Sunday, September 30, 2012

Прости меня

Forgive me.

After a rather pathetic 30 minute run on completely exhausted legs, I came home to a massive breakfast of pelmeni filled with potato and mushroom.  I tried one of the (no lie) thirty that comprised my plate and was underwhelmed.  It reminded me of a pierogi - not something I particularly enjoy eating.  I didn't know what to do!  My host mom had clearly worked hard to make a Sunday breakfast different from my typical kasha, but I didn't want to eat it.

She must have noticed my distress, because she asked me (in Russian), "Why are you so sad!"

"I'm not sad," I replied, "Я плохо себя чувствую."  According to the dictionary I keep with me at all times, this translates to I feel bad.  She understood the gist of what I was saying even if I didn't.

"почему?"  Why?

"потому что мне не нравится пельмени." Because I don't like the pelmeni.

She then went into an apologetic frenzy and prepared me kasha.  Granted, it didn't take much to pop the bowl in the microwave, but I felt absolutely terrible.  Then, to make matters worse, I forgot to clear my hair out of the shower drain!  She could have asked me to do it, but nope.  Before I could leap from the table and my bowl of remorse ridden kasha, my host mom started to rinse the drain in the sink.  So much shame in one morning.  

She was probably happy to see me go for the day.

The Bing Overseas Studies Program set up a city bus tour for us newcomers this morning.  Since the other students had already taken a tour at the beginning of their intensive Russian course this fall, only Stephanie, Kyle, and I, as well as two visiting BOSP representatives went on the tour.

We saw many of the famous Moscow sites:

Moscow State University (usually there is a fountain in the front)
Fun fact: The Moscow State University has a street like Palm Drive, but it is lined with Birch Trees.  Birch Drive!
A panoramic view of Moscow

Victory Park commemorating the Great Patriotic War (Russian name for WWII)

Triumphal Arch

State Duma

St. Basil's Cathedral

Seeing the city above ground helped me get my bearings.  I have felt like a meerkat this past week, popping outside at random Metro stations with no real sense of what lies in between.  Now, I understand the city more and am looking forward to another week of classes and sightseeing (and hopefully no more instances of home stay humiliation).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Здравствуйте Путин

While I was running today, a woman stopped me by the stadium and asked "где метро?"  I am proud to say that I gave her directions entirely in Russian!  They were rather pathetic and consisted of "go to the right then straight."  But she understood!  Of course, she thanked me in English.  If my "stunned ox" look doesn't give me away as a foreigner, my accent most certainly does.
I live just behind the stadium and run around the stadium.
I had been concerned that my host dad didn't like me much.  He usually sits in his television room watching sports whenever I am in the house, and the size of the dinner table means that my host mom serves us each in shifts.  First, I eat; then, she serves Igor; and finally, Nastya.  In all, I haven't had much interaction with many of the other members of the family.  However, today, during breakfast, my host dad came in and started chatting with me and Nina!  He asked me if I had heard of the song "Alexandra" from the old Russian film, Москва слезам не верит (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears).  I had heard it before, but not in a long time, I told him.  He wanted to play it for me, but I needed to leave for Stanford's tour of the Kremlin, so I said I would listen to it later.

Stanford organized an English tour of the Kremlin for us.  Our guide, a slightly sarcastic Russian man, met us at the Metro station and brought us through security and into the Kremlin.
Trinity Tower: The entrance to the Kremlin
The Kremlin has been the symbol of the Russian government for centuries.  The first wooden fortress was built in 1156 by Prince Yuriy Dolgoruiky.  Then, in the 15th century, Tsar Ivan III commissioned Italian architects to build the Cathedral of the Dominition (not Assumption, as our guide explained) and the Cathedral of the Archangel, among other buildings.
Cathedral of the Archangel
Now, the Kremlin houses the seat of the Russian President's Administration.
Our group with the Tsar Bell.
Ron, Bekah, Annie, Patrick, Shariah, Stephanie, Me, Matthew, Kyle
While our tour guide brought us through nearly all of the buildings, it was "the same sad story" - as he put it - "no pictures."
Ivan the Great Bell Tower - once the tallest building in Moscow
Later, Annie and I toured the nearby Alexander Gardens.

We saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Then, we met up with the rest of the group at Old Arbat Street.  

