Sasha and I bought her flowers at a little flower shop and went to her place. Sasha's giflriend, Gal, was already there and the two girls were busy preparing a feast. They were slicing and dicing and seasoning and boiling and baking. Sasha and I were shooed out of the kitchen so we watched YouTube clips on Katerina's laptop.
Then her parents came home, and got to meet them. Her mother speaks no English and I could tell the moment we met that she didn't like her daughter dating a foreigner. Her mother is a silent type, and after the obligatory "Zastroot-vye" (formal "hello") she didn't say anything to me or use anybody to interpret for her.
Her father was a lively guy. He handed his daughter a birthday card filled with roubles and poured everyone a glass of champagne and then led us in toast after toast after toast. When the champagne was gone he grabbed a bottle of Martini and did the same.
He was curious about me, and liked that I was from Canada. Although he had limited English he used Katerina and Sasha as translators. "I have family in Canada." he told me. I asked him "Are you Ukrainian?" to which he replied "Of course I'm Ukrainian! I am NOT Russian!" and with the word "Russian" he made a spitting motion, as if the word tasted bad. "Here, try some Amaretto!"
Dinner pretty much followed this pattern, with Gal and Sasha yapping at me in English, Katerina's mother doing everything to ignore me and her father doing everything to get everyone completely drunk, Russian style (or should I say Ukrainian style?). He even gave me one of his 'Ukrainian' cigarettes to try.
With Katerina translating I learned that the Soviet authorities had taken him from his home in the Ukraine when he was 17 and put him through engineering school, although he just wanted to be a farmer. After University he was drafted into the military as a Red Army engineer, and spent 10 years building army bases along the Russian-Chinese border. He met Katerina's mother, a Don Cossack from Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) and they married and he's lived in Moscow ever since. Learning that Katerina was half Cossack helped to explain her incredibly stubborn demeanour when she gets an idea in her head.
After dinner we were all slightly drunk and us "youngsters" made our way to the Shyolkova bowling alley, which was lit in black lighting and blaring trance music. We ordered drinks and pizza and an ashtray and proceeded to bowl for the next few hours.
I was doing horribly until I caught sight of one lonely blue 10-pound ball sitting on a rack behind our table. For some reason it called out to me. I stuck my fingers in the holes and they fit perfectly. Like Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone, I hoisted the ball into the air and then flung it down the lane. Strike! After that my lucky ball scored well for me, and I ended up coming in second after Katerina.
When it was time to go, around 3 am, we walked through the snow that had fallen that day, over a little bridge above a river, and to a park that was lit in soft lights reflecting off the snow-covered ground. Then we proceeded to horse around, sufficiently intoxicated so as not to feel the cold. My Russian friends made the mistake of picking a snowball fight with me, and I taught them a thing or two about fastball pitching and leading a moving target, so that the snowball and the victim meet the same point of space at the same time. Katerina wasn't happy when my snowball got her in the face as she was running, but I was impressed!