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Eating

April 18th, 2010

Up until Thursday of this week, I spent most of my time fretting about my conference paper and watching lots of online TV in order to forget that I should be writing my conference paper. It’s my usual self-destructive pattern of procrastination. I finished it, though, and read it to a room of English teachers on Thursday,  and it was fine. I think people mostly understood. You can read it here if you want, but keep in mind that I wrote the title about a month before I knew what the paper would actually be about. I kind of had to piece a few random things together. Friday night we had a fun English Game Night with the students, and then some of them invited me over to their apartment for bliny and syrniki (basically fried tvorog – see below).  I also, as usual, had a UArctic meeting and a VIP-club party on Saturday and singing on Sunday. It has snowed a couple times this week but at other times has been really sunny and nice (although still very dirty out).

There’s not much else to report, so I think I’ll talk about food. There are a lot of foods from America that I miss here, but I am also a big fan of many aspects of Russian eating. Not least because they’ve caused me to lose a lot of weight. Mostly, I will really miss the cafeteria lunches. I’ve mentioned them before and may seem weirdly attached to them, since they’re not the prime example of gourmet Russian eating, but I really like getting a super cheap salad, soup, and tea for lunch, feeling satisfied and not craving anything more (because there’s nothing super appetizing available). I will really need to learn to make Russian soups before I leave. They’re healthy, tasty, low-fat, and there’s just something so comforting about eating warm liquid. It’s one of the mysterious pleasures of life. When I told my group of high schoolers that soups in America generally come in cans, they were shocked. They decided they needed to write a cookbook of Russian recipes to sell in America. Then their teacher shot down that plan by telling them that Americans don’t read, but that’s another story.

In general, Russians make all of their food from scratch. They may use frozen vegetables occasionally, but they don’t normally buy pre-cooked, ready-to-go frozen meat or whole frozen meals. Most of the stuff they make is pretty simple: soups, salads, boiled potatoes, plov (which here is basically a catch-all term for rice with some kind of vegetables, meat and spices in it), meat patties, buckwheat (boiled)…The basic pattern is some kind of wet grain or starch plus meat. Plus dill, parsley and sour cream or mayonnaise for some “vitamins” and flavor. Mothers usually throw this kind of stuff together after work or on weekends, and the family eats it for a couple days. They store the leftovers in the fridge usually right in the pot or in a bowl covered with a plate: no tupperware or plastic wrap needed.  Soup is an everyday staple – it’s the Russian version of the apple that keeps the doctor away. Well, that and garlic, which I’ve been told some kids in preschools wear in little plastic eggs (from the Kinder Surprise candies) around their necks to prevent the flu.

I guess there’s more I could say about Russian food…like their love of mushroom gathering, their salads full of meat and mayonnaise, and their extreme suspicion of the US’s genetically modified milk products (apparently the ice cream tastes better here because it’s hormone-free). Oh! That’s another thing. Russians have a lot of different dairy products. Regular milk (sterilized, not pasteurized, of course), prostokvasha (thick sour milk), toplyonnoe moloko (baked milk), kefir (like thin yogurt), sour cream, tvorog (the translations I’ve found are curds, whey, and cottage cheese), sgushonka (sweetened condensed milk). The last two are common sweets, found in pastries, bliny, and more. I didn’t like tvorog at all when my Moscow khozyaika gave it to me in large quantities to eat just with some jam and a spoon, but as a filling it has really grown on me.  And I love syrniki. According to Nadya, sgushonka is so popular because in Soviet times there weren’t a lot of sweets – it was basically the cheapest, tastiest thing around. Nyam nyam.

Gryaz’

April 9th, 2010

Spring continues. Puddles come to life, disappear, and reappear in new places. Areas that are passable when I walk to E building at one turn into lakes by the time I walk back at three, and the next day they are clear once more – the puddles have skulked away to block someone else’s path. The incredible amounts of dog poop, cigarette butts, beer bottles, and other trash that were deposited into the snow over the past six months are now coming to light. Everything is wet. It is often impossible to tell if you are walking on loose gravel, pavement, or a dirty sheet of old ice.