This area was once the artistic and intellectual center of Moscow.
Stephanie, Ron, Kyle, Me, Annie, and Matthew
Now, it is a large tourist area with many chain cafes and souvenir shops.  Try to guess which stores these are!

After resting for a bit at home, we ventured out again to see the Circle of Light festival in Red Square.
The festival clearly projected the image of an "open" Russia.

I still have my doubts that this image lines up with reality.  However, I am starting to wonder if the estranged relations between Russia and the larger international community can be blamed on widespread ignorance, especially American prejudices, and not on Russian secrecy. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Новоде́вичий Mонасты́рь

We don't have class on Fridays, so we decided to spend the day seeing one of the most famous sites in Moscow: Новоде́вичий Mонасты́рь (Novodevichiy Convent).  But first, I needed to get my (almost) daily run in.

I live in Спорти́вная, which is near the Luzhniki Olympics Complex.  All through the sports complex and along the Moscow River there is a paved multi-use path.  So, at 7:30AM, I set out from my apartment and headed towards the river.  The path through the sports complex is lovely.  It is tree-lined and secluded from much of speeding Moscow traffic.  It was unusually hot; a nice change from the brisk past few days.  There were a few other runners out in the morning, but not nearly as many as I would see running around Campus Loop back in Stanford or along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.  People here really don't exercise as much as we do in the States.

As I was running around the stadium, I thought it looked familiar.  I put two and two together, as they say, and realized the Luzhniki Olympics Complex was the location of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and that the stadium I was running around was the Lenin Stadium!  This seems a pointless anecdote, however, I researched the 1980 Moscow Olympic Opening Ceremonies this past year in my Program in Writing and Rhetoric class: Olympic Rhetoric.  Analyzing the Lenin Stadium comprised a portion of my main argument.  Seeing this landmark in-person was incredible.  It was truly one of those 'I cannot believe I am actually in Moscow' moments.

After my run, my host mom quizzed me on my vocabulary.  She probably thinks I am rather dense since я забываю so many of the words everyday.  I need to focus on my classes more, but there is so much to see and do here!

At noon, I met my friends outside the Metro stop.  We decided to have lunch before touring the Convent.  Patrick had looked up a nearbly restaurant Штолле in advance.  Штолле is famous for their pies, so I had to try a расстегай гриба (Mushroom Pie).  очень вкусный расстегай.

Mushroom Pie

After lunch, we walked to the Novodevichiy Convent.
Novodevichiy Convent
Basil III founded the convent in 1524 to commemorate the capture of Smolensk from the Lithuanians.  However, the majority of the convent, a beautiful, fortified religious haven, was not built until the late 17th century when Peter the Great's half-sister, Sophia ruled as regent.

After Peter reclaimed the throne, he confined Sophia in the Novodevichiy Convent for the rest of her life.

Adjacent to the convent is the Novodevichiy Cemetery, the resting place of many famous Russians including ...







There are no portable maps of the cemetery, so we each chose a figure and memorized the location of his headstone on the directory.  Even still, we ended up spending a long time in the cemetery lost amidst all the artistic headstones.

By the end of our search for the final resting place of many famous Russians, we were all exhausted, so we returned home отдыхать before the light show.
Unfortunately, though my tired self was rather thankful, it began to rain so we decided to postpone our outing to the Circle of Light Festival until tomorrow.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Я Yсталa

I'm quite tired, but I cannot stop exploring this city!

Even though I was so excited to find such a great running route yesterday and the sun was actually shining this morning, I could not bring myself to get out of bed.  Instead of running, I had a leisurely breakfast with my host mom.  She quizzed me on my Russian vocabulary to help me prepare for my test on Monday.

Gorky Park
I only had my Russian language class today and it was excellent.  For this first time, I actually understand Russian grammar!  Normally, when professors attempt to show how the different Russian cases interact, they print out a chart of word endings and ask students to memorize the uses of each case.  However, today, my professor drew an entire diagram on the board that demonstrated the interplay amongst the different subjects and objects in a sentence!  It made so much sense!  I almost wish I did not have to take a break from class for the weekend.  Is that blasphemy?

