Saturday, April 30, 2011

How about a picnic?

Today Ilya's birthday was celebrated by having a picnic on the grounds of Moscow State University, then wandering for miles and miles to a metro station (by no means the nearest one), going through Sparrow Hills and along the Moscow River. Lots of eating and drinking took place and a bit of mediocre frisbee tossing and, much to my surprise/pleasure, my dad partook in all of these activities. There is one photo of me and my dad, but mostly they are of me and my friends, because I am narcissistic (and he had the camera.)

standing in front of one of the crazy Stalin-era university buildings

one of Stalin's seven sisters... i never get tired of these buildings

this came out surprisingly well, considering i am the subject

one of Ilya's friends, whose name i forgot a bunch of times (including right now). note the hooligans in the background pouring more drinks for themselves for the walk

my dad continuing to play paparazzi at the base of the stairs

ain't no thang

what's new? oh, you know, my dad's just here visiting from texas. nothing special.

i'll give him a break due to jet lag, but it's POSSIBLE he is developing the quintessential old man habit of dozing off in place during lulls of activity. maybe. i'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Russia and the Russians

One huge pet peeve I have is when people (foreigners) perpetuate the stereotype that Russians are rude, especially in the context of customer service and generally when they don't know you (on the street, etc).

It's true, customer service can be bad here. But it's not from a lack of friendliness, but probably something closer to incompetence. People basically greet you when you walk into a restaurant (say hello, smile, all that bullshit), then seat you, then IMMEDIATELY try to take your order. This is tricky, because if you aren't ready then, it could easily be another 15 minutes before you even see the server again. When there is approximately one other table for them to be tending to.

Chalk it up to selective perception, but I've only had positive or neutral experiences with strange Russians (as opposed to my Russian friends). Whether it's a man paying for a cab and expecting nothing in return, a babushka informing me of a stain on my white skirt, or the clerks at Spar just laughing it off when I've (once again...) forgotten to bring any form of money to the store with me (and then allowing me to run home and get my wallet, all without exasperated sighs or eye rolling).

On the pet peeve note, I find it infuriating that Russians apparently find it acceptable to throw their trash all over the ground outside. It was pretty shocking to see all the trash uncovered when the snow melted. Fortunately, there are pretty massive efforts by immigrants and babushki to clean that shit up, and now that the weather has been amazing for a week, the streets and parks are looking quite beautiful. To their credit, I know that not ALL Russians partake in this littering activity, it is entirely possible that it is only a small handful who are just super efficient(?!) at dirtying up the outdoors.

Another stereotype that bothers some people is the notion that Russians drink tons of vodka. You know what? I think this one might actually be true. The amount of vodka distributed, bought, and sold is pretty ridiculous here. It's obvious anytime you walk into just about any store. Vodka is abundant and CHEAP. The vodka my friends and I tend to buy is "Зеленая Марка" (green mark), is pretty decent quality, and costs about $7 for a liter. It is by no means the cheapest bottle.

But it's not just vodka, there is generally a lot of drinking happening here. Public drinking. I have mixed feelings about this. There is some comedy in seeing an old lady standing at the bus stop, beer in hard, at 7 am. There is also something simply fantastic and relaxing about sitting in a park on a warm spring day drinking a beer with a friend. And, in general, people seem to keep to themselves while doing this, so I've felt safe while just walking around outside. HOWEVER, there are the occasional wildcards, and very frequently (especially in Moscow proper) I see dudes who have obviously had the shit beaten out of them, or people who are acting pretty aggressive. But let's face it, there are wildcards everywhere. Especially in big cities. Moscow has a population of 10 million +, you gotta expect there will be some sketchy people.

I'll end with a recent story. Last night Polly and I decided to meet up for some drinks and chillin'. We had a beer in the park, then moseyed to a bar/restaurant where we could continue drinking beer and throw some pizza into the mix. We randomly ran into another teacher in Korolev, so he joined us. We're talking, drinking, talking, eating, etc. Then some more teachers from Korolev show up (to watch some soccer game). So we continue hanging out, but since most of the bar's attention is focused on the television and since neither Polly nor I are interested the least bit in soccer, we're just talking and scoping out other people in the bar. All of the sudden, the people directly in our line of vision, we realize, are smoking weed. Not only are they smoking weed, but they're doing it out of a soda can, like a bunch of teenagers behind a building (only they are adults inside a bar). This was horribly amusing to us, and it spurred much laughter (and also captured their attention-- well, the laughing and the English speaking).

