York, my gem number one!

New York has so much to offer on any given evening that every time I am there I feel like a kid in a candy store. We have been trying to build a relationship with Cuba (music relationship mind you) and have not been successful so far for various reasons that I choose not to disclose in this blog. One day during my stay in New York my Internet search announced that tonight, Melpaso Dance Company from Havana Cuba was to perform in the Joyce ballet theater, YES! I just had to go! Just a short taxi ride later and I was sitting in the last row that was rightfully deserved by the last-minute tickets buyers. With a little effort looking over my left shoulder I still could see a part of the stage and despite growing neck pain loved the performance; modern, fresh, young and VERY professional. The executive decision was made to meet the Artistic Director. I approached one of the musicians during the intermission, as I do feel most comfortable with the musicians because deep down I am still one… and honestly told him that I am an Artistic Director from San Antonio and would love to meet the Cuban Director. “San Antonio! I love your city!” “Sure, let’s go I will introduce you to him.”  I followed him backstage to find myself face-to-face with a very good-looking Artistic Director from Havana. He was very polite and expressed interest in working with us in the near future. Mission Accomplished! Another gem in my bucket!

During my battle with neck pain at the Cuban ballet I received a text from another lead for a bandoneon player. There is no way I would allow any dancer to perform for Musical Bridges with a recording. And let’s face it, it is not Argentinian Tango without the fabulous bandoneon to take the lead. The text said, “Anya, you need to go to the corner of Broadway and 52nd street, building number 354, ring the bell and go to the 5th floor.” I felt the rush of the chase of a hunter on a trail of the sweet smell of prey. “They will play from 10-12 tonight, they are expecting you.” I take my leads seriously and headed that direction, on my own, at night … in New York armed with my passion to find that diamond in the rough. I rang the bell, took the elevator to the 5th floor and unexpectedly found myself in an elegant Tango nightclub surrounded by well-dressed people of all ages. To give you a better picture about my appearance…I was dressed in my hiking big city-safari outfit that can take any distance and any weather; needless to say I was not invited to dance. My vibe was one of rather…stay away…I am working here. I found no gems on the 5th floor of N 354 but had a lot of fun. My search continues.

Off to a new adventure! The Silk Road Project Education Program is my next stop. Queens, here I come!  And that was spectacular, eye opening and educational for me and is a subject of another blog or rather, a dissertation…

Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project performers

Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project performers

As you have already figured out, just like in the treasure hunting TV show I have my own lead people. Among them is THE ONE AND ONLY FANTASTIC Cristina Pato. I met Cristina three years ago in San Antonio when she performed with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project for Arts San Antonio. I just boldly approached her, “Do you play without Yo-Yo Ma?” “Sure!” she said.  And that conversation changed Musical Bridges life once-and-for-all!  Since then she has performed for us many times and feels that coming back to play for Musical Bridges is just like coming back to see her family. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Cristina. On stage she is a wild force of nature with green hair and a sexy vibe. In real life she is smart, practical and genuine. Cristina is a generous person, and this is the most important quality that I respect in people.  She just performed for First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House, but it did not go to her head and she is still humble and a very personable human being–a joy to be around. Cristina gave me a few new fantastic leads for future artists. I trust her impeccable taste and am extremely excited to bring a bucket full of new precious gems to our future programing. During our creative breakfast in the West Village we have solved many of the World’s problems but most importantly we came up with the piece de resistance for Festival Grand opening night.

Shane Shanahan, Anya, Sandeep Das, Cristina Pato

Shane Shanahan, Anya, Sandeep Das, Cristina Pato.

