From Kelly Heuser’s regular Moscow updates
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Dearest friends and family,
My time in Russia has now ended. I arrived back in the United States on
May 29th. It hasn't quite hit me that my study abroad time is over...
My last two weeks were filled with goodbyes, and then my parents and
younger brother, Andrew, came to Moscow to visit me for a week.
Among the more notable experiences from the second to last week week:
The two remaining Dickinsonians and I attended a performance of "The
Seagull" at our very favorite theatre at Yugo-Zapadnaya. An English
friend and I took a day to go see the sequel to Burnt by the Sun and
then went to the banya. This was much different than the one we went to
in Suzdal. It was a public, city banya, so we wandered around with
other Moscow women sweating in the steam room, showering, and jumping in
the pool. Again, it was a very relaxing experience and I am thoroughly
convinced that I've never been so clean in my life. Separately, I
went to Lenin's Estate in the countryside right outside of Moscow with
the fantastic director of our program Irina and my host brother/fellow
Dickinsonian Phil. For the occasion we dressed up as Pioneers (the
boyscouts and girlscouts of the Soviet Union), and a Russian policeman
gave us a ride back into town when we couldn't catch a bus.
My parents and younger brother, Andrew arrived in Moscow on Saturday,
May 22 and we went back to the hotel for a brief rest and then headed
out to dinner and a ballet at the Bolshoi. We saw "La Fille Mal
Gardee," which was very funny, and the lead male role was played by the
very same ballet dancer, Dmitri Gudanov, whose "creative evening" I
attended the month before with my host grandmother at the House of
Actors. I felt like a true "Moskvichka" (Muscovite) for recognizing one
of the Bolshoi troupe. The next day was my last attendance at church,
and an epic shopping spree at the Izmailovo souvenir market with my
family. Monday consisted of a rather cloudy boat tour up the Moscow
river, ending in lunch with the Irina and her adorable daughter, a walk
through the city in the sun, and a phenomenal three tea at my host
family's apartment. My parents had the chance to meet my host family,
and vice versa, see where I lived, and everyone enjoyed it immensely.
Tuesday we visited the main Tretyakov Gallery in the morning, and then
spent a very rainy afternoon grocery shopping and making some lasagna
for my last Bible study. Wednesday we visited Pickled Lenin in his
mausoleum, and I said my goodbyes, we went into the Kremlin to see the
Armoury where all the treasures of the Tsars are kept, stopped in St.
Basil's on Red Square, and then headed down to the circus. Thursday I
took my family to the sculpture park, then my favorite museum,
Mayakovsky's museum, and then we visited my university where I had my
final bout with the Russian bureaucracy and I eventually surrendered out
of impatience, leaving without documentation my final grades. We dined
at "In the Dark" and enjoyed it immensely. Friday was my last full day
in Moscow, and naturally, the weather was terrible. We attended a food
show at the Manezh (the main exhibition hall right in front of the
Kremlin) and then we walked up Old Arbat, grocery shopped and had a
picnic in our hotel room due to the uncooperative weather, and then took
an evening stroll on Red Square to cap off the week. Saturday I went
back to my host family's apartment for the last time, collected my bags,
and took a taxi to the airport. We all arrived home safely that
I had an amazing year in Russia and I am so glad that I stayed for the
entire year. The improvement in my language abilities is very
noticeable, and all the experiences I had this year have provided me
with invaluable cultural insight to Russians and how they think, as well
as prompted a special appreciation for them and their beautiful, but
chilly country. Among the things I will miss most are my host family,
tvorog (that cheese), and the ability to go to a world class theatre or
see a ballet whenever I felt like it. I will undoubtedly look back
nostalgically to this past year when I return to Dickinson in the fall
for my senior year, but I think that someday I will find my way back to
Moscow and Russia for some amount of time...
Love from Chicago,
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Once again, I've taken three weeks to write... Unfortunately the last
few weeks have been filled with school work more than anything else.
But I still had an adventure or two.
The first weekend in May we travelled to Kiev, Ukraine. We took our
first international overnight train, which was an experience in itself,
because they wake you up twice in the middle of the night to check your
documents and stamp you passport, as you leave Russia, and then a few
hours later when you enter Ukraine. Our accommodations were in a nice
little hostel, and we made the most of our last trip. The weather was
absolutely amazing, high seventies and sunny all three days. We got
there on Saturday morning, had a bus tour around all the most important
sights, rested and then strolled down the main street called Khreshatik
and then a lovely little park, both of which were full of people
enjoying the holiday. Sunday we wandered around the
Kievskaya-Pecharskaya Monastery, saw some lovely Ukrainian Orthodox
churches, and then ventured down into the catacombs. From there, we
hiked up to a huge statue of a woman holding a sword and a shield,
called "Родина Мать" or "Motherland," and then visited the excellently
done Great Patriotic War Museum at its base. Then, we took a boat
cruise down the river Dnieper for the evening. Monday, for our last day
in Kiev, we started our day at the Chernobyl Museum, then took a
funicular or a cable railway, up to some more lovely churches, including
St. Sophia's, and then wandered down to the oldest part of town
"Andreevisky Descent," ending up at the early residence of famous writer
Mikhail Bulgakov. My favorite part of the trip was having tea in the
little room next to his recreated apartment, where they served the
Bulgakov family recipe for tea, a big bowl of сушки (little round
crackers Russians, and apparently Ukrainians love to eat with tea),
cookies, and homemade preserves. Our tour of his house was also quite
interesting; the apartment had been restored from a communal apartment,
so all the things that were not original they spray painted bright
white, and because his novel, "The White Guard" was set in that
apartment, the tour guide told us Bulgakov's own story parallel to that
of the characters in his novel. Our last stop were the "golden gates"
of the old city, a quick dinner of Ukrainian borsch, and then back to
the train station to head back to Moscow.
