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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

woolly mammoth in the crosswalk

For a while, I was afraid that my life was becoming nothing but routine - that I was being lulled into a existence too ordinary - when, really, a year abroad should be anything but dull. Wake up late, run to the bus, teach, eat, read the news, use too much bandwidth, idly plan a lesson, photocopy, scan song lyrics for grammar points, photocopy, idly pick up a grammar reference book, photocopy, teach, teach again, clean up, go to Joanna's, get a bus or taxi home, drink tea, go to bed, wake up late, run to the bus...

For a while we had the TV serial "Tikhii Don" (Quiet Flows the Don) to look forward to every night. For two weeks, an hour a day, we had a glimpse of southern Russia circa WWI. The novel traces the life of a Cossack family and their fate in the civil wars; this recent film adaptation was a loosely-strung together collection of love affairs and deaths, interspersed with wide-angle EPIC cinematography. We couldn' t tell who was married to whom, who was fighting whom, and who had died. The only character we could ever positively identify was Rupert Everett in the main role. (He should really stick to the gay Englishman, and not attempt the brooding warrior.) Every other Russian man had the same pink face and blond mustache; all the women were wrapped up in shawls and always in the process of having children or dying. It was truly awful, but we couldn't look away. Yet even the Don has ceased its quiet flowing, thus leaving a void in our evenings.

But somehow plenty of odd things manage to happen in tiny Vladimir. People have been shooting off fireworks in the middle of the night in front of my apartment. An artist has been painting at our humble bus stop on Bolshaya Moskovskaya. And today, a woolly mammoth was sighted crossing the street.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Bogolyubovo is a small town of brightly-colored wooden homes and a blue-domed monastery just outside Vladimir. It's famous for its small, delicate, perfectly-proportioned church (the black-domed one, above.) Getting to this 900-year-old wonder feels like a pilgrimmage, as you walk across a barren field, dealing with the prevailing environmental conditions of the season. For us, that was two feet of snow. In spring, the field floods and the church sits on an island. It reminded me a lot of Mont St. Michel; however, on this particular morning, there were no hordes of tourists, only the church caretakers and one lone ice fisherman.

ne prislonyat'sya (don't bring your elephant)

It was a necessary vacation; as any one of the teachers could tell you, I was beginning to go crazy. Eric, Aaron, and I spent a day in Moscow (shwarma; the Peter the Great / Columbus monstrosity; New Tretyakov Gallery - note to self: Eric Bulatov is astonishingly good; Novodevichi Cemetery, where anyone who's anyone is buried) before taking the night train to Petersburg. We arrived at 6 a.m. and, knowing sunrise was still hours away, set off to see our city in the faint northern glow.

We stayed in a great hostel on Liteinii Prospect, conveniently located above the shwarma place I'd frequented when I was studying abroad (secret ingredient: french fries.) We met a contingent of British students and an Aussie at the hostel, and enjoyed toasting to "people who speak a proper language" and voicing the universal difficulties of living with a khozyaika / babushka. In our three days there, I managed to: visit the Kuntzkamera museum of "curiosities" (deformed fetuses in jars); see the worst play ever (no exaggeration) based on the best novel ever (Master and Margarita); tour the impressive Yusupovskii Palace; climb aboard the Cruiser Aurora, where the first shot of the Revolution was fired (89 years ago to the day); see the city's regal beauty only enhanced by bitter winds and swirling, evening snows; crawl up onto my top bunk and under my blankets, and sleep deeply and soundly as the train carried me gently back across the snowy land and back to Vladimir.