Sochi: Spring Break with Sun and Snow

May 19, 2010 at 10:18 am (Uncategorized)

Sunday night (April 26th) we had to meet at the train station at eleven thirty in order to begin our long journey to Sochi.  Sochi is a city in the South of Russia, which is on the Black Sea and in the Caucaus Mountains.  It is also going to be the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  It takes 30 hours to get from Vladimir to Sochi on the train, so we had all packed lots of goodies for the ride.  Our train left Vladimir at 12:40 am on Monday the 27th of April.

On Monday we spent most of the day playing cards, or any other sort of game we could think of.  We played the game where each person writes the name of a famous person on a slip of paper and hands it to the person next to them.  That person puts the paper on their forehead without looking at it and has to guess who they are using yes or no questions.  The Russians on the train all thought we were crazy, and they kept giving us weird looks while passing us.  I guess it must have been bizarre to see six Americans clutching pieces of paper to their foreheads.  We were extremely bored and extremely stuffed the entire day.  We realized that we had brought way too much food, so we ate it all day since we had nothing else to do.

When we woke up on Tuesday, we could see lots of green and finally, the Black Sea.  We arrived in Sochi at 9:30 am.  We were all ecstatic to see so much green and hear so many birds singing.  The weather was very warm as well.  We immediately got into a bus and got a tour of the city.  We first went to a park in the center of Sochi that is very big, and had lots of attractions and weird statues.  We couldn’t stop saying things like, “Look how GREEN everything is!”  We also walked around the city and on the boardwalk.  Afterwards we checked into our hotel, which was an odd mix of very nice, and very crappy.  The outside was not incredibly nice looking, but the lobby was quite nice indeed, so I thought that the inside must be nice everywhere after all.  After we got into our rooms, I realized that this wasn’t exactly right.  The rooms resembled college dorm rooms.  I lived with Emily and Erin.

We immediately put on our bathing suits and sprinted down to the Black Sea to swim.  While passing the floor attendant, she asked, “Oh you guys are going down to the pool?”  When we replied that we were actually going to the ocean, she gave us a very weird look, and said, “Um, you know the pool is warmer, right?”  We didn’t care.

We had to take turns going into the Black Sea because we didn’t want anyone to steal our stuff on the beach.  So we went in groups of two.  Emily and Erin went first.  It was very cold, but they went in anyway.  Courtney and I went next, and we had to go in fast because we had been talking so much trash to Emily and Erin for being slow about it.  So within a few minutes we dunked under the water (which was about 50 degrees).  However, the cold wasn’t the only deterant as there were many jellyfish in the water.  They were moon jellies, so they don’t sting, but it was still somewhat unnerving to think that you might dive into the water and slam your face straight into a jellyfish.  Anyway, we can now all say that we have been swimming in the Black Sea!

After swimming, we were all looking forward to a nice hot shower.  We returned back to the hotel to discover that there was no hot water.  We were rewarded for going into the 50 degree sea with a lovely freezing cold shower.

The next day our excursions began.  We first went to a tea plantation to hear about how tea is made.  Tea is incredibly important to Russia, and Russians enjoy drinking it about five times a day.  Coincidentally, I was very sick of tea.  However, it ended up being interesting because I learned that there is absolutely no difference between black or green tea leaves.  All tea originates as one plant, and then they are processed differently to become green tea, black tea, white tea, or red tea.  After learning a little too much about tea, we all got to try some.  We sat in a tea house and drank black tea and ate bread with different types of jam and honey while listening to people sing and play music.  One man played the accordion, and he played smaller and smaller accordions until they got too small to play.  It was incredibly weird, but cool.

After the tea excursion, we tried the pool out.  It was certainly warmer than the ocean, but it was still seawater.  We played Frisbee in the pool and swam around until we needed to meet for dinner.

The next day we went on our first (and best) hike.  John (the Moscow resident director) for some reason made the Vladimir group go way ahead of the rest, so we all took a marshrutka to the mountain.  A marshrutka is a form of Russian transportation that is acts as a bus, but is essentially a van.  They are very uncomfortable because you get squeezed in with many people, and then the drivers weave in and out of traffic at the speed of light.  I would compare these devil vans with the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, except obviously without the magic.