As we were leaving, at the front door one of the guys opened the door for us, then abruptly turns to Polly (poised with phone in hand) and asks "твой номер?" (your number?), to which she responds with "а.... uh.... ты кто?" (and who are you?), then he tries another strategy and in an adorable accent, asks the same thing in English. sigh... so I respond with '"да мы поняли, но как тебя зовут?" (yes we understood, but what is your name?!) He tells us, then immediately asks again for her number. Looking at me in utter shock, Polly asks what she should do. Obviously I encouraged her to give him her number (because, fuck it, she's only here another 6 weeks). He asks her name, smiles, says (again in English) that he would call her, and that was it. He went off into the darkness (as did we).

Москва, как я люблю тебя...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Running into spring

I went for my first run of the season tonight. I could wax poetic about how beautiful the spring is and how good it felt, but I'm tired and it would probably sound retarded. There was a faint smell of smoke in the air, which was somehow very comforting. And I have been able to wear less and less clothing. This weekend, for example, I wore a dress, with no leggings and only a light jacket. Tonight on my run I wore leggings and a t-shirt. It was 9:30pm and still light out.

I had a long weekend of drinking beer in the great outdoors-- another favorite past time. It's pretty cool to see EVERYONE outside after such a long winter. Seriously, eff the indoors.

My dad arrives Friday, which I am crazy excited about. We're going to St. Petersburg with Katie and her parents. We'll probably do random touristy things around Moscow. Like visit the Russian Space Exploration Museum. And probably go inside the Kremlin walls. And other things. He's staying with me in my apartment, and given the recent demise of my couch bed, it means the two of us will be sleeping on (separate) mattresses on the floor in my room. Hella ghetto, but what're ya gonna do?

That's it. Time to sleep before my face falls flat onto my keyboard and less eloquently completes this blog post. Or maybe that would be an improvement. Good night!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hello again.

All I can think of to say is that Moscow in the spring is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

(relative) culinary (and other, barely) adventures

This weekend was a little weird. I had a sore throat all day Saturday, but didn't let that stop me from hanging out with Polly (and some other people for a riveting game of Risk-- the Russian version. Fortunately I was not vulnerable to being confused by the massive differences, since the only things I knew about Risk to begin with were from Seinfeld). During the game, in fits of boredom, we started writing notes to each other in Russian, it was very reminiscent of middle school (or even college, in my case) and provided some entertainment. Here is a sample of our craftsmanship:

you're actually better off if you can't understand how retarded this is, which is wicked retaaaaded.

Polly and I were dubbed Team America (obviously) and most of our strategy involved unreasonably stockpiling armies in obscure areas, like Madagascar, or Iceland and occasionally chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" if we managed to defeat an opposing army (it's all left up to chance with die rolling. If only it were that simple in real life). Eventually (not all that late, actually) we made it back to her apartment where, due to my illness and bad past experiences, I offered to sleep on the living room floor. The thin mattress we pulled out of her couch bed was comfortable enough, but I spent the night having bizarre dreams bordering on nightmares and getting up to hock loogies (eeewwwwww). By the time I woke up in the morning, I had a full blown head cold. I made my way home and spent the day lying in bed and watching movies. Speaking of which, I saw Fargo for the first time, which was excellent. Anyway, at some point I decided to try pouring warm salt water in my nose-- something my mom is constantly on my case about doing--and, I have to say, I am a total convert. I felt about a billion times better every time I did that. It works freaking miracles. I highly recommend it for any head congestion issues.

