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1.  Spend most of your time at museums with pictures of pretty weather: In St. Petersburg we hit up the Hermitage for some impressionists, the Russian Museum, and Dostoevsky’s flat. We hunched over and snuck into the children’s tour (where the guide spoke my kind of Russian) at the Yusupov palace and were treated to live music (harpist, singer, pianist…) in each of the rooms. In Moscow we did the Tretyakov gallery and the Pushkin museum (more impressionists and pictures of the “thaw”– apparently the most awaited day for all Russian Painters.)

2.  Pray for sun. In addition to the tens of tiny churches we stopped into, we hit up most of Moscow’s and St. Petersburg’s major cathedrals: St. Isaac’s, St. Basil’s, the one inside Peter and Paul’s fortress in Petersburg (where a lot of the dead tsar’s and their families are buried), St. Nicholas (where we actually saw a service)…and more. Lots of stout women with headscarves crossing themselves and lining up to kiss the idol (swine flu heaven).

3. If the praying didn’t work…. ask Lenin? Parents and I (like dutiful tourists), went to see Lenin (he is stuffed and persevered on Red Square if you didn’t know.) The whole thing was pretty creepy. We were led down a dark passageway with guards on every side to the body and the group of well dressed Koreans in front of us all bowed to him. I was half-ready to get shot. 

4.  Go in the banya (Russian sauna)…. every day. Our trip culminated with the extreme Russian banya experience at the dacha of some Russian friends complete with a birch branch beating and after-sauna vodka and caviar. My dad (he speaks no Russian) had an hour long banya with my moms Russian friend (who speaks no English) and (as evidenced by the photo below) came out of it looking completely frightened (maybe it was the memory of those people who just died in the sweat house… but I think it was probably the birch branches.) My mom and I had a “ladies sauna” which meant much less heat, only one beating, and a relaxing swim afterwards.

Dad and Russian walking in snow before going back in Sauna

Wool hat to keep warm... in the sauna

more Banya

5.  Let the circus cheer you up. Think dancing sea lions, ice-skating acrobats, and tame(ish) bears (I got my picture taken with one and was slightly nervous when the trainer turned to me seriously and said in Russian: “You must never ever touch the bear or be too near…. ready?”)

6.  Drink…. vodka. Slightly worried because after the trip was over my dad announced that he is going to switch over from wine to vodka at home… he gave some kind of medical digestive excuse but I don’t buy it. Maybe he thought all those toasts we gave in Russian were about him.

7.  Eat… a lot. Red caviar with pancakes. Beet soup with sour cream. Shish-kebabs with sour cream. Aubergines with sour cream. Cream cheese pancakes with sour cream. Apple strudel with sour cream. My new favorite food: buckwheat. And…. see below for the fantastic apple meringue cake my mother’s Russian friend taught me at the dacha. (want recipe? email me) Delicious.

Step one: fresh sour apples

location: kitchen with dog

Our teacher with the crust

Bake crust... then apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and finally meringue

first dinner (caviar and vodka...)

then pie...

...and cream cheese/raisin pancakes for breakfast!

Apologies for the short post. After a (wonderful) holiday with the parents, I am back to my normal busy life of soccer practices, soup kitchens, massive amounts of homework (like watching old soviet movies and memorizing obscure words of motion like “to ooze”), and doing my internship at the Clinic following a family doctor. Next post will be about all the Russian oligarchs treated at the clinic and crazy Russian rules about hospitals….(which seem to include a lot of backlights to “kill the germs.”)

In the mean time, I thought you would enjoy this list (I have done my best to translate) from a weekly soviet journal “Ogonek” from 1936… are you a cultured person?

:::A list of “questions for a cultured man” from the questionnaire:::

“Are you a cultured person?”

1. Able to recite at least one whole poem by Pushkin

2. Able to name and describe 5 Shakespeare plays

3. Able to name 4 rivers in Africa

4. Able to name your favorite composer and three of his major works

5. Able to name 5 makes of Soviet automobiles

6. Able to convert 3/8ths to decimil form

7. Able to talk about your three favorite paintings that were on display in the last season

8. Able to name three of the major sport competitions from the past season and their results

9. Have read Stendal’s “Red and Black” and Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons”

10. Able to say how the “Stakhanovsky” movement became possible in our country.

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I woke up Wednesday morning pretty bummed. No missed calls, no voicemails, and no text messages. Without showering or getting dressed, I grabbed a yoghurt, brewed some chai, and, dismayed, slipped back under my covers. Not quite ready to give up, I kept my cell in arms reach at volume 7 as I halfheartedly read “The Song of the Falcon” by Gorky for my literature class. It was only 8 o’clock. Perhaps the Office for Foreign Affairs at Moscow State University hadn’t opened yet. An hour and a half later, I lay in the same position, even less-heartedly reading Gorky and even less optimistically (I had by this time tossed it in frustration to the foot of my bed) waiting for my phone to ring. It rang. Unknown number.

 

I, disbelievingly answered, “Слушаю” (I’m listening). In the split second before my ears adjusted to attentive-listening mode, necessary for any fast-paced Russian cell phone conversation, images of my new friendship passed before my eyes. A photograph– Hillary and I cheek to cheek– to replace the one of Bush and I. Hillary and I taking Vodka shots together (flashback to kentucky?) Hillary and I in the White House, on Vacation, birthday parties…

 

Hil and I

Hil and I

 

So I guess its pretty obvious what happened. The guy was calling to invite me to be a student in the welcoming group before she gave her huge speech in the main 1000-person auditorium. He said my name was on the list. He said sorry about not calling earlier- but it had to do with security. He said to come in 20 minutes. Even if I ran from my apartment to mayakovskaya (my metro), pushed aside the kissing lovers on the 200-stair escalator to make a faster descent, and sprinted from universitet metro station (in some sort of shoe respectable enough to greet Hillary Clinton in) I would still be 20 minutes late. I went back to reading Gorky. Oh well.

The Russian State University for the Humanities annual Bowling Tournament helped to liven my crushed spirits (what can do that better than pink spandex, neon bowling balls, and black lights?).

 

My Bowling Team

My Bowling Team

 

 

And, it turned out Hillary wasn’t that interesting. I had a soccer game that night at MGU and asked my teammates what they thought of her. Most of them hadn’t even bothered to go see her and the ones that did were not impressed. “It was just a lame photo-op,” they claimed. After loosing our first match 14-4 (the other team was 1st in Moscow last year) I couldn’t help to think they were right. If Hillary had gone for something more daring, more exciting, more … Putin? Perhaps, with that kind of inspiration, our result would have been different.