The hike was very beautiful because there were many flowers, and lots of green.  The first half and hour of the hike was incredibly difficult because it was very steep and none of us were in shape as we had been eating Russian food all winter long (a.k.a slabs of butter and tubs of oil).  However, it was all worth it because we got to see good views of the mountain.  At the end of our hike there was a magnificent waterfall, complete with a pond that we could swim in.  The Black Sea was a hot tub compared to this damn pond.  It was 30 degrees.  Of course, all of Vladimir went in anyways, because by God we were going to beat Moscow and Petersburg.  However, Evgeni, the teacher who came with us, told us that we had to ease into it in order to not go into shock.  The worst part was putting your feet in, and after that it was better because at least part of your body was completely numb.  Of course, when the other two groups showed up, they jumped right in.  However, after that they couldn’t really stay in for more than thirty seconds.  Win.

After finishing the hike, we ate Georgian food at a restaurant.  It was very good.  We actually had quite a lot of Georgian food on the trip because we were so close to it.  Afterwards we all had to get on marshrutkas again, except there wasn’t enough room for everyone.  When seven of us couldn’t fit, John decided to march us all down the side of a highway in order to get one.  About ten minutes into walking on the highway and trying to avoid maniac drivers, John hailed a marshrutka and we all, thankfully, got on.

The next day we went on another hike.  None of us understood why we couldn’t separate the two hike days, but instead John put them back to back.  This hike sucked.  We walked up a highway to the top of the mountain, which was absolutely zero percent interesting.  The only semi interesting part of the hike was when a dog attacked me halfway up.  It was only trying to herd me away from its house, but for a while I thought it was going to bite me.  At the top of the mountain there were several weird things, the first of these being the variety of animals you could be photographed with.  There were parrots, a peacock, a monkey, and a lion.  It was very unlike Russia.  We had lunch and went up a tower to see the view.  It was rather foggy, so the view wasn’t as good as it could have been.  However, it was still the best part of the excursion.

Afterwards, there was not enough room on the bus for everyone to go back down the mountain, so people were encouraged to walk down.  All but two people who volunteered were from Vladimir.  We all walked down the mountain cursing John for being the worst organizer ever.  By the halfway point, our feet and knees were killing us, and we were not pleased.  We later found out that each way walking was 7 miles.  So we hiked 14 miles that day.  Thanks John.

After the hike, we decided that we deserved McDonalds.  Unfortunately, the trek to McDonalds turned out to be a little more of a hike than we wanted because we couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  However, when we got there, we literally ran up to the doors yelling, “Yeeeeeeah!!”  It was only later that we realized what huge dorks we were.  Drew bought Emily and I fries and a muffin because he was so grateful that we found McDonalds for him.  It might have been the best meal ever.

The next day we were all incredibly sore.  Luckily we didn’t have a hike.  Instead we were going to Krasnaya Polyana, a very popular ski resort, and the future Olympic mountain.  It also happens to be Putin’s favorite ski location.  We found out that Medvedev was planning on coming to the mountain that day as well, but alas we didn’t see him.  We did, however, see his plane at the airport on the way to the mountain.  Yes, I saw the Russian equivalent of Air Force One.

At the mountain, several of us paid to ride up the ski lift to the top.  There were four lifts that we needed to ride in order to get to the top, and each one was a dinky two person chair.  It took and hour to get to the top.  It was an absolutely gorgeous view because we could see so much of the Caucausas.  The Moscow teacher got off the last lift and immediately ran up the hill, tearing her shirt off, and screaming, “Everyone take your clothes off!!”  Needless to say, she was a bit nuts.  She was also hilarious.  Everyone took lots of crazy group pictures.  Once we got down, we spent a little time wandering around the mountain base before we had to get back on the bus and go to a honey farm.  At the honey farm we learned about different types of honey and got to try some.  I learned that not all honey is delicious.

