Sunday, March 27, 2005


the new york times gets a big high five for reminding me that it's spring. clocks set forward, stories about minority christians celebrating easter in far off least three stories about people being kept alive by god's good will and respirators. kind of cuts the theme a little, but i guess it's news.

and even the hole is in a state of revival - last night they had their first party in a month. wish you could have been there flash, it was a good one. you'd think after all the noise problems zhenya and sergei wouldn't choose 11 pm for hammering nails into the concrete. shrug. all the pictures are on zhenya's camera, but they'll probably find their way here at some point.

winter here is in its death throes. we've gotten a lot of snow lately, although it's been relatively warm. spring in yaroslavl is a period of involuntary sport, for the young and old. i've spent my time pretty evenly between swimming and skating as the city melts and refreezes. standing long jump comes in a close second. for some reason the city's drainage systems never really seem to work, and so several key points on my route between home and the university are under water. or under that layer of frozen slush that you might be able to walk across, but you'll only find out for sure once you're in the middle. russia's courteous drivers haven't managed to hit me with any mud yet, but it's not like they're not trying.

the best part is just trying to get around on the sidewalks. a lot of them are just roped off altogether because of the huge snow/ice slides off the roofs. so you're either walking through a foot and a half of snow on the side of the road or trying to keep your balance on the sidewalk while listening for falling snow/ice. i never really thought falling snow or ice would be a real problem, but twice in the past two days i've missed being hit by seconds. and these are soccer-ball sized chunks of ice, once they've broken all over the pavement. (also, while we're on the topic(s), consider this my living will or whatever - i don't want to be kept alive on life support. should i be crushed by ice or anything else falling from the sky.)

and on top of that, you need to watch out for assertive and experienced grandmothers, who like it or not, are getting where they're going much faster than you are.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

old holidays

This past sunday was масленица (maslenitza), which is an old russian holiday that dates back to pagan times. maslenitza is when every woman in russia makes more bliny than all the men in her family can eat. it marks the start of a fast where you're not supposed to eat butter or fat. i think there are other things that must not be eaten, but no one seems too concerned about it. russia has kept maslenitza, like every other holiday it has ever celebrated, and because it falls around easter every year there are a lot of people who seem to think it's actually an orthodox church holiday.

and so maslenitza in reality. in provincial russia. it wasn't quite like that movie with the american in russia and the carnival, the drunk bear, the glasses of vodka, the fire and the dancing napoleon. nonetheless, that description catches the atmosphere. the entire city poured into the central square to eat bliny prepared by the local government officials (they were hoping to get back in touch with the people whose social benefits they just knocked through the floor). sovetskaya ploshad' was packed, and i didn't even try to get in. i agreed to meet poet on the square near my house, and at that very moment a pack of comrades from the hole was passing through, a few of whom had very visibly been celebrating since yesterday evening. we wandered around the city for a good half an hour, trying to find a store that was empty enough to enter. and then we wandered some more. the days are growing longer here.

and then today is saint patricks day. needless to say, not a traditional russian holiday, but if the stereotypes about the irish are worth a damn, i've found their brothers in russia. the ritzy new hotel in yaroslavl has a very expensive, but very nice 'irish pub,' complete with guiness and kilkenny - a natural spot for the occasion. we dropped in last night, and they had boated in irish musicians and were teaching russian girls in vaguely irish costumes to do vaguely irish dances. i guess tonight is probably going to be the real party, but at 7 euros, the pint of guiness is a little out of my league. and since my closest tie to ireland is living not far from boston, i can't really call it my holiday either.

and an amusing thing at my internship today. i don't know if i mentioned my internship yet, but i'm working at the international investment center, which, among other things, is working on a new website. their main aim, as far as i can tell, is saving the world from yaroslavl oblast' out. but the concrete projects are supporting democratic political candidates, attracting and advising foreign investors, and bunches of humanitarian/social projects (banning landmines, women's political activism, children's drawing contests...). And so i'm there about 20 hours a week doing my part with really wonderful people. today the director, olga vladimirovna, brought me a jar of her friend's bees' honey because i've had a bit of a cold this week. and real honey is wonderful.

