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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.