Besides that, we visited the music museum named after Glinka, saw an
avant-garde play called "Tarabumbia" which is a rendition of all of
Anton Chekhov's works, a set of modern ballet pieces from New York
called "Complexions," a performance of "The Government Inspector" by
Nikolai Gogol at our favorite theatre, we threw Jonathan a birthday
party, saw the new movie "The Back Up Plan" dubbed into Russian, and had
a picnic in the park with our Russian friend, Misha, on Victory day.
However, as I mentioned, most of my time in the past few weeks has been
taken up by my studies. We had a two part grammar final, a project and
take home essay for our Visual and Performing Arts, a discussion to lead
for our speech class, and then a huge independent study project, which
we wrote a long paper for and then presented. I elected to write my
paper on "Russo-American Relations in the Context of Russian Strategic
Documents Relating to Foreign Policy from 2000 to the Present." All in
all, it ended up being about a fifteen page paper in English, and then I
gave a fifteen minute presentation in Russian at our little
conference. It's wonderful to finally be done with schoolwork!
Our final couple days together as a group were very eventful. We went
on a tour of the museum that's located within our university, that we
never knew was there. We went to a flamenco performance, and then had
our last milkshakes at our favorite American diner, where we ran into a
movie star from the very first film we all saw together. (We got a
picture with him!) We all made one last stop at the souvenir market,
then relaxed in the Botanical Gardens and went to the most interesting
restaurant I've ever been to. It's called "In the dark." We picked one
of four menus: seafood, meat, vegetarian, or a little of everything.
Then, they led us into a room that was completely dark. We couldn't see
the table, the chairs, each other, etc. The waiters were all blind,
and excellent servers. We all ate with our hands, and had fun guessing
what it was we were eating. At the end of a three course meal, they led
us back out into the light and we got to see pictures of exactly what it
was that we ate. Fascinating restaurant, scrumptious food, and a
simply marvelous experience altogether.
Now I have two weeks left in Moscow. The first I am going to fill with
everything I haven't seen so far and saying goodbye to my friends, and
the second my parents and younger brother are coming to visit! Very
likely, the next time I send an update, I will already be
stateside....for a while. Hope you are all doing well!
Love from Moscow,
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Всем Привет! (Greetings all!)
Apologies for the long period of silence...again. You will be glad to know that after the
terrorist attack in the metro, things have been relatively quiet here in
In the past three weeks, our class work has picked up
with tests, projects, and our independent study projects are materializing at
last. Our new class, the speech class,
has been fantastic. We've been working
with songs, tongue twisters, and right now we're learning vocabulary to
argue. In our class on visual and
performing arts of Russia, we finished up a unit on Russian painting with some
projects, a quiz, and by going to a former artist colony just outside Moscow
called Abramtsevo, and then to the Tretyakovskaya Gallery in Moscow. Now we're
studying the theatre, and transitioning into ballet. Grammar is grammar. Luckily, our teacher is fun, and in convinced
that we don't study because it's spring.
My class with Russian students, Current Foreign Policy of Russia, is
also going pretty well. I'm amazed at
how much of the lectures I understand.
Work-wise, I've stopped babysitting my little French
girl. I passed her on to a friend, which
has left me with more time to enjoy my last few months in Moscow and get all my
work done. For my internship, I just
finished an assignment that made me feel very important. The OSCE (Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe) asked my organization for a count of how many attacks
there had been against Muslims in 2009, and the director gave passed it down to
me. I went through over a year's worth
of horrible news articles and counted how many could have been committed
against Muslims, either ethnic or religious.
As difficult as it is to read about the terrible things people do to
each other over different skin colors or beliefs, I always leave my internship
feeling like I should be wearing a cape after "fighting" bad guys.
Outside of class, we have of course been quite busy
trying to see everything. As a group,
took a weekend trip to Rostov Veliki right before Easter, saw the monastery
there, the kremlin, and enjoyed a city on the Golden Ring. There is a theatre competition towards the
end of March and beginning of April called the "Golden Mask
Festival," in which the best threatre productions from all over Russia
come to Moscow to perform and compete.
Dickinson buys each student a ticket to whichever performance he or she
would like to see. I chose a production
called "Poor Liza." I wasn't
quite sure what it was when I chose it, but it turned out to be spectacular: it
was a modern dance piece performed by two ballet dancers from the Bolshoi
theatre to the music of an opera based on Karamzim's novel, which I had read.
As a group we went to the photo gallery where Kara works (Photogallery.ru) to
see a very interesting exhibit, the movie "Clash of the Titans" in
Russian, a production of "Marriage" by Nikolai Gogol, at my favorite
studio theatre, Moscow Theatre at Yugo-Zapadnaya, and an exhibit of Social
Realist art by Alexander Deyneka entitled "To work, to build and not to
whine". I also went to a
performance by the Duke Ellington orchestra, and I saw pickled Lenin; that is,
I went to the mausoleum to see the "preserved" Comrade Lenin. Kara and I also took a little day trip last
weekend to a town called Kolomna as part of her research for her independent
study project on monogorods (single industry towns.)
My new host family is absolutely phenomenal. My host mom, Irina Borisovna, serves Phil and
I dinner whenever we come home, and she sits and chats with us while we
eat. She also loves it when I bring
people home for tea, or to study, and always comments on how nice it is to hear
us laugh. My host grandma, Elena
Alexandrovna, and I have tea together sometimes, and I love to hear her tell
stories about the old days. She is about
85, and she was a physicist in the Soviet Union, and has lots and lots of fascinating
stories. She showed me how to make
tvorog (the soft, slightly sweet cheese very specific to Russia) and Irina
Borisovna wrote me out a recipe for her amazing apple preserves which I will
pass along to anyone who desires it.