I also spent the afternoon roasting some pork shoulder I'd bought last week (for the purpose of making mexican food) then turning it into pulled pork. In a fit of homesickness, I even went as far as to make a ghetto bbq sauce (it was some combination of ketchup, mustard, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce, which sounds totally gross but was fairly convincing) for it. Having spent about 4 hours in the oven, it was super tender and delicious. This is the finished product (what I didn't eat, anyway):

Feeling like eating the pulled pork on it's own was kind of sad, I decided to make a loaf of bread. I ran out of yeast not too long ago (hard to believe), so I went out on a limb and decided to follow a simple soda bread recipe, but using rye flour. The end result was better than I had expected, and I couldn't stop myself from eating half the loaf before I got to taking a picture:

my awesome food photography skills (laugh) nearly conceal the fact that this has already been partially consumed

And here I uploaded this last picture even though it is irrelevant to this blog post. It was my breakfast a few weekends ago, the morning after Polly and I went to Dunkin Donuts. Mmm... donuts.

As good a way to end a blog post as any...

Monday, April 4, 2011

When spring comes, you die.

Saturday night was a weird time. First, Matt, Polly, a friend of hers from college and I met up in the south of Moscow and went to an Indian restaurant, called Aroma. Matt, who doesn't ever shut up about this place, instructed us to just speak English with the staff, since it appears their English is better than our Russian. I find something comical about communicating with people in a language that is native to no one (involved in that conversation, I mean), which would have been Russian in this case. The food was a little slow getting out, but worth every second waited. We had a big basket of naan and some random curry dishes. Oh. My. God. I just can't get enough spicy food these days.

So, interestingly, the way Polly discovered this boy from her college was studying here this semester was not through any obvious channel of communication. Matt and his friend from college (not Polly's college) both studied in Moscow a few summers ago. This friend, Dan, is now back and studying at the same university (and working). He randomly asked Polly one day if she knew a guy named Ben, who went to her (tiny liberal arts) school. Her first response was something like "Uh... Ben? No. Who the hell is Ben." but a moment later realized who he was. Sort of a roundabout way to discover that.

Anyway, not all that important, except for the fact that we now knew two people living in the dorm at this university (РГГУ-- Russian State University of Humanities), so we got Dan to meet us outside and bring us other peoples IDs (since it's restricted access and you can't bring guests in past some time), then waltzed past the guards and into the fortress. It ended up just being a weird night, with weird people. One of the major realizations that I had was that the Russian I've learned since arriving here is some really bizarre slangy version of the language. I can thank my teenagers for that. After sleeping for a couple of hours smashed on a bed together with Polly (something she was unhappy about after the bad experience sharing a bed with me the previous weekend), we rose early then wandered out into the world, pausing for a photo op while still inside the confines of the school:

surprisingly chipper for 2.5 hours of sleep and 7:30 am

Sunday was spent in somewhat of a fog, and in this state I ventured out of the house for a walk before meeting up with Polly later in the day. Thanks to some horrible decision making regarding the path I took, I ended up in the middle of a sea of mud, and nearly lost my phone in a giant mud puddle. It dropped out of my pocket as I leaped from one dry spot to what I hoped was another. I realized it only a second later, and had a moment of fear that it was lost for good, but quickly realized it was right behind me. Unfortunately, retrieving it led to my jean cuffs and shoes being covered in mud. Ew. Eventually I made it out of the mud, but the damage was sort of done.

So, the past two days have been exceptionally warm (10C+!!!!-- that's 50F!!!!), and I haven't worn anything other than a light fleece jacket. I would be happy if I didn't have to touch my puffy winter coat until next winter. We'll see if this weather holds. One of the downsides is that the snow and ice is, rather rapidly, turning into giant bodies of water, due to horrible drainage in this city (all of Moscow, that is). And the mud. There is so much mud.

I mentioned in a previous post Cat's statement about how I would die when spring came-- and, now that I REALLY feel it, I am totally understanding what she meant. It's simply magical, and beyond words. I was sitting at a market yesterday, having just bought some strawberries and honey, people watching, enjoying the weather, and I could have just died. I was joking with Matt about what Cat said, and he commented that "well, it's Russia, so you never know" which prompted me to come up with a new saying about Russia:

Добро пожаловать в Россию -- где весна приходит, потом ты умираешь
(Welcome to Russia, where spring comes then you die).

I am constantly cracking myself up.

Now, to end this, here is the one photo I have taken in the past two weeks, some colorful graffiti somewhat near the mud field I thought I was going to die in: