Monday, November 29, 2004

dial up

i finally got around to buying internet cards/adapters/cords and all that, and i now have unreliable dial up internet access at my apartment. the good news is that it's not terribly expensive, and it's faster than the computers at the university. the bad news is that i can only use it in the middle of the night because our apartment has a shared phone line with the neighbors. i'm probably not going to end up using it much because i have to drag my computer out into the kitchen, and it takes forever to get a stable connection. the one good thing is that i can now post pictures directly to my blog instead of all the albums.

ulitza kirova, during the first real snowfall

Saturday, November 27, 2004

updates, english classes

Today I bought internet/phone cards and the adapter that i think i need to connect to the internet from my laptop at home. Although the at-best 56 kb connection is going to be a bummer, the good news is that i'll be able to start posting pictures directly to my blog once in a while. In any event, it should be a lot faster than the connection at the university, and a lot more convenient than trekking to netzone or the recently-discovered internet library on my block. somehow i never really noticed it earlier, and when i did notice it i thought it was just a computer supplies store. and now for something completely different-

On friday Andrei invited me to help him give a test to his freshman english class, and had me write and dictate a little passage in english about my entirely fictional little sister. She is tall. She likes to play tennis. She speaks english in the present tense. etc. I was supposed to pretend that I didn't understand any russian, but i think some of the girls in the back figured me out because I smiled a few times when they were all speaking russian. Anyway they'll figure it out sooner or later because i'm taking a class in russian at the history department (where they study), and i made a narrow escape at avant garde last night.

After their test, Andrei also had me talk about myself, what I like to do, and all that, and then had them ask me questions. I never really realized how terribly i speak english until I started trying to speak slowly and intelligibly to a bunch of 1st year students. the one guy in the class (who apparently didn't speak a word of english) got one of the girls behind him to translate "do you like russian vodka?" for their part, the girls wanted to know if i had a girlfriend, and why not, and what's my ICQ number? In a week or two, I'm going to come to the second year class he teaches too.

While i'm on the subject, english textbooks for russians are really, really funny. Either stuffy old british people are writing them, or russians who were taught english by stuffy old british people are. And by old, i mean david copperfield old. when was the last time you heard anyone ask, have you a brother? have you a sister? So there's that sort of english, but then the text is about Mary Johnson who is a young beautiful long-legged actress in Hollywood with lots of boyfriends and 5 cars. To his credit, Andrei is teaching them to ask "do you have..." and basically more realistic english. Maybe i'll get him to loan me one of the books so I can share a few passages. Maybe i'll just leave you to dream!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

mittens, kick the bottle, bowling (?)

well i have about ten minutes left in the net zone, and i thought it was about time for a hasty dispatch to say that i'm alive and well. it's been around -15 C here in the mornings, so i decided it was finally time to buy a hat and some mittens. ashley and i went down to старый город, the local market, and we more or less found what we were looking for. i got some really cool mittens which are kind of dark brown leather on the outside and wool or something on the inside. they also have crazy seams all over them, and look sort of like boxing gloves. i like that.

that hat choice was maybe a little less fortunate - a mad-bomber style one (with the furry flap out front and the two ear flaps that you can pull down). anyway, it's a little silly looking (and not that i have anything against this style in general - i really like the better made ones), but warm as hell. i didn't have the heart to wear it to the movies today, fearing getting laughed out of the car, but my mittens went over well. saw a really awful american film at rodina - the whole thing was basically a big nokia advertisement. i think it's called cell phone, or something? anyway, yaroslavl' comrades - rodina is a pretty nice theatre, and definitely worth checking out if you're getting tired of Evropa. there's also a nice cafe for coffee.

and kick the bottle? well that's what an apparently unattended 3-ish year old is doing up and down kirova.

well, time's up here. more soon.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


so it snows a lot here, now. it's looking like i'm probably going have to buy a hat soon. i'm probably going to hold off on strangling my own stray dog, like danny, and maybe just buy a knit cap. although i really do hate старый город....

it seems that my host mom has skipped out... i guess she's in moscow? i don't really know. she said she'd been planning on going to moscow, and she doesn't seem to be in yaroslavl'. the freezer is stuffed with bags of pilmeni, which i'm taking as a 'goodbye,' and 'i'll be back eventually, when the pilmeni run out.' anyway if anyone wants to drop by tonight, i'm going to 'fry' bread and maybe a potato. also maybe watch a movie.

so we're probably getting pretty close to the end of the semester, which means i probably will have a lot of work to do soon. as long as i'm not looking at a calendar, i can't be sure. as winter sets in, i'm growing less and less interested in fleeing to europe on vacation. i don't really know why, but everything here is suddenly starting to make a lot more sense, with the glaring exception of the umbrella question. russians are the most umbrella-carrying people i've ever seen, but as soon as it stops raining and starts snowing, they shelve the umbrellas until, well, june. i don't really see the difference. but i don't really carry an umbrella.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


rolling stone picked bob dylan's like a rolling stone as the greatest song of all time. i couldn't find the list on rolling stone's web page, but that's what AP news tells me. Thanks Yahoo!

anyway, i'm satisfied.

Monday, November 15, 2004

weekend, rodent acrobats, internship

so there are these crazy marmot looking creatures that live in the trees in yaroslavl. i've spotted two of them already, one near the Volga and one in my would-be backyard. The one on the Volga leapt from one tree, fell about a story down, and just barely caught the last tiny branch on the adjacent tree, and then promptly ran back up and did it again. it was also running around from balcony to balcony and nearly falling to its death at every turn. what a champ. i'm not sure exactly what it was - it was running around like a squirrel, but it was more like a really long cat. maybe we have some zoologists out there? some animal-scientists?

what else. saturday evening we ran into friends at makmaster and ended up meeting some theatre students. if they were at all representative of russian theatre students in general, then they're of an almost identical mold as their american counterparts. i guess i might have expected it, had someone asked me to imagine a russian theatre student beforehand. but there you have it. anyway they had just moved into a new apartment, and the only furniture in the room was a table in the corner and two theatre chairs that had been pilfered at some point in their careers. i should add that their having just moved in probably doesn't have much to do with the furnishings. we showed up with friends of theirs at about 11 pm unexpected, and they were pretty much ready to go when we got there.

vodka, juice and bread all standing on the floor. glasses. everyone sitting around talking and laughing. cigarettes. guitar. singing. sasha frying bread in the kitchen. that's a sight in itself, by the way. a frying pan, oil, and bread. you flip the bread over with the biggest knife in the kitchen, for effect. i'm going to try it tonight at home for dinner. oleg invited us to paint with him on the kitchen wall, which is to say - decoratively. back in the other room - waxing profound on increasingly less serious topics. it was all picturesque, somehow. so hats off to oleg, marina and skhusha for the enjoyable evening.

anyway, if i weren't living at the moment in spitting distance of the north pole, it would have been getting light on the walk back home. larisa anatolievna made me drink a glass of wine when i woke up (at dinner), even though i insisted that i wasn't hung over and even though i wouldn't have wanted more alcohol had i been hung over. she was convinced i just didn't understand, and well, maybe i don't.

and what else. i finally sent off all my paperwork to apply for an internship in the spring. ideally i'll be working with a local political organization that supports yabloko and the union of right forces, but i have no idea whether that is going to pan out. the options weren't quite as exciting as the ones for students in moscow, but a few of the internships in yaroslavl sounded pretty interesting. getting involved with opposition parties in russia has been, at least historically, a good way to keep life interesting. so more on that later. i'm just glad to finally have the paperwork off my desk.

and now, off on errands.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

moscow, roman, etc

This is a pretty delayed post, but it was an interesting trip so, here goes. Oh, and I almost forgot about the pictures.... Well, they're posted.

I left Yaroslavl' on a pretty cozy express train for Moscow on Tuesday afternoon, and got in at Yaroslavl' Glavnii Vokzal around 8:30 or 9 pm. I had the good fortune of riding with a talkative gent to my left and an empty seat to my right. My neighbor was a psychologist, who was returning from a business trip to Yaroslavl', and we talked for the full four hour ride. Despite my protests, he bought me a pepsi, chocolate, ice cream and coffee. I feel like there might have been something else too, but I don't really remember. Anyway, we had an all right conversation and he invited me out to dinner at the end of the month, when he's going to be back in Yaroslavl' for a few days. Toward the end of the trip, I asked him what I should pick up at the station to bring Roman and his mother (Mom - I gave her the last of the candles, and she loved them). I had already picked up a nice bottle of Georgian wine, and he suggested either flowers or some candy, which seemed reasonable. Then he asked me whether I had enough money to buy something, and proceeded to try to give me money for a good 5 minutes. For whatever reason, he didn't seem to believe that I had the money - I guess because some traveling Russian students probably wouldn't. Anyway, I eventually convinced him that I didn't need any money, thanked him for the company and snacks, and we agreed to have dinner sometime around the end of the month. Interesting people all over this place.

Roman was waiting for me at the station when my train came in, and we headed back to his apartment on the metro. Roman's mom, who has secured a permanent spot somewhere in my list of top 5 moms ever, had dinner waiting for us when we arrived. She had arranged to stay with her sister (I think) somewhere in Moscow and was leaving the apartment to Roman for the week, which they hadn't told me. I didn't really want to displace anyone... but roman assured me that it was all right, etc etc. Anyway, we ate and talked for a while, and went to bed early.

