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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

the peculiarities of russian national flushing

well i've stayed silent on the subject for long enough. russian bathrooms. russian toilets. for whatever reason, travelers always feel obligated to share their observations on the matter, and i won't be excluded. i have rather a lot i'd like to share, so i'm going to go in a more or less chronological order.

first and foremost, a few general observations. i get the feeling that at some point the soviet union decided that people don't have sex, and don't excrete waste. at least not soviet people on the road to building socialism. (you're a naughty boy, and that's concentrated evil coming out of the back of you). bathrooms, i suspect, still aren't cleaned or maintained because in the soviet union no one was supposed to have to clean up other people's shit. maybe it's bad to blame too much of contemporary russia on holdovers from possible soviet mentalities, but it passes the time.

bathroom markings. the signs. the illustrations. the excuse me, where is the bathroom. needless to say, back home i'm used to knowing where the bathroom is in many places, and at the very worst i can follow the signs. in russia there is no open way of knowing that people actually go to the bathroom. at best, you might find a triangle on a door, the direction of which is important. they seem to have taken the beloved illustrations of the broad-shouldered narrow-waisted man and the narrow shouldered-large-dress-wearing-(or very pregnant) woman and lopped their heads off. i'm not really sure what this accomplishes, but there you have it. to be fair, i've seen a couple signs for the WC, notably at yaroslavl's new hockey arena.

then there's the clockwise counter-clockwise question. at some point in the history of world exploration, someone wrecked it for all of us and suggested that it had something to do with the equator. tragically, that someone froze to death trying to install and flush a toilet at the south pole, and he probably never even thought to ask how they flush in russia. but for the rest of you:

you almost invariable pull up or push down some circular flushing mechanism on the top of the tank, where there's supposed to be a magazine or something. then a peculiar thing- the water comes rushing down and it doesn't swirl at all. it's almost like on airplanes where there is the tremendous sucking mechanism, only not with all the chemicals. then there's russian trains, where you flush the toilet and watch a hole open up to the tracks below. so yeah, if you were ever wondering. russians do go to the bathroom, and they have terrifying and incomprehensible toilets.

also there's a constant lack of toilet paper. this is relatively easy to figure out.

then, there is the a nation-wide lack of toilet seats.

i don't know where they go, or if they ever were. i don't know if they just break and aren't replaced? if they are stolen? and if so why? they just aren't. and it's clear that they won't soon be, because no one seems to mind. even in relatively nice restaurants and cafes more often then not toilet seats are not to be found. maybe you have to rent them from behind the bar when you pay to use the toilet. the implications are easily enough discerned. i think this might have something to do with why russians are always hurrying along somewhere and not looking or smiling at anyone.

Monday, September 27, 2004

weekend, the magic finger

well i had another great weekend. i'll leave the weekend at that. i have another 50 minutes of grammar with my favorite soviet-era pedagogue, and then i am, well, free until after lunch. i watched tv for a while last night...i wish i could somehow share how ridiculous the tv advertising is. the animation, the music, the acting...all the actual made in russia ads look like local-tv advertising in america. as in, for the local hardware store. also, you know those made-for-tv crap products? like the magic electro-vibrator pads that you stick to you? the ones that magic the fat away while you're buying more crap on the shopping channel?

they have those all over the place here, but even more ridiculous. my favorite last night was the 'magic-finger'... it's some gadget you strap onto your finger and then massage yourself. i know i didn't understand all the wonders, but among the promised benefits:

massage
acupuncture (there was a half chinese woman who explained that she thought this was great)
pain relief
quitting smoking

i should mention that this was all c/o some sort of spectacular electricity or magnetism or something. anyway, needless to say, i'm ordering a dozen so i can bring this amazing technology back to the west. also you should see the advertising for what probably ought to be prescription drugs...i don't think russia has an FDA type body yet.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

evgenii onegin, party at anya's, words for thursday

class is out for the day. i just had two hours of literature, during which we talked about pushkin's novel in verse Евгений Онегин (eugene onegin). in the middle of the second hour a young guy burst in, asked if we were the american students, and started telling us that there would be a party at anya's place on friday, that we were invited and that we should call such and such a number (the suches of which i know), and, by the way, may he write the number on the board?

our literature teacher, who is only in her late twenties or so had no idea what to do, and just gave him a marker. the whole thing was even funnier because anya is a friend of our middlebury coordinator here in yaroslavl'. on top of that, the program coordinator from moscow was here in yaroslavl' today, and happened to be sitting in on our literature course to see how things were going with the new teacher.

our teacher made a poised recovery after he left, and all proceeded more or less normally from there.

XLVII.

"А счастье было так возможно,
Так близко!.. Но судьба моя
Уж решена. Неосторожно,
Быть может, поступила я:
Меня с слезами заклинаний
Молила мать; для бедной Тани
Все были жребии равны...
Я вышла замуж. Вы должны,
Я вас прошу, меня оставить;
Я знаю: в вашем сердце есть
И гордость, и прямая честь.
Я вас люблю (к чему лукавить?),
Но я другому отдана;
Я буду век ему верна".

Пушкин.

old photos

so i just got the photos from the 2nd hockey game and the mushroom hunting trip up. also a picture of the little jail place i was detained. i was going to ask for a picture from inside, but by the time they said i could i figured i'd cut my losses and book...