The real gems hunters from the show hunt rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. I hunt unique one-of-a-kind talent that shines on its own like a diamond in the rough. I am looking for world-class musicians with western education but at the same time connected to their ethnic background by an umbilical cord. I have a nose for talent and can smell it from far away. Needless to say, it is a very difficult task to find these people because they are truly one-of-a-kind. I believe that by introducing different cultures through music and dance to each other and the rest of the world is a great humanitarian mission and I am very proud to be one of a few in the world in this field of work. I am determined to find the best musicians for our mission and I spare no effort to do so. I am happy to report that my adventure in the jungle of dangerous New York City was extremely productive. I found a basket full of SPECTACULAR MUSICAL GEMS to bring to our Festival. Among others: World Class (FINALLY) Bandoneonist, Tango Dancers and Columbian Harpist–TOP NOTCH! A Cuban Ballet company and most of all Silk Road and San Antonio Favorites Cristina Pato, Kinan Azmeh, Sandeep Das and Shane Shanahan. Now it is my job to arrange these gems on the thread of the festival in the most spectacular one-of-a-kind pairings so these precious gems will brightly shine in the golden setting of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

This time I nibbled on the Big Apple’s cultural scene and hardly made a dent. Will be back soon for more…




Every time I go to a very familiar tragic opera, I still hope the ending will somehow miraculously change and everyone will live happily ever. Unfortunately, despite my prayers, Tosca every time jumps from the bridge, Cavaradossi gets shot, Gilda and Carmen stabbed, and Aida and Radames buried alive.  Welcome to the fun world of the opera!

Rigoletto Rayan McKinny and his dead daughter Gilda Uliana Alexyuk

Rigoletto Rayan McKinny and his dead daughter Gilda Uliana Alexyuk

Knowing that I am doing everything possible to shield myself from negative emotions, Rob proclaimed after looking at the HGO upcoming performances: “Anya, you do not want to see this opera for sure”. He was talking about “Passenger” by Weinberg, premiered at the HGO as a part of this season. We hold season subscription and drive to Houston three times a year for a two operas weekend. I was so busy this year that I totally forgot to reserve tickets for this set of operas. He was on call and couldn’t go, so it was decided I will go with my mom for Rigoletto and will skip “Passenger”. I did not really check why he thought that I should not see it; I trust he knows me by now as we will have been married seven years this February.

My father reads the Russian newspaper Our Texas published in Houston and distributed throughout the Russian speaking population in Texas. “Do you know that there is a Weinberg festival going on in Houston this month?” said my dad and he sounded extremely excited. To be honest with you, it took me a while to remember who Weinberg was. “He is a fantastic composer” he said. “I played most of his symphonies and Shostakovich loved this guy as well, I want to see his opera.” It does not happen too often that my father wants to see an opera so I took his wish seriously. Since I had tickets to this opera anyway, it was decided all three of us would drive to Houston for an opera weekend. I called the theater and purchased the third ticket for my father.

opera_women_prison-350Passenger was shocking. How do you write an opera about concentration camps? What do you use as a musical language? Pretty themes would be totally out of place. The colors were muted, the musical language sharp and descriptive in some places with occasional gunshots and a crying violin in the background. This was such despicable recent history; the Holocaust, which took the lives of some 6 million Jews and millions of others. It is incomprehensible and inhuman and no matter how you describe it there is no way to connect to it. My family lost relatives in the Holocaust, in Babi Yar in Kiev and probably in some other places. Many were fighting in the war and never came back and I still cannot connect to it. I do not understand why anyone would do something like this.

When I was a little girl, just like every other little girl, I wanted to become an actress… the star of course as you can imagine. After many hours of convincing my parents to add a small acting club to my music routine I was taken to a theater group for children. My dream was to play Madam Bovary or some other well-dressed respectable French lady. The role I was offered was the one of Zoika Kosmodemyanskaya, a partisan heroine of the Second World War. I did not take the role and dropped that class and for some reason attending this opera reminded me about that incident. I guess because this is too close to home. My mother, a little girl at a time with her family was walking on foot through the Ukraine and Russia away from the Nazis, seeing a lot of death hunger and destruction on the way. She easily could be one of those women in this story. What a terrifying thought!