 

Putin's photo-ops

Putin's photo-ops

 

 

 

Earlier, I never really felt like writing about classes in this blog. Would you really have been interested in my class schedule, the 15 different forms of the verb “to speak,” my vocabulary list from the movie about the war hero Chapaev, or the fact that I spend a lot of my time learning the words for turn of the century Russian garments? No. However,I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am officially on a study-abroad program. I know this blog might suggest that I spend all my time taking vodka shots with Hillary in Mexican Bars wearing matching pink spandex, but I actually do study.

My literature class is actually really exciting. Not only does our classroom (that is actually an office that I actually suspect to be a converted broom closet) seem to be undergoing never ending renovation (last class we had 2 workers duct-taping the windows shut and climbing all over the lone table we sit around to do it), but it is the first time I am really reading unadapted Russian literature. I think I agree with those people who learn Russian JUST to read the original Russian War and Peace, that translated Russian works are merely poor shadows of their magnificent originals– but I may just be so giddy from actually understanding the rocks were trembling from waves’ hard beating” that it just seems better in Russian. Also exciting about our lit class: turns out Gorky lived in the Adirondacks! I tried to bring this up in class, but my teacher was far from impressed. I think she thought I was somehow trying to claim his as my own. One thing Russians are very proud of are their writers. However, I don’t think I would even want to claim Gorky; he kind-of bashed the Adirondacks in his letters home:

We are living in an area called the Adirondacks, about which I have already written to you, I believe, and have also yet to receive a reply. The mountains are covered with deciduous forest. The highest point is 1,500 meters. There is a view of a lake from up there. Its all right, quite decent. A school of philosophy is located a mile from us. A number of professors live around here and they make use of their vacation to earn some money by giving lectures on all manners of subjects. You pay ten dollars a week and may attend six lectures; for that they also feed you, albeit primarily on greens. The audience sits in a small auditorium (boring!) and listens to little Professor Morris (boring!) giving a lecture on psychology (boring!). ‘Metaphysics, ladies and gentlemen. What is metaphysics? Every word, no matter which you choose, is a symbol, ladies and gentlemen! When I say “metaphysics”, I imagine a staircase which rises from the ground and leads away into space. When I say “psychology”, a row of pillars appears before me.’ Someone should just hit him over the head with one of those pillars! I met James and Channing, et al. James is a wonderful old man, but he is also and American. Oh to hell with them. They are funny people, especially when they call themselves socialists… I hope you never get to see America; thats a kind wish, I assure you! Its quite enjoyable on this earth for such a frivolous fellow such as myself… There are a great many individuals here. But deplorably few real people.

Tell Maksim that I will bring him back some genuine Indian bows and arrows if I can find any. And I’ll bring him some American butterflies; they have some amazing ones here. Otherwise there’s nothing here, everything beautiful comes from Europe. America itself is too young to understand the meaning of beauty. I live almost on the border of Canada and Ill probably go up there to see the Dukhobors and the Indians. The Indians and the Negroes are the most interesting things here. The Americans themselves arouse one’s curiosity only in terms of their ignorance—which is amazing!–and their greed for money, which evokes disgust…. Ill probably be involved in a court case here with a likely candidate for the presidency of the States (Randolph Hearst). I want to take him to court on a charge of fraud. If only you knew and could see how I am living here! You would laugh till you dropped and be struck dumb with surprise. I am the most terrible person in the country. As one newspaper writes: ‘This country has never experienced shame and humiliation such as that brought down upon it by this insane Russian anarchist who lacks all natural moral sense and who stuns everyone with his hatred for religion, law and order and ultimately for people themselves.’ Another carried an appeal to the Senate with the proposal that I be deported. The yellow press is raging. On the gates of the house where I’m living people paste cuttings of the sharpest attacks against me. They even curse you! And despite this—please note!–the papers solicit and request my articles. It’s profitable for them and profit is everything there! I’m living in a forest in a very deserted area. It is eighteen miles to the nearest town, Elizabethtown, but Americans come here to look at me. They’re afraid to come to the house: it’s compromising to be acquainted with me. So they walk about in the forest, in anticipation of a chance meeting.”

 

Reading Gorky’s letters from the Adirondacks made me miss the deserted dirt roads and running trails. In Moscow, all the gyms are too expensive, running on the streets is nothing like the Adirondacks, and I hear that when winter, snow, and ice come, it is actually impossible. However, if my friend the Mayor of Moscow follows through on his ridiculous promise to stop all the snow in Moscow this year by blowing chemicals into the air, then maybe I can continue to run on the streets. If somehow he doesn’t manage to control the weather (and poke holes in the ozone at the same time) I have an alternative: “The palace of children’s sports.”

 

Palace of Children's Sports

Palace of Children's Sports

 

All I have to do is sneak through the bent iron fence, dodge the random hammer-throwing bulky Russian teenager and his overenthusiastic coach/father, and blend in with the various groups of little Russian gymnastic prodigies. Then, waiting for me is a free (if you consider not getting caught free) indoor and outdoor track (although not quite in the kind of neighborhood you want to be in after 5).

 

The bent fence- is this illegal?

The bent fence- is this illegal?

 


Two of my classes (Aspects of Russian History and Culture and Grammer) I have back to back for three hours. The transition between the two is always a shock. The cultural teacher is adorable (she is the one who lays out her china set for class.) She tears up when we watch youtube videos about everything from the revolutionary war to famine in the Ukraine. She even waited to dish the typical Russian-German bitterness about WWII until after the german boy in our class left for some meeting. After asking our permission to disclose something “close to the heart,” she told us the story of how her parents met: She was a nurse, volunteering for service in WWII and he was a higher up army official. Her mother had such tiny feet she had to wrap her feet in her extra clothing (often underpants) so she was able to walk around semi-comfortably. Her father was so charmed by the shuffling, big hearted nurse, and they fell in love instantly. She is also an extremely efficient teacher who incorporates text, listening, film, and speech into every class. Definitely the best Russian teacher I have ever had (Sorry Middlebury professors…)

The grammer teacher, although also very efficient, is far from “warm and fluffy.” She runs our classroom like a drill sergeant. And, unlike the culture teacher, she is quick to defend parts of life under communism. Before speaking with her, I think I was under a very black and white impression of post-communism nostalgia. I grouped russians into the ones who miss the communist regime and the ones who are quick to delve into horror stories about their lives at that time and how terrible it was. My grammar teacher is in a grey area. She acknowledges that some peoples lives were bad under communism, but that her memories are all happy. She is very proud of her country, but wonders if life today is really better, she asks “for what” the young people wanted freedom. “For the tasteless clothes and jeans they wear now? So they can ignore their school work and go out drinking?” I know this sounds very heartless, but she followed it with lots of questions about the US and a big speech about how she thinks Obama’s goals are perfect- that although everyone has different skills and abilities, everyone is entitled to the “american dream,” free health care, good education, etc… I think now I am beyond the point of trying to understand her views and just enjoy the conversation/language practice.