Our last excursion was a little weird.  First we went to a river and were supposed to drive up a ways to see a good view of the river and go into a cave.  John came on the bus microphone and told us, “Well, um, the road up to the view is closed so we have to hike.”  Most of the Vladimir group wanted off with his head.  I suppose it wasn’t his fault, but we were still super sore from having to walk 14 miles the other day instead of 7 like everybody else.  It was only a ten minute hike up to where we were going, but it was straight uphill, and I have never felt that much pain in my life.  It was all for nothing as well, because we could hardly see the river, and the lady working there refused to open the gate for us to see the better view and get into the cave.  We were more than a little bitter about this.

We walked back down to the river, and hung out there for awhile.  There was a rope bridge, so I walked across that, and then I found some sand on the bank of the river, and lay in that for awhile.

Afterwards, we had to go to the second part of the excursion, which was a fish hatchery.  No one was particularly interested in the fish, but we got to see the whole process.  We saw tiny baby fish, then we saw bigger fish, and then we saw a lady in the parking lot slicing people’s purchases open and throwing their guts into the parking lot.

That night, Medvedev ate at our hotel.  Emily, Erin, three of the Moscow girls, and I went running down to the beach (where the restaurant was) a little too late because we had only just gotten back from dinner.  We had missed him.  One of the Moscow girls went up to a security guard, and asked, “Where’s our president?”  The guy responded, “He’s over on the dock having tea with Putin.”  We sort of had to pull her away, because she thought the guard was serious, and we had to tell her that he was joking.  We found out later that even the people who had been down there when Medvedev showed up hadn’t seen him either because he had so many security guards, and he went through the back door.

When I was in a produkti (a small Russian grocery store) buying chips, a man rather demandingly asked for expensive chocolate while I was putting my money away.  As I was walking out the store, he called me back over and gave me the chocolate.  This is what we have dubbed, “the pretty discount” because if you are remotely attractive, Russian men will often buy you things, or at least give you large discounts on things you are buying.

The next day we didn’t have an excursion because it was our last day in Sochi.  St. Petersburg had to leave at six in the morning to make their train.  However, we weren’t leaving until three, so most of us spent the day walking along the boardwalk.  We were all sad to be leaving because it was so beautiful and interesting there.

We spent most of our nights on Sochi walking on the boardwalk, and then having a beer on the beach.  Russians don’t have the same idea of not drinking in public as Americans do.  It was really nice to have a beer and watch the sun set.  It seemed pretty normal to me to see the sun set over the water, but everyone else was from the East Coast, so they never see the sun set over the ocean.  It was also really nice because the sun has also started setting a lot later, so it was light until about nine.  (Now it is setting at around ten and rising at four thirty or five—we’re a lot closer to white nights).

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Ohhh Russia

April 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm (Uncategorized)

This weekend was no less strange than any other week.  We went to Ispensky Cathedral and Dmitrievsky Cathedral on Friday for our excursion, the two biggest, most important monuments in Vladimir.  Ispensky Cathedral was very beautiful inside because it was completely decked out in gold.  There is a tomb for Alexander Nevsky, one of the famous, early Russian tsars, inside the Cathedral.  It contains his finger.  Apparently people chopped up his body and distributed it among the big cities in Russia.  I am not remotely surprised.  So I got to see the finger of some royal dead guy.  We also saw the tomb of another 900 year dead king.  Our guide told us to step up on a platform to get a better look at it.  I was only minorly surprised to find that the top of the casket was glass, and we could see the decrepit body.  It must have been really well preserved because it was 900 years old, but still retained a body shape.  Its hand (missing a couple fingers) was clutching a giant, gold sword.  It was pretty cool.

Springtime after Easter is apparently a very popular time in Russia to get married.  As I said before, couples in Russia go to famous landmarks in their city to take pictures after their wedding ceremony.  On Friday, by the Golden Gate, we saw a grand total of eight wedding parties.  You’d think that it would somewhat ruin the experience, to have three other brides in the background of your wedding photos, but I guess it’s tough luck.  We saw one wedding party taking jumping action shots off a hill.  Anyway, Fridays in Vladimir have become hellish days to be in a car or a bus, because there is a lot of traffic due to these caravan wedding parties everywhere.

