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.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fungus, and Seeing Ourselves with Glory in Every Passing Car

This morning, for the first time, I took part in the great Russian pastime: mushroom hunting. Alyosha took Irina, Joanna, and me about 20 kilometers out of town and we traipsed around the woods for an hour or two. Mushooms themselves are plentiful, but the good ones are not. I had a very low-yield day, but now I know to beware the red and orange ones; shun the white and brown ones; ignore the old, scruffy ones; and seek the yellow and gray ones. Here's a picture of the champion of the day.

In other exciting news, I now know that I'll be teaching the very first semester (ZI) of the English language and also the fourth semester (AII), which is known to be grammar intensive. I am really happy about this placement. It definitely plays to my strengths, which, I suppose, are: speaking Russian, gesturing wildly and speaking slowly to get my point across, nearly-inexhaustible energy, and a dorky infatuation with grammar.

Also, I got my first gig. The world may soon hear my lovely voice-over narration of a short film about the Avtopribor auto parts manufacturer.

Friday, August 25, 2006

In the Parlance of Our Times

So, this is where I live. Actually, this is the view from my balcony to the building next door - but they're all the same, so it doesn't really matter. Our apartment is cozy; I haven't met any of my neighbors yet, but the babushkas sit out in the courtyard in the evening while kids bike and play soccer and run around the playground. All in all, it seems like a nice place, but I would rate walking home at night through the overgrown bushes as moderately scary.

And this is the AH. So, yes, it hard not to refer to school as home. The first floor is just like an normal American house, with offices occupying the bedrooms. In the basement are four classrooms and a larger main room. Upstairs we have a big classroom and the teachers' office, where I can be found about ten hours a day.

Needless to say, this is the only building of its kind here, and gets many a second glance from passersby.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tapochki and other comforts

Life has settled into a nice routine here; teaching workshops continue and practice slowly accrues. I arrive at 10 and leave between 8 and 9. Our office is air-conditioned and our collective music taste is solid. We crowd into the kitchen to make our own lunches (pelmeni or pasta or sandwiches or just Chudo) and have tea several times every afternoon. It will be strange to break this routine once students actually arrive.

It's nice to stare out the window while the leaves are still green. Boy, I'm going to miss that. But also in my view is the log-house restaurant next door, which I'd been meaning to try. Except we came in today and found its roof destroyed, a fire having ripped through in the middle of the night. I don't know why and I don't even know if there are fire trucks here. Yesterday there seemed to be a lot of smoke and ashes floating by, but we figured they were just grilling up some mighty fine shashlik.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Grammar and other joys

Good times were had in Moscow yesterday; I met up with Veronika and we went to the Tretyakov Gallery. Being in Russia, we thought it only right to try to cheat the system and get in with the much cheaper tickets for Russian citizens. We almost pulled it off until one of the grouchy old ladies asked Aaron point-blank what he had come to see. I guess his answer wasn't in good-enough Russian, because she sent us back downstairs to get new tickets. We still refused to pay the price for foreigners and finally made it in with student tickets. It was a great afternoon with all the old Repin, Vereschagin, and Surikov friends, and a new favorite, Roerich. As the train pulled away from the platform on the way home, it looked as if Eric and Nicole had missed it. But an instant later the train stopped for just a moment, and then resumed. A minute later, our friends came through the door. Yes, they'd stopped the train by pounding on the window.

In other news, I do want to talk about teaching. I taught a practice grammar lesson this morning: the difference between the simple past and the present perfect. It was aimed at level ZII, or second-semester beginner. I was slightly nervous, but I really got into the whole language-grading-speaking-really-slowly-in-small-words thing. I like getting into the role - as if pretending to be a good teacher will actually make me one. I was reliant on facial expressions and gestures, and it was fun to really put so much into every utterance to make it meaningful. Of course, I went way over my time limit, and proabably could have left the whiteboard a little cleaner, but overall, I am stoked. This is going to be fun.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Beginnings, and Cucumber Millionaires

I flew into Moscow really early and slept relatively comfortably in the terminal for six hours until everyone arrived. And by that I mean Galya and Alexei (the school directors) and a few of the other teachers. It was a long, slow drive to Vladimir during which we half-slept and half-got acquainted. I was dropped at my new apartment and I met Irina, my host. She pretty much rocks. We hung out around the apartment and I got settled in.

Friday, we all met at school (the American Home, hereafter AH) to have a look around and meet the staff. Then we went out for lunch and had a tour of the city. Vladimir was the second capital of Russia, after Kiev and before Russia, and was founded somwhere around 900 years ago. Its most famous symbol is the Golden Gate into the city, which is actually white. The AH is just a block away from it. Two churches here are very famous - one, Assumption Cathedral, stayed open during the Soviet period and is home to Alexander Nevsky's thumb and frescoes by Rublev and Chyorny.

In the evening, I met Irina and friends for a seven-hour (oh how I wanted to go home and sleep) dinner in all its glory. Yeah, I'm definitely back in Russia.

Saturday, we took a short trip to Suzdal, a town that exemplifies that idyllic Russian countryside. It was City Day, so after buying pickles on the street (here they're kind of halfway between cucumbers and pickles) we strolled around through the booths and the sketchy carnival rides and the food and the stages. Good, clean fun.

Aaron, Nicole and I hung out at Joanna's apartment for a while; I furthered my knowledge of the city bus system and made it home pretty easily.

Irina and I stayed up late over tea talking about life, the universe, and everything, including The da Vinci Code and Australia. I need to keep in mind that I'm making as much - right out of college, just teaching my native language - as a surgeon does here.