My host mother gives a different point of view. Like my cultural teacher, she is quick to bash life under communism and, like both teachers, worry about the current state of affairs. However, unlike the slightly idealistic cultural teacher, she, like many Russians, doesn’t have much hope for the future and thinks the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. She did, however, gather the courage to take on the devil she didn’t know this week: the…Microwave.

She bought one on Middlebury’s suggestion for my arrival so that I could heat up dinners. However, like many Russians, she was very skeptical of it, and only last week, after I made my microwave-roasted-apples and bananas with nutmeg, lemon, and cinnamon special that she gave in to the radiation and tried her own: and loved it. When I leave… there will be no more microwave-skeptical radiation-terrified Russians. Maybe.

In other news: I’ve started to help out serving at the Protestant Church soup kitchen. Lots of little old ladies with hats that look like tea kettle covers and plastic buckets. My job is to fill up their buckets with chai, soup, grits, and bread and, if I have time, sit down with them while they eat. The soup kitchen gives me major flash backs to Kenya. Not because of the skinny frames of the customers, the grits that look like ugali (really gross Kenyan food), nor the other good-hearted volunteers, but because of the 4 men who run it. They are refugees from Cameroon the Protestant church supports (and pays to work at the kitchen). And, just like most Kenyan men I met, their first (not so sly) question to me was: “So do you live here with your husband?” I said yes, of course. I am also 26.

After working at the soup kitchen, the “American Brunch” a friend of mine hosted was a strange expereince. Unlike in Kenya, where every white person I met including myself was there volunteering or working at an NGO, at the American Brunch, we were all students or careerists. The conversation revolved around the latest theater productions they had seen, their hours sitting in the library translating Pushkin’s personal letters, and the best place to find nutella in Moscow. I felt slightly like the safari tourists in Kenya my friends and I looked so much down upon. And, although I enjoyed the fresh baked muffins and quiche, the experience really turned me off the expat life, which seems in Moscow less about finding a comfortable balance between living in foreign country and feeling at “home,” and more about foreignizing everything. I don’t think the expats should all be out on the street cleaning up trash, but I do think that, especially when trying to learn the language, volunteering or getting involved in Russian activities is a better choice than going to see a 200 dollar production at the bolshoi.

But maybe I shouldn’t be the one saying this. I did splurge this weekend and went and saw Julie and Julia (Djuli e Djuliya). Although the theater was packed I think I was the only one to cry at the end. It made me want to open my own restaurant, if only to prove to the Russians that food can actually be good without a pound of sour-cream and mayonnaise.

This friday I am off to St. Petersburg to meet my parents for fall break. Guest post…? Weather underground isn’t promising very good weather– but maybe the Mayor of Moscow will pull some strings?

Middlebury or Moscow?

I took a walk through Frunze Central Army Park today. I don’t know if it was the muddy remains of once-yellow leaves sticking to my boots, the American tourists posing in front of the Peter the Great statue, the old entrepreneurial babushka selling apples and toilet trips from her porter-potty office, or the memories of all the recent emails/package full of delicious cookies from friends from home, but I suddenly and painfully missed Middlebury. Why am I here? My parents had just called, about to debark on a hike up Rattlesnake and here I was, in the middle of the best excuse for fresh air I could find in Moscow surrounded by old men taking queens and checkmating each other, greasy mullet-haired boys swapping spit with their high-heeled girlfriends, and stray cats and dogs. I cant play chess, I hate dogs (and cats even more), and I don’t have the guts to get a mullet, or wear high heels. Shouldn’t I be back in Middlebury?

Then I remembered the geeky chess group that takes over Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe–my favorite Middlebury study spot– on Sunday mornings, that tall ski team kid with the greasy pink mullet who plagued Atwater all the time last year, and the attack of the golden retrievers and family pets that accompany every Midd fall parent’s weekend. My nostalgia was short lived.

I handed a 50 kopek piece to the apple seller/toilet queen, bit into the non-organic, non-vermont, and slightly wormy apple and savored the scene around me. Sure, I wasn’t sold the apple after a hayride and apple cider on a Vermont farm, sure Moscow may have a few million more people (and a few billion more stray animals) than Vermont (cows included), and sure my host mother’s fridge isn’t quite as large as that of Mr. Head Chef’s at Proctor Dining Hall. But apart from a  few small things, I decided, fall in Moscow isn’t that much different that the endless fun the Middlebury (inbox spamming) emails claim I am missing. In fact, I am pretty sure it is better. I present my case:

  1. In Middlebury, I actually don’t get to do half the things I want to do because I have invariably lost my key card and thus spend about an hour every day waiting outside buildings for people to let me in. In Moscow, that would never happen. Not only because of my new-found organizational skills (see post #2), but because there are so many damn keys on my keychain there is no way I could loose them. People are really into safety here- I not only have numerous keys for the masses of different locks for the two doors to get into the apartment (a huge problem when I have decided to forgo the public-porter potties for the day), but I also have a key to open the main door to the apartment complex and 3 keys to open each of the three closet doors in my room. Having said this, I should admit I haven’t completely forgone my (cute?) habit of loosing all of my possessions. Last weekend, having trouble opening the locks and doors to my apartment, I put my cellphone down in an open drawer of the random large armoire that had been in the hallway since the day I arrived, to give the locks the attention of both hands. In the excitement of opening the door, I forgot about the cellphone. Of course the next morning the armoire was gone– the neighbors had taken it to their dacha. Twenty-four hours later the neighbors returned my cell phone along with a big bag of handpicked mushrooms from their dacha. My host mother promptly turned them into a delicious mushroom soup and a mushroom-octopus-calamari-shrimp risotto (she is amazing).