On Saturday Erin’s tutor found out that a free movie was going to happen that night.  Emily, Sarah, Erin, and I all invited our Russian friend Misha as well, and went.  The building where the movie was played looked like an abandoned hospital.  We got there rather early, and a “concert” was still in full swing.  They let us sit in on the concert while we waited for the film to start.  We are still unsure what the heck it was, because the “concert” consisted of one man, who was wearing a flashy gold shirt, singing, reading excerpts of his books, and showcasing magazines.  We were the youngest people there, apart from a boy in front of us, who was playing a game on a gameboy-type thing.  Emily and I spent most of the time watching the kid’s game.  So did his father.

Finally, the Renaissance man finished (late, naturally), and they started playing the movie.  The movie was an old Russian comedy, which had a strong resemblance to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  In the movie, a geeky-looking man built a machine that melted his wall, and revealed Russia hundreds of years ago.  Of course, the tsar got stuck in present time, and two people from the present time got stuck in the tsar’s time.  It was absolutely hilarious, because it was so strange.  There were lots of cat moments also, because it wouldn’t be Russia if there weren’t cats in every aspect of life.

Speaking of cats, Zosya is just as bizarre as ever.  She likes to claw the bathroom door open in the morning while I’m doing my make-up.  Then she sticks only her head in, meows loudly, and then leaves.  It has become a daily ritual.  The other day, I was reading in bed, and she came in and jumped up on the bed.  I was too lazy to make her go away, so I said, “Ok fine you can stay.  I’m allergic to you though, so just don’t come near my face.”  Of course, she immediately smashed her face into mine, and began rubbing it all over my nose.  Thank you, devil cat.  This morning, Tanya brought Zosya into the kitchen, and she looked very wide-eyed and innocent.  I thought, “Aww you’re actually cute today.”  Five minutes later, when everyone had forgotten about her, I looked over and saw her glaring at everyone evilly, with an expression on her face that appeared to be, “I will terminate you all.”

This afternoon, I got the first healthy food I have ever gotten at home.  Iya came into my room and asked which would I rather have on my salad, oil, mayonnaise, or sour cream?  I immediately sprinted into the kitchen, telling her that I didn’t want ANYTHING on my salad.  She didn’t understand, and kept trying to put globs of mayonnaise on my beautiful, healthy salad.  I literally had to guard the bowl with my body to keep the mayonnaise out.  I won.

Right now Volodya is disassembling his couch.  I don’t know why.  The living room (which I call “Volodya’s space”) is a mess.  He is humming gleefully to himself, while prying nails out of the couch.  The other day, Iya wasn’t home when I returned, so Volodya served me dinner.  He set out my tea, potatoes, and meat, then began wiggling his hips and swirling his wooden spoon in the air, and asked me if I “required” anything else.  When I said no, he informed me that his bath was ready, and he was “Going to go swimming now.”  When he finishes baths, he likes to wrap a towel around his head, like women do to dry their hair.  Except Volodya doesn’t have much hair, so he looks ridiculous.

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Things That Really Aren’t Surprising Anymore

April 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm (Uncategorized)

On the drive back from the city Myrom, in the middle of nowhere, I saw a boy paddling across a pond on a broken door.

On the same drive, we saw, at the very least, thirty bonfires outside people’s houses.  People were throwing their things into these fires.  We continued to see them throughout the weekend, all over the place.  When I asked a Russian friend why they were doing this, he replied, “Oh people burn the grass, so that new grass can grow better.”

While walking to school, I saw a naked man taking a steam bath in an open pipe near my school.

It has been over sixty degrees for the past two weeks.  Russians are still dressing as though it is ten degrees.

In the past two weeks I have seen not one, not two, but four machine guns out in the open.  One of the guys who had one was an average Joe.  Sun’s out, guns out boys.

When I won a game of hangman with the word “Medvedev,” my teacher told Erin and Jeff that they should physically beat me.

