bloom and grow forever

I'm sure the Baroness will be able to make things fine for you. If not, a year in Russia sure will.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

last days of class

The end of another awesome semester. As Irina always says, big love to all my students! Good luck, and I'll see you in September!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Real Estate

I'm sad about leaving my apartment. It has three rooms, which is big for here. One is for the owner's dusty, pre-revolutionary junk, but the other two are clean and large and bright. We don't have the standard, oppressively large wooden shelf/cabinet/display case combo that dominates most homes. The windows are big, and the cream-colored wallpaper is new. My ceiling has nifty glow-in-the-dark stars, and a door leads out to a spacious balcony. The kitchen has nice cabinets and a working stove and fridge. The floor is swept clean and the counters are uncluttered. The dishes mostly match and the curtains have jolly elephants on them. The bathroom has been recently remodeled, and the water pressure is excellent.

I'm a ten-minute walk from a bus stop on the main circle line in Vladimir, so transportation is reliable. But that walk can be very long and dark. And (if you imagine a clock face), if the city center and the American Home are at 12, I live at 6. It takes me 30 minutes to get to work.

I'm going to live alone next year, and see how it goes. We'll see if I can cook and clean and entertain myself and my guests. I had a chance to rent an acquaintance's (continuing a theme: her name is Tanya) one-room place over on Verkhnaya Dubrova street, but it's not on the main but route and has no furniture. As exciting as redecorating might sound, it's not something I can embark upon with my current salary. Local real estate listings are known to be somewhat less than honest, and they don't list prices.

And so I'm going to live in Joanna's current one-roomer. I know it well, from much tea-drinking, tv-watching, game-playing, and post-banya snoozing. I'm not thrilled about the pathetic shower or the 1000-year-old stove. And I know I sound privileged when I say I don't want to have to light a fire in some mysterious box when I want hot water, but there it is. I don't want to have to light fires.

It's the third stop from the center on the circle line, and from the stop to my door it's about 2 minutes. On a speedy marshrutka, I can get to work in about 12 minutes, or walk in 25. And being lead teacher, and being so conveniently located, I intend to have the coolest apartment around. We'll see how the landlord and neighbors feel about that.

politics outside Joanna's apartment

Busy Work

I need to give my student Nastya a little more classwork. Somehow during a lesson she managed to procure this yellow balloon and draw a not-half-bad portrait of me.


I spent Easter in Bogolyubovo with Lena and Sasha, and ate amazing cabbage pies and drank wine while waiting for the procession around the monastery at 1 am. The place was packed, and we didn't even make it inside the church for the service that followed. But we were able to cry out, joyfully and exhaustedly, and at least ten times before the little tank-babushki trampled us, "Voistine Voskrese!"

Here's their adorable little wooden house, and Sasha in front of the monastery.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sunset in Bogolyubovo

I spent an awesome Sunday in Bogolyubovo with my ZI student Tanya. I met her 5-year-old daughter (who peed on me when I was tickling her) and had dinner with her friend Lena. Lena's fabulous and funny, and her little wooden house is full of art by her French artist husband. Her daughter Sasha is an instant-kindred-spirit kind of person with dreams of hitchhiking to Austria.

I've also been to our favorite cafe, Coffee Bean, with my AII students Tanya and Lena to talk about ex-husbands, boyfriends, and cheating.

And life without Irina (who's happily settled in China) is going well. My new roommates Tanya and Lena are fun, even though I only see them after 11 pm and before 9 am.

Tanya and Lena, Tanya and Lena, Tanya and Lena. So it goes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

not the first time it's happened

I went to the post office today to mail some cards to America. I joined a depressing line of people and assumed I'd be there for hours. But no! One after another, people started leaving. As I made my hastened way to the counter, I overheard the reason: the post office was out of stamps. Yes, the post office. Oh, but they had other things for sale! Laundry detergent, for example. Bedsheets.

