Week 6: Around town

Posted: October 16, 2009 in Иркутск, Student Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

No pictures of Irkutsk yet. My apologies. I’m still placing myself in the I-don’t-look-Russian-enough-to-pose-as-a-student-at-The-Photography-of-Architecture-Institute-which-doesn’t-exist category in order to take pictures of ugly Soviet apartment buildings.

By the time I do categorize myself as such, I’ll probably have some weird new aesthetic for concrete, meaning I probably won’t apologize for sending lots of probably not-that-interesting pictures, so I’m doing it in advance.

That said, I am starting to take a mostly unconditional liking to the city life of Irkutsk.

I like leaving my window open for “fresh” (city) air at nighttime, which produces the effect of living four stories up from some back, relatively calm street of Manhattan, yet with cars rolling by with music blaring, people walking by shouting, car horns and alarms continually going off. . . in short, produces the effect of living four stories up from some back, relatively quiet street of Irkutsk.

After classes end, usually around 3 p.m., I take the slightly longer walk to the bigger bus stop where I can get a bus for 2 rubles cheaper (6 cents) because 1) I like maximizing my outside time, since I’m spending a lot more time indoors anymore, and 2) I feel good about saving the money. This will add up to about $10 by the end of the year, if I keep it up. This will translate into ice-cream money.

But taking midday busses (or trolley-buses – the one’s with the electric wires overhead, same price) might be my favorite thing to do in Irkutsk. In addition to it representing the end of the school day and a nap to come in the 30-minute future, the clientele of 80% elderly people quietly sit there, all looking out the window, the afternoon sun that usually comes out after the morning fog, and the general peace and quiet despite the fact that I’m still in the city, all usually end up being a consistently good 15 minutes of the day.

The nighttime busses are fun too. Everyone’s in black (which they are all day, too, it’s just more striking at night or something). There’s young people leaving from and getting to different bus stops to buy alcohol and drink with their friends behind the bus stops. And it’s generally darker on the streets than most of your city/suburb streets of the U.S., which contrasts with the fluorescent lights of the busses and of the alcohol-and-cigarette kiosks in a cool way. All meaning that nighttime is just as exciting and abuzz as daytime. The city thing. . . .

A few of my stops over the past week:

Sunday. Church (tserkov’). Found the Roman Catholic church in the city center online, which has a 10:00 mass. When I got there, mass was in the basement chapel, since the main church is mostly for like tourism. Polish priest, mostly Polish people there. Their accent (which is actually more understandable to me than the Russian one) is basically comprised of not mumbling and replacing the L sound with a W. But mostly everything about mass was the same. . . only it was in Russian. Plus they dip the host in the wine, like the Orthodox. And they do a rosary after Mass. Meaning I basically have the Hail Mary in Russian down.

Monday. Pool (bassein). After being turned away on my first attempt to swim at Sportzal Izumrud due to my not having a swimming cap, this time, I came ready. This included: the necessary doctors note indicating that my hands didn’t itch and that I at least thought I was healthy (see “Example 3” in my post about my trip to the clinic), the extra stamp on the doctors note indicating that the gym knew I had the doctors note, my new little paper ID card with my picture on it, the stamp on my new ID card indicating that I had shown my student ID to the woman at the desk indicating that I was a student in order to receive the student rate, the receipt that I had paid the 100 ruble student rate, and my coat-and-shoe check ticket. Surprisingly handing all these over in a nice and organized little stack, I got my temporary locker key and proceeded to the locker room.

Changed. Gave my key to the locker room attendant (another generally stern-looking woman). Took the mandatory 5-minute shower. Added the cap and goggles. Proceeded to the start line. When the previous 40-minute session was up and the buzzer sounded, the previous group got out of the pool, and I with the next got in. Exactly 40 minutes later, I got out. Subtracted cap and goggles. Took the next mandatory shower (no time suggestion). Got my key back from the locker room attendant. Changed. And left. Talk about structure. . . .

Tuesday. Mexican restaurant (meksikanskii restoran). Nana, the director of the Middlebury School in Russia, our program, was in town and took us out to dinner to chat, see how we were doing, etc.

Ha. Great. “Rio Grande” was the name of the joint. I had heard rumors of this place for two years at Midd from Irkutsk alumni. I’d have to rate it as living up to all the quirkiness promised. The decor, the outfits, the sign reading “Texas, 10 km. Mexico, 15 km,” the chips that were more like sopapillas with a ton of salt, the salsa that was more like tomato puree. It was a nice dinner, tasted good enough, reminded me enough of home to enjoy it, gave us things to laugh about and explain to Nana why they were, well, wrong, and it was free, to boot. Go Midd.

Wednesday. Cut class (progulivat’ uroki). Don’t worry, I went to my classes, just not the ones at the lycee: on Saturday, I had gone to the IGU Lycee, a high school connected with my university, to see their students’ “konferentsia” (conference), which consisted of a guest lecturer from IGU’s ChemFak (he rambled for 40 minutes about the history of natural science and how that meant it was important for them to go to college? Note, I’m not loosing the message in translation here) and 2+ hours of 8th graders’ PowerPoint presentations on random topics with varying degrees of coherence/incoherence, of peer approval/inattention, and of interest on the judges’ part, displayed by how many or how serious of questions they asked at the end.

This meant that the little boy who measured air pollution in different parts of his apartment for like a month or something did rather well. Alternately, this meant that the little girl, who tried applying the scientific method to (the history of?) punctuation and who ended up telling us at length about what each punctuation mark means, was eventually asked by the main judge, “Do you feel like you know more about punctuation marks now?” As an aside, she answered (lied?), “Punctuation marks have always been my favorite part of the beautiful Russian language, and I think I use them very well.”

Regardless, I told my host, Olga Nikolaevna, I’d come back the following Wednesday, but accidentally at a time I had class, so I didn’t go to high school. I’ll go back next week sometime.

Thursday. Club (klub). Pronounced “kloop.” The name of this club meant “attic,” which I think is just supposed to carry the meaning of a cool, hip, hidden place to hang out, not like anything seedy.

It was a kind of kitschy decor, but nice, they played good music, would have been better if there were more people. More young people, especially. To give you an idea of the general age group, I think there were five birthdays being celebrated that night, ages probably 25, 25, 30, 30, and 35+. Food and drinks were pretty expensive, and I’d rate the cover charge (200 rubles) as not entirely worth it. Especially because we got there 6 minutes late for the free entry, which ended at 10. And also because there are apparently better clubs in Irkutsk. Why we didn’t go to one of those, still not sure. Oh well.

So despite the so-so-ness of the club itself (as Cathy told me via Skype from South America, apparently the club capital continent of the world , “Well, you are in Siberia”), decided to make the most of it, so we toasted, danced, ate a bit, had good convo. “We” means Nelli and Ira, two of my Russian friends, plus 4 of the Germans, who insisted on paying for my Heinekens, since it was “their” beer. I bought a round of Millers as repayment (it was the only option from America). All in all, a fun night with good company, which ended around 4 a.m. when I got home and got my 5 hours of sleep before classes.

Friday (Pyatnitsa). A still too-early bus ride to school.

  1. Theresa says:

    Hi Casey,

    Sounds like you are really enjoying the experience of living in Irkutsk! I have a feeling that you are going to come back to Middlebury a very changed person from the experience. Looking forward to seeing more photos!


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