Elena Alexandrovna took my friend Kara and I to a free classical music
concert that she found out about through the Veterans Society, and then the
next night Elena Alexandrovna took me to a "creative evening" of a
ballet dancer at the House of Actors.
All around, I am so glad I moved, I am so happy in my new apartment, and
I am so grateful to Phil for sharing his family with me. This is exactly the kind of host family
experience I had been seeking.
Tonight we're going to the Maly Theatre to see a
performance of "Tsar Ivan the Terrible," and most of the rest of the
week will probably be spent working on my project, reading through speeches by
Putin and Medvedev. Hope all is well in
the rest of the world, and the volcanic ash isn't causing too much trouble for
any of you!
From Russia with Love,
Monday, March 29, 2010
I have had the most eventful three weeks in perhaps my entire life... Hang on tight.
Over the weekend of March 6-8, the Dickinsonians took a trip to Kazan, the capital of the independent republic of Tatarstan. It was a longer train than we'd been on before, 14 hours, but well worth it. We were shown around the city a bit by one of its natives on our first day: we saw the kremlin, the president's residence as well as the mosque and cathedral both located within the kremlin walls. Then we walked down the main pedestrian street, called Baumanskaya, and after a quick lunch went to the National History Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. After such a tiring, cold day, we all took a nap, and then ordered pizza... The next day though, I am happy to report, we were fresh and ready to see more. We took a bus tour out to a tiny island called Sviyarsk and saw several rural cathedrals, and then returned to the center of the city to eat some amazing local food, including trigulnok, bilyazh, and uchpuchmak (different kinds of scrumptious meat pies). Then after a short break, went to see a play called "Dilyafruz - Remake" in Tatar language, with simultaneous Russian translation. It was in fact a remake of a play from the Soviet era, and it was quite funny, we all enjoyed it immensely. And for those who are interested in learning a phrase in Tatar: "Min sinye yaratan, kezhe set ashatam" ("I love you and I will bring you goat's milk.") Monday, March 8, was International Women's Day, which is widely celebrated in Russia. Therefore, several of the museums were closed. So instead, we took the opportunity to explore Peter and Paul's Cathedral, a crafts market, the tiny six-station metro, and relax in an Irish pub before catching the train home.
The next week was short, but we still managed to see a fantastic modern dance performance, and see a Russian comedy film called "What Men Talk About" which had us in stiches the entire time.
Then, my good friend Jim came from DC to visit for a week during his spring break. To my surprise, when I informed all my teachers of my intention to skip all of my classes for an entire week, they replied 'friendship is important.' In the week he was here, Jim and I did just about everything. We visited a chocolate factory, danced at a couple clubs, went to the souvenir market, the circus, the Bolshoi ballet troupe performing "Don Quixote" at the Kremlin Palace, the Mayakovksy museum, Novodievichy Monastery and cemetery, Victory Park, the Statue Park, Red Square, GUM, the Cold War Museum called "Stalin's Bunker," and we went to St. Petersburg on an overnight train, spent the day wandering around there seeing the sights, and came back that very night. In addition, of course, we ate at several different restaurants, had tea with different friends, and he helped me cook at Bible study on Tuesday night. Thanks to my new pedometer, I can accurately tell you that we walked between eight and fourteen miles a day. It was absolutely fantastic to have a good friend come visit, and lovely to be able to show him "my" city.
At the same time Jim was here, my advisor, Elena Borisovna also came to visit and fix all of our problems. This meant that we dropped one of our classes and make a whole new one, and that she decided I had to move. I won't waste ink (figuratively of course) on the problems between my host mom and I, but during that week it became apparent to me and confirmed by Elena Borisovna that I should move out and have a better host family experience. So, last Saturday, after our first meeting with our new professor before heading to a soccer game for the evening, I stopped by Phil's apartment and saw the spare room, and agreed to move in. I moved into my new apartment right on the river on Monday morning. I no longer have a mean cat, but a wonderful dog named Roma, a host mom and dad, a host grandmother, and my братишка (affectionate term for brother) Phil. My room is perhaps a third of the size my room in the other apartment, but they feed me well, they take time to sit and chat with me, and altogether they are absolutely fantastic.
In addition to the big move across town, this week we went to a splendid performance of Swan Lake, I cooked with one of my Japanese friends, babysat for some friends, went to my first seminar class for "Current Foreign Policy of Russia," and caught up on all the homework and class I missed the week before. I have also had my first two translation pieces published on my internship's website.
If you'd like to take a look, here they are:
I now have almost exactly two months left in Moscow and it looks like things will continue to be as busy or busier for the duration of my time here... Just how I like it :)
I hope spring is coming faster to all of you than it is to me!
From Moscow with love,
Thursday, March 4, 2010
back in Moscow mid-morning on February 4th. Then right away, I dropped
my bags, and headed to the university to take a placement test, and
then to a performance of the opera "Nose," based on Gogol's short
story. The next day I had a typical run-in with the Russian
bureaucracy, in which it took two hours to do what could have taken
fifteen minutes, and pretty much from then on it's been a regular
This semester I'm only taking two Russian language
classes, grammar and speech practice. These are supplemented by a class
called "Visual and Performing Arts of Russia," in a mixture of English
and Russian, and a class with Russian students of our individual
choosing, in addition to an internship. My internship is with an
organization called the SOVA or "Owl" Center, and they are an
information analysis center. The branch I'm working for deals with
monitoring xenophobia and extreme Russian nationalism. Right now, I've
just been doing small translation projects for them, and going into the
office on Fridays.
