Truly ugly chess souvenir

by admin on October 14, 2011

For various reasons I hauled out a trunk yesterday that I had not opened in about ten years. I wasn’t even entirely sure what was in it any more.

It turned out that about a third of the trunk consisted of souvenirs from my semester in Russia. I studied in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the fall of 1978, such a long time ago that it seems to me like another life and almost like another person whose memories happen to be implanted in my brain.

At the time I was young and totally into collecting experiences rather than things, which I think is actually a good attitude to have when you’re going to another country. Nevertheless, I did inevitably come back with a few things. One of them was this unbelievably ugly tapestry, which happens to have two redeeming virtues: it has a chess set and it has cats!

I’m not sure how well you can make out the image, so here is a closer look:

This is pretty much my life nowadays.  😎

I also brought home a souvenir deck of cards, which I have never used. (For some reason the deck begins with the 6’s, omitting 2 through 5. I guess one could use it for euchre.) Unlike my godawful tapestry, these cards are actually kind of attractive.

To me, the faces have more character than those on Western cards. I especially like the ferocious-looking Asiatic King of Spades, who looks as if he just arrived from the steppes with his Mongol horde. The King of Hearts, by contrast, looks like a benevolent, Good King Wenceslas type of king. I have no idea whether this is typical of Russian cards or whether it’s just because it’s a souvenir deck for foreign tourists.

I think there are two approaches to buying souvenirs abroad. Either you should get something really nice that you can’t get in your own country, or else you should get some kitschy junk that you can laugh at later. Since I never have the money for getting something really nice, I guess I’m left with the second strategy!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

armen October 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm

This deck was the most commonly used in Soviet Union. I don’t even remember other sets. And yes, no 2,3,4, and 5’s . The most popular card game was and still is “Durak”
which doesn’t need the first four cards,


admin October 14, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Cool! I never knew that. It somehow wasn’t included in our lessons on Russian culture. 😉


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