  1. In Middlebury, I would be trekking down to the organic garden for some herbs and vegetables to spice up my tired Proctor panini. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that my host mother here in Moscow leads a double life as one of those “you are way to skinny to actually be a chef or be actually eating any of those fried meat balls with sour cream and mayonnaise you just made” ladies (again in high heels and see through tops) on channel 8- the “home” channel. Masha cooks all of the traditional Russian meals like borcht, fresh mushroom soup (see above), pelmeni (fried dough balls with meat inside) and raw herring with raisons and nuts. And thankfully, unlike the host mothers of friends of mine who put it on everything from soup to salads to omelets, she is not tempted by the supermarket’s mile-long aisle of different fat % mayonnaises and sour creams (only in Russia do those words have plurals). I have also heard rumors that some host parents think hot dogs are a must at every meal. I was thus (happily) surprised last week when she whipped out a slab of sushi-grade salmon and boiled potatoes for sunday dinner. Turns out, sushi is Russia’s national dish. At least thats what my friend(!!!) Sushan (notice the Russian name!!) told me last night.

  2. In Middlebury, you have to go through that whole awkward smiling-at-everyone and pretending-to-be-completely-normal-and-nice faze freshman year to make friends, who by senior year you probably wont even be on waving-while-you-pass-by-eachother terms. It is so much easier in Moscow– you just pay for them. Because past Middlebury students have complained that it was too hard to make Russian friends in Moscow, our group opted to use our “cultural money” to pay a few students at our university to be our “tutors” (ie paid friends.) However, they only get paid for a month, and then the decision to continue the friendship is up to them (seems like some kind of sick reality game show.) Yesterday was day 38ish here and my “tutor,” Sushan, and I met up with 14 of her girlfriends to watch the Russia vs. Germany soccer game. 8 days after the month mark– YESSSS!!!!.

     

    Watching the Game with new Russian Friends

    Watching the Game with new Russian Friends

     

  3. In Middlebury, the closest thing to being as exciting as yesterday’s Russia. vs. Germany match would be the Quidditch World Cup. But can stressed out Midd-kids with homemade capes pretending to fly really compete with empty streets and 8 million proud Muscovites crammed into the city’s bars? No. I met up with Sushan and her friends at a Mexican restaurant/bar to watch the game. Unless televisions are traditionally Mexican (there was, conveniently, a television at every table), there was nothing truly Mexican about the place at all. The South American-ish masks and art on the wall gave the atmosphere of a kitchy mexican themed horror ride at 6 flags, the menu was mostly sushi (again, Russian national dish), with a few burritos and tacos, and the waitresses’ outfits looked chinese. However, the owner did make an effort to hire darker skinned Russians. Despite the overwhelming support of the Muscovites, the Russians lost 1-0 (on my walk to the restaurant, everyone I saw was wearing a “Russia” shirt or waving a flag– even the two bums in my underground street crossing {perexod} who move in every night after the vendors leave.) Unlike in France (where I was for the last world cup,) the Russians were better losers. I saw no riots in the streets, the Mexican bar erupted with chants of Russia even after the final whistle was blown, and even the bums in my perexod were still holding their flag as I walked home (how they managed to watch the game, i don’t know). I did notice, however, that this lighthearted response to a pretty pathetic loss only gained momentum in my bar after the TV showed Medvedev and Putin’s chuckling responses (they were sitting in a VIP box) to some of the more painful Russian mistakes of the game. The girls I watched the game with, admittedly not soccer fans, seemed happy to blame the loss on the “official sponsor of Russian football,” whose commercials played in every break- Volkswagen. They pointed out: “какой спонсер, такой ресулт.” (with that kind of sponsor, that kind of result.) I was slightly shocked to hear them suggest Gazprom take over sponsorship.

     

     

    Russia Pride

    Russia Pride

     

     

    Mexican bar...?

    Mexican bar...?

     

  4. Some might argue that watching soccer on TV at a Mexican bar can’t compete with weekend fall soccer games at Middlebury. I agree. However, a packed stadium with thousands of chanting Russians in fur hats (yes it is cold here) at a Locomotiv (#4 team) v. Rubin (#1 team) can certainly compete. Last Sunday I went to such game with my friend natasha from my soccer team. She had a season pass so we got really good seats and met up with 5 of her guy friends who, decked out in red and green “Locomotiv” gear, taught me all the cheers and chants. Except for the cheer the Locomotiv fans to right after the national anthem in english: “we will rock you,” replacing one four letter word with a rather harsher alternative, they were pretty simple, G-rated, and easy to learn (forward!!, attack!!, and Go… faster!!) I also enjoyed the Locomotiv victory-tradition of riding the subway back together singing, chanting and kissing the subway walls (the team was founded by some metro-god).

     

    Locomotiv!

    Locomotiv!

     

     

    Highlight Clips from the game (VERY FUNNY goalie mess up for the second goal)

 

This list could go on and on.….

 

Yes, I am missing those late night neon-spandex themed dance parties at Middlebury…. but on the other hand I just bought bright pink sparkly spandex as my uniform for my team in the RGGU university annual… BOWLING TOURNAMENT! See next week’s post for results.

 

Yes, I am missing all those friday night movies and Hirchfield film festival classics, but can they really compete with watching Murder she Wrote and the British Agatha Christie “Poirot” series dubbed in Russian with my host mother?

 

Yes, I do slightly miss those hipsters who hang outside the library smoking. But I have my own hipsters– in the second floor stairwell by the window-ledge there is always the same three women in their hip-hugging scanty desperate-housewives influenced (I am positive) silk pajamas smoking and gossiping.

 

Yes, I may be missing all those “lunch-hour lectures” at the international relations house, but can they really compete with meeting Hillary Clinton?!!!? More on this to come…. but I got a phone call on friday from my soccer coach at MGU saying that a speech at MGU is going to be one of Hillary’s stops on her trip to Russia next week and that the international student department wants me to be one of the students to greet her when she comes. At least, thats what I think he said (conversations in Russian on the phone are quite difficult.) We will see if this actually works out….

 

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Since my last blog post, I have used five different types of Russian public transportation: taxi, bus, train, plane, and metro. I also spotted a flower strewn carriage in Suzdal carting a groom and his glaring pile of lace, mesh, and sequins. However, despite Russians’ claims that their transportation system is the best in the world, after almost 50 hours of traveling this week- I think that “sometimes efficient” is the best rating I can give. Instead, I am awarding my gold stars to “personal vehicle,” and recommending the lonely planet add it in their “Getting Around” section.

 

Last Wednesday, after soccer practice at MGU the coach gave myself and a few other girls on the team a ride home in his huge black Hummer. I am afraid I lost some of my hard earned cred with the girls on the team when Kostya (the coach), after turning on some Rhianna and beaming with pride about his American car, asked me if the Hummer made me feel at home… and I laughed. I obviously disappointed everyone (They all watch too much “OC” and “Laguna Beach,”) so I think Ill wait to tell them I live in the Adirondaks and go to school in Vermont.