I kicked off this week with a class about fraternities and sororities, judging a student conference, tutoring Sveta, and getting a cough. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty chill, so I just attended my regular classes and tried to rest in the meantime. On Thursday I read my Byron poem again at a meeting of first-year IT majors. I’m really not sure what the context of this meeting was. It was in a classroom where there is a small gallery of work by a certain Ukhta artist and was organized, again, by Lera’s mom (who also organized the big poetry event last month). The students recited English poems and then participated in a short discussion of the artist’s works. The artist herself was there listening, and a musician friend of Lera’s mother (who also performed at our Christmas program) played a couple songs on the piano.

After that I had to go meet with one of the university’s vice-presidents, who had requested to see me. He brought up the president’s idea about getting American basketball players to come to Ukhta. So, here is my first call for interested candidates. Ukhta State Technical University is very proud of its student-professional basketball team, “Planeta.” However, they are aware that in order to improve their mastery of the game, they need to go to the source of basketball – America. If you have played basketball in any more-or-less official context (even just a good high school team) and are game to spend a year in Russia, you are invited to Ukhta! Ukhta State Technical University is prepared to pay handsomely for your cultural and athletic perspective. You could experience life in northern Russia, learn some Russian, and even study at the university if you want. If you’re nervous about coming alone, bring a friend or significant other. If he/she has any sporting experience (basketball, volleyball…) they’ll pay him/her too. If any of you reading my blog knows any potential candidates, talk to them about this opportunity, or give me their contact information. UGTU (or at least Pres. Tskhadaya and VP Belogorskii) is serious about this. Any interested players will be enthusiastically received, but preference will be given to non-white people.

On Friday I had a class where I gave a short intro to Helen Keller and then played Apples to Apples with the students. I also talked to a group of English school teachers about the US Education system, attended a teleconference with our UArctic professor in Norway, and showed the movie “Grease” at film club, which of course was a crowd-pleaser. It was also tons of fun for me to see – it’s been a while.

I still haven’t done much work on my conference paper. Of course. And since the conference begins on Tuesday, that’s what this weekend will be about.

Слякоть…

April 4th, 2010

If you remember, last week, Spring and I still had a normal relationship. Slightly-below-freezing temperatures, fluffy snow, and sunny skies are all pluses in my book. However, on Monday of this week, slightly-above-freezing temperatures, cold drizzle, and overcast skies took over, turning my favorite activity, walking, into a diabolical game where the only winner is slush. Instead of walking along on solid, packed-snow sidewalks, we in Ukhta must now trudge through kasha (porridge), as Russians fondly call slush, trying our best to avoid the deepest puddles (a futile endeavor) and staying as far from the road as possible, where passing cars throw up sheets of muddy water higher than my head.

On Monday, I realized that my intention to buy rubber boots needed to be fulfilled, ASAP. Tuesday I had a couple free hours, so I went to a number of stores. Only two carried rubber boots, and there, the only acceptable-looking boots in my size cost $70. I didn’t want to spend that much money unthinkingly, so I went home, but I figured I would have to suck it up and buy them, since walking around much longer in my winter boots would be impossible. After work on Wednesday (and walks from L building to E, to the lyceum, back to E, and then home), my boots had serious puddles inside them.  I resolved to buy boots no matter what on Thursday morning. So early on Thursday I went to the market on the recommendation of Sveta, my dorm attendant tutee. The boots there were indeed cheaper, but didn’t fit so well, and I was afraid the soles would start to separate after a few days and make all my efforts vain. No other stores opened until 11, so I went to the grocery store and back home. Already my boots were soaked. At 11 I visited a couple stores, where there were flocks of other customers, all looking for the same thing, and the cheaper boots and more common sizes were quickly disappearing. I ended up at the same place I started and compromised on a pair of ugly boots (but not the ugliest) for about $40.

