Wednesday, October 31, 2012

зияние

I apologize for my recent absence from the blogging world and regret that I must inform you of yet another blogging hiatus.  Annie, Kyle, and I are taking advantage of the Russian holiday and taking a trip to Tallin, Estonia, and Riga, Latvia!  We're departing a snowy (!) Moscow this evening!

I promise that when I return, I will recap both St. Petersburg and our adventures in the Baltics!

До свидания!  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Я вернулся!

I have returned to Moscow from a замечательное путешествие to St. Petersburg.  Over the next few days, I will do a recap of our adventures, but right now I am exhausted and have quite a bit of work to catch up with, so I will leave you with a few photos as a preview for upcoming posts!  Enjoy!











Thursday, October 25, 2012

Чёрный бумер

One of these days I'm going to get hit by a Чёрный бумер.  Russians are daring drivers.  Consequently, pedestrians must be fearless cross-walkers.  In cross-walks, pedestrians have the right of way and all the cars rushing by must stop to let them cross.  However, mustering up the courage to step into a road full of aggressively speeding vehicles is no easy task.  Many a day I find myself standing at the edge of a cross-walk waiting for a Russian бабушка to artfully put her life on the line and stop traffic so that I can cross.





In other news, we're taking a night train to St. Petersburg this evening for our Bing Trip!  If you don't hear from me in a few days, don't be alarmed; I probably will not have much time for blogging during our whirlwind tour of Russia's "European" capital!

пока!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

урок

My professor, the director of the Academy as well as economic advisor to the Russian government, was out on a government business trip, so we had a substitute lecturer in my economics class this morning.  Professor Carol Leonard lectured about the regions of Russia, their economic development, and the agricultural sector.  Towards the end of the lecture, she brought up the 1990s.

I truly had no idea how devastating that decade was for the Russian people.  She described the misery, the starvation, the collapsing economy, and the nightmarish toll these misfortunes took on Russian society.

In the 1990s, Russian firms went bankrupt, Russian industries were producing things nobody wanted to buy, Russians could have land, but they could not take out loans against that land, people lost jobs, people smoked and drank anything, heart disease sickened the population, male life expectancy fell to somewhere in the mid-fifties, the medical system collapsed, Russia imported grain, and those who could, left.  While I was a little girl, watching Sesame Street and whining about eating my vegetables, an entire country was suffering.  It was difficult to imagine.

I see traces of the 1990s in Moscow.  Some, but not much.  The Russian people, as I'm learning, possess amazing resilience.  In twelve years, the male life expectancy rose to mid-seventies, people can take loans against the land, nearly everyone has an iPad or e-Reader, and grocery stores overflow with  продукты.  I know life is different in some of the less-developed regions of Russia, but in Moscow at least, life is better than it was.

Now, I understand why my host mom feeds me so much and has three televisions in her apartment.  It's because she can.  I don't know how the 1990s affected my host family.  I don't particularly want to bring up the subject.  But, from what I've learned about that first decade after the collapse of the Soviet system, nobody was well off.   I guess I need to keep clearing my plate at breakfast and dinner; I hope they know how grateful I am for all that they can provide for me.  I really don't need three котлеты at dinner, though.    

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Привет зимой?

I think Russia's autumn has ended.

While my host mom and I walked to the post office this afternoon to mail my dad's birthday card, I swore I saw snow flurries.  Not many, but a few.  My host mom didn't believe me, though.

Later, I went to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts to see the building that we did not tour on our previous excursion.  What an incredible collection!

According to my guidebook, the Pushkin Museum has amassed over 500,000 pieces since its inauguration in 1912.  Initially, it was an educational institution, filled with plaster casts of sculptural masterpieces and a collection of Egyptian relics.  The Soviet government's policy of nationalizing private property brought many other pieces to the museum.

Some impressive pieces included:
One of the Fayoum Portraits

Bacchanalia
Virgin and Child
El Greco's St. John the Baptist
The Troy Treasures

Though it was only 6:15 when I left the Pushkin Museum, another maroon night had already fallen over Moscow.  I asked around and found out that in 2011, the Russian government decided not to observe daylight savings time.  According to President Medvedev, "Every fall and every spring we are swearing at this system.  Our biorhythms are damaged.  We are all angry.  We either oversleep and turn up late for work or wake up too early and don't know what to do with this free time.  Let alone poor cows and other animals can't understand why they should have their meals or be milked earlier or later." (source).  Maintaining a GMT +4 hours year-round means mid-winter sunrise in Moscow will occur at 10:00AM.  Seriously?  I think the government should focus less on bovine happiness and more on the negative effects of smoking cigarettes.         