We are all slowly losing our English.  Innocent sentences such as, “I feel gross today” have been warped to “I feel myself grossly today.”  To be fair, that would be the literal translation for how you would say that in Russian.  It has also gotten extremely hard to write in one language.  Oftentimes I combine letters from both languages, and then honestly can’t figure out which language I was going for.

When we were reviewing directional verbs, I realized that I was relating each verb to Frodo’s journey in Lord of the Rings.

My grammar teacher told me today, “I don’t like you today because you seem sad.”

One hundred percent see-through shirts are acceptable.  Women may as well wear lace curtains.

There is a show on TV called, “Let’s Get Married.”  A man or woman goes on the show and meets with three bachelors or bachelorettes.  At the end, the man or woman chooses one of three.  They get married.

There is another show on TV that is a skewed version of “Wheel of Fortune.”  The show involves very little spelling, and the guests all sing to the host.  We haven’t figured out what the point of the show is yet, but most of the prizes are things like onions, and the contestants seem ecstatic to win them.

Many Russians wear T-shirts with English writing on them.  Many Russians have no idea what these T-shirts mean.  I will not list examples, because they are all very inappropriate.

Russians all wear USSR paraphanalia.  I see so many shirts, belt buckles, and such with “CCCP” stamped across them, which is the Russian spelling for USSR.

My Russian friend told us that Moscow was very safe during the Soviet Union.  He also told us that Vladimir was “like a mini Soviet Union.”  We have no idea what he was talking about.

When the Polish plane crash happened this weekend, I was watching the news with my host family.  I asked my host mom lots of questions about it because I wanted to know details about it.  Her response to all of my questions was, “It’s because of the War.”  What the WHAT are you talking about?

Speaking of which, EVERYTHING is about “The War” here.  “The War” is WWII.  Russians will all tell you that they were immensely important in the war, and America helped too.  Everyone else put in an inadequate effort.

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Russian Orthodox Easter

April 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm (Uncategorized)

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter for a week.  Russians all make what we named, “Jesus Cakes,” because they often write “Jesus” on them.  They make at least seven of them.  Russians tell us that these cakes are made out of a special bread that lasts seven days.  It does not.  By the end of the week, these cakes could have been used as weapons.

On Easter Sunday every church started ringing its bells every hour beginning at two a.m.  There are over one hundred churches in Vladimir.

In the afternoon on Easter Sunday priests, monks, and nuns come out of the Cathedral and Monestary and give sermons at the Golden Gate.  They then have a procession back to the Cathedral or Monestary.  Jeff, Emily, and I saw the Monestary procession.  They started at the Golden Gate, but the military messed it up because they were marching too fast for the old priests.  One priest came tearing out of the Gate yelling, “STOP!  STOP, STOP.”  He halted the procession and they had to start again.  We watched the parade file out, and then we all followed them into the Monestary.  Then we left.

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Surprise

April 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I woke up Sunday morning to find that five hundred eggs had been delivered to my apartment.  Happy Easter.

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Just Another Weekend in Vladimir

April 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm (Uncategorized)

We went to another club for Erin’s birthday.  This one was much more crowded than the previous one we had gone to for Emily’s birthday.  It turned out to be quite interesting.  There was one guy wearing aviators the whole time, accompanied by jeans and a sweater.  I named him Maverick.  The whole night I kept thinking of hilarious Top Gun jokes.  For example, when Jeff asked, “Where did Maverick go?”  I replied, “He’s on the highway to the danger zone, man!”  He came back in no time, and fervently began dancing AT people.  He failed to land anywhere.  Another guy, who looked like a heavyweight wrestler, stood by the bar alone all night, and repeatedly punched the air.  He was obviously trying to raise the roof.  It looked like he had seen too many episodes of Jersey Shore.  Meanwhile, the DJ was playing strange English techno.  My favorite song was one that repeated the lyrics, “Don’t be shy, it’s Halloween” over and over again.