They were definitely a good call. It’s been wonderful to be able to walk around and not worry if a patch of ice gives way to reveal several inches of water underneath. Just a few feet from my dorm, on the path I take to work every day, there developed a huge puddle 4-5 yards long, several inches deep, that spanned the entire sidewalk. I have seen people on multiple occasions standing bewildered at the edge, turning around in despair to search for another route, or climbing into the several feet of snow that have yet to melt to go around it. With my new boots, I just walk right through.

And now that I can walk more or less freely, I have been able to enjoy the 40-degree temperatures and not wearing a hat or gloves or tights under my pants. This morning I even went skiing again with a girl named Anna who works at the university. The snow was pretty slippery, but I managed ok and even learned to go down the baby hills without crashing and burning. It was sunny, warm, and beautiful out in the woods.

In other news, I gave some presentations about dating habits, film, jobs, etc., created a home-made Apples to Apples game, am spreading the word about Hellen Keller, and got into some political arguments at the student English Club this week. Today is Easter, and I’m going to the apartment of a high-schooler from Yarega. I hope I get to eat kulichi, the traditional Easter pastry. Tomorrow I’ll be the judge at a conference for university students, and I still haven’t even started writing my paper for the staff conference that starts the 13th! Ahhhhh.

Finally, I’m putting up a few pictures now. Check them out!

20 Degrees (F) and Sunny

March 28th, 2010

Ok, so the weather hasn’t been like that all week. In fact we probably got a foot or two of snow between Monday and Wednesday (which didn’t stop people from standing in a line a block long for two days straight to see the bones of an Orthodox saint), and yesterday was rather overcast. But the sight of snow falling still makes me almost as happy as the sight of a bright blue sky, and after a winter of frosty negatives, the current weather really does feel like spring. True, occasionally the pleasant breeze morphs into an icy wind that whips my face and ears…but I’ll take what I can get.

This week has been pretty usual. I gave a presentation on politics to a few groups, trying my best to explain the fundamental beliefs of Democrats and Republicans, the phenomenon of Tea Partiers, and why this health care bill has provoked so much opposition. It is self-evident in America that people will oppose any significant government spending, any increase of government authority in a new realm, and anything related to abortion. But to explain why these particular topics automatically put people on the defensive is quite complicated. It involves a lot of history that we take for granted. It’s especially difficult, too, because I’m never certain how much of what I’m saying is actually comprehensible to them.

My cooking triumphs this week include a magnificent black bean soup (ok, I actually had to use pinto beans…but still awesome) and a garlic soup with noodles and broccoli. I haven’t had broccoli in soooo long! True, I had to buy the frozen kind, but it was still a great pleasure after a long dearth.

Triumphs of literacy include re-reading Catch-22 (<3) and finishing 12 Chairs. I have 30 pages left in that one at the moment and am planning on finding out the ending this afternoon! Oh, and I am also approaching the end of Notebook 36, so I’ll soon be inaugurating the travel notebook that was my going-away gift from Emily Gelfman.  🙂

More next week!

Lost Week

March 21st, 2010

This week I’ve mostly been sitting at home sick, so not much to tell. On Friday I went back to class and we had English film club, where we watched “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I had remembered it as being mediocre, but I was pleasantly surprised and now wish I had the book here with me to flip through and chuckle. Yesterday I ran the UArctic meeting, since Lera couldn’t come, then met with Sveta and went out with some friends. And in an hour or so I’m going skating with them! Woot.

In lieu of a substantial update, here’s a passage from “12 Chairs” (1928, by Ilf and Petrov). You’ll remember that I have mentioned this issue previously.

“In Moscow they like to lock doors.