Back stage picture of two prisoners Uliana Alexyuk soprano and Carolyn Spraule mezzo soprano

Back stage picture of two prisoners Uliana Alexyuk soprano and Carolyn Spraule mezzo soprano

I know many of the HGO singers who took part in this opera in a woman’s department of Auschwitz. All of them are young, beautiful, and very talented ladies. The staging director did a great job in erasing their personalities and muting their look to the point that if I had not read their names in the program I would have no idea who they were. Wasn’t this the point of the concentration camp, to turn individuals into numbers on their forearms? I could be one of them. How would I behave? Would Nazi break me and make me week scared and depressed? Would I be able to keep human dignity or I would I get sick from cold and hunger and hopelessness and be killed in a gas chamber with millions of others?

This is dark side that I was trying to avoid from early childhood. It was very difficult because the Soviet teaching curriculum was very heavy on the Second World War for obvious reasons; Russia lost the most of the people in this War. And here I was, facing my fears, brought to life by the Jewish composer Weinberg, who walked from Poland on foot to Russia to avoid being captured by Nazis and put into one of these “charming” places like Auschwitz with only one way in and no way out. We do remember. We remember even if it happened not to us, but to millions like us. We are disgusted that humanity is capable of things like this and this opera did a great job of reminding us about it. MAY IT NEVER EVER HAPPNED TO ANYONE! AMEN!

All of us are passengers of life in a matter of speaking. May our ride be fun, creative, productive and dignified! On a brighter side, after  “Passenger” Rigoletto felt like a comedy…and I am trying to bring Gilda, sung by a fantastic Russian soprano, Ulyana Alexchuck for the final concert of Musica Without Borders festival.

New York! New York!

anya-artAs soon as we arrived to New York we got screwed. A great looking and know-it-all guy offered his limousine so elegantly and quickly that I did not get a chance to think. During the short and pleasant drive filled with conversation about his family in Egypt my feeling of being screwed grew by the minute. He dropped us off at the back door of our hotel, knocking down all signs warning against it on the way, then told me “$85 dollars, how much do you want back? “Living in Texas and dealing with nice people for the last 24 years have dulled my sense of survival which I grew up with in Moscow and I gave him a generous tip. During the first couple of hours in New York I did not meet any native English speakers, but just about everybody else. Distances were long, traffic was terrible, streets were decorated with huge garbage cans and people were in a hurry. Welcome to New York!

I attended the Chamber Music America Conference held every January to find new talent for Musical Bridges and be made aware of what is going on in the industry. The conference is, of course, my first priority while in New York, but I also try to squeeze in as much cultural activities as possible.  Museums in the morning, conference artists showcase in the afternoon and Broadway shows in the evening. On the way to Metropolitan Museum of Art, I spotted a long line in front of an old building. It was cold, windy with occasional light rain and despite that, people we firmly holding their spots in the long line. Coming from the Soviet Union I was used to lines. But this line was not for groceries, nor to buy boots or football tickets, but this was a line for an art exhibit from the Netherlands. I loved it! It is good to know that there are still people in the world willing to spend hours in line to see great art. Maybe there is a hope for humanity after all.

times_squareAnother impressive sized line is always located in Time Square on the corner of Broadway and 47th street and it is for discounted tickets for Broadway shows. Yes, I was in that line twice and I am proud of it! Got to see two fantastic shows; Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Avenue Q. Both smart and dark musical comedies, just the way I like it. I remember seeing my first Broadway show in ‘89, the year of my arrival to US. It was RENT, the hottest show on Broadway at the time. That was love at a first sight. Growing up on serious arts, I always looked down on any sort of “pop” endeavors. Broadway has converted me into a Broadway groupie. The two shows I got to see this time just confirmed my admiration and pure love of Broadway and made me want more. Maybe I should come to New York more often after all?