MGU 2008-2009 mini-football squad. Coach Kolya on left

MGU 2008-2009 mini-football squad. Coach Kolya on left

Our home "field" at MGU

Our home "field" at MGU

Despite the Hummer slip up the car ride was comfortable and enjoyable. More importantly, however, it was another victory in my (slightly creepy) campaign to befriend Russians. Luckily, the girls on the soccer team (prime targets) are pretty easy and predictable victims. I have found that, just like in the US, the way to bond/make friends is by showing up in the locker room early. Using this tactic, I now not only have the numbers of 5 of the girls on the team but have also gotten all the scoop: one of the girls is an ex girlfriend of the assistant coach; another is nicknamed the “star” because she never passes the ball; the random 40 year old woman who shows up at practice sometimes is a mother of 3, an anorexic, and a sports nut; Kostya, is actually an investment banker and only gets paid a few hundred dollars to coach; Natasha just broke up with her boyfriend- thats why she is not at practice-; Sveta plays for a premier league team in Moscow as well as MGU… and the gossip goes on.) And (despite her boyfriend troubles) Natasha has offered to take me to a soccer game tomorrow– so all in all, my make-russian-friends quest is going well.

 

Those other forms of transportation (bus, train, etc…) are not so lucrative in that department. Last Friday, Lilly (a girl in my program) and I set out for a weekend in Suzdal, a tiny town and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the “Golden Ring” of Moscow. The town dates back to 1024 when Suzdal was the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality and was then annexed by Moscow in 1392. There is, in addition to over 30 churches, a famous

suzdal

suzdal

monastery called the Intercession Convent that was founded in 1364 as a place of exile for the unwanted wives of tsars. One such exile was Solomonia Saburova, the first wife of Vasily III. She was sent because of her infertility, but actually did become pregnant right before being scent to Suzdal. Solomonia was afraid the son would be scene as a threat to any of the sons produced by the new wife (she was rightly worried as the new wife bore Ivan the Terrible) and thus staged a mock burial. In 1934 they opened the tomb and found it to be empty.

 

 

As Lilly and I waited on the platform in Moscow, we were optimistic about our future elektrichka (train) friends.

Platform in Moscow

Platform in Moscow

A kind woman had already taken the initiative to come and talk to us–even if it was only to, in a voice of fear and desperation, warn us/demand that we immediately get up from the concrete ledge . She only let us sit back down when we agreed to sit not directly on the ledge, but on our backpacks like the Russians next to us. She was worried that we would get a kidney infection from the cold cement (some kind of Russian superstition). After questioning us as if she was an accredited doctor, a gypsy healer (she certainly looked like one) or at least like a very good ski patroller (she forgot BSI but took our SAMPLE history,) she decided that we might be lucky and not get one because we had only been sitting for about ten minutes– but she seemed pretty skeptical.

 

Unfortunately, we lost our kidney expert after the stampede. Sitting on our backpacks Lilly and I watched as crowds began to form on the platform. We were immediately impressed. Not only do trains run on time in Russia, but they come half an hour early?! Our awe changed quickly to superstition when we noticed that the travelers were not spread out, but were instead clumped into equally spaced groups along the platform and were each swaying like a mosh pit at a Dima Bilan concert. Lily and I tentatively joined one of the groups. When the train arrived, the pushing and shoving became even more intense and, when the passengers poured out of the arriving train, it became unbearable. Finally, the last passenger stepped off, the floodgates opened, and Lily and I (along with a straggling debarking passenger who, screaming, was actually pushed to the ground, were caught in a wave of smelly and aggressive babushka’s, briefcases, and fur coats. Were the window seats really this good? Yes. In fact, even the middle seats on the hard wooden benches would have been worth throwing a punch for. Lily and I (along with the other victims of the stampede) spent the 4 hour journey to Vladimir standing. Excruciatingly painful.

Crowded train as the men begin their drinking...

Crowded train as the men begin their drinking...

To keep me company I had only the ferret in the purse of the woman standing next to me, the occasional gypsy selling ice cream and apples, and my struggle to decide whether to be blatantly foreign and sit on the cold dirty train floor– putting my kidneys in danger once again. I was even tempted to sit down in one of the two empty seats on the train, next to the two smelly drunk (p.s– 12 AM train) men alternating between smoking, taking vodka shots, sleeping, and screaming into their phones or at each other. I watched as others attempted to tolerate their behavior- but they all eventually decided standing was better.

 

bus to suzdal

bus to suzdal

The bus ride to Suzdal was slightly better- but since Mendeleev, Russians seem to forgot about chemistry, and the fact that smoke and gas expand to fill their containers– so having a smoking section at the front of the bus actually makes no sense.

 

 

 

 

Despite the lack of heat and the door in our room of the hostel that opened to a 15 foot drop off where workers began at 8 am every day to finish the hostel, Suzdal was beautiful. 35 onion-domed churches, 5 monasteries, 3 weddings, and 50% cheaper food than Moscow.

suzdal

suzdal

Church with footbridge

Church with footbridge

Across the river

Across the river

More churches...

More churches...

DSC04647

kremlin

babushka

babushka

Old wooden church

Old wooden church

church...

church...

the obligatory lenin statue

the obligatory lenin statue

lily at a convent

lily at a convent

 

Our xozyaika (boss, housekeeper) at the hostel, although complaining that we came home to early (I think she is used to those crazy Finnish backpackers) sat up with us for a few hours telling us about her life (sad: lives alone in the hostel and occasionally visits her family and husband in the ukraine), her speculation on the success of the hostel (not good– we were the only 2 staying there) and the kind of tourists she is used to (non Russian-speakers). She gave a great (although very racist) impression of the Japanese tourists who she claimed should earn the prize for the best tourists in the world. Up at 6 am, all day straight walking around seeing every church (they showed her identical pictures of the whole family standing in front of all 35), and back late. They even brought their own food and water and were completely quiet (hunching over to mimic the height of a japanese person, the xozyaika gave a chipmunk like impression of them “scampering” all over the hostel making no noise).

 

Our trip back to Moscow (we opted for the bus this time with assigned

apple market

apple market

seating), despite a stop to fix the broken brakes, was slightly better than the trip there. We were equipped with free apples from the pickle-apple-and honey ale market stand of an old woman who refused to take our money; capitalism is, apparently, still only slowly arriving.

 

I was pleased to find that, although I missed the fresh air of Suzdal, returning to Moscow really felt like coming home. Although the goods in my perexod (underground crosswalk) to my house are much less interesting (nail files, socks, umbrellas, and magnifying glasses) than the fresh food markets in Suzdal– I was happy to see the merchant’s familiar (unsmiling) faces, even if I wasn’t going to score a free apple.

 


dancing forest

dancing forest

After less than 24 hours, however, I packed up and left again with the Middlebury group for our fall break trip to Kaliningrad and Vilnius, Lithuania. We rented a car for the 13 hour (we opted for the scenic route and were held up at the border for a few hours because the guy who rented us the car neglected to give us the proper documents) trip from Kaliningrad to Lithuania. Absolutely stunning- we drove right along the Baltic Coast, walked through the Dancing Forest, and were even stopped by the traditional bribe-seeking militioneer. But, our slightly schizophrenic friend/GPS guide, “Natasha,” finally led us to Vilnius.

 

 

 

 

The Sea!!

The Sea!!

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, but despite having been under Soviet rule, it seems like a very European city. It was even named the European Capital of Culture and has it’s own equivalent of Montmarte in a run down jewish neighborhood. The community declared their own “independence,” they have their own president, and wrote their own constitution. Unfortunately, our free “alternative” guide from the hostel seemed more interested in showing us this area (in particular the “backpacking Jesus” statue) than the >100 beautiful christian and pagan (Lithuania was the last European country to leave paganism) churches. At least the Jesus statue was a change: I have gotten so sick of all the Lenin statues, and I am pretty sure that if you put all the “Lenin street’s” in Eastern Europe together they would go around the world…. 4 times. On the Lenin street in Vilnius there was, appropriately, a very well done (and very depressing) KGB museem in the old headquarters. There were 20 rooms of personal stories and artifacts that told the history of the German and then Russian occupation of Lithuania. The basement, where the KGB prison was, had been left disturbingly untouched. The cells (called “boxes”) had no beds or toilets, and were as small as Mrs. Trunchbull’s chokie from Matilda. There was a scary padded soundproof room, and numerous other torture chambers. After all that I wasn’t in the mood for eating dinner, which was just as well because apparently the national food of Lithuania is fried bread and potatoes wrapped in pastry.

 

Street in Vilnius

Street in Vilnius

This was a Pagan church before Lithuania converted to Christianity. The cross is a combination of Pagan symbols and the Christian cross.

This was a Pagan church before Lithuania converted to Christianity. The cross is a combination of Pagan symbols and the Christian cross.

New Vilnius. One of the many public art displays. In flowers is written "I love you" on the bank of the river. The other bank has written: "I love you too"

New Vilnius. One of the many public art displays. In flowers is written "I love you" on the bank of the river. The other bank has written: "I love you too"

View from above

View from above

castle

castle

On our drive back to Kaliningrad we stopped by a small town in Lithuania with an old castle standing on an island in the middle of a lake. I think that the town must be the only town in the world whose main form of transportation is…. paddleboat. The banks of the river were scattered with pink, green, red, and yellow paddleboats, some of whom, because of their plastic dolphin statues, looked like they belonged more in Disney Land or Water World than the small, seemingly timeless Lithuanian village. When we arrived (8 am) there was a lone fisherman in a fur coat (yes it is already winter here) out paddling.

 

The flight home made me long for a good paddleboat, which surely would have had more leg room, would not have been delayed, and would have tipped the airplane’s rowdy drunk flight-attendant-whistling men into the cold river. At least when they puked out of the paddleboat it would have gone into the water and not where I wanted to get off the airport shuttle. I imagine the first metro run at 6 am in Moscow would be pretty similar.

 

 

The scene from my metro station: GOODBYE FROM MOSCOW!!

The scene from my metro station: GOODBYE FROM MOSCOW!!

Maybe I’ll find out tonight. I am currently holed up in the Mcdonalds, hungry (I doubt the happy meals here would be any better than in the US,) and trying to finish my essay and power point presentation on the Russian Civil War, the New Economic Policy, and Collectivization for class this week. I promised myself I wouldn’t leave until I was prepared for the vocab quiz (with impossible terms like punitive agencies, livestock raising, grain procurement, surplus confiscation, and the differences between to attack, to launch a war, to inflict a defeat, to gain a victory, and to be on the offensive.) I might miss that 1 am metro.

 

Moscow Week 2

I know people say it takes weeks, months, if not years to change bad habits. Those self-help books guros don’t expect the reader to finish all “100 ways to change your habits and life for the better” in one week. In fact, they don’t expect the reader to finish them at all (how would they sell their next book– “101 ways to change your life for dummies”– if they did?) My parents and my Middlebury roommate will not believe this, but I am the exception– I should be plastered on the front cover. My before picture? Me, hair unbrushed, half dressed, in a room scattered with dirty and clean clothes in unsorted piles, bed unmade, looking for something really important I have lost– like a passport. The after picture would show me in front of a Russian flag (homage to the country that has changed my ways) in a spotless room holding all necessary documents, and perhaps even blow-dried hair (after the temperature dropped 20 degrees I immediately gave into Masha about the wet-hair issue.) I have completely succumbed to the beurocraticness of Moscow.

At first, it was a bit annoying that I had to show my passport, student identification card, and my “registration,” to buy a pair of indoor soccer shoes. I was slightly peeved when, at the apple store (my computer crashed,) it took the man about 10 minutes to “process” my repair (again– passport, student ID, registration– a stack of papers with about ten different places to sign, and finally two minutes of him using his official stamp on all the papers.) However, when my soccer coach came to practice on wednesday with another paper covered in official stamps, a list of instructions for me, and really long russian words—which, anyone who speaks russian knows is an immediate signal of something official– I was relieved and satisfied. Because doesn’t it just make sense, that to play on another universities soccer team I should get copies of my passport, ID, and registration, have an official stamp from my university, have the signature of an official from my US university, and get yet another passport photo? My parents complained to me yesterday that they had to get two “official invitations” from Moscow and St. Petersburg to get a visa– I only pretended to sympathize. My acclimation (and growing love) for все в порядке (everything in order) doesn’t end with official stamps and papers (although the loose procedures of the US seem to me now unthinkable and I think when I get home I will immediately buy myself my own personal stamp.) I have even gotten used to the military like cleanliness of Masha’s apartment (I now hang the bathroom towel so that it is completely perpendicular to the floor.)

I am also, apparently, looking more and more like a Russian. Remember how last week, I blamed everything on high heels? I take that back (officially). Now that the temperature has dropped, I have found that the heels–although they are only two inches– of my winter boots are the keys to my success in Moscow. Because of this heel, I have started to be asked directions on the street- the ultimate goal of any language learner. Unfortunately, I usually don’t know the way to the obscure backstreets they are asking me about, and so my heavily accented answer of я не знаю (I don’t know) is usually mistaken for “I don’t know the language” and not what I am really trying to say (“OMG I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT YOU JUST ASKED ME AND I AM SO EXCITED BECAUSE I CAN UNDERSTAND YOU… but I actually don’t know where that is… sorry.”)