Thousands of  front  entrances  are  boarded up  from  the inside,  and thousands of citizens find their  way into their apartments through the back door.  The year 1918 has long  since  passed; the concept of a “raid on  the apartment” has long since become something vague; the apartment-house guard, organized  for  purposes  of  security,  has  long  since vanished;  traffic problems are being solved; enormous power stations are being built  and very great scientific discoveries are  being made, but there is  no one to devote his life to studying the problem of the closed door.

Where is the man who  will solve the enigma of  the  cinemas, theatres, and circuses?

Three thousand members of the public have ten minutes in which to enter the  circus through  one  single  doorway,  half  of  which  is closed.  The remaining ten doors designed to accommodate large crowds of people are shut. Who knows why they are shut? It  may be that twenty years  ago  a performing donkey  was stolen from the circus stable and ever since the  management has been walling up convenient entrances and exits in  fear. Or  perhaps at some time  a famous queen  of the air  felt  a draught  and  the closed doors are merely a repercussion of the scene she caused.

The  public is  allowed  into  theatres and  cinemas in  small batches, supposedly to avoid bottlenecks.  It is quite easy to avoid bottlenecks; all you  have  to do is  open  the  numerous  exits.  But  instead of  that  the management  uses  force; the attendants link arms and form a living barrier, and in this way keep the public at bay for at  least half an hour. While the doors, the cherished doors, closed as far back as Peter the Great, are still shut.

Fifteen thousand football fans elated  by  the superb  play  of a crack Moscow team are forced  to squeeze their way to  the tram through a crack so narrow  that  one  lightly  armed  warrior  could  hold  off  forty thousand barbarians supported by two battering rams.”

(Translated from the Russian by John Richardson; http://lib.ru/ILFPETROV/ilf_petrov_12_chairs_engl.txt)

PS Don’t judge the book’s literary merit by this excerpt. I went with the crappy translation I found online rather than doing it myself.

Seria

March 14th, 2010

Relating to March 8:

On the weekend prior to the holiday, literally dozens and dozens of buses, vans, and even a couple station wagons showed up in Ukhta and parked on the sidewalks (some continually running their engines) to sell flowers. Now, there is always a truck or two selling milk products out of a small back window parked on my street as well as Lenin St., but the long rows of flower buses were really a sight to see.

On the actual Monday of the holiday, I went in the morning to a sauna (not banya) with Pasha, his mother, and some of their friends. It was similar to my banya experience in Moscow, except we were wearing bathing suits, the sauna is humid (as opposed to the dry banyas), and the pool for intermittent bathing was comfortably lukewarm, as opposed to freezing. But we steamed and swam and beat each other with bunches of birch and fir branches in true Russian form, and of course had tea afterwards. Then I relaxed at home for a while before going to singing (which had been moved from Sunday). We didn’t sing too long before celebrating the holiday with tea, candy, and yummy tvorog cake that Irina had made.

Relating to winter sports:

Well, almost all winter it was too cold to actually engage in any outdoor sports, but now that spring is here, I’ve finally had my first ever skiing experience. Pasha and I went out in the woods last Sunday, and all in all I enjoyed myself. It’s always good to get outside in the fresh air, especially when the temperature is above -10, and to get some exercise. I still prefer walking/hiking and skating to skiing, and I definitely won’t be trying downhill anytime soon. Even on a basically flat surface I fell several times and managed to be, in general, completely graceless. But by the end I was getting the hang of it, and I would be willing to give cross-country another try.

Relating to the ETA Russia Weight Loss Program:

I’ve had to tighten my belt a few times while here, and pants that were snug on me when I bought them a year ago are now baggy. And these fortuitous events have occurred, as I mentioned once before, despite my not making a habit of denying myself the pleasures of beer, lots of tea and snacks, and generally good food whenever I can get it. This medical marvel is the result of two things: first, that my main means of both transportation and entertainment is walking – and these walks are invariably 15-30 minutes (1-2 hours when it’s for fun on weekend afternoons), as opposed to the Wooster norm of 4-8 minutes; and secondly, that I cook (mainly vegetables) for myself instead of having three all-you-can-eat meals a day in the cafeteria. Good thing I don’t know how to cook meat…and that the selection of frozen/pre-prepared meals in Ukhta is not large…and that I have nothing better to do after work than spend an hour or so chopping and cooking veggies.