Yesterday, Tania (my host mother’s granddaughter) had a dance recital.  We were extremely late, so Olya drove like a bat out of hell, two blocks down the road.  We arrived five minutes before the show started, and Tania was supposed to have been there an hour before the show.  Olya parked, threw the keys at Iya, and took off running toward the dressing rooms after Tania.  Meanwhile, I saw the first attractive man that I’ve seen in Russia.  Sadly, this was the man Iya threw the car keys at, while yelling, “YOUNG MAN CLOSE MY CAR.”  While the poor soul showed Iya how to lock the car, I walked off, pretending that I didn’t know Iya.  Meanwhile Volodya (wearing jeans and a jeans jacket) was wondering off giggling to himself about God only knows what.

Once inside the theater, Volodya and I were assigned the task of finding seats.  We saw some in the middle of one of the rows, so we squeezed our way past people to get there.  The lady promptly informed us that the seats were reserved.  Volodya demanded to know why, and she replied that she was saving them for her son and husband.  Volodya vehemently said, “I don’t care!” And sat down.  While she started yelling at him, I started easing my way back out of the row.  Volodya finally followed me, and marched straight up to one of the ushers, saying, “This is your job isn’t it?  Good, I can’t find seats.”  The lady pointed out the two seats we had just tried.  “I already tried there!” bellowed Volodya.  Finally, the usher opened the balcony for us.  Volodya shoved me through the door, hurting a small child in the process.  We finally found seats just as the performance was starting.

The performance was very interesting, and Tania danced very well.  However, Iya kicked me out at intermission, despite my protests that I wanted to stay.  She promptly told me that I couldn’t stay, and dragged me out of the auditorium.  She led me outside, and said, “There’s your bus, go!” before heading back into the theater.  I still don’t understand.

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So You Think You Can Sing?

April 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Last Sunday, we met several Russian university students at a round table discussion.  One of them, Misha (short for the name Mikhail), called me and offered to give me a tour of Vladimir State University one day after school.  Emily, Erin, Courtney, and I all went, assuming that we would simply have a tour of the campus.  We were wrong.  Misha brought us to a Journalism class, which was bizarre because he isn’t even in that department.  The teacher and her students were delighted to see real live Americans.  They asked us who we were, and whether or not we liked Vladimir.  Without further ado, the teacher popped in a video, and made us watch several short films, none of which remotely related to journalism, or anything for that matter.  The first of these short films, depicted a bunch of women walking together in a line.  The camera only showed their naked legs, all wearing high heels, model-walking in a dance studio, to the song “I’m Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”  The second short video showed a bunch of cats in slow motion.  My favorite of all of these, however, was a video that showed clips of Putin, to the song “I’m Too Sexy.”  It also showed a man who had painted Putin’s face on his leather jacket.

After we finished watching the bizarre, random videos, the students in the class asked us questions about journalism in America.  The question sequence went exactly like this:

“Do universities in America have their own newspapers?”

“Are your school newspapers any good?”

“What do you think of Medvedev?”

“Are you planning on getting married soon?”

Reflecting on this, we probably should not have been surprised.  After they finished asking questions, Misha told us that all the dorms of the university were competing in a battle of the bands that night.  Naturally, we had to go.  Misha himself was playing in the competition with his band.  We heard them warming up before the competition started, and we all thought, “Oh no, they suck, now we’re going to have to lie to his face, and tell him they were great.”  Shortly after, the concert started, and it was absolutely hilarious.  There were three rounds, and each dorm had a band or singer represent them in each round.  One dorm sent one guy up every single time.  He changed into a new sparkling, shiny shirt each time, and sang pop songs in front of American-idol style flashing lights.  He sang one song in English, the lyrics being, “Love and emotions make me so tender, give it to me in sweet surrender.”  Two girls, clad in “dresses” that hid absolutely nothing, got up on stage and sang a pop song.  One of the girls couldn’t sing her way out of a paper bag, but she thought that she was Mariah Carey, and sang the “Oohs” with oomph.  We couldn’t believe her friends actually allowed her to think she could sing like that in front of hundreds of people.  One girl sang a song from the movie “A Walk to Remember,” and she was actually very good, but I could have done without the Walk to Remember montage she played.  In the end, Misha and his group got up, and we all thought, “Oh Lord here we go…” They turned out to be absolutely amazing.  I want the song they played on my iPod.