I chose a class called "Modern Foreign Policy
of Russia," and I'm very excited about it. The first lecture was
slightly terrifying; the course is for students in their fourth year
(out of five) and the language was very sophisticated. I was relieved
that I was able to follow it at all. Instead of taking the exams that
the regular Russian students take, we do an independent study project
on some theme in the course that is guided by the professor. My friend
Kara has also decided to attend this class, and we had a meeting with
the teacher. My project will be entitled, "Ruso-American Relations in
the Context of Strategic Documents on Foreign Policy."
we've been to a play called "Forrest" by Ostrovsky, one of the best
Russian playwrights, an operetta called "The Bat," a night of Georgian
cultural dance, song, and comedy, and I've seen a few movies.
Furthermore, I may have found my favorite museum in Moscow: the
Mayakovsky museum. It is unique to the point that it is nearly
indescribable, and gives the impression you're walking around his head.
I also had my first cross-country skiing experience, went ice skating
again, and visited the honey market.
We had our first trip out
of the city, to the two ancient cities of Vladimir and Suzdal. We only
stopped in Vladimir for a few hours, with enough time to see some old,
beautifully carved churches, and a history museum. Then we continued to
Suzdal where we had our first visit to the Russian 'banya.' We were
lucky enough to have a private banya, so the five of us Dickinson
students, and our Russian friend Alina who traveled with us, had a
sauna all to ourselves. We all stripped down to underwear or bathing
suits, wrapped in a sheet, donned a wool hat, and sweated in a little
wooden room till we couldn't stand the heat anymore. At this point, we
ran outside, threw snow at eachother, then hurried back in to the
sauna, where we proceeded to soap up, rinse off, and hit each other
with birch branches to open up the pores. We repeated this procedure a
few times over the three hours, stopping twice to drink tea and eat the
most amazing apple preserves. After the banya, I was completely relaxed
and slept extremely well. The next day, the town of Suzdal was holding
a festival on the town square for the culmination of the weeklong
period leading up to lent: "Maslenitsa" or "Butterweek." We visited to
a monastery first, and then made our way to the celebration. There were
games, a stage, some amusement park rides, and vendors selling food,
alcohol, and Russian handicrafts. I had some blini with sour cream
while I enjoyed the surroundings. (These thin crepe-like, buttery
pancakes are eaten non-stop all week.) I also had the opportunity to
try some medovukha, alcohol made from honey that Vladimir and Suzdal
are known for. After a while though, we had to stop in a café for a
quick bowl of soup to warm up, before heading back into the fray and
then back to the hotel to pack up and go back to Moscow. The banya was
by far my favorite part of the trip though; I am now among the proud
few who can claim to have made a snow angel in their underwear.
the homefront, my host mom and I are getting on much better than we did
last semester, even if my cat and I aren't. My host mom took the time
to show me again how to make blini, and then taught me how to make
homemade pelmeni. Pelmeni are small meat-filled dumplings which are
boiled and then eaten with sour cream, and can be served in broth. I
have yet to try them on my own yet, but I did make sure to write down
the recipe. She also made some stuffed with her own pickled cabbage,
like her grandmother made them during the war when they didn't have
meat. She still tells me about how things were so much better in the
Soviet Union, but that's a widely held sentiment. I'm extremely glad
that our relationship has improved.
This time of the year, there
are lots of holidays, which means days off of school for us! We had the
23rd of February off, for what used to be Soviet Army Day. Now, it's a
kind of "men's day" because Russians don't celebrate Father's Day or
Mother's Day. This upcoming weekend, we get off for March 8,
International Women's Day, and we are taking the opportunity to travel
to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan.
Again, I send my
sincerest apologies that I have waited an entire month to write. From
now on, I'll send an update every two weeks, which will hopefully make
the reading much lighter. I hope you are all doing well!
From Moscow with Love,
Monday, February 22, 2010
Простите! (Prosteetye - Forgive me!) It has certainly been a long time since I've written last. I am back in Russia and have been for about three weeks now. I will send an update on these first few weeks back in the winter wonderland in a couple days, but first I wanted to tell you about my travels over break!
I left Moscow on December 21 for Athens, Greece. Due to an unfortunately timed snow storm in New York, my parents and brother were delayed by a full day and a half. Luckily, I was still picked up by the driver, and dropped off at the apartment. I ate out of the welcome basket, rested, and my Greek relatives (related by marriage) came and picked me up. For the first two days they showed me around downtown Athens, took me to the tomb of the unknown soldier, took me out to eat souvlaki and gyros. I also woke up early and found the farmers' market, but didn't know enough Greek to be able to ask for anything and pay correctly. My family arrived safe and sound on the morning of the 23rd and we enjoyed eachother's company, exchanged gifts, and then had our Greek relatives over for dinner before going out to see the city a bit. Over the next six days we saw the Acropolis, visited the new museum, explored the little island of Aegina which was pull of pistachio trees, and visited two beautiful monasteries. We also took a trip to the top of Mount Lykavitos and had a spectacular view over all of Athens. Weather-wise it was also a wonderful relief from Moscow: 60-70 degrees F every day. It was a lovely trip, I enjoyed seeing my family, and of course, eating Greek food. (My favorite were honey-soaked Christmas cookies called melamakarones.)
