About Me

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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today I love... pretty cups

This may seem like an odd thing to love, but bear with me - there is a reason. My fondness for pretty drinkware comes, first of all, from my Mom. Mom was a passionate coffee and tea drinker with a three-cups-per-day minimum. However, she disliked rushing through things, and, while there was rarely a time for a full tea or coffee ceremony, she at least wanted to have something pretty to drink out of. My Dad - a commercial pilot at the time - made a point of seeking out and bringing home pretty tea and coffee cups from various places he went to. Eventually, these little bits of metal and porcelain became more than just dishes, because each had a story associated with it.

This glittering beauty, for instance, comes from Riga (the capitol of Latvia). Mom and Dad had visited Riga during their honeymoon travels and were fortunate to hear works by Bach played on the famous organ at the Riga Dom Cathedral. My Dad went there many times since, both on business and to visit his two aunts (my paternal grandmother's sisters). As it was customary among many families to always send a guest home with gifts, the dear women would never let Dad leave without at least one extra bag filled with home-made treats (that whole side of the family were fantastic cooks and bakers), toys and clothes for me, jewelry or other small precious trinkets for my Mom. This cup was one of their gifts, when they found out about Mom's penchant for high-quality coffee and coffee cups.

This is another one of Dad's travel trophies, but this one was intended for me. Until a certain point, I drank my tea from larger sturdier cups. Once I finally proved that I could handle coffee and do dishes without breaking anything, Dad decided I deserved a quality cup of my own. During his next trip to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), he bought me my very own Lomonosov china coffee cup.

Mikhail Lomonosov had been our family hero for decades, with my maternal grandfather being a particular fan of his. Aside from being an outstanding physicist, chemist and mathematician, Lomonosov was also a poet (in fact, many consider him a father of Russian poetry) and an artist. He developed his own formula for mosaic glass and created hundreds of hues. One of his most famous pieces was a giant portrait of Peter the Great during the Poltava Battle. China manufacturing was an extension of the mosaic line, an afterthought, really. That, however, did not prevent Lomonosov china from becoming world-famous and highly valued to this day.

The cup my Dad brought me would be considered particularly rare, because of the colors. A signature Lomonosov color scheme is white, royal blue and gold. This piece has red and green flowers over the traditional translucent white scalloped china. The pattern had since been discontinued, and considering how fragile these are, there are probably not many of them left in the world.

Shortly after my Dad bought this cup for me, I broke a tea saucer, so the cup was temporarily transferred into my Mom's care. I smuggled it into the US after my visit to Ukraine a few years ago - wrapped into several t-shirts and newspapers. Fragile and rare it might be, but I drink coffee from this cup regularly, because I think beautiful things are wasted if constantly kept under lock and key - especially if they were initially intended for practical purposes.

Not to be out-done by my Dad, my husband Gerry bought me a classic Lomonosov cup a few years ago. This is one of the most popular patterns: the blue and gold diamond grid over white, with a beautiful scalloped edge. Unfortunately, we somehow managed to chip it and haven't had a chance to have it repaired yet, so it serves purely decorative function at the moment. I fully intend to get it fixed and bring it back into circulation.

For the longest time after coming to the United States, I drank tea out of coffee mugs. Not sure how it happened... Perhaps getting something that included both cups and saucers were too low of a priority on college, or maybe it just didn't occur to me.

I didn't get a proper teacup until four or five years after I came to the States, when my first husband's son Brandon asked, "Why do you drink tea from ugly cups? You are a girl. And you like tea. You should have pretty cups." So, next Christmas he bought me a matching pair of pretty tea cups. Sadly, that relationship fell apart, and I am no longer connected with the family, however, the memory associated with these little cups is a good one, and I treasure both the memory and the cups to this day.

Tell someone you are a tea lover, and chances are you are getting something tea-related for Christmas or your birthday (whichever comes first). Very often, the gift is a set: a teacup and saucer with some chocolates and interesting teas. I actually don't mind. I haven't met a tea, a coffee or a chocolate I didn't like, and I am the last person to turn down a pretty cup.

This was the case when my grandmother-in-law gave me one such set as a Christmas gift. I think this was my first holiday with the family, so nobody knew me very well (Gerry and I only started dating a few months prior), but this particular gift worked out perfectly. I still love the cup - it's very much in style with all things Victorian, which I am a big fan of.

What do people drink wine from these days? During cook-outs and picnics I see lots of plastic cups, which is fine, considering how many people you have in one place at one time - outdoors and frequently near a swimming pool. But what about those times when you just want a glass of wine with dinner?

