Archive for April, 2010

Nothing much

April 25th, 2010

This is a short one, but I put up some good new pictures of game night and camels, so take a look.

This week was mostly 40s-50s and windy. Friday was the only day with no wind, and temperatures got up to 65-70 (so hot!), but on Saturday it was back to 40s, and the wind was so strong that walking was difficult. Apparently this means that the ice cover on the Pechora river has broken up and the water has begun to flow. The Pechora always brings a wave of cold weather with it, as I’m told.

I didn’t do much out of the ordinary, again. I went to my friend Oleg’s choir concert last Sunday and saw a bunch of groups from the music school perform. One female sextet was especially impressive. They sang a Russian arrangement of a Beethoven minuet. Besides that group, it was a lot of typical children’s choirs. They sang mostly patriotic war songs, though; apparently there was a contest for the best patriotic song recently and they all prepared entries. This Friday we had another English game night, where we played President/Asshole, Egyptian Ratslap, and Set. It was a lot of fun. After that I went to Masha’s and we walked around Sosnogorsk, eating ice cream and enjoying the warm weather.

Today I made myself some bliny and cut my own bangs, and tonight is singing. I’ll try to think of something more interesting to talk about in my next entry. 🙂


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.


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.


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!