From Athens, my family flew back to the US and I flew first to Moscow and then to the capital of Bashkirtostan, Ufa. (Bashkirtostan is an independent republic of Russia, and if you're looking for it on a map, look in the south of Russia towards Kazakhstan.) My dear friend, Reilya picked me up in the morning from the airport, and hosted me for the next ten days. She was teaching Russian to some American teachers stationed in Ufa, so I occasionally sat in on some lessons, we went ice skating, we went to a play in Tatar language with Russian translation through headphones, and we visited several of her friends as their guests. We celebrated New Years with her church, and then another church. New Years is a big deal in Russia, and usually Russian all watch the president give a speech at midnight, but in Ufa we were two hours ahead, and by the time it was midnight in Moscow the party was already underway. We played games, guessed riddles, put on Russian fairytales in the form of an opera and a ballet, ate lots of food, and right before midnight we passed a candle around and said what we were thankful for in 2009 and what we hoped for in 2010. Russians also give gifts for New Years, and sometimes they wear costumes, so we had the equivalent of a Pollyanna: everyone brought a little gift and then we picked names out of hat and gave that person the gift we brought. All in all, we left the second party at about 4:30am...and we were the first ones to leave. By far though, my favorite part of my stay in Ufa was the New Years day. Reilya and I took a little van out of the city for six hours to her village, where we stayed for a day and a half. Reilya's parents have a little house that is heated by a wood burning stove and no indoor plumbing; they also keep goats and cows. It was absolutely a wonderful experience. The food was unbelievable (Russian potstickers called Monti, and a fantastic pastry filled with meat and potatoes called uchpuchmak), I met her family, and explored her village with her. The one drawback: it got down to -31 degrees F, and for the most part stayed in the -20s.
The next leg of my journey took me to quite a different climate... After four flights, a night in a hotel, and 37 hours in transit, I stepped off the plane in Jamaica to find 85 degree weather. The Jamaicans probably thought I was crazy in my new blue parka, and thick leggings. I spent two wonderful weeks in Jamaica with my friend, André and his family. I visited Fort Charles in Port Royal, Two Sisters' Caves, University of the West Indies, went on a crocodile safari, to a birthday party, went swimming in an outdoor pool, kicked a soccer ball around... and of course, had some spectacular food! My favorite fast food in the world is Jamaican; it's called patty, and is a pastry usually filled with spicy meat that you can eat all by itself, or wrapped up in some coco bread. I had a lovely time, and am very grateful to the Whites for having me.
Then, for the last week of break, I traveled home to Chicago. I accompanied the third grade to see a performance of Chinese acrobats, and got to spend my birthday with my family. Being the atypical person I am, my 21st birthday celebration consisted of a family trip to the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, a nice dinner downtown where I had my first half of a glass of wine, which I didn't like, and then my parents topped off my night by flying in my cousin, Amanda, to surprise me. It was an excellent surprise, and I enjoyed my birthday weekend with her and my family immensely.
I arrived back in Moscow on February 4th, and have been off having adventures ever since. Expect an email about the past three weeks soon...
From Moscow with Love,
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The last two weeks in Moscow were quite cold. We saw temperatures drop into the -20s C several times. On most days, I wore leggings under my jeans, my snow boots, shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, coat, scarf...
I made it through all of my tests, papers, and presentations! All together, the past two weeks held: three presentations, a ten-page paper in English, and five tests. And in between all that, of course, we had our first visit to the Kremlin, we saw our first hockey game, had our going-away party, which included a game of bowling, and went ice skating on Red Square.
I am also happy to report that my host mother and I are on much better terms. For one of my presentations I wanted to make blini (Russian crepes.) She started to tell me the recipe, then decided I'd never be able to do it on my own. So, the next morning we spent two hours making blini together. She made the batter, while demonstrating how much of what went in, and made the first one. For the next 21 blini, she supervised. And when I took it out of the pan too early, she'd come over and put it back. By the end, she confirmed that I had the hang of it. In light of this, I invited her to our "open lesson" of our fairytales class, in which we sang and put on plays. She came, and she enjoyed it immensely. The next night, she pulled out some old photo albums and introduced me to everyone from her grandparents to her grandchildren. It made me feel much more at home.
Now, however, I am no longer in Russia. In fact, I am writing now from Athens, Greece. Due to an unfortunate snowstorm, my parents and younger brother, who were supposed to meet me here yesterday, in fact won't be here until tomorrow. However, some of my Greek relatives have been taking good care of me. The plan for the rest of my break is as follows: I will be in Greece with my family for Christmas, then I will fly to Ufa, Russia to stay with a friend for New Years and Russian Orthodox Christmas, and then I will fly to Jamaica to spend time with my boyfriend and his family. After all that, I will return to Moscow for my second semester on February 1, 2010. I'm very thankful for the opportunity I have this break to spend time with the people I love while traveling the globe, and I am so glad that I will be returning to Russia next semester; I'm not ready to leave just quite yet.
Have a wonderful holiday! (Merry Christmas, Papa.) Until February...
Love from Athens,
Monday, December 7, 2009
It is finally winter! The past two
and a half weeks were incredibly warm (in the forties!) but now, it's
snowing quite hard and shouldn't get above freezing till spring.
The past couple weeks have been magnificent.
the group front: I saw a production of Bulgakov's "Master and
Margarita" at the little a theater where you're REALLY close to the
actors, and it was simply fantastic. We attended a debate between an
Orthodox historian, the head of the socialist party of England and
Wales, a human rights activist, a very rude conservative nationalist
and a pro-Stalinist professor concerning the legacy of Stalin. We
visited poet Boris Pasternak's house, and had a marvelous time. My
friend Kara even got to play his piano! We went to a poetry reading,
which was actually more of a percussion concert with some poetry thrown
in at the end. We went to see a superb musical: Beauty and the Beast.
