Friday, November 26, 2010

Никто не забыт, и ничто не забыто

In a rare stroke of motivation, I'm writing a blog entry before I have weeks of stuff to write about. Tuesday night Lyuda and I went to a CKA game with my friend Stephanie. The game was quite exciting. CKA feel behind by three goals by the end of the first period, but managed to fight their way back into it by the end of regulation. The game went to a shootout, where unfortunately CKA lost. We were all a bit confused by the way the shootout worked. Spartak (the opposing team) took more penalty shots than CKA, and CKA's captain took three of CKA's shots! It made no sense! We all had a bunch of fun though, and they even put us on the jumbo-tron!
This week has been bitterly cold in Peter (the predicted highs for Monday and Tuesday are 9 and 6 degrees fahrenheit), but on Wednesday, Hannah, Emily, and I decided to brave the cold and set out for the cemetery for the victims of the Leningrad blockade. I had already been to the cemetery, but I think it's a really important place in St. Petersburg and worth a second look. What should have been a short half hour walk however, turned into a 2 hour odyssey through swirling snow and bitter cold. Russia doesn't seem to get how useful street signs would be, and as such there are practically no markings as to what street one is actually on. After much staring at the map however, and an adventurous ride on the taxi bus, we arrived.
The cemetery was beautiful in the summer, but in my opinion, it may have even been more beautiful in the winter. We were alone in the park except for those workers clearing the paths between the burial mounds, and it was really quite moving to take in the cemetery in the quiet. As the snow swirled in the wind, you could pick out the faint traces of Schostakovich's "Leningrad Symphony" being played. While it is still debated whether the 7th Symphony was meant to be critical of Stalin's regime or the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the "Leningrad Symphony" became a famous symbol of Soviet resistance and survival during the War. While the symphony was originally premiered in Samara on March 5th 1942, the most famous premiere was in Leningrad itself on August 9th, 1942, more than a year after the infamous "900 day Siege" had begun. Played by an orchestra reduced to only 15 members by starvation and death on the front lines, but filled once again by musicians pulled from the city's starving inhabitants, the performance was broadcasted over the radio across the Soviet Union, and in an act of defiance, over loudspeakers across the city, so loudly that even besieging Nazi forces could hear.
All in all a visit to the cemetery is a sobering experience. Over 600,000 victims are buried in the cemetery, most in mass graves, marked only by the year they were dug. There are literally hundreds of theses mounds, each with hundreds and hundreds of people in them. Even though we were all completely frozen to the core, I think we were all glad that we went. I had hoped to take pictures, as my camera hadn't worked last time we were there, but alas, my camera, the batteries, or perhaps both had succumb to the cold, and refused to work. So no pictures for this entry, sorry!
Thursday was Thanksgiving. Obviously Russia does not observe Thanksgiving, no matter how wonderful a holiday it is, so I decided rather than trying to recreate it and failing, I would just do something else. I ended up spending the evening with Lyuda, we went out to dinner and then went to the movies and saw "the Social Network", which while extremely difficult to comprehend in Russian at times, was still highly enjoyable. Yesterday Hannah's aunt and uncle met up with us for пишки, little tiny Russian donuts that are probably destroying my arteries. It was nice to meet them, and get out of the never-ending snow. Which brings us to today, Saturday. The snow is now entering it's fifth day and shows no sign of letting up anytime soon, but at least it's still a balmy 16 degrees outside! Got to appreciate the small things in life. I hope everyone at home had a wonderful, joyous Thanksgiving and that everyone enjoys their long weekend!
Much love,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

All Caught Up!