But I was prepared. I'd bought a ton of stamps early in the year and had been carrying them around with me for just such an occasion. When I got up to the counter, they started to turn me away, but as soon as I explained that I'd brought my own stamps, the clerks smiled and congratulated me on my cleverness. I thought briefly of standing outside and stamp-scalping at exorbitant rates, but decided my one small victory was enough.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

fun within a hundred meter radius

Way back in the time of Mongol invasions, Vladimirians built big hills for defense. Along with the Golden Gates, Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius Cathedral, these hills have survived the centuries. But they're way more fun than the churches, and we've got one right on our street. We went sledding the other day - not on tubes, toboggans, or the neon, molded-plastic sleds of childhood - no, we discovered that on a hill of such dramatic, Mongol-defeating (well, not really) incline, all we'd need is a plastic grocery bag. Flying down a hill, shrieking and tumbling in the snow is just the way to get psyched for another round of three AII classes.

Across from this magnificent hill is the drama theater, where I recently saw Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard for a mere 60 rubles. Comprehension was up above 50%, so that was awesome.

And venturing slightly further afield (three bus stops), off a tip from one of my ZI students, I went to a club called Yo last Saturday to hear an Irish band fiddle and dance and sing about whiskey.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kremlin in Winter

Sunday was one of those mornings. I woke up late, found a hole in my long underwear, saw we were out of juice, and waited forever at the bus stop. But when I finally got on the bus, I received a lucky ticket (the sum of the first 3 numbers equals the sum of the last 3 numbers) and knew my luck was about to change. I made it to Ploschad' Pobedy and onto the bus to Moscow with a minute to spare. I conked out for the duration of the 3-hour trip and awoke just as the Kremlin was coming into view. It's absolutely majestic in winter.

With my lucky ticket in hand, I joined the line for Lenin's Mausoleum, which was forming on the outskirts of Red Square. After about 15 minutes, I was allowed to pass into the square towards security (metal detectors, bag checks.) From Red Square, you walk through a very austere, guarded doorway. You turn left, pass another silent guard, and head down a flight of very dark stairs. Just as it's gotten almost pitch black, you turn right and there is Vladimir Ilyich himself (or whatever small percentage of his actual biological matter remains in his embalmed corpse.) The crowd files past on three sides; the room glows red; Lenin himself is under glass and well-lit. Although his torso seems to have collapsed somewhat, his waxy hands and face have been well maintained. I was glad to have seen him, and to have paid my recently-acquired respects.

The real business of the afternoon was a ballet - Esmeralda - at the Kremlin theater (another round of security and serious queueing.) The place is absolutely massive. Although I think the story is better suited to enormous, dusty tomes of French literature than to ballet, I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the creepy priest, the unnamed man in navy blue, and the scene design with innumerable flying buttresses. After the ballet, Kremlin guards shooed us homeward, and we were all content with our day in the big city.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

winter wonderland

Winter finally arrived this week, with fresh snow and frosty air. Now our life in Russia feels a little more legit. In honor of this, my former students Yuri and Sasha took me skiing in Park Druzhby (Friendship) on Monday morning. Now, I can hold my own in downhill skiing, but cross-country is another matter. It was my third time ever, the first being an experimental trek around the Williams soccer fields three years ago, and the second being last winter with Dan at Turtle Pond in Vermont (where I spent most of the time tangled in branches, my limbs splayed at odd angles.) I can say this: I am a consistent skiier. Every time I pick up any speed at all, I fall over. I doubt this is just because I'm uncoordinated. It's a mental thing. These skis seem so thin and insubstantial - especially with my heels unattached and sliding off left and right - that rather than risk slamming helplessly into a tree, I bail out. Nevertheless, my interest is piqued, and I will try again. Plus, the park is postcard-lovely, and I haven't exactly been doing anything but sitting around inside lately. In the course of our loop we were passed by many serious skiiers, and we ourselves passed several ambling babushkas and a few moms with strollers. Sasha's a really good skiier and helped me get the hang of it; Yuri made me feel a little better by stumbling magnificently in the final stretch. Thick snow started falling just about the time when we reckonned we could make it to Moscow if we kept on for a few days, but instead we returned to our thermos of hot, sugary tea. I examined my new bruises and decided they were quite worth it.