Monday, October 31, 2005

as the russians would say, blyadt!

Okay, so that's a rather strong bit of profanity... but dammit, my Expedia plane ticket is both non-refundable and non-transferable.

dresden dolls

I am so very glad I brought this CD with me. Check out some of the lyrics. I'm not really sure what it means when psychotic punk cabaret fits one's mood, but I'm glad I have it with me. Must go try and cancel a plane ticket. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain

Despite the fact that I may be feeling very much like casting a Certain Someone in a villainous light, the title of this post actually refers to me. No, I do not consider myself to be a villain, but this phrase popped into my head yesterday and simply wouldn't leave my head. Forget that nonsense about how everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. Everything you need to know came from Hamlet, for Shakespeare was a wise man. Yesterday was our Halloween party. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday of the year (with the only exception being those times when my friends and I have gotten together and celebrated the Solstices in our own, weird way), and I have been looking forward to the AH's annual Halloween Party since the moment I was accepted into this program. Unfortunately, I haven't been feeling quite so up to snuff lately. No, it isn't something that I care to air to the masses in the form of a blog post, so let's just say that I haven't been particularly happy. It's as though the ability for me to feel joy has somehow been taken from me in the space of about fifteen seconds. I'm no longer crying, in fact, I'm smiling. I'm doing things that I know in my mind are fun, but in my soul there is nothing. I guess this is a weird post. See, our Halloween party was quite a success. We had costumes and decorations and an absolutely wicked haunted house, which engendered many legitimate screams from our students. I should be glowingly pleased. The pictures from the party are pretty cool. Our costumes were great, and I brought out my fantabulously cool space-alien costume, in which I know I look damn good. But I kept thinking about Hamlet. One may smile and smile and be unhappy. I look at the photos and I can see it in my eyes. The pictures are cool though.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

this was going to be a happy post

It started snowing yesterday. The arrival of snow made all of us extremely happy, and we ran around playing in it and taking photos. Yesterday was a happy day. Today is not, but hell if I am going to talk about it here. Let's just say that the one vestige of faith I had in the goodness of humanity has been destroyed. Oh well. Yesterday was happy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

First Snow!

As I type, we're having the first "snow" of the season. I put that in quotes, as it's just a light, moist snow that turns to slush as soon as it hits the ground. I'll start photographing as soon as it starts sticking. I expect that should be any day now. Sadly, at this point the temperature has fallen below "fall coat" weather, so the beautiful green coat (a Kristy, if any of you are interested, not that it's a great website or anything) has been relegated to the closet after only two days of wear. (I would like to add that all of my factory students loved the coat, and when they learned that I had purchased it in Vladimir, they were very surprised and they all wanted to know where I had gotten it!) Anyhow, we seem to have entered the season of the crazy blue coat from Nina M. If only it were full length... It's remarkably toasty inside that thing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Absolutely Wicked.

My apologies. This post has nothing to do with Russia, other than that I am in Russia as I write it. Last Thursday I received a package from a friend, containing (among other things) a copy of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. I started it Friday night, and finished it Sunday evening. Over four-hundred pages, and they just flew by. This book was incredible, and I now count it among one of my favorites.

I had never heard of this book before Thursday, although somewhere in the back of my mind lurked the knowledge that there was some sort of Broadway musical by that name (apparently based on the novel, surprise, surprise). When I pulled it out of the package, B and K were watching intently. The receipt of packages at the AH is definitely a communal affair. Is there something in there that can be shared? Oooh, candy. Mmmm, macaroni and cheese. Aha - a book. We can read it when she's done with it. K was disappointed to discover that the book in my package was Wicked. She immediately told me that she had read it and had disliked it thoroughly. She said her boyfriend, with whom she shares tastes in literature, hadn't even finished the thing. But she also mentioned that Wicked seems to be the sort of book that people either love or hate, and perhaps I would love it. Later that day, when I looked up Wicked in so that I could link to it over here, I scrolled down and took a peep at the customer reviews. K was right; the book seemed to either score 1 star or 5 stars, love or hate.

When I was young I read all of L. Frank Baum's Oz books (or at least I think I read all of them; I read all that I could get my hands on). Yes, in case you don't know, there's more to the story of Oz than the tale of Dorothy and the Wizard. It has been ages and ages since I've read an Oz book, and my memories are vague, but they're there: images of the Nome King, tales of Ozma, the workings of Tiktok, and of course the classic tale of Dorothy and the Wizard that everyone knows thanks to the wonders of Technicolor. Maguire is definitely a connoisseur of Oz, and the culture thereof that he creates is deftly interwoven with the Oz of Baum. I would like to reread Baum's works in conjunction with Wicked, simply because I am certain there's a lot more reference to Baum than I was able to pick up on.

A simplistic summary of Wicked can be found within its title, for it truly is the tale of the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West. When you read (or watch) The Wizard of Oz, the WWOTW is the archetype of evil, there solely to thwart the innocent heroine Dorothy. The reader/viewer never really thinks about *why* the WWOTW is so evil, she just is, and evil has to be fought, resisted, destroyed. But Elfaba, the WWOTW of Wicked is far from evil. She's, well, a green-skinned human... and we humans all have the capacity for good and for evil. She defies rules and regulations, attempts to commit murder, joins a secretive terrorist cell in a plot to overthrow the government, practices witchcraft, and commits adultery. But she's also a champion of the rights of minorities, she fights to defend her friends and family, she works for seven years in a religious hospital, she goes above and beyond to atone for her sins, and she attempts to befriend the one person who has been sent to kill her. This passage, taken from roughly the middle of the book, makes for a nice summary of the point it seems Maguire is trying to make:

"Surely there is a handful of nursery marchen that start, 'Once in the middle of a forest lived an old witch' or 'The Devil was out walking one day and met a child,'" said Oatsie, showing that she had some education as well as grit. "To the grim poor there need be no pour quoi tale about where evil arises; it just arises; it always is. One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her - is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions."