It is also worth mentioning that the backdrop for this performance was Garfield, wearing a tux, and holding a microphone to his mouth.  He was giving the audience a seductive look, that clearly said, “Come hither.”

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Concerning Marriage

April 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm (Uncategorized)

It should be noted that Russians, especially women, are very preoccupied with love and marriage.  When I first told my host mother that I have a boyfriend in America, she said something to the tune of, “Oh wonderful, you’re on the right track.”  She demanded to see pictures, and when I showed her one of him, she said, “He’s tall.  He’ll make a good husband.”  I tried to explain to her that twenty-year-olds in America don’t think about things like that, and she looked at me like I was off my rocker.  There are many superstitions in Russia about marriage as well.  If you break certain rules, it means that you won’t be married for another ten years, which is catastrophic here.  When Iya’s sister came over for the first time, she told me, “You’re very beautiful.  You’ll find a good husband.”  Young women, as well as the old are like this as well.  We spoke to sixteen-year-old girls about the matter, and they were horrified that women in America get married as late as thirty.  I told them that my aunt was only just getting married for the first time at the age of forty-four, and their eyes got really wide, as they said, “What did she do wrong?”  It is yet another reason why Russian culture is so different from American culture.

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Some Russian Episodes

March 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm (Uncategorized)

We have a folklore class every other Tuesday where we sing songs and learn Russian dances and games.  The other day we played a game involving flowers, which is meant for Russian children.  If your flower is chosen, and you don’t answer fast enough, then it is required for you to take off something you’re wearing.  I am not kidding, children play this game in Russia.  Most people in our group took off watches, but Jeff was forced to take off his belt because he didn’t have a watch.  Apparently strip games are not only for adults in Russia.  I should not have been surprised.

We experienced Russian clubs for the first time this weekend.  We went to two different ones.  The first club played a lot of Russian techno music, with the exception of Lady Gaga, which the club played especially for Emily’s birthday.  There was a brief period in the first club where all of the power went off right after we first got up to dance.  We all joked that we were so bad at dancing that the system just shut down in protest.  The second club was really big and really expensive.  They played only English techno, and there were way more guys than girls.  It was a sausage fest.  The guys weren’t remotely interested in dancing with girls because they were all too busy busting out by themselves.  It was a bunch of guys in beaters and jeans acting like they were in the movie Step Up.  It was absolutely hilarious.

I saw my first Russian bar fight in the classiest bar I’ve been to yet here.  A tall, gangly guy with an arguile vest literally kicked some guy out the door because he was too drunk.  The guy came in again, so the innocent looking waiter kicked him out again.  And I mean, he literally raised his foot and kicked this guy in the back.  After the guy fell out the door, the waiter (I swear to God) did a superman dive out the door on top of this guy and started beating him to a pulp.  Afterwards the waiter came inside and called an ambulance because there was so much blood poring out of the guy’s head.  Meanwhile I was the ONLY ONE who saw any of this happen.  Everyone else in my group was too deeply immersed in conversation to hear me saying, “Guys did you see that??”  It was crazy.

I also went to Globus, which is the Russian equivalent of Costco (which is like Sam’s Club for those of you who don’t have Costco).  Except Globus was way nicer than Costco because it wasn’t in a crappy warehouse with birds flying around everywhere.  I honestly felt like I had somehow passed through a portal to America, because absolutely nothing in Vladimir looks like this.  It had absolutely everything.  However, there were several reminders that I was still in Russia.  For one, instead of workers looking bored in blue smocks, there were giant mafia-type men in suits with earpieces, standing still and staring at everyone.  There were also too many people walking around with whole fish for it to be America.  In America, most of our fish can be bought pre-gutted and without their heads.  The idea is laughable in Russia.  The Globus symbol is also too creepy.  It is a smiley face, but one eye is a globe.  It looks like it should be a villain in a James Bond movie because the globe looks more like a diamond.  It is particularly eerie.