After class, Stephanie and I decided to walk through Центральный парк культуры и отдыха имени Горького (Gorky Park) since the weather was so pleasant.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the park, the usual Moscow overcast set in.  Nevertheless, the park was beautiful.
Stephanie in Gorky Park
I'm curious to see the film Gorky Park even though it was actually filmed in Helsiki and Stockholm.

Convent of the Nativity of the Virgin

From Gorky Park, we met up with Kyle in the center of the city to explore more.  Our first stop was the Convent of the Nativity of the Virgin.  I think we walked into a service accidentally because inside the Convent, behind a stunning array of golden icons, a choir of nuns were singing hymns.

Then, we stumbled upon "Teatralnaya," which is the theatre district near Red Square.  The architecture in this area of the city is breathtaking.
Kyle, Stephanie, and I at the Bolshoi Theatre
Since I adore hotels and hope to go into the hospitality industry one day, I brought Kyle and Stephanie through the famous Hotel Metropol.
Hotel Metropol
Neither Kyle nor Stephanie had visited Red Square yet, so we walked through the ГУМ into the square.
The ГУМ at night

The Circle of Lights Festival begins tomorrow!

The more time I spend in this city, the more I like it.  True, Moscow is fast paced and a bit intimidating, but it is просто мечта.     

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Прекрасный день

I saw a runner this morning!  And not just any runner, but a female runner!  I also found a lovely running route along the Moscow River.  I can't wait to explore more of the path tomorrow morning.

After my morning каша and some vocabulary help from my host mom, I hopped on the Metro to go to the Academy.  I had two classes today: Russian language and Russia and the SCO.  My language class was a bit of a struggle, though my professor seems pleasant enough.  She is strict, but I think I will learn a considerable amount as long as I devote enough time to studying.  Balancing my time between study and exploration is going to be difficult.  There is so much to see here!

My second class, Russia and the SCO was excellent.  I certainly will be taking that class.  The professor explained and addressed many interesting concepts, such as the Russian culture of power and property.  In Russia, power brings a person property.  Meanwhile, in the United States and other western cultures, property brings a person power.  My professor also addressed the geography of Russia and how the 4 month growing season predisposed the nation to collectivization.  A single farmer could not survive with a small plot of land because it would not yield enough of a harvest.  He needed to rely on his neighbors.  Thus, communes developed.

When class ended, I decided to explore more of Moscow.  Many of my friends needed to go to their internships, but I had a free afternoon since my internship with the Institute for the Economy in Transition has not begun yet.  So, I grabbed my guidebook and camera and rode the Metro into the heart of Moscow.

From the "Lublyanka" Metro stop, I photographed my way down "Ulitsa Linka," a street that comprised the Moscow Stock Exchange and now houses the Chamber of Commerce and the Supreme Court.  Then, I arrived at Red Square.

I was slightly disappointed to find so much construction at Red Square.  Soon, there will be a Circle of Lights Festival, so construction crews were setting up large stages and cranes.  Nevertheless, I could not believe I was actually there, standing in front of the stunning St. Basil's Cathedral and feeling the warmth of unexpected sunshine.  For so long I had wanted to see this site and now I could finally indulge my inner rusophile.  I burned out the battery on my camera.  Thankfully, I had a back up.

After seeing the Red Square, I wandered through the ГУМ, a gorgeous mall in a building that dates back to 1893.  This area of Red Square served as the Upper Trading Rows of square, which was initially a marketplace.

I met up with Patrick and Ron outside of St. Basil's Cathedral.  Their internship at an English language pop culture magazine had ended for the day and they wanted to explore some.  We began our trek along "Ulitsa Varvarka," stopping at many of the churches and historical sites along the street.  The Palace of the Romanov Boyars was open for visitors, so we decided to tour it.  I didn't take any photographs of the interior because I did not realize that I needed to purchase a ticket in order to photograph inside, but the interior was beautiful.  The building itself, which was the home of the Ramonovs until Mikhail Romanov became tsar in 1613, was cramped and low-ceilinged.  Nevertheless, gilded leather adorned the walls and intricate wood carvings decorated the ceilings.  I may have to go back and purchase a photography ticket.