This week I have had slightly better luck with communication and comprehension. I went and saw “dangerous passengers on train 123.” Even though it was a really bad dubbed american movie, and the theater xozyaika (housekeeper) insisted that I sit in my assigned back row left side seat right behind one of the only 10 other people in the theater (of course,) I understood pretty much the whole movie. I was similarly successful at my visit to the Gorky museum, where, despite having to shuffle around and up and down staircases in 2 sizes to big-slip over my shoes- leather slippers, my vocabulary was sufficient to understand the tour (“On this desk is where Gorky wrote…etc”) My trip to the theater that night with a few girls on my program was less successful. Although, I think that even if I spoke Russian I would be baffled by the post-post-post modern presentation of Master and Margarita that looked more like a Death Angles leather clad motorcycle rally crashing a david blaine show than Bulgakov’s famous 1928 novel.

Perhaps the best thing I did this week was the 10 K run that ended in Red Square. One thousand five hundred people ran alongside me in the “Moscow Peace Marathon and 10 K,” which made the fact that I was in the depths of some kind of food inflicted illness and thus couldn’t run very fast at all, a lot more interesting. There was a hole crew of (pleasingly) plump older women speed-walking, a band of drunk (at 12 on a sunday) young men waving flags and singing, a Borat look-alike in a blue spandex suit, and one particularly friendly man with a beard who would lap me every so often and sing me encouragement “its for your health” when my stomach resigned me to walking. The policemen lining the course were just as encouraging, although slightly less friendly. Their sovietish uniforms, combined with their monotonic, almost commanding shouts, of БЫСТРЕЕ, БЫСТРЕЕ (Faster!! Faster!!) gave me the eerie feeling that maybe I was tricked and was actually being herded to a gulag. The finish line, however, dispelled my fears (it was in front of St. Bail’s Cathedral with a band, free beer, and girls in blue sequins dancing and lip-synching to the soviet equivalent of the Beatles (Веселые ребята: Soviet equivalent of the Beatles)

 

Band playing at the finish line in front of St. Basils

Band playing at the finish line in front of St. Basils

Start of Race

Start of Race

One of the "7 sisters" during the race

One of the "7 sisters" during the race

Me before the race

Me before the race

So Russian Universities- chaos. I have been frantically searching for a mainstream course (a course with other Russian students) to take. My standards are not high, but I already tried and turned down 4 courses. In the “History of the Theory of Economics” course, the teacher stood in the frong of a big lecture hall reading directly from a book into a microphone to drown out the sounds of the students talking on their cell phones or to eachother. The “Economic International connections with Russia” was a disaster as well. The other students were far from welcoming– they all gossiped about me before the class started (why is that american here? What is she doing?) That didn’t bother me so much as being in a class with people too stupid to realize that the fact I was sitting in their class meant that I probably could speak Russian and thus understand that they were talking about me. The professor didn’t even show up to my “Transitional Economic Theory” class and “Early Russian History” was three hours long (too much for me even in English). I have finally decided on “The History of Russian Theater” which seems to be the only class where the students at least slightly respect their professor (one boy did fall asleep, but when the professor woke him up and asked him if he was ok, he at least apologized).

 

The classes I take with the other Middlebury students are much better. One of the professors, who has taught American students for a few years noticed that they always bring a coffee mug and food to class (the one thing that apparently is considered very rude in Russia.) So, to try to make us feel at home, she brings her china to class every day and we have a little tea party, complete with fresh bought sweets while we discuss our previous nights reading (anything from lenin to NEP to McDonalds) from the “Children’s’ Russian Encyclopedia.” We discussed the Revolutionary War on thursday, and despite her attempt to be completely unbiased, her slight communist leanings showed through when she referred to Chapaev (Red Army hero) as “ours” and Kolchak (White army hero) “theirs.” The same teacher couldn’t stop laughing when one of us mentioned Darwin. She thought the theory was “simply a fantasia” and questioned us if we really though we had evolved from animals. I didn’t answer, but in my opinion she looks uncannily like a hawk.

 

So, all in all, I still really like Moscow. I am glad I chose Moscow over the other two locations (that were more rural) because it is not just a new experience linguistically, but geographically as well. I had a whole list of strange things I saw this week for the blog, but now I realize that many of these would not be that interesting to most of you because they are not unique to Russia, but merely urban sights. (Except maybe the guys on the streets sleeping in NYC in the morning are probably not wearing suits still clutching their vodka bottles.)

 

To write this post I gave in and went to the “McKafe” (a much more up-market sidekick of Mcdonalds that looks more like Starbucks than Ronald McDonald’s playhouse), and despite the low lighting and surprisingly soothing elevator music, I’d rather spend my day walking in Gorky Park before the temperature drops another million degrees. So, again, I pray there are not quite so many terrorists in the US as this morning news suggested and that everyone is well. Always appreciate news from home!

 

Ps. Mom, Dad, Midd Kids, don’t worry, I may have official registration papers, a made bed, and clothes in their proper places, but I haven’t changed completely. Masha has these really yummy oreo like cookies (of which I of course only like the creamy insides) and I have finally figured out how to hide the outside cookie in the garbage can and just eat the inside. No luck finding muffin tops in Moscow- but I am working on it.  

1st Week in Moskva

Привет!!

 

So after 2 years and 9 weeks of grueling intensive language classes I have finally arrived in Russia. The first few days our group (there are 5 of us in Moscow) had a rather useless orientation that covered everything from the best place to get free wifi (McDonalds, which even though seems to be the hotspot for my peers, I refuse on principle to enter) to how to recognize and avoid the skinheads (which has frightened me to tripping and stumbling all over the road as I look not at my own, but at others’ feet, searching for the tell-tale orange shoelaces and army boots that signal an upperlevel skinhead, or one that has killed before.)

I think, however, that because of of this shoelace stalking/creeping, I, Sophie Clarke, have discovered the root of all of Russia’s problems. WOMEN IN HIGH HEELED SHOES. 75% of the women here (and as far as I can tell 100% of my fellow students) are strutting there stuff along the streets as if they were Gisele (and usually not wearing much than she is in theVictoria’s Secret Ads, and if they are, it is see-through). But seriously, everything can be explained by these 5 inch stilettos. Why do you think the metros are so punctual and efficient? Can’t walk in high heels. Why are the secretaries so unpleasent? Uncomfortable high heels. Why are the men in power? High heels. Seriously, in Russia, it is all about the shoes. In the offices, the women are dressed to the nines, as if they are there less for work, and more merely to be looked at (and according the my host mother, that it usually how they are treated.) However, when the women return home for the day and change into the tapochki (little slippers for indoors) they are immedietly in charge (apparently especially on the overnight trains, where you can essentially buy them food and drinks in exchange for their «protection»).