I remember before I came to Russia, one of my friends told me that Russians make crazy remixes of American songs, and play them in clubs.  Today I found out that Russians do not limit their remixes to American songs, but ANYTHING American.  And I mean anything.  Today, a couple of us were in “Whiskey Pub,” a popular bar/nightclub, when all of a sudden we heard George Bush’s voice speaking over techno music.  That’s right, I kid you not, I heard a remix to George Bush’s “We got Saddam Hussein” speech.

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St. Petersburg Day Four

March 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm (Uncategorized)

The next morning we woke up and talked about how nice Dima was, and we all agreed that he was the nicest man we had ever met.  This led to the thought that he probably robbed us all blind.  Thankfully, he didn’t.  He came into our room later to give all the girls in our group roses because it was International Women’s Day.  It is traditional for people to give all the women they know presents, but it was really nice of him to think of us also since we had known him for all of a day.  It was officially the first flower a man has ever voluntarily given me (the only one I’ve ever gotten before was from my prom date, where its obligatory to give your date a corsage).  He even gave me two because he saw that my first one was slightly drooping, and he thought I needed a new one, despite my telling him that it was fine.

After that Misha, Dima, and Christina made us all breakfast, and videotaped us.  Misha asked us a million questions that he recorded on his video camera, and then he would randomly want us to throw our hands in the air, and yell “Whoo!”  It was all very weird.

Emily, Erin, and I went to go find the famous statue of Peter the Great, a.k.a the Bronze Horseman, that Pushkin wrote about.  It was not nearly as exciting as we thought it would be.  The statue a ways away from it was more interesting because it was a bust of a Stalin-look-alike with a camel sitting under it.  We could not for the life of us figure out what it was supposed to be.  But, naturally, we all took pictures riding the camel.

God had blessed us with the gift of Pizza Hut close to our hostel, so after we wondered around the park we went there to buy AMERICAN pizzas (as opposed to the Russian version of pizza, which involve way too much cabbage) for the train ride back to Vladimir.  We went inside and were immediately greeted by the cash register, which told us “WE LOVE YOU!!!!!”  No, no–Pizza Hut, we love YOU.  Erin ordered a whole pizza for herself, but Emily and I decided to order one large pizza that we would share with the rest of our group.  We sat down to wait at the “waiting area,” which had a pitcher full of nasty gas water for our enjoyment.  In Russia you have to differentiate between water with or without “gas,” which is the Russian way of saying sparkling water.  When we finally got our pizzas Emily and I realized that our pizza wasn’t big enough for us and Jeff and Courtney.  We decided that we didn’t want to share after all, so we ordered another pizza for them.  The restaurant must have thought we were so bizarre because after we ordered our third pizza, we began to eat our to-go pizzas in the restaurant.  When we finally got our third pizza, we had to sprint back to the hostel because we were running late for our train.

In order to make our train, we had to power walk through the city.  Naturally we were all thinking very violent thoughts toward all the slow-walkers of Saint Petersburg who were strolling leisurely in our way.  Of course it also began to snow violently along the way.  But it turned out all right because we made our train with five minutes to spare.

The train ride was mostly non eventful, but at around 11:30 I was awoken by a member of the militsia (Russian police) smacking me with his folder.  It was extremely frightening because generally when foreigners are confronted by the militsia, it is not for a good reason.  They usually want to find a way to prove we’re here illegally if we don’t bribe them.  So, naturally, I was like oh no, here we go.  I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I heard “purse” and “ticket” a lot so I decided he wanted me to get my ticket out of my purse, but when I looked up again he was walking away.  It turned out that he simply wanted me to put my purse in a safer place so it wouldn’t be stolen.  It was very nice of him, but I wish he hadn’t hit me repeatedly.

We got into Vladimir at 5 am.  We stood around waiting for a bus until 5:45.  It was cold.  I went home and slept until 7:30 when I had to get up and go to school.  It was a hell of a day, but it was totally worth it.  I absolutely loved Saint Petersburg, but I wish I could have spoken more Russian there because, like Moscow, they speak too much English.  Many people actually assumed I was French and started speaking French to me.  St. Petersburg was also super European, and not remotely Russian.  I am very glad I am studying in Vladimir for the semester because I am getting a real Russian experience.

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