On the individual front:
I helped out a friend who held a fundraiser for the Moscow Protestant
Chaplaincy social outreach groups, who do a lot of good work, and in return got
to attend the free showing of "Julie and Julia" with my friend
Kara. My British friend Emily had a tea
party for her birthday, so I had my first true English scones with clotted
cream and jam. And, I visited a
day-shelter/clinic/clothes pantry for Africans living in Moscow that is run by
the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, in order to do some research for a paper I'm
Thanksgiving weekend we spent in a little northern city
called Pskov, which was founded in the tenth century. This trip beats St. Petersburg by a
mile. We had a twelve-hour train ride,
on Thanksgiving day, so we had a little makeshift feast of pizza, sandwiches,
fruit, and cookies while saying outloud what we are thankful for. We were in a hotel this time, not a hostel,
so we were able to get in that Friday morning, shower, and have a little rest
before starting our busy weekend. We
visited the fortress, some lovely churches, a well preserved collection of
frescoes from the 12th century, and then a real live blacksmith! The blacksmith helped us pound some metal
into old fashioned coins, and we made the evening news! We did, in fact, get to see ourselves that
night on tv at the smithy. Very exciting
for one day! Saturday was by far my
favorite however; we began by visiting the Pskovo-Pecherskii Monastery, which
is built into the side of a hill where there used to be old caves. From there, we went to another little
medieval town where we not only had the most amazing food I've had in the past
three months (cabbage salad, peasant soup, homemade pelmeni, homemade blini
with homemade apple preserves followed by herbal tea with honey...), we also
climbed a tall tower in the city wall and looked out over the Russian
countryside. Indescribable. Then we drank from the Slavonic springs and
fed swans on the pond. But the day
wasn't over yet! We visited a beekeeper
who took us around his farm, and then had us in for tea, with honey, berries,
and then he let us sample his homemade wines, honey mead, and vodka. I'm told they were quite good. Sunday we had a pottery class, and then Kara
and I wandered around in the rain taking pictures and eventually ending up
eating ice cream and drinking tea in a cafe before heading back to Moscow.
In comparison, this past week, post-Pskov, has been
rather tame. I've been mostly just
working, doing school work, meeting friends for dinner who are leaving soon,
and getting some shopping done. The next
two weeks are full of presentations, tests, and papers. But on the other side of the long tunnel of
schoolwork awaits a lovely holiday!
Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. Stay warm!
From Russia with Love,
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Time is flying by! I've been in Moscow for almost three months now.
got our midterm grades last week, and all seems to be going well. Now
we're entering the final stretch of the semester we're having more
tests and we're starting our final projects. In "Language through mass
media," we have to write an essay. In our phonetics, class we have to
give a twenty-minute speech on a topic of our choice. (My Russian has
definitely improved, but giving a twenty minute presentation still
sounds daunting...) In grammar and reading, we have a final exam. In
"Russia Today," I'm writing a research paper on racism in Russia. And
finally (my favorite) in fairytales, we're putting on a few short
plays. In the main play, I have the leading role. I am the
granddaughter (Snegurochka = snow maiden, sort of) who gets her heart
turned to ice by the winter witch (aka Kara), an icicle (Amy). My
grandparents try everything to cheer me up: new dress, golden ring,
candy and sweets, riddles with friends... At last, the thing that warms
my soul is singing Russian folk songs with all my animal friends and
grandparents... We're also performing "Kolobok," which is the Russian
"Gingerbread man," and "the Turnip." We've begun practicing.
As for the more exciting parts of life: I've now been ice-skating for the first time in Moscow. Phil and I went to a rink on the seventh floor of a mall, just for a little bit, but it was nice to get back on skates. I'm looking forward to next month when we'll skate on Red Square! As a group, we also went to a circus, that featured some great acrobats and a seal who danced to one of my favorite Latin American pop songs ("La Camisa Negra"), we made a little excursion to the Library (named after Lenin) and secured library cards, and we visited the Museum of Modern History. Kara and I took our own little excursion to see an exhibit called "Not Toys" at the New Tretyakov Gallery, and to the Sculpture Park where we found flowers on a famous statue of Stalin. I've also been to two soccer games in the past two weeks: one between two Russian teams (Lokomotiv and Amkar-Perm), and then the first leg of the World Cup Qualifying matches between Russia and Slovenia. (I also recognized two actors from one of the TV shows I watch sometimes sitting four rows in front of us in the stadium.) As a whole group again, we attended a performance of Dostoevsky's "The Possessed" (also translated "Demons") and a forte piano concert of two very famous Russian pianists (Николай Петров - Nikolai Petrov, Александр Гиндин - Alexander Gindin.) As you can tell, we've been pretty busy! The next two weeks will only get busier!
My culinary adventures continue. I cooked for Bible study two weeks ago, and am proud to announce that I can now make a mean tomato soup from scratch. Campbell's doesn't sell tomato soup in Russia. On November 4, a Wednesday, it was "National Unity Day" so we didn't have classes. Therefore, along with my comrades Kara and Amy, we attempted to make some pirozkhy (little stuffed pies) and some chocolate chip cookies. We bought the wrong kind of dough for the pirozkhy but we tried to make them anyway, and they didn't come out too bad. They were filled with cabbage, parsley, and hard boiled eggs. Amy's host family was much more impressed with our chocolate chip cookies. They were not your everyday chocolate chip cookies. We didn't have any brown sugar, or molasses, so we used honey. We didn't have chocolate chips, so we broke up a candy bar that turned out to have a much softer texture. And instead of vanilla extract we used ground vanilla bean. We also didn't use any measuring utensils. In true "babushka" fashion, the three of us stood around the bowl, one poured, and then we came to a consensus when there was "enough" of that particular ingredient.
The weather is getting quite chilly, it rarely gets above freezing now and has snowed at least half a dozen times, but nothing more than a dusting. Luckily, I am no longer sick. I hope all of you are enjoying more mild weather. In the next two weeks, we have many more cultural activities planned including but not limited to: a poetry reading, a play, a musical, and a long weekend in Pskov. I've added the last two weeks worth of pictures to these two albums, and will continue to add to the second one:
Have a wonderful week, and Happy (early) Thanksgiving!
From Moscow with Love,
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Dearest friends, family, and esteemed professors,
It's been two more weeks.