and then kind of a funny story, which i hope they'll forgive me for sharing. they had a meeting the other day with someone, who dropped into yaroslavl unexpectedly from the american embassy. they were all set and on their way out when they realized they didn't have a business card to give him. andrei ivanovich came in all red-faced and laughing, and explained for about two minutes about how they had this meeting, and they were hoping to give the guy a business card because they'd like to stay in touch with him, etc etc. and so i was sitting and listening to him, and smiling because he was obviously very excited to be meeting this individual, and i was starting to wonder why he was telling me about the meeting with his coat on and olga vladimirovna waiting at the door. and then he asked me if i still had their business card, and whether i wouldn't mind letting them have it back.

it was all the funnier because he was obviously really embarrassed that they hadn't printed new business cards lately (the one i got had a few handwritten corrections and bent corners). so i of course gave them the one i had, and they were all set out the door again, when he came back in and gave it back. he said something about how he'd like me to have it, and that olga vladimirovna would give him her card.

at which point i'm having a really hard time not laughing. but it's that sort of an organization. they work 7 days a week, and 10 hour days. often longer. it has a sort of encyclopedia brown feel, actually. only half the time they won't even take the 25 cents. they just work on everything that comes in front of them, and miraculously seem to get a lot of it done. it's been a great experience for me on a lot of fronts, not least in a personal way. i've been translating a lot of economic and polytechnic things lately. i know how to say non-ferrous metals. i didn't really even remember what they were. just that it sounds irony.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

the weather's whispering

it's still blustery and snowy here, but gradually growing warmer. the sidewalks are more often that thick would-be-slush snow, and huge blocks of ice are falling off rooftops everywhere. a few weeks ago someone parked a small russian car on the sidewalk for a few minutes and came back to find it nearly split down the middle from a snow/ice slide. or that's what they're whispering.

my host mom has been consulting with me lately on which tv-advertised products she should by. this morning she confessed to buying some milkshake sort of thing that is advertised to increase your beauty from inside. the ad features 20 year old girls in tight clothes, kind of prancing around and being really beautiful from the inside. i was reading the already empty carton this morning, until she took it away from me for laughing. among the claims that i had time to read were "the only product designed specifically for women" and "improving your beauty from the inside," but there was a whole list of bullet points i didn't get to. she confessed that it actually just taded like kefir, only with a funny color. and more expensive. and i think she might have hit the head on the nail.

the saddest thing about new markets in russia is that you can actually do that. just rebottle, say, milk, and sell it as a cure for wrinkles or something. and literally millions of pensioners are sitting around their televisions all day admiring the actresses on brazilian soap operas. enter the advertiser. she also wanted to know if some kind of magic wand ion clothes cleaning gadget was worth $100 or some ridiculous sum. it's a lot like that robin williams joke in his live on broadway HBO special....where he's talking about the weight loss thing that you strap to your abs and shocks the fat away....i will shit!

but you can sell it here, and make your million.

and her son and daughter in moscow tell her not to buy these things, and i did at first too. but i'm starting to realize that's not even really the point. except for the hundred dollar ionic laundry wand. i'm sticking to my guns on that one. but there's no real point in arguing against weight loss tea in a diet that sees a few pounds of mayo weekly. and it's kind of nice that she gets hopeful again and again after each new ad and each new...thing.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

or, i don't know

now yahoo news has posted a story about international women's day. the point was that in russia it's not just a little subscript note on your puppies wall calendar.

international womens day

today, march 8th, is international womens day, likely much to your surprise. although the holiday has its roots in america at the turn of the century, it really only gained international momentum after a few of lenin's girlfriends convinced him to make it a national soviet holiday. in as much as those dastardly commies (who, by the way, extended full suffrage to women two years before the united states and most of western europe at the federal level) beat us to making it an official holiday, enthusiasm dropped off in the america.

i don't really know how widely it's celebrated in the rest of the world, but i get the sense that it's more an ex-soviet holiday that an international holiday, if not in formal status, in actuality. this year it fell on a tuesday, which by old russian tradition, mandated making saturday a (nominally) official working day and giving everyone sunday, monday and tuesday off. another old russian tradition mandates not going to work on nominally official working saturdays, so most people here, at least in the provinces (the глубина, as yaroslavl was described to me recently) had a nice four-day weekend.

this blog's recurring theme seems to be that russians are never really short on holidays, and always looking for new ones. they have even started to pick up st. valentines day over the past few years, despite the pissing fury of the russian orthodox church. i wouldn't be surprised to see fireworks in yaroslavl on july 4th either.