Monday, October 22, 2012

просто мысли

In what has probably been one of the best classes of my undergraduate career so far, Post Soviet Eurasia and the SCO, I was surprised to learn that my professor is a Putin supporter.

In America, we have an extremely media-guided conception of Putin and Russia in general.  Putin is the tyrannical, sometimes joke-worthy, Russia leader who oppresses the miserable people of the regressive Russian society.  In many ways, we hold on to our old Cold War naivety about Russia; we seem to presume Russia is less advanced and that Putin is the modern equivalent of Stalin.

I admit that I did not know what to expect from Moscow when I landed in Sheremetyevo International Airport one month ago.  Family members and friends warned me of blisteringly cold temperatures, an interfering police system, and Putin's "despotic" regime.

Indeed, Russia has its share of problems.  Moscow is not an easy place to love.  The weather forecast predicted snow this upcoming week, people smoke too much, and perhaps Putin has centralized the government beyond America's democratic limit.  However, these obstacles do not mean that Russia is retrograde, nor do they mean that Putin's polices have been ineffective.

Perhaps the big government that Putin created was a necessary step in Russia's development from the collapse of the Soviet system.  I don't know enough about modern Russian government to write as accurately as I would like; however, both inside and outside of class, I'm beginning to explore a reality different from the norm I have been taught.

Russia is a beautiful country and Moscow is a modern city.  Why would the government strive for anything less than the best possible life for the Russian people?
   
просто мысли.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Воскресенье в доме

Russians know how to do a Sunday right.  They wake up late, lounge about the house, and take strolls in the park.

I was exhausted this morning after a late night of watching Stanford defeat Cal 21-3!

So, I woke up (relatively) late and took an easy jog along the river.  Moscow early on a Sunday morning is blessedly empty.  After my run, my host mom made me a late breakfast of eggs with vegetables and I got to work on homework and other tasks.

The next few weeks are going to be very busy; we have our Bing trip to St. Petersburg, our upcoming train adventure, and tickets to the opera at the Bolshoi Theatre.  I wanted to take advantage of this free Sunday to get some homework done and finish a few projects that have been hanging over my head.

While I worked, my host parents lounged about the house watching the news, cooking, and chatting.  I don't think they changed out of their bathrobes until 2:00.

Later in the afternoon, my typical restlessness set in, so I set out for a walk in the park.
I was amazed at the number of people walking, roller blading, playing, biking, and running.  Everyone was taking their time, an agreeable contrast to the speed of the workweek.  In America, I still feel a rush on Sunday afternoons.  However, in Moscow, Sunday is the day to relax.  как хорошо.

  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

перекати-поле

Stanford organized an excursion for us to the Tretyakov Gallery, the world's largest repository of Russian art.

On the ground level we explored the ancient icons.  Our guide explained that until the 18th century, the only paintings allowed in Russia were icons.


We then moved into galleries displaying my favorite style of painting: realism.

Here are some interesting and well-known pieces:







Our tour was excellent, but barely made a dent in the expansive collection of works at the Tretyakov Gallery.  There is so much to see here!

Anastasia met us after our tour of the gallery to help Annie, Kyle, and I purchase train tickets for our upcoming adventure (more on this in future posts).  Who knew that buying train tickets in Russia could be such a harangue?  Online, there are many scams, so it is best to either attempt to purchase the ticket on the official Russian site, which is all in Cyrillic, or go to the train station.  We are so thankful Nastya was there to translate, especially when our credit and debit cards were declined!  Despite our struggles, we are now in the possession of overnight train tickets!

Since Nastya and I both had doctor's appointments at 6:00PM, we went to a Russian coffee chain, Шоколадница, and shared a pot of tea.  


Russian tea in restaurants is almost always freshly brewed with tea leaves, spices, and sometimes, fruit.  Fresh tea leaves put tea bags to shame. 


My host mom made me microwavable fish sticks in the shape of dinosaurs for dinner.  I was not a fan.  

But, I am a fan of Stanford football!  Now, I'm off to a Big Game party at a Stanford alum's residence in Moscow!
Go Card!

Friday, October 19, 2012

бейте Кал! (I think that's how you say it in Russian ...)

With Big Game Day approaching, we only thought it fitting to take a picture supporting our beloved Stanford University in the most infamous of "cardinal" locations: Red Square.



