Saturday, June 30, 2012

Туда и Сюда - Around Town pt. I

Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  This one was built in the 90s, Stalin had the original torn down and a huge outdoor swimming pool sat in its place for many years.

Ahh, a lion!

The statue "A Worker and Kolkhoz Woman".  So much better seen in person.  I don't care who you are: this thing is inspiring.

The Cosmonaut Memorial.  The memorial is in the shape of the trajectory of Yuri Gagarin's launch, I believe.

Alexander II contemplating the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Obligatory St. Basil's shot

Red Square from inside St. Basil's

One of the "Seven Sister" buildings as seen from Moscow River

Basic Incompetency

I'm no stranger to confusion.  I spend probably 50% of my normal daily life not being exactly sure what is going on.  Here it's more like 80%.  I exist in a state of perpetual confusion, and for the most part, I'm okay with this.  Being perplexed forces you to pay more attention to your surroundings, and you learn more.  Something I'm still not accustomed to, however, is the difficulty in making myself understood and the challenge of completing simple interactions.  Even if I try to prep myself by practicing the phrases I will use and looking up any words I might need beforehand, there are always curveballs.  This usually results in my signature Blank Stare, which is answered by a "what is your problem" stare from whoever I'm talking to.  Because I look like I could be Russian, the first assumption is that I'm an idiot.  Depending on how long the interaction lasts, the other party may or may not realize I'm a foreigner.  How Evgeni Malkin sounds to us when he gives interviews in English is basically how I sound to Russian people when I speak Russian.  Some examples of me in action:
Going to try on clothes at the store:
Me: I have four clothings.
Fitting Room Lady: This is the men's fitting room.
Me: (signature Blank Stare)
Fitting Room Lady: ...This is the men's fitting room.
Me: (comprehension dawning) Oh, I'm sorry.

Getting lunch in the cafeteria:
Guy in Line Behind Me: афйоаьгвкьйлвнйлауиькфмднвканйиелрчриайк *
Me: Pardon me?
Guy: авнйкнвишеуфоерфуионмвйчуиераписдк?
Me: (Blank Stare) I'm sorry, I don't understand.
Guy: (gives "are you an idiot" stare) You don't understand?
Me: No, I am a foreign student.
Guy: (gives up)
*I think he was trying to make small talk about the juice with fruit in it that they usually have at lunch.  No clue.  Maybe he was saying it was good, or that it wasn't good?  I drank it anyway.  No adverse affects.

Getting a hot dog in a pretzel roll from the food stand owned by possible Kazakh gypsies:
Me: I would like one hot dogs, please.
Possible Kazakh Gypsy Lady: What?
Me: Hot dogs?  In a roll?  I would like?
Possible Kazakh Gypsy Lady: A sausage?
Me: No, a hot dogs, please. (pointing to the hot dogs in the window)
Possible Kazakh Gypsy Lady: Aha! (gold-toothed smile)
Me: (smile of relief because I am getting a hot dog) Thank you!

Man, those hot dogs are delicious.  Overall, I'm okay with people thinking I'm an idiot, because I know I'm making progress.  Last night though, I went to see a play ("Three Years" by Chekhov) of which I understood very little, and by the time I got out of the theater I was exhausted and felt dumb as a brick.  I was having a lot of trouble putting coherent sentences together and conversing with the Russian people that we were with, which was making me more exhausted, which was making me more incoherent, and so on.  I'm pretty sure they thought I was a complete airhead, which I'm not okay with, and so by the time I got home I was very grumpy.  The only remedy for that is to get some rest and remember that tomorrow is a fresh day with no mistakes in it (yet!).
A gorgeous pink palace I saw while walking around last night.  Possibly Catherine the Great lived here?  Too tired to have any idea what was going on at this point.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Onward, Comrades!

The Most Uncomfortable Seat in the House and Other Tales from Teatralnaya

Friday evening I had made plans to go see a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre with a couple other students from our program.   I was instructed to get there early as we had to wait in line for student tickets, so I did, which was a good thing because I obviously don't understand the system.  There is apparently some type of understanding between the theater and Russian students and an informal handwritten list, prepared a day in advance, which saves your place in line for the next day (the day of the actual performance).  Luckily my friend knew about this and had put my name on the list for me.  Some Spanish tourists, however, were not so fortunate.  The Spanish couple had gotten to the theater early and were first in line, which makes sense in theory.  However, they made the grave mistake of thinking that things in Russia are done in a reasonable way.  One of the Russian students in charge of orchestrating the secret list/theater-student agreement got into a shouting match with them, and during the grand finale of this exchange Marina basically told the Spaniards that they had no rights in Russia.