And the AH cat is sitting on my keyboard, so I'm done.


London was crazy. I saw Westminster Abbey and Parliament (extended versions) and the Tower of London (oops, already closed) and St.Paul's (just a drive-by) on my mad dash through the city on my 10-hour layover. It was fun and I'll be back. And for the second time in my life I left London immediately before a terrorist incident shut everything down. I am bad luck; maybe I shouldn't come back.

I totally can't get over Westminster Abbey. Did they always plan to just cram as much stuff in there as possible? It's so overwhelming, such an odd mix of earthly and spiritual fame.


A quick summary of my four days in Iceland: I arrived in Reykjavik early Saturday morning, checked out the youth hostel, and started exploring downtown. It's very walkable, modest and pretty, easy to navigate, and was oddly empty. I later found out that it was a three-day weekend holiday and most Icelanders were at their summer houses, so I shouldn't have been surprised to hear all English, French, and German and see only backpackers. (I fit in well.) I made it to the top of Hallgrimskirja Cathedral (possibly the most stunning of all the quadrillions of churches I've vistited) to get a panoramic view of the city on the harbor. I stopped and listened to an organ concert as I dried off (overall, a very wet and chilly few days, but spirits remained undampened.) By noon I had caffeinated myself and found a public bus to take me about two hours northeast to a town called Reykholt. It's pretty important Icelandically, being the home of medieval historian Snorri Sturlusson. But I soon set off walking toward the town of Skalholt. I was going uphill on a horse trail in the pouring rain and getting a lot of thinking done. By all accounts it should have been miserable, but I was pretty glad to be out there alone in the green fields and random volcanic outcroppings. After innumerable kilometers a car stopped. It was an American, here working for the Naval Reserve (the NATO base here is closing.) We chatted for a while about rootlessness and I got a free ride up to Skalholt. Once there in the cluster of few buildings and a notable church (this was once the cultural center of Iceland), I popped into the church to dry off (again.) Amazingly, I walked right into a Baroque music concert - terribly beautiful and it helped the chill. More amazingly, by the second or third song I realized that I recognized a thick head of hair about five rows in front of me. It was hard to wait until the end of the concert, but I tried to sit still and take in the long northern light shining through the stained glass. When it was over, we all stood up and I walked up to Magnus Bernhardsson, my professor of Middle Eastern history! His sister was performing and nearly half the audience must have been his friends and family. He was obviously stunned but luckily he remembered me from two years ago. I was invited next door for coffee and delicious mini-pancakes while I met everyone and explained over and over again the more-than-odd coincidence. Next up at the church center was a children's concert, during which Magnus's and his friends' kids led us in songs and dances. Icelandic children are all gorgeous, by the way. After that, we all (ten adults, ten kids or so) went back to Magnus's father's house (he was until recently the director of the center) and had dinner, during which I had my first Icelandic hot dog (deservedly famous) and just enjoyed the company enormously. I didn't catch everyone's name, nor how they were all related, but it was a most pleasant evening. I got a ride home to Reykjavik with one of the families during which I finally fell asleep and happily rolled into my hostel bunkbed.

Day two: In true tourist fashion, I took the Golden Circle tour of Kerid crater, Geysir, Gullfoss (a massive waterfall), and Thingvellir (site at the juncture of the North Atlantic plate and European plate where parliament began in 930.) It was striking. exhilarating, beautiful. In the evening I soaked myself in the geothermal swimming pool next to the hostel (there are quite a few in the city.) I had salmon at a nice restaurant, but regretted it when I saw the bill.

Day three: I went north and west to the Snaefellsnes peninsula where the rock formations are improbable (trolls urned to stone), the beaches are black-pebbled, and the glacier, fog-shrouded, looms over everything. It was windy on the coast and truly unspoiled. Well, the only thing that spoiled anything was that I was on the bus with, actually, the dumbest but friendliest tourist alive. After explaining to her not only what was a meter was, but also a kilometer, and NATO, and how to read a map... well, then I had to listen to hours of her stories about being attacked by the arctic tern (a highly-territorial bird 'round these parts.) So I didn't throw myself off the glacier as I wanted to, but rather threw myself with renewed vigor into hiking quickly and away from her. In the evening I bought two hot dogs for dinner (the only afforadable option) and strolled around until the light began to fade (late; 11-ish?)

On my last day, I had a wonderful morning at the National Gallery, which was just about the size museum I can handle. I've got to look up the artists; I really loved just about everything I saw. In the afternoon I moved my stuff over to another hostel nearer the airport and got on a bus to the Blue Lagoon, the famous geothermal spa. The second bizarre coincidence of this post: there were two other guys on the bus, Mike and Kevin, who had just graduated from BC. And Kevin is going to be working at Bain with Colin, and thinks he may have met him. Good stuff. Well, the Blue Lagoon was as good as promised: bright light-blue water amidst volcanic rock, silica mud for making masks, warm water and massaging waterfalls, a sauna, and boiling-hot water spouting out of the earth with steam billowing up, visible for miles. The three of us stayed from about five to nine in the evening, and even then it was hard to leave.

I met lot of awesome people throughout, and next time I'm in Iceland, I'm going to try to make it all the way around the island. I'm also going to come with friends and with more money, so I can try out the nightlife. And I'm going to try to meet up again with Magnus, because that was awesome.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What is American?

To be a good cultural ambassador, I purchased the following magazines:
Rolling Stone (featuring Johnny Depp)
National Geographic (featuring Hurricane Katrina)
In Style (featuring some movie star)
And I downloaded "Lose Yourself."