Wednesday morning, we set out for the Tretyakovskaya Galereya (Третьяковская Галерея), which is one of Russia's three, or so, really major art museums. Admission is free for Russian students, and since I had a Yaroslavl' student ID Roman was able to pick up both our tickets and get me in free. So, that saved me about $10, part of which I spent a nifty little book of "masterpieces of the gallery." The Tretyakovskaya has only Russian works, pre-20th century, and the most important collection of Russian icons. I have to admit that I don't really have an eye for icons, although they are fairly interesting. I don't know how many of these I’ll be able to find pictures for, but I’ll give it a go, and you can have a best of the Tretyakovskaya, Internet tour. I think probably the earliest painting that caught my eye was the apparently little-known Портрет Марии Ивановы Лопухиной by V.L. Borovikovskii (Боровиковский). It was the only early portrait that really seemed to hit a nail. And with she as the notable exception, I really don't understand how the girls running around Moscow today can be even remotely related to the mugs that were fit to paint 300 years ago. So, now you know what to say the next time someone tells you that Russia is stagnating.

Other favorites (with somewhat less rambling...): Явление Христа народу by A.A. Ivanov (this painting is 5.4 meters by 7.5 meters. Roman said that Ivanov worked on it for about 27 years. It would have taken me 10, tops, but who really has the time? See if you can find the artistic inconsistency. (Blue's clue: it has to do with colors!)

Probably my favorite painting was K.D. Flavitzkii's (Флавицкий) Княжна Тараканова, which was also huge (2.45 meters by 1.9 meters). It’s a painting of the Tsaritza Tarakanova, who was the last by-blood Russian heir to the monarchy. The nasty Germans, who had infiltrated the Russian royal bloodline, imprisoned her, and she died 5 years later. I'm not taking any responsibility for inaccuracies here, I'm just repeating what I remember of Roman's annotations, and creatively filling in the gaps.

А.К. Саврасов. Грачи прилетели - A classic Russian landscape. Also really liked one of Roman's favorites, И.И. Левитан - Над вечным покоем. That's, Levitan's "In Eternal Peace." Considering what I saw in the rest of the gallery, it's not hard to imagine why it captures a Russian’s imagination. И.Е. Репин - Иван Грозный и сын его Иван 16 ноября 1581 года. - Ivan the Terrible, just after killing his son with a giant stick. I don't know, he looks sorry, so he couldn't have been entirely грозный. It's always a bummer to kill the first son and heir to the throne.

I guess I was kind of a sucker for the historical ones...I also really liked V.I. Surikov's (Суриков) Утро стрелецкой казни, which is a picture of Peter the Great watching executions in Red Square. That's Pete, with the crazy eyes on the horse! You read about this stuff, and you visit Red Square and see where it all happened, but somehow seeing it all painted...

I also really liked what I saw of M.A. Vrubel's (Врубель) work, even though "Demon," his most famous work, was out at an exhibition somewhere.

In the evening, we gathered with Hunter, Bren and Tanya at Tanya's grandparents’ apartment, drank a few bottles of wine, swore about the election, ordered pizza and watched Буммер. Although none of it really made us feel much better, it was about as good as a night could have been under the circumstances.

I spent a good part of Thursday reading about the election and the homophobes who managed to protect marriage in another 10 states. Then Roman drove me around a bit to see the inside of Новодевичьий Монастырь and we went to see Коломенское, which unfortunately was barely visible because of restoration work.

In the evening, Roman and Tanya took me out bowling with some of their friends, and I came back from a dismal 60-something the first game to roll 100 (!!!) in the second. So help me, I will learn how to bowl. We stayed at the bowling club for about an hour, and headed out to walk around a bit. 'Strolling,' I guess it would be. Actually before we went bowling, Roman took me to this audio/video type mall, where it's now legal to sell unlicensed software/movies/music etc. I found Lebowski in Russian (with Happy Gilmore on the other side of the DVD), and left with a smile on my face. It was one of those kind of bittersweet smiles though, because of happy gilmore.

As it turns out, Lebowski is an important part of the story because after bowling, Roman and I went back to his apartment and watched it. Needless to say, a lot of the subtleties were lost in translation, but overall it was remarkably well done. The translation was very good, the dubbing was excellent (if you've seen American movies in Russia, you know this is already a small miracle), and it has both the original English audio, the Russian audio, and optional English or Russian subtitles. So it's almost like a real DVD, and it says that it's multi-region, so who knows. Maybe it'll play in the players back home. They even did a good job finding actors whose voices sounded like the originals'. The Stranger's opening dialogue was especially well done. So yeah. If you want to watch it with me sometime, you won't have to ask twice.