Bad news first:
I've had a very persistent cold for the past two weeks. It has been quite draining, and I finally had a visit to the doctor (on day 12 of cold) who confirmed that yes, it was just a cold, but my white blood cell count was a little elevated so I'm on antibiotics anyway. Along with my physical health, my mental health has taken a slight dip. The "time of depression" is here. For me that amounts to me being annoying, and lonely, and mopey. I'm working on it though, and God sent me some snow to cheer me up :)
And finally, my host mom situation is going, well, less than splendidly. Just one cultural clash to characterize our relationship: I woke up early one morning because I was starting to tutor that second young woman, Tanya, and I had a bit of a commute. My host mom bustled about lecturing me that I didn't sleep enough, and because I got up early, SHE had to get up early to make me breakfast. At 6:30am my Russian isn't working, so I mostly just nodded, and hopped into the shower. When I sat down to breakfast, she apologized saying how she's tired, and we agreed that next time I'd warn her and she could leave it for me in the fridge the night before.... Then she asked why I was up so early. I explained proudly (trying to show that I didn't get up just to irk her) that I had secured a second job. Wrong tactic. She began a ten minute rant on how it wasn't right that I had a job when I was here to study, and that there are Russians that are unemployed, and that's what we foreigners do, come and take all the jobs, Russians are perfectly capable of teaching English, her daughter teaches English, it doesn't matter that my university is expensive - my parents have jobs, etc, etc. She threw in a "don't be offended" and a "good for you," every once in a while, but apparently really wanted to finish her clearly insulting speech.
On to the good news!
The visit to the doctor was actually fantastic because he turned out to be Peruvian and therefore conducted my consultation in a Spanish-English-Russian mix that left me very linguistically confused, but very happy. I think I'll get my host mom some flowers on the way home tomorrow and hope things improve, but if they don't I do have the option to change next semester, so don't worry.
And, we've done some fantastic things in the past two weeks! I went to the Champion's League game between Manchester United and CSKA Moskva with some friends from Bible study. Manchester won (of course) and we met two friendly Siberian men who travelled three days by train to see the match and were very interested in sharing their cognac with us. Last weekend, the Dickinson crew journeyed to Leo Tolstoy's estate and we learned more about him, and we paid our respects at his grave. That Sunday the girls and I gathered for some cooking before going to the Bolshoi Theatre. We cheated a little bit this time. We made a good, ol' American apple pie, and pelmeni, which are like Russian meat-filled raviolis. The pelmeni, being pasta, were very simple. We boiled water and loaded them in... Kara's host mom also made us a fantastic cheese-garlic-carrot dip that we enjoyed on olive crackers. We went to the Bolshoi theatre to see "Giselle." It was absolutely beautiful and I am quite worried that I am becoming addicted to amazing ballet and will be in trouble when I return to rural Pennsylvania.
Yesterday was Halloween, and the first real snow! Kara and I went downtown to Red Square and took pictures and enjoyed the snow. When it stopped snowing we went inside. We had planned to go to what I thought was a photography exhibit. It turned out to be a fashion exhibit, and was very cool. What was even cooler was that we met the designer...Diane von Furstenberg~! We got her autograph, and she introduced me to her brother who happens to have a daughter who is also named Kelly. I am, as most of you know, absolutely fashion illiterate, and had never heard of her, but apparently she invented the wrap dress. After that exciting meeting, and a lovely dinner with Kara, we met most of the group and headed to the theatre to see a play. The play was called "Erast Fandorin" and is based on a novel that we had read an adaptation of in our Modern Fiction class. I enjoyed it immensely. Today was a quiet day because we called off cooking plans on account of illness, but a nice chilly day with some snow.
What's in store:
This Wednesday, Nov. 4, is a national holiday, "National Unity Day," which is a replacement of the Soviet "Day of the Great October Revolution" on Nov. 7. We have no school, and we're going to the circus that night. We also have a play, a piano concerto, and some museum trips coming up, but no ballet for the entire month...
Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers! More news in two weeks...
From Moscow with Love,
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The weeks are flying by here in Russia.
Two weekends ago the Dickinson program travelled to St. Petersburg by overnight train (on a Thursday night.) Quite an experience. On the way there we had private compartments, and on the way back we were in the regular compartments that just had beds instead of benches. We stayed in a nice hostel while we there, and because there were nine of us, we had a room to ourselves. We also had breakfast everyday at a café we visited regularly when I was in St. Petersburg two years ago, Cafe Lima. (Very yummy! And cheap too!) We had a guide for the first few days who took us around in a small van and showed us some of the sights. Friday: We had a little bus tour and toured the Church on the Spilt Blood, Palace Square, the battleship Aurora, Peter the First's log cabin, Peter and Paul's Fortress (the Cathedral and the prison) and Doestoevsky's house museum. Saturday: we had an all day excursion to Catherine's Palace, which is located just outside the city. We also picnicked on the grounds, which was lovely. After that we toured Pushkin's Lyceum, where he went to school as a child. Sunday: We spent all day at the Hermitage, then ran back to the hostel and changed for the ballet! We went to see "Corsair" at the Marinsky Theatre. Far and away my favorite thing we did in Petersburg. Monday: We had the day to ourselves, so a few of my comrades and I walked down Nevsky Prospekt (the main road) and then hired a small boat to take us along the river and its channels for an hour so we could see St. Petersburg as Peter meant it to be seen: from the water. Then, we packed up and headed to the train station and back to Moscow. We got in at about 6am, and had to be in class at 10am. Luckily, most of us had time to drop our bags at home and take a shower.
Then last weekend I went on a "weekend away" with the young adult bible study I attend. We went to a little town called Snegiri, in the suburbs of Moscow, and stayed in this huge dacha owned by Americans and run by Russians. I had some of the best homemade borsch, and fantastic blackbread. It was gorgeous weather, so in some of our free time we took a walk to the war monument there that marks how close to Moscow the Germans came. Lovely weekend, and I actually practiced my Russian quite a bit.