Relating to advertising:

Saw a billboard recently advertising mattresses. It had a picture of a man wearing only boxers, lying back on a mattress looking pleased with himself. Next to him a woman was sitting in a little nightgown giggling. The text read, “Just sleeping is interesting, too!”

Relating to culture and entertainment:

On Friday we had our traditional party at Vita’s, with all the familiar motifs: drinks, salad, and buterbrody; mixed-up English and Russian; dancing and singing; and discussions of life and gender issues. Good times.

I saw a play on Saturday called “Flight of the Kite”(Полёт воздушного змея), which was a pretty interesting take on life and love, as well as on the relationship between creator/creation and art/life. It was a student production, and I’m not sure who wrote the play – I Googled it and couldn’t find anything – so there were some definite weak points, but I was impressed with the main actors and with a lot of the plot turns. The story begins with two people on a train who decide to write a story about love, “so that everyone will feel good.” However, they have difficulties making things go the way they planned – events and characters keep appearing to derail what seems like a sure thing. In the end, the main hero and main heroine do end up together – sort of – but it’s definitely not what you could call a happy ending.

Relating to students and work:

I had my regular schedule of classes this week, as well as our club meeting, where we discussed crazy US state laws, and a trip to Yarega on Saturday morning. Yarega is a mining settlement about 40 minutes from Ukhta. One of the students in my club is from there, so he took me to meet with the 10th and 11th graders at his school. The meeting’s main goal was to get them interested in studying at UGTU – Anton told them about all the cool opportunities they have at the university, and I just told them about myself and about Fulbright and then answered all of their questions about America. It was quite fun. It’s always nice to see new students because they ask lots of questions and are excited to see me, and then afterwards we drank tea with the headmistress and some teachers and went to see the school’s museum, which has some Komi artifacts and some stuff related to the history of the settlement (which, of course, began as a gulag camp) and the school.

I’ll probably be writing a lot over the next few days. My UArctic paper on Alaska is due tonight, I have to make a presentation on US Politics for tomorrow and one on the Oscars for Tuesday, and I really need to get working on my paper for the conference next month as well…

“Enough of these passions…!”

March 6th, 2010

For some reason I decided to compose this post online and save it as a draft instead of writing it in Word first as I usually do. Of course, when I tried to post it, something inexplicable happened and all of my work disappeared. A lot happened this week, too! So I’ll try to reproduce the entry as best I can…

I have mentioned that I’m reading a book about the Russian Revolution, and a couple days ago I read a passage that relates well to last week’s topic of Russian singularities:

“In Western European countries even the highest degree of freedom of political and economic activity cannot lead to fatal, destructive consequences, for the majority of the population will in no way transgress the established “limits” of freedom – they will always “play by the rules.” However, in Russia complete, unfettered freedom of thought and behavior – that is, to be more exact, not, in essence, freedom (which implies defined borders, the framework of “law”), but a specifically Russian will has burst forth into the void left at almost every substantial weakening of the government’s power and has shocked uninitiated Western societies with unrestrainable Russian uprisings…”

Ladies and gentlemen, Vadim V. Kozhinov (Rossija, Vek XX: 1901-1939: Eksmo Press, 2002; translation mine).

This week began with March 1, the official beginning of Spring in Russia! And indeed, ever since that day we’ve had temperatures of -5 C or above; there’s a spring breeze in the air, and it feels like the long winter is finally ending. That feeling is certain to be illusory, though, and in any case, it’s not very comforting. Accordingly, I need to buy some rubber boots soon in preparation for the horrid swamp that will result from the melting of six months worth of snow.

I’ve been busy again this week, going to classes as usual, visiting Ukhta’s School #3, meeting with Sveta, planning a second try to restart the student English club, and reading poetry. On Tuesday was UGTU’s Poetry Evening in the restaurant on the ground floor of Planeta (the nightclub is on the second floor), and I was invited to read a Byron poem in Russian translation. Marianna read the original English version. The whole thing was pretty interesting and a good example of Russian culture. Russian kids have to memorize poems constantly at school, and reading or writing poetry, I believe, is a much more common hobby here than in the US – even among oil and gas students. Marianna wanted to ask me if Russian people recite poetry differently than Americans, and I said I couldn’t really answer because I had never been to a poetry reading in the US – no, not even at school. (The kids at school #3 also asked me to recite a poem, and I could only do it in Russian, since I haven’t learned any English poems.) Anyway, there were a bunch of students and some faculty and staff at the event, all sitting at long tables and munching on fruit, candy and pastries and drinking fruit juice. The first section of the evening consisted of various sections of students reciting poetry, punctuated by a baroque quartet. The first section was war poems (since it’s almost the 65th anniversary of Victory Day), then they moved on to Pushkin, Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, foreign poets, and more. After that was a quiz in which I won a book of Russian love poems by identifying a picture of Shakespeare. Then students read some of their own poetry, and some students played their own songs and the songs of Viktor Tsoi. It was fun overall, but really long. It gets tiring listening to poetry in Russian for 3-3.5 hours.

The bookend on the other side of this week is March 8, i.e. International Women’s Day, or the next big Russian holiday, second only to New Year’s. Obviously it’s not actually until Monday, but since we get that day off work, Friday was the day for all the men to congratulate their female colleagues. There was a concert during our lunch hour that was really, really funny. It included United Bit dancers in traditional outfits doing hip hop versions of Komi dances, female department heads singing about their love for Medvedev, Putin, and UGTU’s president, Nikolai Tskhadaya, and the vice-presidents (three sixty-or-so year old men, one of whom looks strikingly like Yoda) singing and marching to an old military song. They also had some students and staff who were really good singers, dancers, and/or actors. It was a very enjoyable midday pick-me-up. After that, the boys in our department brought in cake, fruit, and tea, which we all ate together (though Nadya informs me that had they been properly prepared, they would have brought us flowers, too), and then at 4:30 was the student English club, where we also had cake and juice.

The club went quite well. A small but quality group of students showed up, along with Nadya and I and one professor, who brought EVEN MORE cake and sang us some songs from her own CD about her love of jazz and Ukhta. But we had a pretty good talk about love and dating practices in the US and Russia, and next week we’ll be talking about crazy laws. After the club I hung out with Nadya and Valerii for a bit but went to bed relatively early. Yesterday I met with Sveta, had a UArctic meeting, and saw Alice in Wonderland, which I really enjoyed and hope to see in English someday. Today is singing, and Monday hopefully we’ll celebrate March 8 somehow. But more on that next week.

I put up a few pictures I’ve taken since being back in Ukhta, and some I was tagged in on Russian facebook as well. Check them out!

PS The title is a reference to The Idiot by Dostoevsky. For the full quote, see my Facebook profile.

Inostranka

February 28th, 2010

I’m sorry to report that last weekend didn’t get much more interesting. On Monday I went for a walk in the frost and blistering sunshine (should have brought my sunglasses…but they would only bring me bewildered stares I’m sure). There were a few “frosts” last week – people kept promising -42, but I don’t think it got much lower than 30. The frosts don’t seem as bad anymore, and people aren’t freaking out about them as much as in December. I guess we’ve gotten used to the cold by now, or the sunshine makes it seem warmer (it stays light until 5 now already!), or it just really isn’t as cold as before. Or all of the above. Tuesday I met with Sveta (the dorm attendant I’m teaching) for the fourth time and later got together and spoke some English and Russian with Valerii and Pasha, but no one else was able to come.