Now let's look at this love-it-or-hate-it dichotomy. Obviously, I love it, but I can understand why there are people who avidly dislike it. For starters, it's a fantasy novel. True, it's an educated, allegorical fantasy, geared towards an adult readership, but many people simply do not do well with fantasy stories. These are people require a "real world" setting in order for a tale to be believable. As my favorite books include The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Mists of Avalon and The Master and Margarita, I've already firmly established myself in the fantasy camp, and thereby am somewhat predisposed to like this novel. Then there's the sex and religion. Yes, the book has sex scenes. They are not particularly graphic, but they are frank. There's also a bit of discussion about genitalia. There's a lot (a *lot*) of discussion about religion(s) - and of course these religions are Oz religions, not Christianity, although the religion of Elfaba's father definitely contains some similarities to the Christian faith. Essentially, I see this book turning off a lot of closed-minded Christian conservatives. And lastly, there's the terrorism factor. Wicked was published in 1995, long before September 11th, Bush Jr administration, or its need to refer to people/entities/countries as "evil." As mentioned above, Elfaba joins a secretive terrorist cell in a plot to overthrow the government of Oz (yes, the Wizard). I remember numerous discussions in PolySci classes back in college about how and why some groups are classified as "terrorists" while others are considered "freedom fighters." If you support the actions of the group, you consider them to be brave heroes, while if they are targeting you and or the people/society which you hold dear, then they are the Enemy and they are Evil. I can see how this segment of the book could be a turn-off to certain readers (quite possibly the same group turned off by the sex and religion talk...).

I haven't yet decided how I feel about the sequel to Wicked, Son of a Witch, which came out this month. For one thing, I can't remember if there's anything in Baum's Oz lore pertaining to progeny of the WWOTW. I'm not sure why that's important to me, but for some reason it is. Then I worry about the inevitable disappointment of sequels: think about Star Wars or The Matrix, where they really should have just left well enough alone. However, I flew through this book in little over two days, and would have gladly continued reading had the story not been so inconsiderate as to end. So we shall see.

"People always did like to talk, didn't they? That's why I call myself a witch now: The Wicked Witch of the West, if you want the full glory of it. As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it? It liberates you from convention."

Green on, Elphie!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Russian women in politics and business

"Russian political elite is made up of men, said Yekaterina Lakhova, chairperson of the parliamentary committee for the affairs of women, family and youth, on October 7 at the international conference entitled "Women and Democracy." Women hold 56% of state and 70% of municipal posts, but the higher the decision-making level, the fewer women are involved, added Lakhova, who also heads the Women of Russia movement. Out of 450 deputies in the parliament's lower chamber, only 44 are women. In the 180-member Federation Council, the upper chamber, there are only nine women. The only female governor is Valentina Matviyenko in St. Petersburg, the former deputy prime minister for social issues and ambassador to Malta and Greece. This statistics prompt feminists to speak of a patriarchal political culture in Russia. They lament that women are responsible only for a limited range of issues, such as family, healthcare, maternity and child welfare, and education. Is this sufficient for a country where women comprise more than half the population, and where 30% of women earn more than their husbands?"

Lime Green Splurge

Splurging is not in my nature, nor is going out and spending the bulk of a month's salary on a fall/spring coat right as the temperatures are about to take a dive into winteriness. But, when I accidentally stumbled into the perfect coat (yes, the perfect Anie coat is lime green), I couldn't help myself. When I tried the thing on and it fit, there was no turning back. I may have even been hopping up and down, cackling with glee. But I’m weird like that. Let's just say I'm doing my part to support the Russian economy. And when I return to the milder winters of the United States, I can and will wear this thing every year for the rest of my life. Yes, B, J, and I went shopping this morning. We went to a big indoor market-type-place (if it'd been a true Russian market, we could've haggled over prices, but the quality of the goods would've been poorer). I was not looking for a coat, as I already had two fall/spring coats, plus the crazy winter coat Nina M gave me. I was on a quest for some winter boots. Needless to say, I failed in my quest, and will be suffering from cold toes until I can save up enough dough to shell out for some knee-high, pointy-toed, spike-heeled, fur-lined, Russian winter boots. Sorry for the absolutely pointless consumer-post.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Nina M is a wise woman

Last night on television there was a Russian-produced documentary on the lives of Russian "mail order brides" in the United States. I missed the first part of the program (being in my room, sewing buttons on that crazy coat Nina M gave me), but I saw about 3/4 of it. I was surprised at how many different points of view were shown (often such Russian shows tend to be heavily biased, either wholly for or wholly against something). The show mentioned success stories, mediocre marriages, and the case of Anastasia Solovieva King (about which I have written before), who was murdered by her American husband whom she met via the internet. After the show, Nina M and I sat and talked about what we had just seen, and she had some very interesting and rather conflicting opinions on the subject.

She talked about her life, how when she was young and in college (back in the days of the USSR), she knew that when she graduated, she would have a job. Period. This was never something she ever doubted or questioned. She knew that she would be working as a German teacher in Vladimir several months before she earned her degree; she did not have to worry about finding work. She said that even though her salary was small, it was enough to live on and it was enough to purchase everything she needed and to have a nice, decent life. Nowadays, when Russian students graduate from college, they have a very, very difficult time finding work, and many end up in unskilled, low-paying jobs, such as trolleybus conductor (person who collects the money from passengers). Due to inflation, it is next to impossible to survive on such low-paying jobs, much less live well. She said that she cannot blame young women, with all of their lives ahead of them, for looking to other countries for opportunities to live well. She completely understood their motives; however, she said that when these women leave behind their friends, family members, and their culture, they should not be surprised if they are unhappy in their new lives.

One of the women interviewed on the program was still with her American husband, but was unhappy. She seemed thoroughly disillusioned that her "wealthy American husband" lived in a dirty, low-quality trailer. Nina M said that many, many Russians are convinced that all Americans are wealthy and that life is easy and happy for all Americans. (I too have heard this from many Russians.) We discussed some of the problems in the US - like the fact that many Americans do live in such poor-quality mobile homes, or in public housing, and that many Americans also have a hard time finding work. (I told her about the deer job. You know, the six months I spent ripping jaw bones out of dead deer for minimum wage. Glamorous.) I completely understand that life in Russia is a lot harder on average, although the point wasn't to say that our problems were equal, but that all countries everywhere have problems. Nina M went on for a good while about the importance of realizing that societies everywhere suffer from different ailments, and that anyone who travels to another country thinking that life there will be perfect is simply foolish.

There is simply no way that any sane, rational person can view the story of Anastasia King without revulsion. I had read of her murder (which led to the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, which has yet to be passed by congress), although watching the segment on it last night was simply horrifying. Aside from the creepy fact that the beautiful young Russian woman had married an overweight, unattractive fellow who was at least twice her age, he made all of these creepy videos of her (which were shown on the program), including sections where he was forcing her to kiss him in front of the camera, obviously against her will. Both Nina M and I were in shock after watching the footage and the tale of her murder (Russian TV tends to be a bit more graphic than American TV).