Lokomotiv-Severstal'
Mushroom hunting

Also, larisa anatolievna just told me that she's going to a resort type place outside of yaroslavl' to rest until oct. 5. so i'm pretty much on my own for two weeks. i guess her son will be there a lot, which is good - i like him a lot.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

dacha

so, again no real luck at the history department because we misread the schedule and the class we wanted to sit in on had already started. i'm glad to report that we did however successfully order and eat a tasty lunch at the cafe across the street.

i should clarify the dates/times a bit, if only my sake. we went to the dacha around noon on sunday and then went mushroom hunting at a different dacha at 9 am monday. the dacha. there aren't really 'suburbs' in any american sense in russia, so far as i can tell. there are outskirts of the city, which still look like a city, and there are dachas. the idea of a dacha is sort of difficult to translate then, because they're not really 'summer houses' although they more or less function as such. many more russians have family dachas, and they're for the most part very modest...something along the lines of a hut/cabin/camp i guess. they're all fairly packed in together on little plots of land which are primarily vegetable gardens, (although i'd imagine the further you drive from the city, the more spacious the dachas. we took a tram and it was only a 20 or 30 minute drive, tops, which considering the 1.5 hours for mushrooms, isn't too far). the whole scene is very charming because all the dachas are relatively different looking, but if you look over the fences you can find old women digging up potatoes and beets at each of them.

for a few hours in the afternoon we all rolled up our sleeves and worked in the garden. a lot of weeding/turning over soil, and the girls very diligently gathered berries or something. at worst apples. as a former gardener i was surprised to see how the whole thing took place - when we arrived the whole garden looked entirely overrun because most of the garden had already been dug (only the carrots and beets i think were still in the ground). so it looked like a giant field of weeds that hadn't seen any attention in quite a long time. i expected that we'd be pulling it all and then maybe turning the soil or something, but the woman who owned the dacha just went over each patch and hacked off everything from the soil up with a machete. then she had us dig up and turn over the soil with all the roots and a lot of the weeds still in the soil. i know that dead plant matter is good to leave in the soil to replentish the nitrogen and all of that, but there was clearly no problem with this soil...it's just going to be growing more weeds.

so anyway i just minded my own business and gardened as i was asked to. it's amazing how many carrots and potatoes and beets (not to mention apples and cherry-things, and berries) can be grown on a small plot of land - obviously she's doing something right. this dacha method, it seems to me, is a significantly more productive than mushroom hunting, although maybe the mushrooms are better and closer in some cities.

the better part of the evening was spent relaxing, eating, drinking, and building a number of fires, at least of few of which, i'm sure, were completely unnecessary. the whole experience was great - i really love digging and gardening and earthworms, and it's always strangely pleasing to look at a freshly weeded and well turned patch of dirt. taken in its totality (that is, after a good night's rest back home and a morning of rehydration), it's a really relaxing experience and a great break from the city. the people we were with were tremendously hospitable, and (it seemed to me) glad to have the help and the company. i've only seen the pictures of larisa anatolievna's dacha, but it seemed more or the less same - probably a bit larger. much of what i've even so far, especially the soups and stews, are almost exclusively from things she personally grew at her dacha. she also makes a couple of really good jams, and (for russia) she grows some good looking apples.

i'll save the idea of russian apples for a later post.

i am not a mushroom hunter

i had a fairly packed weekend, which is why i haven't written much lately or posted the hockey pictures yet. at the moment, i have to run back over to the history department and try to find a mainstream university course that will fit into my middlebury course schedule. the whole process is a nightmare because the russian university course schedules change regularly for the first few weeks. anyhow, that's the most immediate project. since i don't have a lot else to do today, i'll probably be back at some point to share some observations on my first trip to a russian dacha and my first (in russia) mushroom hunting expedition. i didn't bring my camera to the dacha unfortunately, but there were several floating around so i might be able to find some pictures.

well...maybe i have time to talk about the mushroom trip, which was somewhat less entertaining than at the dacha, and literally, far less fruitful. although all of the mushrooms i found were very large and pretty, larisa anatolievna threw them all down the garbage chute and then proceeded to wash her hands for much longer than i imagine was necessary, as if for greater effect. and this is considering that i carefully avoided a bunch of the ones that i knew were poisonous/questionable.

wihch leads me to my major problem with mushroom hunting, at least in the fashion we undertook it. we drove and hour and half on a school bus to someone's dacha, and walked around in the woods and gathered the handfuls of mushrooms we could find. the most successful catches were all small, mostly-already-nibbled, not-terribly-appetizing looking mushrooms. we then had a picnic lunch and drove an hour and a half back to the city on 'roads' such that no one had to worry about accidentally catching a nap. at this point, you can probably imagine that gathering mushrooms was not the primary or even secondary goal of the expedition, which i suppose is fine. you can buy large and very tasty radioactive mushrooms from ukraine all over the place, or you can buy them in markets from babushki who are going to gather them anyway. more than anything, maybe i'm bitter that i didn't find anything edible after two hours in the woods.

on the lighter side, i found two woodpeckers, a pretty river, lots of frogs (we were considering gathering them instead..), and some strange poisonous plant that looked like mint and stung like hell. i pulled one leaf off, and immediately tried to drop it because it felt like it had thorns all over the underside of the leaf. as it turned out, i think it was actually some kind of crazy inland jellyfish poison sap, because there definitely weren't any thorns in my fingers. my hand stung for about an hour and i had a line of swollen little white bumps that looked like insect bites. fortunately for all involved, i managed a miraculous recovery, and am currently feeling fine. but just don't say i didn't warn you that it's probably not a random mint plant in the russian woods.

so i think that's all. i have some pictures for later, hopefully.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

3rd locomotive game, 3rd loss, nothing exciting.

the title says it all. lokomotiv lost again tonight, this time 4-1 (first goal!) against SKA of saint petersburg. although they've allegedly won this season, i've only seen the losses....nonetheless, i've already committed myself, so i'm going to stick it out and keep attending. tonight we were seated across a tunnel from the small but rowdy contingent of petersburg fans who travelled 12 hours (one way) for the match. they were surrounded by no fewer than 15 special-ops troops in fatigues, and were allegedly running around the city singing wars songs this morning (the fans).

so that's all for now. someone let me know how the patriots do tomorrow.