In other news: I finally got my student metro card! It's got my picture on it and everything. And I am happy to report I now have a second job :-) A young Russian woman, 23 year old, who is a friend of a friend, who wants some one to practice conversational English with her once a week. I met her a few days ago, and I'm hired!
School has been going fine. It's been slightly more challenging because we've been having more tests, but hopefully we're making progress! It's scary to think that we're already halfway through our semester. During the last two weeks, excluding the weekends, it's been mostly just work and school. However, Kara was reading an English newspaper and came across an exhibit she wanted to see of a Soviet photographer who had escaped to France and never had shown his work in its entirety. Therefore, after classes last Thursday, we had a mini adventure and found the New Tretyakov Gallery and eventually found these amazing photos by Vladimir Ciychev. We followed that up with a visit to the Moscow House of Photography to see two other exhibits yesterday (Saturday.) Phil also invited me over yesterday and we baked a good ol' American apple pie with apples from their dacha. (Phil's host mom also gave me a big bag of apples to take home with me, so I made some turnovers today.)
In store for me this week: a trip to the stadium to see Manchester United vs. CSKA, Leo Tolstoy's estate museum, and a ballet at the Boshoi Theatre! Here and there I'll also have a few classes, and work.
I hope all is well in the States!
Love from Moscow,
Thursday, October 01, 2009
So sorry for the long silence. I've now been in Moscow for over a month! Since last time I emailed I have succeeded in obtaining an internet connection in my room, I have added another class, I have found the topic of my independent study project with an adviser, and I have put some pictures up.
The extra course I picked up is all about Russian Fairytales and their role in the formation of the Russian view of the world. The class is taught by the same Soviet lady who teaches Mass Information, but she is much more relaxed in fairytales and it's much more fun. Last week in class I got to dress up as the little spotted hen who laid a golden egg as we acted it out. She brought costumes and everything. It's very interesting to learn what kind of things Russians value (namely work ethic, self-sacrifice, helping your neighbors) and what they don't value (time, ambitions of wealth) through what they pass on to their children.
It was in one of the lectures in my "Russia Today" that I found something I'm excited to study. And it is, of course: food. More specifically I want to look at how food and cooking in Soviet times was connected (and/or disconnected) to the Soviet ideology. The government published a cookbook that not only contained recipes but the "triumphs of Soviet cooking," and reflected political changes not only in the propaganda included, but in trying to highlight dishes from all the different countries that composed the Soviet Union. The minister in charge of food was also possibly the highest ranking official to survive Stalin's purges; he held his office from Lenin to Breshnev. They made lots of changes both in home cooking and in how Russians ate out, and it will be interesting to see how their utopic descriptions of how people should be fed and how they actually were will be quite interesting. I'm sure no one reading this email is nearly as enthralled by this topic as I am, but I just think it will be so interesting to see how the government tried to control at the most basic level people's lives, and how far they managed to realize their aspirations.
So the wheels are in motion: I think I'll be studying how the soviet government industrialized food distribution this semester, then next semester I'll look (through my independent study project) at how the ideology of The Party was expressed through their utopian cookbooks and how it changed between editions, and then finally, if I get a Fulbright, I'll come back and collect oral histories and study the disconnect between utopia and reality during the Soviet period, as much as I can.
Through the Dickinson program we've also done quite a bit of sightseeing. We went to see "Eugene Onegin" at a small opera near my apartment, and it was fantastic. Almost the whole group had seen it together at the Met in New York, but I think we all agreed we liked this one better because we could feel more of the emotion from the performers, even if we still didn't understand most of it. As a group we also had our first experience with the commuter trains. Last weekend we took a train outside of the city of Moscow to two little towns, Alexandrov and Sergeevny Pasad. The first was the residence of Ivan the Terrible and the second is home to a very beautiful monastery. We took a late night tour of Mikhail Bulgakov's residence (Bulgakov was a famous writer) and some of the places that were the setting for his work, "The Master and Margerita." But by far my favorite, we went to the ballet earlier this week. It was called "Ballet of Igor Maiseyev" and it had lots of Russian folk dancing incorporated in it, and it was simply marvelous.
Don't worry, between all this, and working a couple days a week (playing with Constance), I've also had some time to relax and to cook! Two girls with the program, Amy and Kara, join me on Sunday nights and we cook at one of our apartments. This was a minor disagreement between my host mom and I one day, because she is very protective of her kitchen, which has just been redone. But the next week, she asked me to invite them over, and of course they brought her flowers and buttered her up nicely. By the end of the night she was pulling out pictures and said she's find more later because she was sure they'd be back since we had a whole semester.... Anyway, so far, after our initial eggplant caviar, we've made borsch, little fried pancakes called aladushki, and blini. My host mom and I also made an apple torte that was originally going to be an apple pie, but ended up being closer to a torte with the ingredients on hand.
Tonight we're leaving Moscow on a night train to St. Petersburg. We're missing classes tomorrow (Friday) and Monday, but we'll arrive at 6:30am on Tuesday and may even have time for a quick shower before class at 10.
All in all, things are going well! I can't really see the improvement in my Russian very clearly yet, but I'm starting to realize how much more I understand, and that I can now separate words in a sentence even when some one is talking fast. And I've been keeping count: four separate people have now told me without any prompting that I have no trace of any accent. One actually mistook me for a Russian when he first met me! Other than that though, my grammar still needs work. It still takes me a long time to compose grammatically correct sentences in my head, and slows down conversation. But I'm working on it, and my teachers and some lovely Russian speaking friends have been very patient with me.
Hope all is well in the states!
From Moscow with Love,