Anastasia was King's second "mail order bride" - his first had left him and filed a restraining order against him. Before coming to the US, any criminal history Anastasia might have had would have, by law, been told to King; however, King's criminal history was not revealed to Anastasia, because there is no law requiring that such information be passed on to potential spouses. The IMBRA would change that, although its passage seems unlikely. Nina M seemed to think that it was only fair that if the Russian is required to undergo a background check, the American do the same. She did not seem to see why anyone other than a criminal would oppose such a law.

As I said, the show was fairly well rounded, and they interviewed a couple (young Russian wife, middle-aged American man) who were happily married. The man (the author of a book entitled To Russia For Love, which is not listed at made a point of saying that if you marry a Russian woman, you have to realize that she is from a very different and very rich culture, and that it is important to understand and appreciate her culture and to incorporate parts of her culture into your life. Nina M seemed to think that such marriages were rare, although she reiterated her comment that given the current situation in Russia, even an unhappy marriage abroad might be preferable to life here, happy marriage or no.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ground Control to Major Tom

So David Bowie works really well in class. I used Space Oddity, two classes in a row (we did half the first day, and then finished the song out on day two), and the students really enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend this to other ESL teachers out there. As you know, my groups are all lower-level, so I had to translate a lot of the words for them, but the song tells a story that is easy to understand. Additionally, the slow tempo of the song and the clearness of Bowie's voice helped with comprehension. On the first day, after we had listened to and read through the lyrics, I asked them, "So what is Major Tom? What does he do?" and both classes immediately said "cosmonaut" without a second of hesitation. Usually they have to spend time pondering basic meanings. I like songs that work clearly. Of course, when I asked them what "cosmonaut" was in English, both classes told me "spaceman." I found that interesting... As a kid growing up during the latter years of the cold war, I knew that we (the US) had astronauts and they (the USSR) had cosmonauts. I thought everyone (in the US, at least) knew that. Or maybe it's just those geeky ones of us who had an over-dorkified interest in spaceflight. Anyhow, none of my students, neither the post-soviet generation nor the soviet/perestroika generation knew the word astronaut. I don't know about you, but I found that interesting. On the second day, several of my students seemed genuinely disturbed by the ending of the song, and we talked about different reasons why it might have ended the way it did. Definite recommendation!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Russian Bookworm

I finally finished reading Anne Applebaum's Gulag, and I must say that it is one of the best - if not the best - nonfiction work I have ever read. It is certainly the best nonfiction book concerning Russia that I have read. I recommend this book to everyone. It is fascinating, incredibly detailed and well-researched, and it is well written. If you think that you already know a lot about the Russian Gulag system, and therefore don't need to read this work, I'd advise you to think again. I studied Russian history and politics in college, and I certainly knew more about the Gulag system than the average American; however, what I knew would not have filled half of a chapter of this book. Everyone should read it. Everyone. I had meant to write something about this book: what I had learned, what opinions I had formed, what quotes I felt were poignant enough to repeat, but I simply cannot. Anything I could say would merely serve to lessen the impact of Applebaum's text. Buy it, go to the library and borrow it, something, but read this book.

Moving on, but still on the topic of books: Now that I've finished with the Gulag, it seems that I've exhausted the AH Library's supply of Russian-history books. (It's chock full of books about the US to benefit the Russians, but that's not really what I'm after here.) I snagged two escapist thrillers from the library - a Sue Grafton and a Robert Ludlum - but while they'll entertain me, they won't really hold my attention for an extended period, nor will I learn much of anything from them. So if any of you feel, for some reason, like sending me a book off of my wishlist, I would be most ever grateful. Okay, so I don't actually expect anyone to send me anything, but it's worth a shot, right? But in all seriousness, if any of you have any suggestions as to Russia/USSR/Eastern Europe books that you think I might find interesting, please drop me a line and let me know.

And speaking of books, I haven't done too much with the one I'm writing since coming over here; it's hard to get into the mind of a sixteen year old north Florida country girl from a Soviet-era apartment in provincial Russia. However, I have started translating it into Russian as part of my Russian class. Let's just say that's easier said than done. I've managed to translate what amounts to less than one full page (single spaced) of a tale that is, in English, currently hovering right around fifty pages. Today I got to play Stump the Russian Teacher. Any of you ever tried explaining the concept of a Band Geek to a Russian? Well, you should try it some time. It's definitely an experience.

And now for something totally unrelated: Tonight, after leaving the factory, I rode home on the trolleybus, seated next to one of my students. We were talking about the weather (what else? Russians *love* to talk about the weather), and she asked me if I thought it was cold. I told her that it is as cold as a north Florida winter right now, and then I moved on to explain how unnerving it was to fly out of Florida in February and land in St. Petersburg in February, which is obviously vastly different, climate-wise. She laughed and said, "Here in Russia we say, in St. Petersburg, they haven't winter. It is much colder here in Vladimir." Maybe Nina M. was right in giving me that coat after all.

Monday, October 17, 2005

the mundanities of life

I have received several comments from my readers about how beautiful Russia seems to be. On one hand, I certainly do not want to disabuse anyone of the notion that Russia is a beautiful country, for it has many incredible works of architecture, and some exceptional scenery, and many things/places are indeed beautiful. But I must admit that for the most part I have only posted pictures of attractive places and things. Part of this is personal vanity; it is easier to take attractive photographs of an attractive subject. Aesthetically pleasing images of things that in general are not all that aesthetically pleasing are a little tougher to produce. But, in the interest of presenting an accurate view of Russia, I have decided to start photographing more of the mundane aspects of life in Vladimir.

I did not actually do very much over the course of my weekend (see yesterday's post), mainly due to a combination of cold, rainy weather and three midterm exams which needed to be written. But on my way home late yesterday afternoon, as the low, grey sky spit occasional droplets onto my face, I decided that it was as good a time as any to begin photo-recording the more depressed aspects of life in Russia. I stopped first at the Church of the Archangel Michael (in the Soviet era it had been converted into the Museum of Clocks and Time, although it yet again serves as a functioning Orthodox church), and took some shots, mainly because I hadn't yet taken a decent photograph of the place, despite the fact that I pass by it at least twice a day.

Realizing that continuing to photograph Orthodox churches was not really my goal of the day, I decided to take a slightly different route home than usual (following Ulitsa Razina instead of Prospekt Lenina), which at the very least produced different scenery. (I was going to say "more interesting scenery," but then I realized that would not really have been correct in the least.) Ulitsa Razina was lined, for the most part, by the boring, brick apartment buildings which are so common in this country. I took a few pictures. If my goal was mundanity, I had found it. (Hmmm. Spell check doesn't seem to think "mundanity" qualifies as a word. Well I like it and it stays.)