Friday, September 17, 2004

2nd locomotive game, 1st arrest, pictures

So last night we went to our second locomotive game, and they managed to lose again. According to the team's website, they won a couple games in the interim, but I wasn't at them. This time they lost 3-0, but the last one was scored on an empty goal. I took a lot of pictures at the game, but most of them didn't come out terribly well and they probably won't be posted until after the weekend.

After the game josh and i had dinner at cafe 'kombat' (this might be the best picture of the night), and headed home relatively early. Right after josh headed off down his road, i was stopped at a little police kiosk and detained in a miniature cell. They were giving me a hard time about my documents and things not being in order, but it was pretty clear they were just trying to scare me into giving them some money. I didn't really have anything to worry about because my papers were all in order, and wasn't doing anything wrong. Fortunately my russian came through and the two cops who were waiting inside the kiosk didn't realize i was an american until after the other cop told them. so they closed the little cell door and sat around smirking and smoking cigarrettes, and acting like they were looking at my papers.

They made me sit in their little cell for maybe 10 minutes and kept asking me questions...why all the photocopies were so shitty, were these even real documents, where i was studying, why and for how long i was in yaroslavl, and what i was doing out by myself (don't you have friends?) i explained that we'd all just split up to go home after the match, and they got excited when they found out i'd been out rooting for the home team. We ended up chatting about hockey for a little while, and they told me I could get out of the cell and sit down inside the kiosk and talk with them some more. I guess the one good surprise of the night was when one of them asked me, roughly: so, how do you feel about niggers?

uhm. i'm still not really sure what they were looking for, because when i told them i don't really have problems with anyone i got a possibly sarcastic 'oh, thank god.' anyway, they turned out to be all right, and they seemed to respect the fact that i was learning the language and could speak well enough to keep my head above water...they offered me a cigarrette and asked me about home, and how i liked yaroslavl, and were pretty obviously just bored out of their skulls. they let me go and wished me well after about 15 minutes, and that was that.

We were supposed to go mushroom hunting today, but that was postponed until monday due to the weather. Not much planned for the weekend...my housekeeper is gone until sunday again, so i'm pretty much free to sleep late and study/watch tv/wander around the city/eat when i'm hungry. things couldn't be better here.

photos

Thursday, September 16, 2004

John McCardell's op-ed in the New York Times

What Your College President Didn't Tell You

John McCardell has an excellent op-ed piece in the ny times, on his thoughts after a successful and popular 13 year tenure as president of Middlebury College. It touches on the outdated tenure system, the problems with college ratings (us news & world report, etc), and the national drinking age. It's unfortunate he felt he was only able to do this after stepping down as president and returning to the faculty....

ymca

so it's already been a couple of days since our visit to the ymca, and the pictures more or less speak for themselves...but i had to say something. this 'ymca' was a small gym/sauna/lounge that groups of up to 10 or so can rent out for about $12 an hour. Split among the bunch of us, it was a relatively inexpensive place to hang out and unwind, and the facilities were surpisingly nice. A pretty decent little gym, two separate saunas/jacuzzis/showers, fooseball, table tennis, russian billiards, and a comfortable lounge with a tv and vcr. If anyone's planning on spending anytime in yaroslavl' soon, it's highly recommended. i think it russian it was called ИМКА, but i have no idea what that would stand for...

if you want to know more than that, you're going to have to ask the participants personally.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

the links

here they are. the old links don't work anymore, but they will soon.

photos!

so the new photos are up, and i reloaded the moscow and yaroslavl' photos (and a number of new ones) at better resolutions. i didn't have time to order/caption everything yet...but soon. also, our adventure to the YMCA was a complete success, but the photos will have to speak for themselves for now. more on that soon.

anyway, here's to impatience:

the photos will have to wait. the internet connection isn't really working and i've got this sneaking suspicion that someone is going to show up and make me song russian folk songs in the near future. i'll try to post the albums tonight.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

in lighter news

i started taking pictures of the city last night, and i'm going to take some more on my way home from the university in a few minutes. I think I'm going with friends to Yaroslavl's YMCA tonight, where, i'm told, it's fun to stay. Also we're getting tickets to another locomotive game on thursday, so hopefully I'll have some pictures of that as well.

I'm going to go home and see what the Putin-friendly entertainment box has to say for itself.

the quiet revolutionary

Putin has finally taken what many said was the next logical step in his consolidation of power. In the midst of our own intelligence agency reorganization, we would do well to watch how President Putin uses concerns over terrorism to strong arm through his power consolidation. If Putin's new plan is enacted, as it almost certainly will be, there will be virtually no significant checks left on Putin or United Russia.