After the long weekend there was extra work to be done, and I felt again on the verge of illness starting Wednesday. After my 5 pm class on Thursday, I wanted to go home and try to sleep myself to health, but Oleg was in that class, and we hadn’t really hung out since I got back because he is a very busy guy. It happened to be rather warm (you know, like -15) and he happened to be free for once, so we walked around for a while and got dinner and caught up, which was nice. It seems now that I have thwarted illness once again (eat your heart out, Russia), and I have been having a good time this weekend.

Last night a small group gathered at Vita’s apartment to hear her stories of her recent trip to Egypt and to celebrate Roma’s birthday. It was a lot of fun, especially when the girls ended up sitting on the kitchen floor talking about men, and then the men joined us for a discussion of God, religion, evolution, and all that jazz.

I feel like I should be writing more in here about what makes Russia Russia and how it’s different from the US. When students ask me about differences, I always say that although Russia is like a completely different world in terms of external conditions and culture, people are essentially the same. It’s good to have a ready-made answer for those situations, and in basic terms that really is what I believe. From my own observations, I think people all want the same things, they experience the same emotions. I look at the high school students and see myself at that age. I remember feeling the way they do and acting the way they do. However, the things that are different are part of people as well, they were created by people. So perhaps it’s wrong to separate them. Russian conceptions of themselves include that they are more spiritual than other people, tend more towards mysticism, and place a lot of value on the “natural” as well as on aesthetics. The small portions of both Russian and American society I’ve come into contact with are not a representative sample, and I don’t feel equipped to make a judgment on such comparisons. If you were to rate every American and every Russian on a scale from 1 to 10 of spirituality, mysticism, etc. and take the national averages, I think there would be a difference, but it would be rather small. That’s just a guess, though, based on quantifying the unquantifiable.

I can attest more to the small differing habits of everyday life, although these, too, vary from person to person. Ideas about cleanliness are one example. Russians think that you should always wash your hands and change your clothes upon coming home. It’s not hygienic to sit on the couch in the clothes you wore outside. They always check their coats upon arriving anywhere, wear slippers in their own homes, and usually change their shoes at work. Sitting on any public toilet seat is a travesty.

“Going visiting” is another oft-mentioned Russian cultural tradition that doesn’t exist in the US. Showing up unexpectedly or on short notice to a friend’s apartment with some snack for tea is a big part of social life. Tea is generally free-flowing in Russia, and most (if not all) households have a small pot of extra strong, long-brewed loose leaf black tea always at the ready for diluting with boiled water. They drink it with cake, cookies, candy, chocolate, homemade jam, or honey. (The last two are served in tiny saucers and eaten with a spoon.)

Anyway, I’ll cut my ramblings off there for today. More next week!

Scattered

February 21st, 2010

I was relatively busy this week, and it was good. I gave numerous presentations (on American houses, Civil Rights several more times, and American student life), taught some Public Relations, told the high schoolers about Valentine’s Day and dating in the US and asked them about their dating culture, edited an English textbook for oil and gas majors, began privately teaching English to a dorm attendant (in exchange for massages!), read about the biological systems of the Circumpolar North, and listened to a couple talks by Norwegian circumpolar specialists, as well as accompanying them on a visit to our university museum. It was pretty fun talking to them, and Thor totally has a Canadian accent.

So, basically a full but pretty normal week. Ironically when I am busy (but not too busy) I also get more of my own reading and thinking done. The history book I’m working on is giving me a lot of food for thought, as it is written from a conservative perspective and shows some interesting sides of the Russian revolution. This is converging with my perception of current American politics as well, and generally contributing to my confusion about what I really want to focus on studying for the moment. But it’s also giving me some intellectual inspiration, which I had been missing. My three main fields of interest right now are 1. Linguistics bzw. Cognitive Science bzw. Human Evolution, 2. Politics bzw. Dys/Utopias bzw. Individual Responsibility (and more), and 3. Human Sexuality.* And those are just the main ones. wtf.