I also passed what was obviously a factory of some sort, surrounded by a high concrete fence lined with razor-wire. I didn't take any pictures, as they don't so much like their factories to be photographed, and I'm hoping to go the full year without any overzealous militsia representative confiscating my camera. I do wish I had photographed it though, because I found a sign by its main gate, identifying it as the Vladimir Macaroni Plant. Razor-wire? Who are you trying to keep out? You make freakin' pasta!!

When I was about a block from my house (Razina parallels Lenina one block to the south), I did find something photogenic. It was one of those old, wooden, Russian homes that I love so much, yet it had a gaping hole in its roof. As I photographed it from a distance, I assumed it to be abandoned, but when I got close to take some shots of the carved wood trimming, I could see various objects on the windowsills: a plastic flower, a bottle of shampoo. I was too chicken to get close enough to actually peer in through the windows. Were these objects left behind when the home was abandoned, or do people actually live there? I do not know.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A long walk

This morning I got up early, for the purpose of being the first to the communal washing machine at the AH. By the time my wash was dry (a little after noon, as our dryer is decidedly slow), the day had somehow turned into yet another stunningly gorgeous day. It's weird; every time I think that certainly the last days of beautiful warm weather are over, Mother Nature slips in yet another surprise for us. I went back to my apartment, dropped off my laundry, and took the trolleybus back into the center of town to begin yet another afternoon of exploration and photography.

I disembarked from the trolley at the Golden Gates / Theater Square bus stop, and decided to explore the center from just north of the main street, Bolshaya Moscovskaya. I've been up and down the south side numerous times (after all, the bus lets one off on that side, and the AH is located on that side... I haven't had much of a need to go north).

Directly across from Theater Square, on the northern side of Bolshaya Moscovskaya is some sort of bizarre sculpture park, featuring various strange modern-art sculptures in various stages of decay. I found them quite unusual, as well as unlabeled. There was nothing to give me any sort of hint as to who made these sculptures or why they were there. But, I photographed them and went on my way.

I took Oktyabrskii Prospekt north one block, then began to head east along Nikolskaya Ulitsa, which runs parallel to Bolshaya Moskovskaya. After about three blocks, I came upon a small park on my left, containing at its center a giant bust of the Russian writer Gogol. Of course, I only knew that it was Gogol because I recognized him from other photographs and busts which I have seen; this bust, like the modern-art sculptures, was not labeled in the slightest.

From behind Gogol, I could make out the shape of an old church, so I cut through the park and came out on Knyaginskaya Ulitsa. In front of me stood yet another old Russian church. This one was (unusually) painted a nice green color (you know how I'm somewhat partial to the color green...), although like many of the old churches in this city, it has fallen into disrepair. [I checked my map upon returning home. It's labeled the Nikitskaya Church, and it was built in 1762. The map says that this building is currently an "administrative building." I should probably note that my map was published in 1999, so who knows if it is still operating as such...]

As I was taking my pictures, I was approached by an elderly babushka, who asked me if I knew anything about this church. I answered "no" and she told me that it used to be part of the women's monastery. [In Russian, instead of using the words "convent" and "monastery," they simply say "monastery" and "women's monastery."] Had I been to the monastery? No? Well, it's a block that way, on your left. I thanked her. It is so unusual for strangers to stop you on the street and be so helpful. I kind of wondered if I looked as though I might be in need of a women's monastery. Anyhow, I took Knyaginskaya Ulitsa a block to the east, and there on my left was what was obviously a monastery. However, as most monasteries over here tend to be, it was walled off from the general public. There was a small, open entrance for pedestrians, although as there were some nuns milling about near the gateway, I didn't think I should go sticking my head (and camera) in through the door. Instead I decided to find a back way in. I found a small, unlabeled street, lined with houses built in the same old-school style of pre-Soviet wooden architecture as those I photographed last week, which wound back behind the monastery. The back side of the monastery, like the front, was fenced off from the general populace; however, instead of a high brick wall, the back was sealed off by means of a wrought-iron fence. Photographs can be taken through wrought-iron fences. After snapping several shots (from behind the monastery, it was easy to see its proximity to the Nikitskaya Church; it was obvious that they had once been part of the same complex), I retraced my steps back to Knyaginskaya and continued east. [Upon consulting with my map, I learned that the Knyagina Monastery was established in the 13th century!]

Knyaginskaya turned into Manezhnyi, which turned into Volodarskovo, before ending at an intersection with Kremlevskaya. The entire Manezhni-Volodarskovo-Kremlevskaya area was filled with old wooden homes. The streets were narrow, traffic was virtually nonexistent, and even though I was still in the center of town, I felt as though I were out in the country. I took Kremlevskaya a block north, and then noticed the spires of yet another old Russian church off to my right. So, I began to head back west, this time following Podbelskovo Ulitsa. After only one block, I found my quarry at the corner of Podbelskovo and Muzeinaya: another seemingly abandoned Russian church. [According to my map, it's the Svyato-Troitskaya (Holy Trinity) Church, built in 1740. The map also says that it is currently an operational Orthodox church, although it looked to me to be disused.]

After photographing the Svyato-Troitskaya, I continued south on Muzeinaya, and came out on Bolshaya Moscovskaya, where I turned east. I walked an incredibly long way down Bolshaya Moscovskaya (which later turned into Bolshaya Nizhegorodskaya), until I came close to the city limits. There wasn't much to see along the north side of the street. (I didn't explore any further side streets at this point; I just strolled along Bolshaya Moscovskaya/Nizhegorodshaya.) I decided to turn around when I came to the giant factory, VLADALCO. Yep, that's the Vladimir Alcohol factory.

My trip back west, along the south side of Bolshaya Moscovskaya/Nizhegorodshaya was substantially more interesting. I found several older buildings with interesting archways to photograph (I love archways), and I found a rather embellished version of the OFR graffiti that litters this city, which I photographed as well.