I'll write more later, other people are waiting to use this computer. Here's the gist of it from the NY Times:
Under Mr. Putin's proposals, which he said required only legislative approval and not constitutional amendments, the governors or leaders of the country's 89 regions would no longer be elected by popular vote but rather by local legislatures - and only after the president's nomination. Seats in the lower house of the federal Parliament, or Duma, would be elected entirely on national party slates, eliminating district races across the country that now decide half of Parliament's composition. In elections last December, those races accounted for all of the independents and liberals now serving in the Duma.
I'm not really sure how else to react to this. It's a power grab, masked as a national unity movement in the face of international terrorism. Watch for a mellow reaction from team Bush, which I assure you, is taking notes. I guess I really was hoping that Putin would be clever enough to work with the already enormous power he holds; flagrant steps away from the letter and the spirit of the constitution like these will only serve to undermine Putin's credibility with his people and the international community. I really can't help but to read this as another show of weakness on Putin's part. I think he's realizing that at some point people are going to start expecting results and improvements during his second term, and certainly the war in Chechnya is no closer to an acceptable end.

Although Putin has only just begun his second (and constitutionally mandatory last consecutive) term, I think question of what's next is already on the plate here. Since United Russia is basically Vladimir Putin's party (as opposed to Putin being United Russia's candidate...), it's hard to imagine him losing much power after 'leaving the presidency' should he decide he doesn't want to. Who knows - maybe Putin wanted to directly appoint his governors so that he could test a whole bunch of United Russia party (president) loyalists to get a feel for competent and malleable successors?

The reactions to this will be harsh (and rightly so), but it won't be Putin who reinstalls the creepy Stalinist state. I'm more worried about what's down the road for Russia if something happens to Putin and he leaves the hulking super-presidential state to move and evolve on its own. After Putin entirely leaves the political spectrum for whatever reason, it won't be 'united Russia' or the Russian people picking the new president, it will be the siloviki. And so maybe the capital will move to Petersburg once again?

Really what I'm getting at is for everyone back home (and all the Americans abroad, for that matter) to get it together and get Bush out of office so I have a happy place to come home next June. Please?

and sure enough

i return.

i mentioned how in moscow you can see tremendously expensive cars (and virtually only tremendously expensive cars) all over the center of the city. in yaroslavl', it's something of a different story - the vast majority (by my eye) of cars in the city are russian models (esp. lada), and while there are some foreign cars they tend to be more moderately priced than the luxury models racing through moscow.

however. there is, i'm discovering, a very certain and visible contingent of mafiosi (and/or new russians) in yaroslavl' and with them it's more or less the same idea as in moscow. if you're not familiar with the idea of 'new russians', do a google search for some jokes, and you'll quickly get the idea. anyhow, we ended up in hotel cafe (Европа) on one of the main streets in yaroslavl', outside of which was parked a line pricey cars with all but tinted windshields. and tinted in russia isn't like tinted in the back of the american SUV - i think this sort of tinted is against the law in most parts of the US.

anyway we spent the better part of this evening in a crowded cafe next to two (easily) 400 lb men who were paying for their beers with 1000 ruble notes and being generally (by yarsoavl' standards) extravagant. one of the pair was missing the bettter part of one of his fingers. the whole affair was almost funny in that it all so resembled the hollywood image of mafiosi, which is all russian mafiosi have to base their image on.

...that said, I bought a leather jacket, which i never would have though of doing back home, and i'm going out of my way to blend in. i'm not wild about the whole affair, but as i'm often out late it's more a security thing than a matter of 'fitting in.' and if i'm going to be running around the city taking digital photos...well...that's already a different matter. for example, i had to try to figure out a discreet way to take a picture of the big lenin statute in 'red square' (in front of my university) tonight because no matter where i stood i was in someone's way. either tonight, if i get ambitious on the way home, or tomorrow i'm going to do the walk along the volga and take pictures of the churches/parks/monuments etc there.

so that's all for now. hopefully more pictures soon. i'm currently in the process of finding a regular yaroslavl' state university course that fits my middlebury course schedule. this is a nightmare. i spent the better part of today walking between the history department and the building where middlebury's offices are located trying to find something that fits. the consensus was that, while classes started two weeks ago, i shouldn't worry about it because the schedule is going to be changing for at least another week and i'm not going to know which classes i'll be able to take for a while yet.

almost everything works better here with resigned fascination.

Monday, September 13, 2004

already late

I was planning on hitting the streets tonight and taking some pretty pictures of Yaroslavl', but it's already getting late and I'm getting lazy. It'll probably be another few days before I can post them anyway because the USB cables here at the net cafe aren't the right size for my camera.

So what else? I'm getting used to being here. I'm getting used to not smiling (or even looking at people) on the street. I recognize the stray dogs around where I live. I spend a lot of time reheating soup, and also stirring. I think i've almost figured out how to correctly buy groceries, which requires: a) telling one girl what you want and the prices of what you want, b) getting a receipt from that girl for those items, c)paying a different girl out a counter and getting a receipt from her, d) bring the paid receipt back to the first girl, who then collects the various items. But, that seems to vary from store to store, and as much as you can work up your hate for the big chains of western stores, there's something to be said for convenience.