Gerry and I are both huge wine lovers and are always on the lookout for interesting wine glasses and cups, frequently bemoaning the fact that elaborate ornate goblets are no longer en vogue. We also tend to break things (not surprising, with two people trying to operate in a tiny kitchen with four animals underfoot), so durability as just as key as appearance.

This beautiful glass is, unfortunately, one of two pieces left of a five-piece painted glass set we had. Initially, there were four glasses and a pitcher. The glasses were painted red, blue, yellow and green. We managed to slaughter the blue, yellow and green ones, but this lonely warrior appears to be holding out. For some reason, it has become my favorite glass to drink red wine out of. There is just something about the way red wine looks surrounded by the little bursts of color.

This lovely goblet is one of a pair we bought from Gaelsong for our wedding. There is also a matching plate. Our ceremony was essentially a Wiccan hand-fasting, slightly modified to avoid disturbing the mostly-Christian friends and family members. It did include a wine-and-bread ritual, and one of the goblets was used for it. Unfortunately, we had to cut down on how much we use these since then, because they started oxidizing from too much wine and frequent washing.

Much as I love traveling on my own or with a close friend, my husband Gerry remains my favorite travel partner. So, when I travel without him, I always bring something back that we can both enjoy. During the last year's trip to Washington D.C. for my best friend's traditional annual birthday trip (which was a blast, by the way), my problem was not finding a gift, but having too many choices. I finally found a perfect one at the Natural History Museum store - a pair of jasper wine cups.

I love decorative stones, like malachite, jasper, lapis and agate, among others, both for their beauty and for the fascinating stories associated with search and mining of these materials. My interest in them goes back to being a kid and reading Pavel Bazhov's wonderful fairy tales based on the Ural miners' folklore and later - discovering Rustem Valayev's Diamond Is Fragile: a book on history and legend surrounding famous gems and pieces of jewelry. It may seem like a very long explanation for buying a pair of wine cups, but such odd associations are frequently my reasons for getting things - they make certain objects speak to me.

This last little glass is also one of a pair (both still in one piece) we bought in Paris during our third wedding anniversary trip. We wanted to bring something home with us that wouldn't just sit on the shelf, something we could use and enjoy on a regular basis. We saw these colorful little glasses in a grocery store next to our hotel, of all the places. So, we bought two, wrapped them up and took them home with us. We ended up using them so much, that they now look pink. Not a big deal - they are still pretty, and they still have many fond memories associated with them.


The Jerseymooners said...

I love tea, and drinking it out of a pretty cup makes the experience even better.

Maria K. said...

... especially when the pretty cup comes with a story. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating!
I love Bazhov's work, which I have read in several English translations. I also saw the movie made of The Stone Flower. I love gem lore and look forward to reading your translation of Diamond is Fragile, by Rustem Valayev. Thanks for introducing English-speakers to this writer.

Perhaps your father-in-law can also convince you to translate some of Bazhov's untranslated stories; it seems (from comparing the page counts of Russian vs. English versions, that many of Bazhov's stories still remain untranslated, which is a shame.
I collect stories, poetry & fiction about gems: how can I buy a copy that you have autographed??

Please leave a comment at my blog, and look for the section on Bazhov there (if you search on the phrase "Living Life as If Rocks Matter" in quotation marks, you will find it.)
Best Wishes, Robert

Maria K. said...

Robert, it's actually kind of funny that Bazhov should come up, because I was just re-reading my childhood copy of the "Malachite Box". It is on my long translation to-do list.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Bazhov! Hard to believe, but there is no English-language edtion of his stories available that is not a print-on-demand book (it matters to American libraries: almost all do not purchase from POD publishers).

Now, about the Valayev (also transliterated as Valaev)book, which I cannot wait to read! Do you have a copy you could autograph & send (my preference), or will I have to deal with Lulu.com?

Also, there are two different prices given for the Diamond is Fragile @ Lulu, for $32.60 or $10.01. Is the difference hardback or paperback??

Thanks, Robert

mariaik said...


Unfortunately I don't have a copy of "Diamond", so you'll have to go through Lulu. The difference between the two versions is this: the $32.60 version is full-color with illustrations and photographs depicting the gems and pieces of jewelry described in each chapter. The $10.01 is a little pocket version with just text, and no illustration - actually much like the one I read as a kid, when I first fell in love with this book.

I do, however, have an extra copy of another book (also translated from Russian) that you might enjoy. Send me an e-mail at maria@naaseymour.com, and we can iron out the details.