Beat Cal!

Then, some racially enthralled Russians wanted to take pictures with Stephanie.  

Moscow, and Russia in general, are more racially homogenous compared to many other places.  This is not the first time that a Russian from the countryside has requested a photograph with Stephanie, Ron, or Bekah. 

Of course, we stopped for some ice cream in GUM to celebrate what is sure to be victory over Cal in tomorrow's Big Game.
According to Annie, the Russian ice cream is so good that you can "taste the cow."

Afterwards, we went for a stroll through Fallen Monument Park.  

After the fall of Communism, many of the statues were torn down and dumped in Fallen Monument Park, sometimes called the Socialist Sculpture Garden.

Gorky



The most famous statue is the one of Stalin whose nose has been broken off by vandals.
Stalin
Clearly, everyone had a great time.

...
That's better.

And we ended the day with a Communist Family Portrait. 
I fid it rather ironic that now many of the symbols of Russia's Soviet past are popular locations for family photographs; the Soviet Union, at least its in initial days, attempted to abolish family units.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

одно большое облако

The entire city of Moscow was one big cloud this morning.  After a rather rough night's sleep and a morning weather report of 100% humidity, I was in no mood to drag my ягодицы out the door for a run.  This week hasn't been the best for me in terms of running.  Oh well.  So, I did some yoga in my room instead.
Yoga studios in Moscow do exist.  Some even offer classes in English.  However, many are rather expensive; I know of a studio that charges $30 for one class.  I recently learned of a studio with more practical pricing.  Perhaps I will go one of these days.  I seriously need to get back on the yoga bus.  My 30 minute video this morning kicked my butt.

With only one class today, Annie, Stephanie, and I had the afternoon free.  We decided to go to a restaurant called Маяк, located on the second floor of the Mayakovsky Theatre.
Mayakovsky Theatre

The restaurant offered a delicious choice of a-la-carte dishes or a business lunch, which is a prix-fixe two-course and drink option.
Interior of Mayak
My salad was очень вкусно and the artist's parlor atmosphere in the restaurant only added to the dining experience.  If there weren't so many places to eat in Moscow, I would certainly return.
Stephanie and Annie
Stephanie went to her internship after lunch and Annie and I decided to explore more of the Tverskaya area.

We went to the Gorky House Museum.

The Gorky House Museum is considered a masterpiece of Style-Moderne architecture.  In 1931, Joseph Stalin presented the mansion as a gift to the socialist writer Maxim Gorky.
See below for photo credit.

The interior of the house was incredible.  Stained glass adorned the windows and delicate moldings and carvings lined the walls and ceilings.
See below for photo credit.

The most striking feature of the house was the Estonian limestone staircase.
See below for photo credit.
Style-Moderne / art nouveau is one of my favorite styles; it is so unique and distinct, yet classic.
See below for photo credit.

Though it was not the most beautiful of days, Annie and I decided to brave the pervasive cloud cover and walk down the historic Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa.  This street was the home to many prominent aristocratic families in the 18th century.  We saw the ITAR-TASS news agency, which was the mouthpiece of the Communist Party and continues to be Russia's main news agency,


and the Moscow Conservatory (under construction), before turning onto Bryusov Pereulok.


In the 1920s, the Communist party assigned the staff of the Moscow state theatres apartments along Bryusov Pereulok.  Buildings numbered 8-10 served as the Composers' Union.  In this building, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovic were forced to read an apology for works that deviated from Socialist Realism.
Building No. 8-10
The street also featured a single-domed church, the Church of the Resurrection, which was one of a handful of churches that remained open during the Soviet era.

At the end of the street, we arrived at a granite archway that leads to Tverskaya Ulitsa.
Tverskaya Ulitsa
As one of the main streets through Moscow, Tverskaya Ulitsa is home to many upscale hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton.  I've already explored some of the other hotels in the area, such as the Metropol and the National, but not the Ritz.  Naturally, I had to go inside.
Main Lobby of the Ritz-Carlton
On the top floor of the Ritz is the O2 Lounge, which overlooks Red Square.
O2 Lounge

Exterior of the O2 Lounge / Roof of the Ritz

View of Red Square and the Kremlin from the roof of the Ritz

As I said before, Moscow was one big cloud today.
одно большое облако.

I only had my point and shoot camera today.  Bummer.  

Photo credits for the interior of the Gorky House Museum go to : http://othermoscow.livejournal.com/14462.html