Monday, March 28, 2011

Nothing special

The phrase "nothing special" seems to be ingrained in Russians very early on in their English learning careers, right along side always responding with "fine, thanks" to the query "how are you?" It's kind of cute, but I work hard to elicit different answers out of them so they don't sound so much like robots.

I guess they can't be blamed, as my college Russian professor trained us in a similar fashion. Every day, regardless of whether she had already been in the classroom for 15 minutes or 15 seconds, she would walk out of the room, pause, then burst in yelling "доброе утро! как вы поживаете?" (good morning! how are you?) to which the entire class would uniformly respond with "спасибо, хорошо, а как вы?" (thanks, good, and you?). Then she would say "ооооочень хорошо, какие у вас вопросы сегодня?" (very good, what kind of questions do you have today?). This went on for two years (and I can only assume she continues doing it in the third year-- why stop a good thing?). She was a most excellent professor.

But I digress. Here are some of the highlights from my weekend:
  • Dunkin' Donuts with Polly (although she appears to have absconded with the remaining donuts from our box of 6...)
  • Normal shenanigans with Polly (walking around Moscow, sitting around Korolyov, sleeping in her bed and keeping her awake all night with my snoring/highly refined methods of anchoring myself against the wall and pushing her off the bed)
  • A hilarious Sunday afternoon with beer and friends
  • The Izmailovo open air market
Polly, Matt and I appear to have started a tradition of going out for a late lunch/early dinner on Sunday afternoons and eating American food. First it was TGI Fridays (which Matt and I have, to Polly's horror, referred to simply as "Fridays"), then the Starlite Diner (a chain of American-style diners here in Moscow-- not bad, but not altogether convincing. The oreo milkshake was worth it), and now we have christened the recently opened Chili's (they have Baltika 8 on tap, which is one beer the Russians did right) situated on новый арбат (new arbat). The main struggle for me at all of these places is to not get a hamburger every single time. I managed to get a salad yesterday, which made me proud (not because it's "healthy," but because it's variety), but it was a hard decision to make. I freaking love hamburgers.

One of my students (16 year old Ilya, previously photographed and in this blog a few posts back) started his very own blog. Mostly it's in Russian, but I did manage to persuade him to post at least once in English. It makes me laugh every time I read it (and I even get a nice little shout out. I tried to keep my editing to an absolute minimum, so as not to take away from the pure awesome of this kid's writing):

Speaking of teenagers, all of the kids are on a kind of "spring break" right now (this is a month before their 10 days of May holidays), so I am pretty jealous of them. It also means my classes are smaller than usual, which does, effectively, give me a little bit of a break.

Also, it's the end of March and we're still having mini blizzards here. I walked to work in the exact 15 minutes one occurred just last week. At least the Russians are also confused by this weather. It's nice to have some validation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

march (photo) madness

I'm not gonna lie, teaching English was never any dream of mine, and it can be kind of tiring, but I am totally in love with life. Here is why:

At prom-moskva 2011 a couple of weeks ago, with Polly as my date (obviously)

saturday night, the last of the mojitos!

we're just two girls, hanging out on a saturday night drinking milkshakes (polly took hers in a jar, mostly to irritate oleg who seems legitimately offended by it)

carousel at gorky park entrance, where polly and i decided to go sunday before dinner with our friend matt. this is, by the way, my new favorite place in moscow. especially in this late-winter/early-spring weather, where attractions at the park were only about 30% operational (that is, only about 30% of them were operating-- not that all of them were only at 30%-- although that is probably also true) and there were hardly any people, and bizarre soviet carnival music was playing. it was all very surreal and wonderful.

of course mt. rushmore is also in gorky park.

standing next to some GIANT (like what i did there?) doors on some GIANT/slightly terrifying/definitely intimidating soviet building that didn't even have a name, just sculptures of tanks in front. i was convinced a tank would come barreling through those doors at any moment.

there turned out to be a tiny door in the big doors (how post-modern?), and all it takes to get in is to show up loaded down with snacks and kick on the door a few times.

we finally saw an elk! granted it was not in elk island forest, and it was kind of a sad sight overall. very... joyless.


polly: goddammit, russia! this is not a toilet!

freaking adorable/beautiful 17th century church

a balcony i would never ever set foot on, ever.

polly looking bewildered/beautiful, as per usual

random shot of where we were sitting: cathedral of christ the savior; two boys hanging out on a sunday afternoon, drinking cokes.

for me, one of the coolest things about russia are the numerous pastel colored buildings, as photoed here

at the starlite diner, which is as close to a piece of america as we're gonna find here (well, outside the US embassy, which actually is a little piece of america). sure polly is a little blurry, but my oreo milkshake is in focus!

finishing the night with some beers at a beer restaurant. mine is the raspberry beer in the middle, SO DELICIOUS.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not all fun and games

It's impossible for me to put into words how gut-wrenchingly sad and horrifying I found this article:

Sorry to be a downer, but that's just the way it is sometimes here in the Motherland.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday, seriously

Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon/evening with Miss Polly. We started the day off by making some seriously convincing and delicious bread sticks (which I later tried to explain to my Irish roommate, who didn't understand how they are any different from baguettes or garlic bread. Sigh. Just one of the many trials of living with someone who did not grow up in the States.) and drinking mimosas with champagne gifted to her by students.