I have three minutes left, so i'm going to post this far. I might be back soon, as net zone owes me change, and since they probably still don't have it , I'll likely have to settle for some more time on the computer. So, this is likely to be continued in the very near future.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

photos

there should be more photos soon, as i think i should be able to connect my camera via USB to the computers here in net zone. i still won't be able to post them directly to the blog, but soon i'll get permanent links up to the photo 'albums' at ofoto. also if that works i should be able to post more full sized photos, as opposed to the cropped and crunches ones thus far. more on that soon - i'm thinking about going out either tonight or tomorrow night and taking pictures of the city. and there will certainly be pictures from sochi.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Sochi

October 1-7 we're going to Moscow and then flying to Sochi for vacation! And we've hardly had time to get cold yet!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Локомотив

Yesterday a bunch of us went to see Yaroslavl's hockey team Локомотив (locomotive) play against one of Moscow's best teams, Динамо (Dinamo). I'm not sure where to start.

Apparently not last year, but the two immediately preceding years locomotive won the russian hockey league championships, so the team has a pretty serious following. The big rivalry is with Moscow teams especially with Dinamo, which had a significant contingent of fans who traveled four hours to see the match. So from the start we knew that it would be an exciting day, even if the hockey was lousy.

The bad news first: locomotive lost 2-0, but there were some lousy calls, and at least two "loco" goals called back - the match was pretty even. Anyway, the hockey was very good, and i'm not in much of a position to comment on it specifically because i don't know american hockey that well. They seemed to call rather a lot of penalties though, and when they fell over they sat around on the ice and looked around like american basketball players do after the slightest contact. Also there weren't any fights, which i guess they must go out of their way to avoid with rivalry matches where it could spill out into the stadium or streets...

I guess the biggest surprise of the night was the stadium - it was brand new, and easily one of the nicest hockey rinks i've seen anywhere. It was tremendously clean and comfortable, and actually had an almost family sort of atmosphere. I say almost...there was a squad of girls dancing most of the night behind one of the goals and, well, the fans were considerably more loud and vulgar than anything you can really hear anywhere in america. but, then, you get that on the bus ride over too. all said and done, it was a great experience for about 150 rubles (including transportation over and back) which is about $6. and we had really great seats. so it's definitely something i'll be doing again, and next time i'm going to bring my camera since everything was relatively calm.

also another interesting phenomenon: at the end of each period (and literally not a second earlier) somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the spectators stood up and started filing out for concessions/bathroom/et cetera. almost no one left their seats during the actual match, and even at the very end when dinamo was up 2-0 only a handful of people were leaving. So that's an idea of the fanatics who were in the stands - this was only the 2nd or 3rd match of the year i think.

so that's about it for now. i wish i'd written this post after the game, i feel like i had a lot more i wanted to say then. no matter, there will be more hockey soon.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

photos!

well, sort of. i only got some of them up, and in a very limited fashion, but here are the links!


This is going to have to be a very brief post, as my time is running out. i still haven't really annotated the photos, but there you go. they'll have to speak for themselves for the time being. more soon, hopefully.

scott

aha! and, lunch.

or more properly, аха! the email posts are again working. i'm currently in the yaroslavl state university room that was set aside for the very small basically non-department of russian as a second language, which means i'm working from a very old windows 98 machine and mostly trusting that the small horizontal lines running across the 'screen' are, indeed, my text.

this morning i experienced the closest thing yet to the american notion of good customer service. on sunday our group all had photos taken in a little shop near my apartment for our visas and student cards, but mine didn't turn out properly - i blinked. In american photo studios they seem to take either a couple pictures or to at least check on the digital screen to be certain that picture came out; here, to my surprise, the gentleman snapped but one picture no more than 10 seconds after i sat down (i wasn't asked to say cheese, and judging by even the bridal photographs on the wall, smiling isn't traditional) and quickly called in the next subject. anyway he was just opening his shop while i was walking past it on the way to the university and he invited me to step in and redo the picture quickly so that i wouldn't be too late to class. it turns out i was fortunate to have caught the owner/photographer and not his secretary, who arrived just after i did. she screamed at the next guy who came in that it wasn't 9 yet and that he'd have to wait (even though the door was open and it was very evident that they had already accepted one customer).

also i've noticed that every time i order something, i almost invariably get a НЕТУ! which is a curt and colloquial answer something along the lines of there aren't/isn't any. nothing tremendously unusual about that, except that in american people are more in that the habit of either apologizing for not having something they typically have or suggesting something analogous. at lunch today i wanted две сосиски в тесте, which i could see through the glass window and which i thought would be left to me by the two old women in front of me. not so. fortunately i had already prepared my запасной вариант and was able to order something else without having to annoy the already clearly overworked girl at the counter or the 8 thirsty russians behind me.

my one mistake, apparently, was ordering a coke. that really through the girl off, which in turn made me nervous. i realized later that everyone else in this little cafeteria i found was at the very least drinking a beer, and some were drinking either beer with vodka or just glasses of vodka. which is to say, glasses in the sense of стаканы, that is, what an american might expect to be served a glass of water or soda in.

all things considered it was a good lunch. cheap, fast, much. i guess the блины kiosk on the corner closes in bad weather, which is too bad as i was planning on visiting it again. i ended up talking with a very unhappy guy who (i'm not sure) either works in or around the university in some custodial position. i'm not sure how that will compare to the relatively nicer cafe bosphor where my friends went for lunch and are presumably still eating, but i'll let you know once i check it out.

this afternoon's mission: walking around town to various university buildings to try and find and sign up for a mainstream class. i might just run back home first and grab my umbrella.

the news in russia

also another quick note regarding content here. eventually i'd like to write more about russian politics and the political climate here, but my language facilities aren't really where they need to be yet for that. izvestia's editor was just forced to step down after critical coverage of the beslan crisis, which i find worrisome as at least elements of the print media have remained relatively independent of government interference (virtually all russian tv is either government friendly, or self-censoring at this point).

as an aside, however, i think the beslan crisis has shown that putin has weak points despite united russia's dominance in the government and the fractionalization of opposition parties and even despite his continually immense popularity with many russians. his timid reaction to the two airplane explosions (ie the fact that the government was so slow to conclude that it had been terrorism that downed the planes) struck me as surprising and also telling of the fact that putin is worrying that russians might start critically judging his ability to bring security and some reasonable end to the chechen conflict. when the editor of a major paper is forced to step down (regardless of the official reasons...here i think readership complaints were probably cited rather than government intervention...) because of what is deemed to be detrimental coverage, it belies an a certain lack of self-confidence from the kremlin. i haven't seen a lot of that since putin took office in 2000, but if that's indeed what it is, the repercussions for civil liberties, the war in chechnya, and the elections in 2008 could be considerable.

my guess is that things won't be carried too far, as putin is too clever to make those old mistakes. but we'll see.

test email post

for some reason my email posts haven't been connecting. this is a test.

Monday, September 06, 2004

laundry, dinner, more wandering

so it turns out doing laundry in the bathtub isn't the most fun i've had since i've been here. i think i'm going to be exploring other options in the near future, including not washing my clothes regularly like the rest of the country.

also i had to laugh the other night. my housekeeper (i'm going to call her that from here on out until i think of something better, because that's basically what the russian term translates to) called her friend's daughter (my age) to cook dinner for me the first night she wasn't going to be home. that was great of course, and i couldn't help enjoying the assumption that i was entirely helpless around the house. which, it turns out, i am. aside from almost certainly bungling the laundry, which is currently drying around the apartment, i made a mess just trying to heat up a dinner that was already prepared for me and i broke a water pot thing with still-too-hot-water. we have tempered glass back home right? i never remember cracking anything with too hot water.

so anyway i was eager to get back out of the empty apartment and wander a little bit. tomorrow i need to miss my first class to go get a visa picture retaken with some very angry and very disinterested photographer, and i need to try to find a more or less equivalent water pot sometime during the day as well.

also, as i sit here in Net Zone i'm realizing that as much as russians love listening to american music, they seem to catch it all about 5 years back. i wish i knew the names of some of these songs, but suffice it to say they all recall kennebunk middle school dances. earlier in the 90's that would have been somewhat more imaginable as everything moved over here more slowly then, but everything is digital now and even in yaroslavl' there has been explosion of western stores and fashions over the past two years (i'm told that's about when it started). so that's just my observation on the american pop music i've heard in the cafes/restaurants/stores etc. i really don't know what people are listening to hear because i still don't really know anyone yet. i guess we're supposed to start looking for a mainstream class tomorrow, in which case i'll be meeting more people, hopefully. also once i get settled in i'm probably going to try to find a chess club or something. our coordinator in yaroslavl' warned me that everyone there would kill me know matter how well i think i play chess, especially the 8 year olds. more on that story as it develops.

well this has been a complaining post, but all things considered it was a good day. oh one more thing. i've seen about 5 grandmother-aged women running around yaroslavl with light purple hair. different ones, i'm sure of it. is this the result of some twisted soviet hair dye? the sulfur in the water? bad taste? i just don't know. i'm sure you're as concerned as i am, so i will keep you posted on this as i learn more.

i think there's a vigil in one of the main squares for the beslan victims. i'm going to go check it out. ciao.

i'm starting this post without a title, which should serve as some indication of its likely direction. i have another almost entirely free afternoon and evening to explore the city, which i'm liking more and more as i get to see it. we toured the old part of yaroslavl, which is a tiny relatively open park and walkway where the city's two rivers merge. apparently the city is planning to rebuild a church there that was destroyed at some point during the 70 years of communism, and although i have no real right to be telling a city of 700,000 some odd natives what to do, it is a very nice park and they should think longer and harder about it.

i'm quickly realizing that i still have some essential shopping to do. i ducked into Женскии Мир (the woman's world) long enough to buy some laundry detergent so that i can do laundry in the bathtub tonight while i have the flat to myself. that worked out well as it was on the way to the internet cafe, and easy enough to find. Walking around in a fleece vest isn't going to be ideal for long, however, and in the next few days i'm planning on finding a coat or jacket of some sort at one of the big market areas in the city. this will be better because the weather will probably turn for the cold and rainy soon, i won't stick out so sorely, and i'll have better pockets to carry my wallet and papers. also looking for a bookbag of some sort and a water filter. the water here smells and tastes distinctly sulfurous, and while it's more than safe to drink after it's been boiled, it's not a taste i'm particularly eager to get used to.

which leads me to something i am ready to get used to. at dinner last night the woman i'm staying with offered to make coffee for me and her dinner guest, and asked me to advise her on the process as she said she rarely makes coffee (russians drink a lot of tea). to make a long story short, she was asking me for advice on making coffee without a coffee maker. i explained to her that we usually make it with this machine that runs the water through the ground coffee and into a pot, etc etc, whereas she dumped a bunch of old ground coffee (the beans had been sitting in an open bag in a cupboard for who knows how long) into a pot of water and set it to boil.

i felt bad about the whole thing because i couldn't really convince her that i thought the whole thing was fine. she assumed that because it wasn't the way that i was used to, i wouldn't like it or i thought worse of it, and she even made me promise not to tell anyone back home that that's how she makes coffee. i think i more or less succeeded in explaining to her that i really did like the coffee because it was a lot stronger than most americans make it, and that's how i prefer it. however, it wouldn't really be a tolerable cup at, say, starbucks, which again is fine by me. anyway that's the worst of cultural imperialism - when other people automatically assume that their way is worse because it's different. the whole thing made me feel rather crummy, in the long run probably because i drank about a cup of coffee (which is to say a pot of coffee and a cup of coffee grounds) to make her feel better.

so that's what i'm up against. tremendous hospitality, and at it's absolute worst, food and preparations that i'm just not used to. i think i'm going to get along well here. anyway that's it for now. i might come back later tonight after dinner if i'm out wandering and if i don't decide to watch a dubbed bruce willis movie on the TV. i'm sure there will be one, i just know it!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

yaroslavl'

well i tried to email a post from the university yesterday, with no apparent success. i'm in yaroslavl now, and getting settled down...the first of my classes start tomorrow, and i have most of the day to wander around the city. my living situation seems pretty ideal - i'm in the center of the city, and living in a nice apartment with an accommodating woman. she works 3 24 hour shifts per week, and spends some time at her dacha, so it sounds like i'll have the place to myself a lot. also, although the food might not stack up compared to what all my friends in europe are eating this year, my housekeeper, larisa anatolievna is a good cook and i've enjoyed everything she's made so far.

so. so much for me. a few more observations on the new and old in russia. i have some great pictures already, but it looks like it might be a while before i can find a computer with a fast enough connection to upload much. all the computers in the internet cafes have the hard drives either locked shut or hidden, so i can't really bring anything in on disk. maybe i'll be able to post from the university.

the university building where i'm studying is about 100 years old, and stands in a square dominated by a truly towering statue of lenin pointing off to somewhere in the distance. the few times i've walked by there have been fresh flowers there. although, of course, remnants of the soviet era are ubiquitous in russia, but many cities didn't keep all of the statues of lenin and what not, so even for russia it's a bit of an unusual sight now. i hope i get a chance to post some photos i took of the architecture in moscow. aside from all the beautiful red square/saint basil's cathedral/GUM photos, there were some really magnificent churches and buildings. the old government buildings were somewhere between extremely imposing and terrifying depending on the time of day, especially the old KBG center near detskii mir and all that. i've never seen anything like it.

i'm rambling a bit. i never really finished talking about moscow, or my train ride from moscow, but suffice it to say i met up with my friends from middlebury, roman and emma, and roman's girlfriend and roman took us around on the metro and then drove us around in his car for more sight seeing. lots of beautiful pictures, for someday in the future. we drove by the place where a lot of the party brass lived in soviet days, and roman told me that people were allegedly buried alive in the walls of the building...

the train ride was an experience as well - about four hours, which wouldn't have been too bad because middlebury sprung for a decent train had we not all had ridiculous amounts of luggage. it was, i think, my first train ride ever, so i guess i can't really compare it to much, but i gather my compatriots found the whole thing amusing. i watched out the windows most of the way as we passed through the little villages and towns. in moscow, running around through the mercedes, bmws, lamborghinis, and cars i'd never even seen outside of magazines, it's easy forget that the vast majority of russia is still living in tremendous poverty. even in yaroslavl, there aren't really good and bad neighborhoods that you can pick out in america by the housing and the cars (or lack their of) on the streets because all the housing is still soviet. so even in a relatively less well off city, things still look better.

well, my last word for now. when i was in moscow 10 people were killed and some 50 or so were wounded in a suicide bombing near a metro station. anywhere that's a tragedy. in russia, i'm realizing, even the 90 people lost on the domestic flights last week had to be quickly buried so russians could begin mourning the 350 some odd people in beslan, and start tending to the additional hundreds of heavily wounded. i heard someone in moscow mention that in russia everything is bigger, and in a word, russia is bigger. i think there might be something to that.

i'm going to go find some lunch and get some money changed.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Roman, Red Square (x2), Restaurant

Just don't get used to my fancy titles.

I guess a lot of the western media seems to think that russians are particularly on edge after the recent events in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, including the (as far as i know) rumor that there is still at least one chechen women with explosives in moscow (two were on the planes, one blew up at the metro and apparently one is some sort of boss type). i don't know if this is true, or if it has been substantiated or what, but that's what I heard. I'm leaving for Yaroslavl tomorrow afternoon, with or without my missing suitcase, and hopefully i'll be able to start posting photos from there.

Last night I met up with my good friend from Middlebury, Roman, and he gave Dan and I a fun tour of the city. We went to a small and entirely unmarked restaurant in this basement, which he said is a really popular place for fast and inexpensive russian food. certainly not a fast-food place, but it was comparable to a small pub i guess. It was crowded, a bit noisy, and a good time. I might have remembered what it was called if there had been a sign or anything, but the only way to find this restaurant was to know someone who knows where it is. Dan and I could have gotten by with our russian, but we were lucky to have roma because the hostess wasn't very friendly and the waitress was impatient, even with him. all told though, it was a vastly more enjoyable experience than eating in the little tourist cafe along the arbat, where the waiter wouldn't even answer me in russian.

after dinner we started walking and roman ended up taking us past a few really beautifully lit up churches and into the district where bulgakov lived and worked. We took the tram where annushka severed berlioz' head, which runs past patriarch's park (where the famous first encounter in master & margarita takes place). from there we walked back to red square (i went there earlier in the day after orientation activities, too) and we did the touristy thing and took a bunch of pictures. It's quite a bit prettier at night, although it was temporarily less crowded when i was there during the day because there were sun showers and i had the fortune of getting out into the middle of the square just as the rain was stopping..

anyhow, a lot of nice pictures, and a few short videos from red square and the tram ride. hopefully i'll be able to post some of it once i get to yaroslavl, but none of the public computer places i've found in moscow permit people to bring in anything on disk.

plan for tonight is meeting up with roman around 5. he's trying to gather everyone else he can find in moscow from middlebury so we can all say hello and goodbye for the year. after that, who knows? nights almost invariable end earlier here, it seems, because the metro shuts down at 1 and what's left to do outside in moscow at that point i've no business taking part in.

another note of some interest - moscow is a tremendously clean city, at least in the center. the metro, especially, is remarkably clean for a major city because they shut it down for four hours every night and orchestrate a monstrous clean up operation. if i get a chance today i'm going to ride the inner ring of the metro and take pictures of the metro stations because they are stunning. some of the ones built during stalin's reign seriously look like rooms in a palace or something, and if i don't get pictures up soon you should look for some on the internet.

however, i must be going. also have to check to see if lufthansa has found my bag yet. hope all are well

scott

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

update from moscow.

having some trouble with email posts. anyone know why that might be? i'm emailing from my regular address but from the java client...although i don't think i've had problems with that previously.

-----Исходное сообщение-----
От: Rose, Scott
Отправлено: Ср 01.09.2004 8:16



dearest friends and happenstance visitors,

first and foremost, i was not at or anywhere near the rizhskaya metro station suicide bombing, although i heard that hunter from middlebury was right there. he's also ok. also, i am not being held hostage in the south, which i just heard about. i don't really have any details on that yet, you can probably find out more on the internet about it than anyone here in russia will. so especially for the parents: remember everytime a dozen people get killed in moscow, the chances are pretty good i wasn't one of them. also i'll be in yaroslavl by the weekend, which hasn't to my knowledge had to deal with any of this chechen crap.

a few points of interest from my day or so in moscow (i'm in a hotel right next to the arbat, the long touristy walking section with over priced restaurants, kiosks and vendors). Russian newspapers do not hesitate to show graphic photos on front pages. The copy of the (english) moscow times i'm looking at now has what would be to his former acquaintances, a very recognizable photo of a dead man and a couple mangled cars. while everyone gripes about freedom of the media (and reasonably so) in russia, americans would do well to remember that if our newspapers showed realistic photos from Iraq, the war wouldn't be so damn fun for everyone.

crossing a street in moscow is incredibly perilous. i'm told it's much worse than in new york city, and i can assure everyone that it's at least 3 or 4 times more difficult than in Middlebury, VT (where it often suffices to listen both ways rather than look both way). apparently it's something one has to get the hang of - you can end up stranded in the middle of a street (4 or 5 wide lands) with cars whipping past you at 40-50 and upwards miles per hour. this is frightening to the casual new england participant.

an interesting anecdote that i had heard before, and really sums up a lot of what i understand getting by in russia to be: When NASA first started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens don't function in zero gravity. To solve this, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion dollars (just think, if they'd just set it aside and let it apperciate some where, we could be funding another war by now) developing zero gravity pens. my grandparents got me one last christmas, actually. they can write on almost any surface and in tempatures from below freezing to 300 degress celsius.

the russians used a pencil.

and so i hope to learn to overcome the smaller challenges. my lost bag still hasn't shown up, so i'm wearing unfortunately warm clothes around unfortunately warm moscow. i'm told that it will be cooler by the weekend at the latest (when i'll be in yaroslavl anyway).

what else. a few notes on, of course, alcohol. there are no open container laws in moscow, and beer is widely available from kiosks on the streets. wine and alcohol you actually have to go into a store for, although there are (i haven't seen any yet) walk in restaurants where you can order a shot of vodka, pay for it, and leave. there are ups and downs to all of this, of course. in russia beer isn't considered 'alcohol,' but rather some sort of broadly and mysteriously more preferred soda (two oat sodas, gary.) and, although there are a lot of the popular 'imports' that we see in america, most of the russian beers have much higher alcohol percentages than american beer. i tried a bottle of три богатыря (i think that's how it's spelled) last night, and was surprised to discover halfway through that it was 11%. we had to pretty much abandon the arbat by 11 o'clock because all the other tourists were gone, and the russians remaining were getting pretty boisterous.

i'm looking forward to getting to yaroslavl though because most everyone in shops here speaks at least some english, and when they hear my accent they just answer me in english regardless of how decent my grammar was. in yaroslavl that won't be a problem. i think we're going to see red square tonight, and i'm still hoping to get in touch with roman/emma/natasha and whomever else is in moscow. hunter? anton? iskandar? gosha? i heard you guys might be around, but there is little chance you are reading this.

ok. my time seems to be expiring. write me emails - i'd love to hear from you guys and i'll be able to answer my mail more leisurely in yaroslavl where there is an internet cafe right near where i live with broadband. also it costs about a dollar an hour, which is spectacular. it's about a dollar for twenty minutes here, which by and standards isn't terrible either. in the "VIP" section (about 30 cents more per 20 minutes) they have big comfy couches.

also re: yarsoslavl, i found out the details of my living situation, which sound excellent. more on that when i actually meet her, but i'm told she's a middle aged woman who isn't home much and is relatively better about giving students their space. also she supposed has a big (russian standards...) appartment with a 5-10 minute walk to the university/transportation/ and basically everything inthe center. i'm gettibng booted

so long for now!