Further to the west, I encountered my best find of the day. Behind a run-down office building, marked with little more than a tiny metal plaque, was the Bogoroditskaya-Uspensky Church, now the Uspensky Church for Russian Orthodox Old Believers [which according to my map was built in 1644]. I have mentioned before how absolutely astonishing it is that when tourists come to Vladimir they are directed to the Cathedral of St. Dmitry, the Uspensky Cathedral and the Golden Gates, and virtually nothing else. Again, I realize that those three monuments to Russian architecture pre-date the Old Believer's church by about 500 years, but nonetheless, the architecture of this building was incredible! Despite the fact that its exterior has not been well-maintained, it was still stunning to look at, and to photograph. Why don't they promote this as an asset to the city? Perhaps the capitalist in me is showing. Anyhow, as I said, this church was hidden behind a run-down office building, and you can only reach it by going through a rather sketchy looking alley. As I neared the building I heard laughter and singing. I encountered a group of Old Believers celebrating something in front of the church. The women especially were easily distinguished from the average Russian, as they were all dressed modestly, with scarves over their heads, long skirts and loose, concealing blouses. As soon as they noticed me, the boisterous festivities paused, as they all turned to look warily at me. However, once they realized that I was obviously just there to photograph the architecture, they resumed where they had left off. I wonder if the Old Believers are still persecuted? [For those of you who don't know: A couple centuries or so ago (sorry, they date eludes me), Russian political and religious leaders decided that the Russian Orthodox church had evolved away from the Byzantine Orthodox church in several ways (not being a religious historian, I'm afraid I'm rather lacking in the details here), and decided to reform the church to bring it back in line with the Byzantine church. Most Russians went along with the changes, although there were those who did not. They were given the name "Old Believers" and many were exiled and/or otherwise persecuted.] 

After photographing the Old Believer's church, I decided that my legs were tired and it was time to go home. Now, we get to go back in time a bit, so that I can relate the other rather bizarre occurrence of my day. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I returned home after doing my laundry, so as not to be exploring the city with a gargantuan backpack containing most of my clothes. When I had left for the AH in the morning, it had been cold, but while my laundry was laundering, the weather had transformed. As I trekked home in my coat, I was sweltering. Upon arriving in my apartment, I immediately stripped off not only the coat, but my sweater, leaving me wearing just a t-shirt. I suppose now would be a good time to mention the heating system. Most Russian apartments are equipped with giant radiators in each room. These radiators do not have any knobs or switches attached to them; one cannot control the output of one's radiator. These radiators are ALL connected to a government operated water heating system, which at some point each year decides to turn on the heat. The heat has been on for about two weeks now. And it is really, really hot. While I expect that I will be very glad of this heat come the Russian Winter, as it is, I feel as though I live in an oven. So, after stripping down to my t-shirt, I opened the window in my room. Well, Nina M wasn't too pleased. She had the balcony door open - now we were having a skvoznyak, or cross-breeze! Oh no! I, for one, am all for cross-ventilation; however, Russians seem to be categorically opposed to such things. Nina M. closed the balcony door. She said the skvoznyak was going to make me get sick again. So much for my ventilation. Anyhow, a few minutes later, she came back into my room and asked me if I had anything warm. Now, that's an ambiguous question if ever I heard one. Did she mean anything warm to put on then, as I was only in my t-shirt? Did she mean anything warm to wear when I went outside, where even though the weather was beautiful, it was not t-shirt weather? Did she mean anything warm in general? I may have stuttered at her something along the lines of, "Uhh… anything warm?" She came back with an odd looking coat. Apparently, someone had given it to someone, who didn't need a coat. That person had given it to Nina M. to give to her granddaughter, whom it didn't fit, so she figured she would give it to me because, I didn't "have anything warm." I pointed to the full length wool coat in my closet, the one I wore all Russian winter back in 2000. Nope, not warm enough to satisfy Nina M. So, I got the coat. (The buttons are all in a baggie in the pocket, so I suppose I should sew them on.) It's an odd coat. It is definitely thicker than my wool coat, and thereby perhaps it is warmer. And it has a hood. But it is not exactly the color or pattern I would have chosen. But hey, free warm coat: Woohoo!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Strange Day

Today has been quite a strange day. Wednesdays are not normally very busy. We have a teachers' meeting at 1:00, which usually lasts about an hour, and I have office hours from 5:00-6:30. Other than that, no responsibilities. I started my day by sleeping in a little late and then going to the post office. The staff at the post office are usually so absurdly unhelpful as to be humorous.

(The last time I went to the post office, I wanted to mail two postcards. I went to a different post office than the ones I'd been to in the past, so I didn't know which line to stand in. So I asked the woman behind the counter: "Excuse me," I said, holding out my two postcards, "Where can I mail these postcards?" The woman sighed audibly and replied, "In the mail box." Okay, so I asked the wrong question. Let's try again: "Where can I buy stamps for these postcards?" Again the audible sigh. "At the cash register." Um, yeah. "Which cash register?" "This one." The woman continued doing whatever it was that she was doing - which, I might add, was not helping me - and after about five minutes of ignoring me, called out to one of her coworkers, "This girl wants to mail some postcards." Eventually the other woman helped me, although she too was full of audible sighs.)

Today I wanted to mail a package. I had been told that one post office in particular was the place to go for mailing packages. I don't know if this is the international-package-mailing-post-office, or if it's just easiest to mail them from this spot. (I've been to this PO before as well. Last time I was there I had to wait about 10-15 minutes because the staff was having tea. Lovely.) Anyhow, the woman in the PO was astonishingly helpful. I had two post cards in addition to my small package, and when I handed them to her and said that I wanted to mail them to the US, she (for some reason) assumed that I meant all together in one package, and immediately began to bundle them together in brown paper. Not to worry, I quickly pointed out that they were going to different places, and she laughed (laughed!!), and put stamps on the postcards before weighing the package. She even filled out my customs form for me. (I had been told I'd have to do this myself.) I was pretty impressed. Maybe there's hope yet.

Then I went to the AH. During the teachers' meeting, we all received a bar of Babaevsky Chocolate as gifts from Galya, because today was International Teachers' Day. (I don't know if this day is celebrated outside of Russia, or if it is one of those holidays created during the Soviet era to honor workers.) Anyhow, Babaevsky cholcolate is incredible. It's the nearest to ambrosia of anything I have ever tasted. Who needs any lame American brands of chocolate when you can have Babaevsky? Mmmm. Go on, buy my love with chocolate bars, and I'll be fine.

After the teachers' meeting, a group of Americans came to the AH. They were tourists, part of a two-week tour of Russia arranged by Serendipity-Russia (parent company of the AH), as part of their tourism development project. The Americans received the grand tour of the AH and then we gathered in one of the classrooms for about half an hour, chatting. (Where were we from, why did we decide to teach at the AH, etc.) Then we all adjourned to the basement for a balalaika concert. The balalaika (for those of you who don't know) is a traditional Russian instrument, which looks somewhat like what you'd get from mating a guitar with a banjo. It can be played in a manner similar to classical guitar, although it would be just as much at home in the hills playing folk music. Unfortunately I do not recall the balalaika player's name. Anyhow, he was incredible. His performance was beautiful and energetic, and he was very animated. I could not stop staring at his fingers as they flew across the strings at an unbelievable speed. He played classical arrangements, folk songs and modern tunes, and it was all wonderful. The balalaika has such a warm sound. (I meant to buy one of his CDs after the show, but he was swarmed by the American tourists, who purchased all of the CDs he'd brought with him. I will probably have to opportunity to hear him again and to buy a CD.) I was a tad distracted by the fact that he looked like an odd hybrid of Commander Data and a friend from back home, but I suppose that's a rather pointless comment to make. I took some pictures of him, although they look so wooden compared to how animated he was in real life. I very much enjoyed the show, as did the Americans.

Following the concert, we all had tea (and cookies and candies and cakes and pirogi), and socialized, not just with one another, but with the Russian students and local officials who had come to the affair. I knew some of the students already, and met a few whom I had not met previously, which was nice. I also learned that one of the tourists was the former mayor of Springfield, IL, and that she is part of the Serendipity-Russia Tourism Development Project. I talked a little with her regarding the development of websites for the region, and was passed along to a Russian Vladimir City Administrator. I talked to him and his assistant for a while about websites, and gave them all my contact info (and my puny web design portfolio), and soon I will probably get to do some web design work for the city of Vladimir (most likely for free, but still...). Cool!

After everyone left, I decided to head home. As I was crossing Theater Square, a young woman looked at me and said "Hello." Not "stravstvuite" not "privet" but a good old English "hello." Hmmmm. I had no recollection of ever seeing her before. She looked like a Russian, so I figured that asking her if she was a student at the AH was a safe bet. I was right. She told me that she had been to my presentation on my road trip, and that she had found it very, very interesting. She also told me that she would definitely come if I gave another presentation. At the AH, each teacher gives one presentation during the year, averaging out at about one per month or so. I explained that I probably wouldn't be giving another presentation. She said that was too bad, because she had enjoyed it so much, she would love to see another. That was a nice morale boost.

When I came home, as soon as Nina M opened the door, I could smell alcohol in the air. (Keep in mind this woman is in her upper sixties if not lower seventies.) I could hear many boisterous female voices emanating from the living room. Nina M., who had obviously been imbibing, invited me to join them. I entered the living room, where a table had been erected and covered with fruit, candy, cake, cookies, booze and tea. The table was surrounded by five other women, all probably around 10 years younger than Nina M., who were all in various stages of encroaching babushka-ness. They were also all in various stages of intoxication. Luckily, most of the booze had already been consumed by the time I got there, and they were only able to foist one small glass of wine on me. Apparently, in honor of International Teachers Day, a gathering of Nina M.'s former students (she was a German teacher) had assembled. They were all obviously very good friends, and they loved to talk. I sat at the table and picked at the food (they were all convinced that for some reason I was embarrassed to eat in front of them, but the fact was, I had already had a good bit to eat at the AH) and listened to their conversation for about an hour. At times it was pretty hard to follow, but I think this was because a lot of the time they reminisced and laughed at inside jokes; I could understand most of the words but without any idea of the context, I couldn't really follow the conversation. They spent a good bit of time discussing people they knew who had died, or who had fallen ill, which of the group had been in the hospital and why... and then moved on to the topic of politics. There is an election here in Vladimir in about a week for various local government positions. I have no idea who is running, what their views are or even what positions they are seeking. However, now I do know that none of these women have a high opinion of any of the candidates. A while later, someone brought up the topic of Beslan, and this, oddly enough, led into a rather heated discussion about resurrection. Apparently there is some jackass ("jackass" is my personal opinion of this chap) who claims to be able to resurrect the children massacred in Beslan last year, who has been taking money from the grief stricken families in exchange for this service. According to one woman, the man was able to communicate with the dead children and ask them if they wanted to be resurrected, but they said that they were in heaven and did not want to return. According to another, the man can resurrect the children, but with "different skin and in a different place." Yeah, I can do that too. Others thought the whole thing was total nonsense and that the man was indeed a jackass. I decided it was time to leave and do my Russian homework. I retreated into my room; the party continued late into the evening.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Of Koshki and Jimmy Eat World

Today in two of my classes we listened to Jimmy Eat World’s Praise Chorus. I was teaching "going to" and that song is full of "gonna" this and "gonna" that. No, don't worry; I did not teach them that "gonna" was proper speech. I told them that it was slang for "going to" and that if they ever listen to Americans talking, they'll hear "gonna" a lot. (Likewise I explained "gotta" "wanna" and "whatcha.") And I got to show them my remarkably dorky pictures from the time I met Jimmy Eat World. It was in the spring of 1999, shortly before the release of their first major label record. I was in college, and I helped out at WUTS, the campus radio station. WUTS got Jimmy Eat World to come and play at our small music festival (WUTSfest), right before they became "famous" and out of the WUTS price range. They stayed in my house (home to several WUTS staffers) after the show, and we all had a really great time. At some point during the evening, we managed to convince the bass player to put one of the Koshki on his head. I wrote about the Koshki a while back, in particular the one my friend lost on the train to St. Petersburg in the summer of 1999. I showed my pictures to the class with Ludmila, the girl I hypothesized might be the Keeper of the Koshka. While she (like the other students) found the picture amusing, she did not make any comment about the Koshka. Now, if you had some random contact with a group of strange Americans with Koshki (which for some reason they liked to place on their heads...), and one of them gave you said Koshka, wouldn't you comment on this upon seeing the photo? Well she didn't. I'm guessing she's not THAT Ludmila after all.

I got pinned!

One of my students (in the class that gave me flowers for my birthday) is a pilot. Today he gave me an Aeroflot pin. I told him all about Aeroflot and my suitcase. According to him, they're supposed to deliver the suitcase to me once it's found. Of course, this is Russia, so "supposed to" doesn't really mean what it does back home. The pin is pretty cool though.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A picnic "in nature"