Friday morning we went to the Kremlin and stood in line for two hours to try to get in. We ended up getting tickets for the Armory, but we couldn’t get into the Алмазный Фонд or the Kremlin territory. The Armory has a lot of the Tsars’ thrones, jewels, costumes, coaches, Faberge eggs, and you guessed it - guns. Armor. The weapons. I took a lot of pictures, but nothing really turned out that well because most everything was behind glass. Anyway, it turned out that we would have had to stand in a different line to get into the actual Kremlin to wander around, which is what we originally wanted to do. By the time we found that out, it was too late to get the tickets we needed, so we ended up just checking out the armory and watching the FSB cars and government limos drive in and out. The vast majority of the FSB cars have plates with the letters ЕКХ, which roman told me is an abbreviation for Еду куда хочу, "I drive where I want." It seemed plausible, and less vulgar than the other possible alternatives. So next time you think that creepy black Benz is following you around Moscow, you won't be paranoid. You’ll be right!

That night, we went with Tanya and Hunter to tiny basement rock club, Китайский Летчик, where the club's owner and his band were playing a show. I don't remember what the group was called, but they were good and the atmosphere was great. The show ended a little before one, so everyone could clear out and get on the subway before it closed. Hmm.

Saturday afternoon we drove to the outskirts of Moscow and found a big open field. The time had finally come for roman to test launch his model airplane, after four months of painstaking model airplane making. We tried four launches, none of which was successful, and on the fourth (my failed attempt) the plane got somewhat higher (it flew straight up), only to come swooping down and nearly break all over the place! Fortunately, nothing too serious happened, and by evening roman had more or less repaired the damage. Roman's mom returned in the evening and cooked us dinner, and we ended up spending the evening with a bunch of roman's friends from high school. It was a good time.

For whatever reason, we set out again Sunday, which just happened to be November 7, to try and get into the Kremlin. I only remembered that it was Revolution Day (or now, the day or reconciliation, I think it's called), and the Communists had already reserved downtown Moscow for the festivities. Roman thought we should head on over there anyway, and maybe try to get into the Kremlin. Naturally, we didn't infiltrate the Kremlin, or even get out of the metro station. The whole center of town was locked down with troops and police, and since the parading was at least a few hours off, we called it a good walk and headed home.

And so, that's about it. I had a relatively uneventful train ride home, although unfortunately it was a good hour longer than it should have been. Plus the police on the train decided to try to get some money out of me by hassling me about my documents. Anyway, as usual, everything was in order and they were trying to convince me that I needed a signed and stamped itinerary of my travel, blah blah, which hasn't been necessary in about 7 years. They invited me to the front of the train for a seat in their little police cabin, and the chief fellow looked over my papers while the two cops kept telling me about all the huge $150 ("roughly, if we calculated it into dollars”) fines for traveling without a damn itinerary. Anyway, their captain turned out to be an all right guy, and he let me go, despite their protestations (but he's an American!) So, thanks Middlebury. It's the second time adequate Russian has saved me from getting robbed by cops!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

back from moscow

oh, how i have been neglecting the ol' blog. i'm back from moscow, and in short, i had a great time. pictures and stories will be up soon, maybe even tonight. (!!!) yeah.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

what's next.

so i really didn't think it was possible. america's voted, and it'll get what it has coming. congratulations.

so here are maybe the few points of consolation that i've managed to scrape together.

4 more years. Well there you go guys, 4 more big ones. Super. The Bush Administration is finally going to have to answer for what it's done. If Kerry had won, we'd still have had a crappy four years ahead of us, and Kerry would have had nothing in particular to differentiate himself from Bush. Kerry would have gone down with Bush's ship - this way, there's no dodging the responsibility. It's a loser's consolation, i know we're losing the supreme court, i know we're losing a lot, but at least we'll have something to keep fighting. And I don't know, I guess I didn't really expect to see Daschle go. Even with the losses in the Congress, I'm holding out hope that the moderate Republicans are going to start breaking with the administration when they see that the all around (and particularly fiscal) policy irresponsibility is not sustainable. Support for all of this is going to fall out soon, and I don't know where it will start. Probably not the nascar dads. But no matter who won the election, there's no getting around the fact that the first four years of Bush were bad ones. Not everyone knows it yet, but it won't take history to vindicate us. I guess more than anything, what's keeping me going is knowing that the Bush administration is going to be on the defensive. They'll have to be. There will be banter of a mandate or whatever for a few weeks, and then what? Triuphantly and stubornly soldiering on?

So that's all that's left. Challenge the vote in Ohio, i guess. It doesn't look real promising. We've got another four years, and if we fight tooth and nail like we fought for the election, we'll get through them somehow. I guess i'm just really bitter, and my friends are waiting to take me out and show me moscow. I'm not going to proofread or regularize my capitalization. Or look for coherency or even relevance. not even going to speel check. I'm going to go get really disengaged from everything around me about a week, and then think about what's next. Good luck to the rest of you.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

off to moscow

i'm heading out for moscow this afternoon, and i should be back in yaroslavl' late sunday. my stomach's in my throat. do the right thing, america. the world's watching.