After our tour, we searched in the guidebook for a unique restaurant in the area to try some ethnic cuisine.  A Uzbek restaurant was not too far from the Palace.  None of us had ever eaten Uzbek food, so we decided to try it.  We scoured the menu for the strangest, most Uzbek thing we could find.  Among descriptions of lamb testicles, tongue, and veal liver, we saw chicken hearts.  Ron didn't want to know what we were ordering, so Patrick gave the waitress the order in Russian.  We also ordered a dessert, "Chak-Chak."
Ron and Patrick

Chicken Hearts.  Yum.
The chicken hearts were surprisingly tasty and the "Chak-Chak" was delicious.  I didn't eat much since I knew I would be returning home to a huge dinner from my host mom.  Sure enough, when I arrived back at my home stay, exhausted, my host mom greeted me at the door with her usual question, "do you want to eat?"  After such a long, fun day a dinner of borsht and pan seared cod with cauliflower hit the spot.
Очень прекрасный день.  Я люблю Москву.    

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

я бегу

Moscow never really gets dark.  There is always an maroon wash to the night sky.  I found that out last night as I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep.  I was anxious to go running in the morning.  Would I be safe?  Would anyone approach me?  Granted, I had only been in Moscow two days, but two days was enough time for me to realize that Moscow is not a city accustomed to runners.

Outside my apartment building
Eventually, I fell asleep, only to reawaken to yet another gloomy morning of clouds and damp winds.  Determined to begin my day with a run, I dressed in layers, strapped a running belt full of my travel documents around my waist, put a can of pepper spray in my pocket, wrote a note to my host mom detailing my whereabouts, and slipped out the door.

Moscow in the morning is a strange place.  Despite all the commuters and movement, it is quiet.  Cars rush by and people hurry in and out of the metro, walking with their heads down in a seemingly dejected manner.  Hardly anybody says a word.  The only real sounds are the scraping of brooms as people sweep damp leaves from the sidewalks.
I ran by the monastery near my house and the sports complex by the river.  I was nervous and jumpy for most of the run.  I was certainly out of place and the only person, let alone young woman, exercising that morning.   Yet, nobody said anything to me.  In total, I managed an entirely insufficient 2.5 miles before retuning to my home stay to eat my каша and prepare for my first day of class.

The Academy is just beyond the round mall.
There are only four students in my Russian Level 3 language class, which is perfect because I have a difficult time with the language and will need a bit of extra attention. My next class, Space, Politics, and Modernity in Russia, took place at a different university, the Higher School of Economics.  One of our program directors helped us navigate the Metro to the center of the city where the school is located.  This part of Moscow was entirely different from the rather dingy area around the Academy.  It was the Moscow of the guidebooks and probably the only part of Moscow I would see if I were a tourist.  There were old, colored buildings, lights and an almost cheerful vibrancy.

During class, our professor Sergei Medvedev discussed property in Russia.  He said that since the advent of private property, Russia has become a country of fences and barriers.  All that is behind the fence is orderly, while all that lies beyond the barrier is no man's land.  There is no respect for the public good, only a sense of protecting one's own.  It was an interesting lecture that explained a great deal about the trash on the streets, the high security, and the overwhelming sense of paranoia in many parts of Moscow.

After class, our professor welcomed us to join him at a nearby art museum, the Государственный Музей Востока (The State Museum of Oriental Art).  I enjoyed the art exhibit and the artist's style.  Most of the artist's work used Indian Ink on parchment.  When we finished at the exhibit, we walked down the street to the John Donne Pub so the class could get to know each other.  This class consists of students from all over the world.  There are Russian, French, German, and American students, among other nationalities.  I didn't stay long since I didn't want my host mom to worry about me, like she did last night, but it was so much fun chatting with other students.  I'm always amazed at how well everyone speaks English.

As another maroon night descended over Moscow, Stephanie and I rode the Metro back to our stops.  I arrived at the apartment exhausted, but excited by such an interesting day of learning and exploring.  As I ate my dinner of borscht, chicken, vegetables, and rice, I told my host mom about my class and our trip to the museum.  Like always, she had the television on in the kitchen.  As I attempted to speak coherent Russian, I noticed a familiar face on the television screen.  It was my Space, Politics, and Modernity professor, Sergei Medvedev!  Apparently, he is a rather big deal in Russia.  Bау!

And now, a photo montage of Kyle's encounter with the Toilet Lady:
She sits in a porta-potty all day

and charges 50 rubles to anyone daring enough

or desperate enough

to need a туалет.