As we all know one never forgets how to ride a bicycle, have sex, or drive a car. I can add to this triptych of universal knowledge; one never forgets how to navigate in a big city. Get a little rusty maybe, but never forget. In a few hours I started to genuinely believe red lights were just a suggestion and I joined the never ending parade of New York’s international visitors. I am happy to report that the food was good at every occasion at every restaurant in Manhattan and the pastries can proudly stand up in the same row with famous French petit fours. I love the hustle and bustle of New York! It seems to be extremely accepting of everyone regardless how weird they are. It is easy to blend in, nobody is judging or as much as paying any attention to anybody else and it is liberating in a way.

anya-conferenceThe Chamber Music Conference as always was informative and inspirational. Workshops and artists showcases presented an impressive group of young and seasoned musicians with very diverse programing. Many musical offerings included unexpected instrumentations and were truly high-end classical ensembles. I am looking for Musical Bridges future programing and spotted some fabulous prospects for next season. I was charmed by a young cello and piano duo, passionate, smart with their own comedy show on YouTube. I also liked an all-women Klezmer ensemble lead by a tall and charismatic clarinet player and short cute blond on double bass. The grand finale was presented by a Russian piano duo. What a Surprise!!! Young, beautiful, dressed in Gothic / Romantic white outfits. They looked like gods and played like ones as well. Liszt Concertino for two pianos by memory! Bravo!

The Metropolitan Opera surprised me as well. L’elisir D’amore by Donizetti is a very light and virtuosic opera and it was a pure pleasure to watch it there, the mega of the world opera. Especially with Anna Netrebko as Adina and Ramón Vargas as Nemorino. The quality was outstanding just as expected, but I was very surprised that the majority of audience was Russian. I guess people who grew up next to the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow do get addicted to a great opera. The next surprise awaited me in the Guggenheim, where one of the guides offered her services in Russian. She immigrated to the US from St Petersburg, the City-Museum Under the Skies and found her new love here at the Guggenheim. She very much enjoyed enlightening me in the matters of the Guggenheim family history and was genuinely proud of what they have done for American and International art in general.

Everyone finds what is dear to his or her heart in New York. During this visit I saw one opera, two Broadway shows and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. For some people New York is not America. To me it is Quintessential America; it is a small version of the world in its idealistic future. Yes, it is messy and it is uneven and it has a lot of problems but it is probably the only place in the world where everyone coexists together without sacrificing personal identity. Everyone finds their own New York and it belongs to them. This blog started as a traveling story to a busy city with dirty streets and a lot of traffic and some how ended up as another homage to the arts, perhaps just with a hint of Russian flavor…This is New York I love, the rest does not matter to me, this is what I am going to miss and try to come back to. During this trip I found MY New York.


“Tis the season to be jolly!”

Traffic! Lots of people everywhere! Crying children! No, this is not a war I am describing, this is Christmas shopping! Yesterday I spent 45 min in the car between IH10 and the La Canterra shopping mall on a trip that normally takes me 5 min.  I’m wondering how can it be? Why? What comes over Christians and non-Christians that inspires us for heroic acts during this hectic time and even makes us enjoy it? I saw a Muslim woman praying at 4 pm in the middle of the mall parking lot on a small rug that her granddaughter placed before her. She was bowing in the middle of terrible parking situation surrounded by cars and angry drivers hopelessly driving around in hopes of finding an empty spot. I loved it! Christmas in America!

Do we like to buy? Do we need more stuff? May be just a little bit of that, but I think the answer is WE LOVE TO GIVE. It is the bug of giving that makes us go through inhuman traffic, yards of wrapping paper and ribbons, boxes and boxes and more boxes and finally long lines at the post office. Yes, and I am no different. Although my religious believes could be summarized in JewBuU translated as Jewish Buddhist Universalist, I love Christmas! I love shopping; I love a lot of people, beautiful decorations, jingle bells everywhere and the general atmosphere of excitement. I also love to give and I get genuinely offended at a “no gifts” policy often imposed on me by friends and family. With all due respect, Christmas is the time for presents!

As the director of Musical Bridges, a non-profit organization, I see the seeds of giving grow every year. Our Board of Director, staff and volunteers give money, their valuable time, and their talent regardless of Christmas or any other incentive. The Giving Bug is very powerful and will change the world, eventually, I hope. When a highly educated Webmaster takes time to open the doors at the concerts or a brilliant graphic designer runs after tourists with free concert flyers in her hands, it is fascinating! Everyone gives in his or her own way; this bug contaminates us all and to a great extent is responsible for the quality of our lives.  And in return we give the gift of music, the gift of beauty and education to our local community.