Three of M's students (Andrei, Igor and Constantine) invited him, and any of the rest of us who were interested, to go into the country for a picnic on Sunday. The weather was still so unbelievably wonderful, that I had to accept the invitation. So, M, G, J and I embarked on a little journey with some Russians. They arrived at the AH at about 10:30am and told us that they had vodka, wine and beer, and that we needed to go to the grocery store to buy vegetables and anything else we might like to drink. Of course, they were very disappointed when we tried to purchase only non-alcoholic beverages, and managed to convince us to buy a liter of beer too. You know, just in case a car full of booze isn't enough for seven people, one of whom is 100lb, low-tolerance me. Igor and Constantine had cars, so we loaded up and headed westward out of the city, we drove about half an hour, and then turned off the road and started down an unkempt dirt track (more like a couple of ruts) through some woods-n-fields. I should mention that they were driving in typical Russian fashion (definitely white knuckle; enough to make you wish the car had seatbelts), and they continued this racecar technique as we bounced across some fields and "into nature" as the Russians say. (My mother would have been proud of them, actually. She is always off-roading in her station wagon. Bouncing along through the wilderness in the Russian car reminded me of several off-road trips I’ve taken with my mom. Hmmm. Suddenly I'm worried about how my poor Echo is faring in her care...) We drove parallel to a small river called the Koloksha for some ways before they found the "perfect spot" for our picnic: a tiny little clearing in the woods just above the shore of the Koloksha. (The Koloksha is a tributary of the Klyazma, the river upon the shores of which Vladimir sits.) This was not the most spectacular of spots by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the Koloksha was rather unremarkable, and the woods surrounding it were just, well, woods. But it was nice to be out "in nature." The Russians said people go into the countryside for the fresh air and to be able to have fun somewhere without having to worry about cops. Great. We unpacked the cars and immediately set up camp, as it were. They set up a small metal grill, unloaded some firewood, inflated a mattress, spread some blankets, set the hood of one car up as a table/bar, and unloaded the guns. Yeah, I said guns. I must admit I was a little concerned at first. Here I am out in the middle of nowhere with enough booze to kill a small family and a couple of guns. Kinda sketchy. Well, what do I know? They turned out to be BB guns. We wasted a lot of BBs on target practice over the course of our rather lengthy picnic (we didn't get back to the AH until around 6:30pm), and I must say that for some reason I am a much better shot after I have had something to drink. I also have to say that J is a great shot, whether sober or not, and she totally out-shot the rest of us. I also somehow managed to cut myself on the gun. How? I don't know. Ask the booze. Anyway, the Russians had brought some sort of Ukrainian vodka, made with peppers and lemons, which was delicious. Seriously, it was some of the best vodka I have ever tasted, although it was also very potent. We were taught the proper way to drink vodka: chase it with a bite from a sour pickle, kind of like the whole tequila followed by lime thing, russkie-style. Following the vodka, they began to cook the shashlik (essentially Russian barbecue: marinated pork or chicken cooked over a fire), and we broke into the appetizers (some incredibly delicious cheese... mmmm) and the wine. The wine was Georgian (as in eastern European Georgia, not that state north of Florida), and was very smooth and pleasant to the taste. Luckily after that we were left with cheap beer and really bad wine trying to masquerade itself as port. I prefer to drink things that are tasty. We ate several batches of scrumptious shashlik, shot a lot of BBs, and played volleyball, and some rather abhorrent version of volleyball called hot potato, in which I got smacked in the face with the ball. Lovely. Igor had brought his dog, Vesta, who was a lot of fun. I'm really not a dog person at all, but every now and then I run across a dog that I really like. This dog had a very nice personality: she didn't bark, didn't throw herself on me and knock me to the ground, and she played volleyball better than I did (not like that's saying much, really). But seriously, I had never before seen anything like the way she tried to jump up in the air and head-butt the ball. (I tried to get some pictures of this, but unfortunately the shutter always seemed to click a second too late; you’ll simply have to take my word for it.) It was a long, fun and relaxing day, "in nature" (Nina M is always encouraging me to go out "in nature;" for some reason I feel the need to put that phrase in quotes).

Trial Run

I finished reading (or I suppose I should say re-reading, even though it's been years) Trial Run a couple of days ago. It definitely does a good job of describing the features of Moscow, although it is set back in the days of the USSR (shortly before the Moscow Olympics), and obviously life in Moscow has changed substantially changed since then. Having never been to the Soviet Union, I cannot comment on how accurate Francis's descriptions of life in that era were; however, the physical descriptions of the city of Moscow are pretty spot-on. I wonder if Francis actually visited the city while researching this novel? Unfortunately, the one thing that I was certain was referenced in this book, the Soviet-era, state-run radios which never shut off (one of which lives in my kitchen and currently broadcasts Radio Rossiya 24/7), was not in this book. I'm thinking now that it might have been in Russian Journal, a non-fictional account of life in Russia from a foreigner's perspective, set during the same time frame. Damn. Nonetheless, Trial Run is great (a nice, fast-paced, well-written Dick Francis mystery), and if you enjoy mysteries and are interested in Moscow/Russia/USSR/CCCP/etc, I definitely recommend this book.

Anyhow, I would like to quote this one passage, simply for that woman who didn't believe me when I when I was unable to produce a last name for my former roommate, Alyosha:

"Alyosha is a man's name. A diminutive. Like Dickie for Richard. Alyosha is a familiar version of Alexei."
"How many Alyoshas in Moscow?"
"How many Dickies in London? The two cities are roughly the same size."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Walk To The South

So, it's now October. Somehow that just seems incomprehensible to me. Time really *does* fly when you're having fun. Months never flew by so fast at my last job! I have successfully completed a full month of teaching, and while not every class goes as smoothly as I would like, things seem to still be going well in the classroom. And, for some strange reason, we have had the most wonderful weather lately. Upper sixties, even lower seventies. I've been walking around outside in a tank top. This is Russia in October, what gives? Nina M says it's a gift (she doesn't say from whom), and has insisted that I enjoy it. She didn't really need to twist my arm or anything; I'm going to enjoy every warm and sunny day that I can, because soon there won't be any.

Today was Saturday. I decided that, since the weather was so unbelievably perfect, I would explore. I chose some of the streets that run perpendicular to Prospekt Lenina and Bolshaya Moscovskaya (the two main east/west streets of the city), and which run to the south. The main streets of the city do not run through the literal "center" of town, but are located in the southern quadrant of the city. Because of this, the small, winding roads running south take you into what seems like a very rural area quite quickly.

The first streets I explored were Sosenskaya Ulitsa and its offshoot, Sosenskaya Perelouk. The latter is about a three minute walk from Prospekt Lenina, and it's a completely different world. The road becomes very narrow, and is overhung with trees. Right now all of the leaves are a beautiful autumnal gold. The street is lined with many old, traditional Russian homes. Before the Soviets decided to mandate the type of housing that would be constructed (otherwise known as the death of Russian architecture: hideous square blocks of apartments, in a perpetual state of decay), traditional Russian homes were built of wood, with intricate carvings around the windows and eaves. Some of the old buildings obviously serve as apartments, but others seem to be single family dwellings. These are pretty rare in Russia; most people live in apartments. The houses on this street are all obviously very old, although I do not know enough about Russian architecture to personally date them. At the very edge of Sosenskaya Perelouk, at a beautiful spot overlooking the countryside, is a brand new home, obviously belonging to a single and very wealthy Russian family. They even had a brand new Volvo parked outside. Talk about rare for Russia!