Although my host mother’s tapochki are far from indimidating (furry with bunny ears that say in english «Maryland» on them), she is certainly a forceful, albit friendly and sweet woman. Masha is very direct about her requests (only use the washing machine once every two weeks and don’t turn on both the telivision and the radio at the same time or the fuse will low,) practical about our relationship (I am free to come and go whenever I please but if it is late, leave a note) and also very sweet (has shown me around the neighborhood, taken me to the local vegetable market, shown me how to make borchte, and even helped me with homework.) The only frustrating thing is that she has absolutly forbidden me to leave the house with wet hair leaving me only two options: to wake up very early so my hair has time to dry, or to give in and use the hairdrier (which I think is a total waste of time). I think in the winter I’ll just hide my hair under a hat.

Classes so far are going well, the Middlebury program has their own personal classes for grammer, russian polotics, and russian history, which means I am only with 2 other students and the professor for 3 hours per class per week. I am still trying to decide on my mainstream class, which means a class with other Russian students, and today I am trying out «International Economic connections with Russia.» Yesterday I sat in on «The history of the study of economics» but the material was too easy and the class was slightly ridiculus (100 students all chattering while the professor read from a textbook into a microphone (to drown out the sound of the students) for an hour and a half. My fifth course is going to be a for-credit internship at the American Clinic in Moscow—I think I will start that next week.

Because only 2 of my classes have started, I have had some time to settle in, relax, and explore the city. I’ve watched quite a bit of Russian TV (in Russian, the Desperate Houswives seem even more desperate, Jumanji the movie is much less scary, and the news seems much more important and definitly more positive, although some might just call that propoganda.) I read a Star magazine cover to cover, (very easy as glamour, style, and branjolina are all cognates) And I also have been walking abour 4 hours a day (albit not without danger, as I was almost caught on fire when some construction workers started drilling into the cement right next to a group of us waiting to cross the street). I have done all the walking tours in my lonely planet guidebook and I hope that by the end of the semester I will not only feel comfortable in Moscow, but will have seen all the major sites, gone to all of the good museums, and have been to the the theater and opera and concerts.

However, I have found that, as Prof. Trufanova of my «Aspects of Russian History and Civilization» would say, that Moscow, like all of Russia is a country of contrasts. Most prominent in Moscow is not the famous West v. East, Communism v. Democracy, or Gazprom v. The gypsy woman selling watermellon, but Cheap v. Expensive (and unfortunutly, theater, opera, and concerts are all the former.)

Cheap: 5$ all you can eat sketchy sushi place. Expensive: 100$ coffee at the Pushkin Café. Cheap: 7$ monthly student metro pass. Expensive: probobly those hummer-limo drivers I see carting around Moscow’s high-heeled «nouvou riche». Cheap: the free cover charge alternative student kareoke club. Expensive: the face-controlled Billionaries Club that requires you to show your last paycheck (must be 6 didgets) for entry.

Yesterday I took a 40 minute metro ride out to MGU (the big, famous, and beautiful Moscow University) and showed up at the «female football» practice I found online. Of course, I was not so lucky as to find an actually soccer team, but what I found is almost better. I have officially been accepted into the (apparently selective?) «mini-football» women’s team of MGU. It is basically soccer played in a really small gym (maybe half the size of a basketball court) with 4 players and a tiny ball. There are 8 girls on the squad (now including me) two coaches (one about 65 the other about 30 but both very good players) and a very dirty locker room and showers. It doesn’t even seem to matter that I am not a student at MGU. We practice formally 3 times a week and our games against other universities start in November.

More importantly, perhaps, is that now with the encouragement of the soccer girls I have joined «in contact,» the Russian version of facebook. I am pretty sure this means that eventually I’ll have my identity stolen and my inbox flooded with Russian spam, but for now it is worth it. I have 2 official friends, am a member of one group—girls soccer at MGU, and have discovered that anything I want to know I can find on «in contact» (i.e where and how to buy tickets to soccer games, whats going on on the weekends, and clubs at my university).

I guess the best way to describe my initial impression of Russia/Moscow is that the country/city seems to be like the computer game «Mindsweeper.» This is not just because all of the buildings are indimidatingly huge, intimidating, and grey and the city in general resembles the mindsweeper board, but because just as the outcome of the first square in the mindsweeper board is completely random—will it be a mine or a safe spot—in Moscow you are never quite sure what you will encounter. When you ask for directions will the man stare blankly at you then as rude as possible tell you to look at a map, or will he kindly put aside everything he is doing and take you up the 6 flights of stairs and through the construction in the hallway to the backroom that looks from the outside more like an abandoned meth lab than a classroom and then help you explain to the grouchy lady behind the desk what you need. Will the building around the corner be a disgusting grey communist block, or a fabulous colourful russian orthodox church. On the metro and in the streets people bump into eachother like a boxing match with blank, if not plain mean looks plastered on their faces, and yet theses same people give more to the beggers on the street, it seems, than in all the US cities combined. In orientation they warned us that most of the time we would be frustrated by how slow and inefficient (except the metro of course) most things are in Russia. They called this «culture shock.» They claimed all the teachers would be late to classes, the police would demand bribes, and the cars wouldn’t stop for pedestrians. I have found these moments, however, to be as rare as the mines in «Minesweeper.» It is at these moments, however, that I realize the fancy armani stores and western restaurants cant hide some of the crazy inefficient Russian Customs that are hiding behind the surface like the mines in mindsweeper. I just want to scream to anyone who will listen: SEEE…. THIS IS WHY COUNTRIES DEVELOP… so that you don’t have to find the one porter potty where the keeper of the porter potties is (and apparently lives?) and find the exact change for her (which invariably includes kopeks) only to find there is no toilet paper in the one she demands you go to, let alone a lock on the door. Sometimes, I just want to grab the woman behind the counter at the supermarket, stuff her in my suitcase and show her how in the United States you don’t NEED to get recipts at 3 different counters to buy bread… and how much EASIER it is.

And now I am ranting…Wow so this post was beyond long. Completely unneccesary- apologies. Hope everything in the US is ok. The Russian news makes it seem like the US is always on the brink of falling apart, but again, I hope that is just crazy Russian propoganda.