This is it everybody! Today is the day I bring my blog up to date! Nicola left on that next Sunday. It was sad, but at the same time she left before the weather go too too bad and before the sun decided to disappear for the rest of time. The few weeks since have been interesting ones. Lyuda and I have gone all sorts of adventures including hockey games (she now is obsessed with it) and the theater. Our last two theater trips have been to a students' theater in one of my favorite parts of the city. The first time we went with my friend Sashenka and her tutor Sasha, who was originally going to be my tutor. The play we saw was called "The White Cloud of Genghis Khan". The theater itself is kind of reminiscent of Harry Potter, in the scene where they're trying the Death Eaters, and the play itself was incomprehensible. The acting was good, but no one could figure out what the hell was going on. I gathered that it was the life story of SOMEONE (I thought it was Genghis Khan, but I was to be proven wrong) but who that someone was was unclear. Even determining that much was difficult, because actors who had played the younger someone kept coming back in different roles, and I had no clue who the story was following. The play ended with a rather odd dance piece as well, we were all thoroughly non-plussed. Lyuda and I tried again yesterday with a theatrical interpretation of the "Decameron" which involved a lot of people in leotards writhing rather gruesomely on the floor. While I felt they did a very good job being creepy and capturing the horror of the plague, and the acting was quite good, the play itself left something to be desired.
I've had a very cultural week this week, in addition to the two plays, my friend Hannah and I went to see Tschaikovsky's "Swan Lake" on Wednesday. Just like the "Nutcracker" the dancing was beautiful, as were the sets and costumes, well worth the rather modest $45 we payed for the tickets. This Thursday was also my 21st birthday. I had been rather torn as to how I would celebrate my birthday, but luckily events and commitments rather decided that for me. My birthday was rather quiet, because Thursday night I had an interview for Customs Week Co-Heads with Franklyn. I am very pleased to announce that we got the job! So come Spring Semester Franklyn and I get to start planning Customs Week! Friday was more of a day of celebration, several of my close friends here and I went out to a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant, which was quite a bit of fun, even though their oven wasn't working, and they had no beer. And that about brings me to the present. Today for an excursion we went to a classical music concert at the Marrinksi concert hall for a performance of different pieces by Russian composers. Stachevember soldiers on, and I now sport a rather stylish "Southern Gentleman". That about does it from here, I hope I'll be more punctual about updating this in the near future!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remember Remember the Month of November

What I didn't realize is that my last entry rather nicely left off pretty much right at the start of November, so hopefully in this entry I can really bite the bullet and get everybody up to speed. November has been a super busy month for me, which has been great for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that staying busy distracts me from the fact that we're losing daylight here like no ones business (we already have less than eight hours of sunlight a day) and the weather is absolutely atrocious (today marks about the 20th day since I've seen the sun). I'm going to try and start at the beginning of the month and work my way through gradually, but if I remember things later I'm just going to throw them in.
At the start of November (actually the week before, but whatever) I started work at the "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg", a advocacy group that fights for Russian soldiers who have had their rights violated by the Russian Army, and helps draft age men assert their right to other forms of civil service if they are not draft eligible. The work is hard, and often times mind numbing in terms of the violence and suffering these young men, often times only 17 or 18, have been exposed to. I had originally hoped to volunteer at an orphanage, kick a soccer ball around with some kids for a few hours a week to relieve stress and give something back, but this is definitely better. "Soldiers' Mothers" does really important work (they currently have three cases before the world court) and it's really an honor to contribute in some way.
The first week in November we largely had off. That Wednesday was "National Unity Day", supposedly commemorating the day Kuzma Minin and Prince Pozharsky drove the Poles out of Russia to end the "Time of Troubles" in the mid-1600's. As luck would have it, that was the week my good friend Nicola came to visit. We had a lovely week together, and I think Nicola got to see Russia at its most Russian. One of our more interesting adventures was going bowling. After meeting up with my friend Kelsey and enjoying some of Russia's finer (IE cheaper) and more delicious (Jaguar, the finest "alco-energy drink Russia has to offer) beverages, we made a journey through the metro to Sennaya Ploschad, where we enjoyed another one Russia's favorite pastimes, eating at McDonald's. All along the way we had adventures. While purchasing Jaguars, a random Russian man approached Nicola and Kelsey. Kelsey knew the drill, say anything and everything to get the creeper to go away. As I leave the store and hand out the beverages, our new friend decides to befriend me as well. Rather lovingly holding an umbrella over my head, the man asked if we were Finns. I know the drill too, and launch into a story about how we're Canadian students (not American but close) who don't speak much Russian. What I hadn't realized is that Kelsey had in fact informed this same man that we were English bloggers in Russia writing something about blogs. Our dear friend finally made the connection that we were in fact not Finns, English, Canadians, but people who just wanted him to go away. After informing me that I was an asshole who spoke Russian just fine, our dear friend walked away, never to be seen again.
But that wasn't even close to the end of our adventures. The second bizarre occurence transpired at good Mickey D's. Since Nicola doesn't speak any Russian, she rather intelligently asked for me to order her chicken nuggets for her. I rather politely tell the lady at the counter that I would like a Big Mac, fries, and a drink, as well as Nicola's meal of nuggets, fries, and a coke. After staring at me for about 20 seconds, the girl behind the register simply starts laughing and tells me that I am in fact far too high to order chicken nuggets. This is where I got confused. First off, I was inebriated, not high, and two, WERE I to be high, wouldn't she want me to buy more chicken nuggets? From my experience, you tell a high person they want 100 chicken nuggets and they would probably agree with you. The girl however, didn't seem to understand the fact that beer and jaguar makes you drunk, or the basic rules of making a profit, and I was denied Nicola's chicken nuggets. Kelsey however, who valiantly agreed to try her luck accruing some chickeny goodness, apparently was just high enough, and got the nuggets no problem.
Our last adventure comes at the bowling alley itself. Even on a Wednesday night, the 36 lane bowling alley is completely packed, so we have to wait over an hour for a lane. Nicola and I decide we want to play air hockey as we wait. We turn the table on, but no pucks come out. Rather incensed at the prospect of losing 100 rubles to the air hockey table, I inform one of the bowling alley workers the table is broken, and that I would like him to fix it. After poking around the table rather half-assedly for about 12 seconds the dope looks at me and informs me there is nothing he can do, and walks away. I know that customer service doesn't exist in Russia, but this was too much for even me. I stop him and inform him that if the table doesn't work, than I want my money back. When he tells me he can't do that, I tell him he better get to work fixing the table. Rather flabergasted by this, he returns to the table, and again does nothing. He finally looks to me and tells me that I need to call the air hockey table and get them to fix it, or give my money back. I tell him that he needs to call. After about 20 seconds of this he points to the table and says that I can call using that phone. Now, I might be dumb, but I know that no air hockey table has a phone built into it. We go back and forth again, until he finally begins to walk away once again. This is the scene of my great victory; as he walks away I offer him a few choice phrases about the various things he can do with the male anatomy. Cowed, shocked, or both, he returns and offers Nicola and I a free game on the Nascar simulator. Great success.
And so the night went on. In my first experience with anything other than candle pin bowling, I bowled a rather horrible 22, but a good time was had by all.
The rest of the week was a success as well, we saw bears on leashes, bad Russian driving, and made an excursion out to Vyborg, a city on the Russo-Finish border that was the closest thing to sanity and the real world that I've gotten to in almost three months. Like all things Russia has come to possess however, Vyborg has seen better days. We spent the day climbing on ruins, imitating Russians and their rather preposterous photo shoots. I'm going to post this entry to stop it from being too long, but I will finish it soon!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meanwhile in the Rest of my Life...