Then we watched a seriously depressing but awesome documentary about Russian prison tattoos, which gave wonderful descriptions of the complex system and meaning behind prison tattoos and also an inside look to Russian prisons. It was interesting to hear inmates (some of whom were in for things like "traffic violations" and "malicious hooliganism") almost unanimously say that prisons were better under the Soviet Union, and also how prison tattoos/tattooing has become much more frivolous under the Russian Federation. It's called The Mark of Cain, it came out in 2001, is directed by Alix Lambert, and the trailer can be watched here.

After drinking some coffee (something I am now swearing off past 3 pm) and discussing what to do next (it was only 6:30 and still light out, and we felt as though we should take advantage of the fact that she had taken the day off work), we decided to head to a nearby children's store (Детский Мир) and see if we couldn't find a Russian version of Scrabble. Even better than simply Scrabble-but-in-Russian, we found a сделано в России вариант (made in Russia version)!!! And at only 405 rubles ($13), it was a steal (or at least well worth the value). When we arrived back at her apartment, we
excitedly opened the box and laid out the board and pieces. It was a seriously comical sight, as the board is at least twice as big as a normal Scrabble board (with the pieces equally scaled up in size) with no trays to lay out your pieces in, and there is a mysterious die included in the box. Polly promised to read the instructions so we can know how to play for real in the future. Also, there appeared to be far too many blanks.

Nevertheless, we felt quite accomplished as we used nearly all of the pieces and expanded our Russian vocabulary (arguably). The game occupied us for the rest of the evening and I went home around 10:30 pm and proceeded to not sleep thanks to the coffee.

Oh, and while we were out, I managed to purchase coconut milk. Great success all around this Friday!

(Photo notes: taken by Polly, as per usual; please ignore the off-color vocabulary in our game!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

up and down

The title of this post is also the title of a Czech movie from 2004 that I really enjoy. Here is the trailer. I've been thinking about it lately, for some reason.

Today's major success: I did not step in a single puddle.

Today's major fail: once again was not able to buy the coconut milk that lives on the shelves at Spar (the nearest grocery store to my house-- just across the street).

On that note, recent good news: Spar is now open 24 hours! (with only a short "technical break" around 10pm)

On another note: my nose is running like a mofo. ew.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring, sprang, sprung

Today might have been the first day that, to me, has really felt like spring. I think it was the combination of +3C degree weather and blue skies; until now, it was usually just one or the other (ok, and not quite that warm). It was a beautiful day (except for the slushy, dirty ground, which will be a whole other beast to deal with as the season shifts), and it made me really excited for spring and summer (to be fair, summer is something I am permanently excited about).

A little while ago, while still in the depths of winter, I was talking with Cat on the skype, and she was asking about how the weather was and realized this is the first entire winter I've experienced, and her reaction was something like "OMG you're going to DIE when spring comes!" Only, the tone in her voice wasn't quite right, so it almost sounded like she meant I would literally die. I hope this is not the case?

Now it is time for sleeping. Here are a few random photos from today:

A gift to a fellow teacher from her students (whose class recently finished). This is one of the more ridiculous looking "cakes"(?!) I have seen since arriving here in the land of not-quite-right cakes

Women's day flowers from a teenage boy

Different teenage boys (from a different class-- not just random teenage boys) The situation is this: Ilya (right) is gazing adoringly upon Sergey's (admittedly pretty sweet) coat while Sergey awkwardly writhes around to avoid said gaze. The hilarity didn't photograph as well as I'd hoped.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women's Day

Last night there was a prom themed party at one of the LL teachers' apartments in Moscow, so Polly went as my date. It was actually sort of a fun excuse to get dressed up. I wore a dress I've owned for years but have never had the opportunity to wear.

The party was a hit, people were inappropriately drunk and acting awkward. We went to a club afterward (Polly and a few other people I don't know that well and me), which wasn't anything special, and then I slept at Annie's apartment, woke up to weird snacks left over from the party, so I had a highly nutritional breakfast of pizza and some weird little mint flavored cookies (??!). Eventually I made it home, though I gotta say that a silk gown makes for an awesome walk of shame outfit.

This is a picture of me kissing the pumpkin. It was a gift from a student a couple of weeks ago. I think I want to make a pie with it, though I am not entirely sure (/I am lazy and am avoiding having to make a pie crust). Best. Gift. Everrrr.

And that is pretty much it. I am looking forward to my classes tomorrow, as I will probably feel a million times better than the last day I worked (which was all day Saturday, to make up for the extra day off they give between Sunday and Women's day). And also my students are pretty sweet. This is also going to be a cool week because tomorrow is already Wednesday!

I feel like I should also comment on the weather/season shift. Up until late last week, it hadn't snowed in nearly two weeks. The efforts to clear the sidewalks and roads were actually keeping, the snow was remaining pee-stained as it wasn't being covered every night, and the skies were really clear and it was generally just beautiful. The only downside to that was the cold-- it stayed around -12C for awhile. It isn't as bad as -20, but any amount of wind stings your face. That is by far the worst part. Otherwise the cold hasn't been, well, as cold as I had expected. Russia, you have disappointed me. Maybe I should try Siberia next time? So anyway, finally the temperature went up to almost zero, which is insanely pleasant to go for walks in, a bunch of snow fell, but the warmth made it sort of slushy. Now it feels a lot of walking on sand.

This is from a fantastic walk Polly and I went on last Friday:

The sky was actually bluer than it looks here.

And now, it's bedtime. Goodnight, moon.