While this was playing out, those whose names were on the list were engaging in the Russian tradition of standing in line while not actually standing in line.  In Russia, it is perfectly acceptable to go join someone that you know at their place in line, regardless of how long the line is or how long anyone else has been waiting (in the US, we call this "cutting"), and it doesn't create the same animosity among the other line-standers that it would in the US.  I myself stepped out of the line for a while to grab some ice cream and get some personal space (Russians don't have the same perception of personal space that Americans do.  I've been doing okay with this so far, but it is harder to deal with when I'm tired).  But people milled around, struck up conversations, left and came back, and some girl offered me ham.  Finally, we filed into the box office.  I presented my studienchisky billet (student ID) and 100 rubles to the unsmiling lady and was rewarded with a ticket.  Sergei, a fellow line-stander with whom I'd been speaking until my words ran out looked at our tickets and laughed.  "Do you understand that?" he asked, pointing to the seating information.  Indeed I did.  It read неудобное место, literally 'uncomfortable space'. 

"How bad could that be?" I thought to myself.  Well, it was pretty bad.  Our seats were at the top on the far left side, and it was impossible to see the stage.  Right as the show was about to start, the usher told us that we could go stand in a spot with a sightly better view.  As the show progressed, however, people filtered out of the theater, so we kept inching gradually over, and by the third act we had decent comfy seats that allowed us to see almost the whole stage.  I have zero complaints though.  For about three bucks I got to go into the Bolshoi (which is an experience in itself), and enjoy most of a ballet performed by incredible dancers with sumptuous costumes.

Afterwards, we walked around the Alexander Gardens for a little bit and then went to a cafe with Sergei and his friend, Sergei*.  It looked like a grubby Japanese restaurant from the street but was actually a sort of converted basement space, kind of industrial and modern and really cool, and something you would never find unless you were with Muscovites. 
It's Bolshoi!

*There is very little variation in Russian first names.  Since I've been here, I've only met one person with a name I didn't recognize.


Red Square OHIO

The Red October Chocolate Factory and Other Diversions

Friday dawned bright and early, as it tends to do here.  Moscow isn't far enough north to have White Nights like Petersburg, but it doesn't get dark until about 11:30, and then the sun rises around 4:00am.  Waking up early was not a problem, however, because we were going to a CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  Not just any chocolate factory, but the Red October Chocolate Factory, one of the oldest and most beloved of Russia.  I ran downstairs to the cafeteria for a light breakfast, because Jon had promised us that we would get lots of free samples during the tour.

Breakfast in the cafeteria has been an experience, I guess.  We (the foreign students) are usually the only ones in there at that hour, so the lunch ladies are usually just putzing around when we arrive, blasting a europop/dance radio station.  The music is my favorite part of breakfast, aside from the cake.  I love breakfast cake.  I don't know if cake is a typical Russian breakfast food, but they usually put it out for us, along with yogurt, tea, kasha (a hot grain that can be mixed with anything), plain boiled macaroni and hot dogs (a Russian thing, I don't get it), fruit, and bread.  There was no cake on Friday, which turned out to be a-okay, because we did get all the free samples promised at the factory.

There was a museum tour first, where a  guide explained the process of making chocolate and the history of the factory, which was founded by a fellow named Theodore Ferdinand von Einem in 1851, and then nationalized and re-named after the October Revolution.  The history lesson also included a shout-out to Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov, a Soviet linguist who greatly contributed to the deciphering of ancient Mayan writing, and one of my favorite people of all time.

The factory itself is serious business.  We suited up and were told not to take pictures inside, as one of us may sell chocolate secrets to competitors.  Needless to say, it was awesome.  Lots of machines squishing and pouring delicious chocolate magic, and lots of angry looking Russian ladies in hairnets. 

Lunch Lady Fab
Though we were full of samples, we deemed it highly necessary to eat again to prevent the onset of sugar shock, so we went to some Uzbek restaurant.  I indulged in rice pilaf with veggies, raisins (?), chickpeas, and meat of some type.  Super tasty.  I still haven't gotten a chance to try Georgian food yet, which is said to be phenomenal and spicy (spice is sorely lacking in Russian food.  They just aren't accustomed to it.  I was at Subway the other day and got southwest chipotle sauce, as I usually do, but it was a different formula than in the US and basically just mayo.  Oh well.).  So I'll make that a goal for this week.