So it has come abundantly clear that I am not going to finish telling you about my Volga trip anytime soon. And since life has all of a sudden decided to get busy for me, I have had very little time to update my blog. As such, I am going to devote this entry to trying to briefly sum up what has happened in the past month of my life. I've actually done quite a bit surprisingly, so I'm going to try and hit the main highlights. The first week we got back from our cruise our RD managed to arrange a basketball game at a gym against some local Russians. As most of you know, I am perhaps the whitest white boy on the face of the planet, and despite my height, any sort of skill in basketball is completely beyond me. Thinking however that this was going to be a friendly game among the members of our group, I gladly signed on. It was not. After having arrived at a gym that probably fulfills every expectation you could have for a soviet era gym (if you have expectations for soviet era gyms...), we were met by a group of Russian men who clearly spent too much time playing basketball, and not enough time doing other things like holding jobs. Led by "Shirtless sweaty man", "Guy who looks like the guy on our team" and "the Leviathan" (I got to cover him), team Russia thoroughly trounced team America plus Nathan's friend and "Really Really Old Guy" 100-82. We had a lot of fun nevertheless, I scored my share of points and even stuffed a guy on the other team, "Really Really Old Guy" showed that he could still run with the young guns (until he got knocked to the floor one too many times), and we all learned that we don't have much skill at basketball. The only downsides were that I had to cover "The Leviathan", who was approximately nine feet tall and twice as heavy as me, "Shirtless sweaty man" elbowed me in the face and gave me a bloody nose, and the bathroom didn't have any toilet paper (thank god for newspaper). That Wednesday we went to a CKA hockey game. Tickets that would cost $90+ in America cost approximately $6 in Russia, so needless to say I have been to, and plan on attending more games in the future. The next week we went to the Michailovsky Theater and watched their production of "The Nutcracker". I love "The Nutcracker", I took ballet and then modern dance for many years (until I was about 18) and have been in many productions of "the Nutcracker", so the ballet is quite near and dear to my heart. The performance was absolutely amazing, and the theater was beautiful. I'm going to end this entry here, since I don't want it to be too long, but I promise I'll write another one soon!