Dec2013_Girls_400I normally make my list a month in advance and try not to forget anyone including the “no gift policy people.” Of course, the most fun is shopping for my two little nieces who live in another country at the moment. During Christmas time I like to send flowers to people from my past that helped make me who I am now, my teachers and my mentors. I thank people who greatly affect my quality of life by their dedicated work, like my housekeeper, laundry driver, my hairdresser, my fabulous seamstress and Zumba teacher. My life is full and busy and I actually take time to remember and give thanks to these special people during Christmas. Despite a hectic time I actually slow down for that.

Among the “no gift policy people” are my parents. Not only they do not like presents, they are genuinely against me spending any money and especially on them. They are very vocal about it… just in case I forget… you know what I mean… But it is priceless for me to see their faces light up like a little child’s when they unwrap the boxes and carefully take out the presents. I try to remember to have change with me during this time of the year to give to people on the street corners. I am not a God to judge them, all I can do is to give a little something enough just for one meal. I like to receive presents as well but on the scale 1-10, giving goes off the charts. I feel very fortunate, the universe is good to me and I want to give back. Giving is the privilege that fills my heart with love and brings “Tis the season to be jolly!” to life

dec2013-anyas-dad_400 Dec2013-anyas-mom_400

Bon Appetit!


My new kitchen took the best of me. During the renovation process I started 10 new blogs but my heart and creativity went into the kitchen sink-16GA, 10 inches deep. The decision making process was painful and invigorating at the same time. Deep in my heart I always dreamed of becoming an interior designer and this was my ultimate test.

It all started with our 50-year-old kitchen sink threatening to fall on the floor and take a wall along with it. “ Let’s buy a new sink” sad Robert innocently believing that this will be it… “Hmm, If we are going to create a mess why not to get rid of a couple of walls”… thought I in return. Two months and many thousand of dollars later, we are missing two walls and have a brand new slick stainless steel kitchen with new granite countertops, new appliances and a new window, framing our picturesque view of Texas hill country and Yes, I forgot to mention a NEW KITCHEN SINK!

During this process I learned a lot about the construction process, kitchen appliances, cabinets, the layout, granite and tile. But most of all I learned a lot about me. To my dismay I found that I do not deal well with change and suffer from severe fear of commitment. Who would think? I always thought I was creative, flexible, spontaneous and brave. No Way! Every time we would make a drastic change like taking down a wall or opening a new window, I had symptoms similar to a mild heart attack.

Our very dear Russian crew often found me in the morning, in my pajamas, moving cabinets from one side to another. The agony of making the FINAL decision! After an enormous effort to choose the backsplash for the kitchen I wasn’t to commit to stonewall and left it bare. The magnitude of this decision for me could only be compared to premarital jitters… Commitment for life! After this renovation I developed all new respect for Robert. How did he talk me into a second marriage!

How do you bring the space to life? One thing is for everything to function properly but how do you make it cozy and welcoming, simple and sophisticated? In other words, how do you phrase it?  When we started to see the light at the end of the construction tunnel and kitchen took its final shape I felt that something was missing. I exhausted my arsenal of designer knowledge by balancing warm and cold elements but my new kitchen looked at me with the cold intimidating glare of a professional restaurant prep area.

And I found the answer! Mademoiselle Chandelier! I found her at an auction. She was from an old estate in France and I proudly brought her home to my very resilient Russian friends and construction team, who became my personal shrinks during this stressful two months that changed us all forever. “Anya, it needs to be rewired” was the verdict. And they did so, and SHE brought that final touch of class, glamour and sophistication that I was longing for. Now my kitchen, eclectic and beautiful, resembles a modern Parisian apartment and I love it!

My long distance degree in Interior Decorating along with countless hours with the famous designers of the HGTV home improvement channel finally paid off and I came out of the closet as an Interior Designer. Now I am full of plans for future renovations and new creative endeavors. One of which is a new Musical Bridges International cooking video show. Just like on a big stage, my guests will come from all over the world to share their cultural roots through their culinary creations. This time the center stage will be my new kitchen and the artistic medium – food. Bon Appetit!