I retraced my steps back to Prospekt Lenina, and continued east until the road turned into Bolshaya Moscovskaya. After about a block, a explored another perpendicular southern street (this one had no name). It didn't go very far, but it did lead to another very old Russian home, surrounded by leaves golden leaves, falling from the trees. I once again made my way back to Prospekt Lenina, and continued towards the AH. I took Gogol Ulitsa down to Letneperevozinskaya. (Yes, Letneperevozinskaya is the street where the AH is located, but Gogol brings you out about a block and a half south of the AH.) I continued to head south on Letneperevozinskaya. When I had overlooked the countryside from the yard of the wealthy Volvo owner, I had looked to the east, where I had seen several churches in the distance. I am not a religious person, but the architecture of old Russian churches is so spectacular, that I always enjoy finding (and photographing) them. As far as I could tell, the two churches I had seen were located somewhere south of the AH. The first one was located of an unnamed eastward offshoot of Letneperevozinskaya. From the outside, the church seemed impeccably maintained. The lawn was mowed, and the paint seemed reasonably fresh, but there were no signs indicating the name of the church or times of service. I found myself wondering if it was simply an empty building. But some people in the houses (of the old traditional Russian variety) were staring at me in a rather unfriendly way, and I didn't think they would take too kindly to me peering in through the windows.

I decided to make for the second church. As far as I could tell, the second church was further south, but Letneperevozinskaya suddenly descended down a rather steep hill. At the bottom of said hill was the train track (Trans-Siberian, no less), and upon it ran a train. Had there not been a train blocking my path, I might have continued southward, but as I was in no mood to wait, I turned around. And then I saw, on the western side of the street, a crude wooden staircase running into the woods and up the side of a very steep hill. So, I climbed the staircase. It bought me out at the otherwise dead-end of Voznesenskaya ulitsa. And at the very end of Voznesenskaya ulitsa sat the other church I'd been searching for. Woohoo! This one had a metal fence surrounding it. The sign on the fence labeled it as the Svyato-Voznesenskaya (Holy Ascension) Church. Nothing about times of services, and the fence seemed kind of forbidding. However, as the pedestrian gate in the fence was ajar, I popped in and took a picture or two before scurrying out.

(I later checked with my map, which has all sorts of things level in an incredibly helpful manner. The first church I visited was the Svyato-Nikolo-Galeiskaya Church, built in 1732. The second church, the map names as the Khristo-Voznesenskaya (Christ's Ascension) Church, and says that it was built in 1724. It is interesting to me that when tourists come to Vladimir, they visit three things: The Golden Gates, the Cathedral of St. Dmitry and the Uspensky (Assumption) Cathedral. Now, granted these incredible pieces of architecture were built in 1164, 1194, and 1158, respectively, and are therefore substantially more historic (and certainly rarer in Russia than 18th century churches), but I find it surprising that other historical (if not so ancient) structures are not, well, marketed to tourists.)

I strolled back up Voznesenskaya ulitsa, yet another narrow road, lined with birches shedding their golden leaves, and played with a few stray cats along the way. The road linked back up with Letneperevozinskaya, which I took back to Gogol and then back to Bolshaya Moscovskaya, where I went to the univermag. "Univermag" is sort of an abbreviation for "universal store" and it's the nearest thing in Vladimir to a mall. It's not really set up to be user friendly though. On each floor are numerous little kiosks. You can peer through the glass to see what they have, but you have to tell the person inside the kiosk what you want in order to buy it. And, while each kiosk generally sells a certain type of item ("electronics" "makeup" "greeting cards" etc) finding the specific kiosk you need is kind of hard. I was on a quest for CD-Rs. I found several kiosks selling CD-RWs and DVD-RWs, and finally I found one selling CD-Rs. Woohoo! I bought two, and felt really successful. Really, buying blank CDs should not have to qualify as a quest.

The univermag is also home to a large and very modern bookstore. By very modern, I mean that it is like a bookstore in the US: you can pick up the books and flip through them and decide what you want to purchase (unlike many others in which the books are kept behind the counter, and when you decide which one you want, you have to ask the person behind the counter to sell it to you). I went in looking for a copy of The Master and Margarita (in Russian, of course), by Mikhail Bulgakov, and I found it. If you have not read this book, you need to. It is translated into English and I have read the English version many times, as this is one of my absolute favorites. I love it, I love it, and I recommend it to everyone. Seriously. Buy the book and read it. Now. Anyhow, under the assumption that it will be easier to read in Russian a story which I already know quite well, I am going to attempt to read The Master and Margarita. We'll see how that goes.

As I left the univermag, someone was shouting, "Devushka! Devushka!" (Devushka means "girl," and is used to address any young woman you don't know: a stranger on the street, a waitress, etc.) I thought, surely, that's not aimed at me, but it turned out to be B. She accompanied me to Grossmart (Grossmart is the western-style supermarket in the univermag. Again, by western-style I mean that it's a place where you can pick up the products yourself, instead of having to ask for them from behind the counter like in most places. I suppose that "Grossmart" is the combination of "grocery" and "market," but nevertheless, I always get quite a chuckle out of the name. Grossmart. Gross. Mart. Heehee.), as it is the easiest place in town to get change for a 500 ruble bill. I needed more conditioner anyway. And then we went to the AH for an hour or so of internet and grading. Oooh, fun, fun.

For dinner, a group of seven of us (six of the AH teachers and one AH student) decided to go out for dinner at a restaurant called Golden Dragon, which we had been told was a Korean restaurant. The restaurant was decorated in a generic Asian motif, and we did spy one Korean-looking woman in the back, but most of the food on the menu seemed to be Russian, or at the very least, not too Korean. There were two dishes that seemed Korean, one called "Korean Meat" and one called "Pulgogi." (I usually transliterate this word from Hangul into Latin as bulgogi, but it was transliterated into Cyrillic with a P.) Bulgogi is one of my favorite Korean dishes. Y and I were excited. Well, this is Russia, so of course it wasn't authentic bulgogi. It did consist of marinated strips of meat, and the dish was incredibly spicy (really, it had the Korean level of spicy-kick to it), although while it tasted good, it did not taste anything like any bulgogi I had in Korea. It also had a lot of cilantro in it. A lot. Now, I am a big fan of cilantro, but it simply does not belong in Korean cooking. So, I was glad we went, and I'm glad to know I can get some spicy food when I'm feeling desperate, but I would not go so far as to call the Golden Dragon a Korean restaurant.