Also, I’ve been beginning to learn Spanish on livemocha.com. There are some things I don’t like about the site, including the fact that it forces me to move rather slowly (really? do I need to listen to 40 sentences and do 3 exercises to learn that negation involves placing the word “no” in front of the verb?), but it forces me to actually practice writing and speaking, which I might not do on my own.

This weekend I haven’t done much yet. Friday I went to Masha’s and spent the night at her place, last night I went to Lera and Stas’s apartment and watched an old Soviet movie with them, and tonight I sang, as usual. However, I’ve still got time to make this weekend exciting, since it lasts for two more days! Tuesday is the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland (which basically translates to Men’s Day, the foil to March 8, Women’s Day), so we get holidays. Wooo! I’ll let you know next week how they went.

* bzw. = bezeihungsweise: Maybe my favorite word in German, it can mean “accordingly”, “or rather,” “respectively,” or a number of other things, but really of course there’s no equivalent.

Taking Off

February 15th, 2010

Sunday: I went snowboarding with Lera, her husband Stas, and her 4(ish)-year-old son. Didn’t make it too far before falling spectacularly on my tailbone (but landing finally somehow on my face?), making the next few days stiff and painful. In the evening, showed my photos to Irina and friends before singing.

Monday: In the morning taught a lesson on the African-American Civil Rights Movement, then sat in the afternoon with Andrei in a very quiet sports bar watching the Colts lose, accompanied in traditional American fashion by Baltika and gren’ki.

Alisa, Anna and I also made gren'ki at our hostel in Wurzburg. Basically fried bread with lots of garlic.

Alisa, Anna and I also made gren'ki at our hostel in Wurzburg. Basically fried bread with lots of garlic.

Tuesday: Tried unsuccessfully to get public relations majors to speak English.

Wednesday: Taught some civil rights to another class, answered high schoolers’ questions about getting into college in California and whether American boys like pretty girls, had pizza with Nikita and learned a little about the death of the Russian village.

Thursday: Helped translate grant applications in the International Office. Tried to organize my life and figure out all of the tasks ahead in the fields of preparing lessons, planning club meetings, doing my Introduction to Circumpolar Studies homework, thinking up a topic and writing a paper for a conference at UGTU in April, applying for jobs for next year, learning Spanish, and finishing the books I’m currently reading.

Friday: Taught civil rights again, was disappointed when not one person showed up to my fun Valentine’s Day English Club meeting. Looks like it’s time to get myself and my students motivated again… Later that night, had a VIP English Club meeting that involved not a ton of English, but a good amount of beer that we sat around drinking in my apartment until 2 am.

Saturday: Calm and relaxing. Second UArctic student meeting and planning my lesson on American houses and apartments.

Sunday: It was not only Valentine’s Day but also the Orthodox holiday of forgiveness, the Chinese New Year, and the end of Maslenitsa, or the Week of Bliny (like the Russian version of Mardi Gras). However, the holiday I celebrated was Vita’s 24th birthday at the university’s “Relaxation Center” Krokhal. I, along with about 20 other friends of Vita, took a bus out to Krokhal at 11 am, where we hung out in our rented dacha-like cottage drinking wine and cognac and eating lots of salads, bliny and shashlyk (meat shish kebabs). We also walked around the center a bit and saw the frozen river, abandoned buildings and cars, and of course tons and tons of beautiful clean snow (a pleasant contrast to a lot of the snow in town). We took the bus back around 6 pm and a few of us then continued to Vita’s to keep her company and help her eat the leftovers, since she was flying to Egypt at 2 am. I got home at about 11 pm and passed through a myriad of strange dreams until I had to wake up and get ready for today’s work. A Norwegian professor from UArctic and Bodo University College is coming to visit this week, so we’ll be busy!

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