The Truth About Gary

In the intro to this blog, I promised to reveal why Gary Matoso, the photographer for the original Russian Chronicles, didn't come along this time. Gary was the driving force behind that project -- he came up with the idea, raised the money and then brought me on board when another writer dropped out for personal reasons.

Gary Matoso, photographer for the 1995 Russian Chronicles, lives in Paris with his wife Chantal and daughters Louise (left) and Stella (right). (Photo courtesy Gary Matoso)

So, why isn't he here? See if you can guess:

A. We're still not speaking after one too many vodka-fueled arguments on the road in 1995.
B. He's in prison.
C. Shhh... He doesn't know I'm doing this "Ten Years Later" thing.
D. His business commitments in Paris precluded him from coming.

Yes, it's boring old "D" -- Gary was unable to come this time around because a couple of big work projects conflicted with the trip dates. Despite the fact that we did indeed have a few vodka-fueled arguments on the road in '95, we both really hoped he could make the trip. He and I have remained good friends and see each other periodically, mostly whenever I'm in Paris, where he lives with his wife Chantal and daughters Louise and Stella.

In the years following the Russian Chronicles, Gary worked on other Web projects. He traveled to Bosnia, Africa and Central Asia to produce "Witness," a series of online documentaries about refugee issues, for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. More recently, he produced "Too Much Time", an online documentary for Amnesty International about women in prisons around the world.

Gary is the founder of Netfeatures, an online production company that develops and produces Web-based projects. He's still shooting photographs, for both commercial and editorial clients. Finally, on a personal note, he's also learning to play the guitar -- and I hope he won't mind if I reveal that he recently asked me to teach him the chords to "Dancing Queen." Rock on, Gary! Wish you were here to enjoy a shot of vodka with David and me now.


Flippy cereal, breakfast of champions in Birobidzhan. (David Hillegas).

We've gotten several emails from people wondering what we're eating, and how good or bad it is. Two and a half weeks into the trip, we've pretty much run the gamut. In Vladivostok, we were fed to bursting by our host, Marina, with the full food pyramid of butter-drenched starches: Potatoes, noodles, pelmeny, bread. "Eat! Eat!" she barked, pushing dishes at us as we meekly complied.

In Khabarovsk, we were also well fed by our hosts, Yulia and her parents, though mercifully they didn't insist that we eat triple our normal caloric intake. Yulia's mother Irina made traditional dishes such as plov (rice pilaf) and blini (pancakes). In Birobidzhan, we've been on our own, eating deep-fried schnitzel at tiny greasy spoon cafes, loading up on sausage, cheese, almonds and dried apricots at the local market, and eating "Flippy" cereal for breakfast -- a Cap'n Crunch-esque treat in the shape of little dolphins. Mmm. Almost like home.

Tomorrow we'll post an update from Chita, with news on our 1995 hosts here, Natasha and Sergei, their daughter Katya, and their French bulldog Teddy.

By Lisa Dickey |  September 16, 2005; 6:15 PM ET
Previous: Birobidzhan: The Jewish Community Lives On | Next: Chita: A Prediction Involving a Spanish Man


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Bonjour David,
Alphonse et Rosa nous ont ont donné l'adresse des chroniques russes, on va donc suivre vos traces à travers le pays. C'est un fabuleux voyage.
Bonne route et à bientôt
les cousins d'Alsace

Posted by: Sophie-anne et Jean, Vincent et Antoine | September 19, 2005 12:04 PM

I spent a summer in Kiev and we ate this cereal that I still crave...I can't remember the Russian name of it, but it translated roughly to "chocolate pillows." Divine! When I returned home, I would send packets of kool-aid and marshmallow fluff to my American host's children and they once tried to mail me a box of chocolate pillows, but it never made it to the states.

Your blog is wonderful, and so many of your descriptions of the culture and people remind me of my summer in Ukraine.

Posted by: Kate | September 19, 2005 02:38 PM

Lisa, I've loved reading about your travels! And finally, you divined what I've been wondering all this time -- what have you been eating. Mmmmm, butter drenched startches...

Posted by: Adriana | September 19, 2005 10:41 PM

Mmmm... Chocolate Pillows! I've seen those here, but haven't tried them yet. Kate, what a bummer that your box never arrived. Probably some unscrupulous customs agent ate the whole thing in one sitting.
And Adriana, there's more to tell about the food -- I didn't have room to mention the dried calamari in a packet or the red-caviar-flavored potato chips. We've bought a bag of the chips, and will report back on how they are!

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | September 20, 2005 02:53 AM

Lisa, I've enjoyed these tasty morsels of your latest exploits...but I'm afraid your food thing goes too far!

Butter-drenched starches are the lifeblood of the world's cultures and have been for centuries (or at least since butter).

Next thing you'll be commenting on how all the food comes in various shades of white!

Carry on and chew thoroughly!

Posted by: Rebecky | September 22, 2005 11:35 AM

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