Posts Tagged ‘friends’

I’m sorry for being away. But here’s something exciting to make up for it!..

Listen and watch “Beryozovye sny” (“Dreams of Birches”) and another choral piece performed by my choir at the 2010 Student Spring Festival today.

Can you find me below!? Answer posted at the end, along with a video of the first one, and the sound file of the second one.

Basically, I’ve been really busy. Six hours of choir practice a week, ten hours (more…)

"Art belongs to the people," says Lenin. On the UU Opera House

Russians have a word (“trevoga”) for the spiritual qualms that you experience before traveling until you’re safely seated on your train/plane seat. I call it stress. Whatever it is, I feel it.

The day of our departure, I went straight from classes to my internship, and then straight to choir rehearsal, leaving early around 8 p.m. to inhale my dinner, grab my things (packed the day before), and run to meet Ryan at the station to catch our 9:40 overnight train to Ulan-Ude. The guidebook says it’s nickname is “UU,” but I’ve never heard that in real life. (Prophesy from the future: more “the guidebook was wrong” moments to come).

Regardless, we got in at 6 a.m. and bought the last of our train tickets (the ticket lady in Irkutsk had advised us to hold off on getting a few of them, since better seats opened up in the end).

MISTAKE ONE: Not booking the hotel. (more…)

"You're stronger and bolder from year to year, army of the Soviet people!"

"You're stronger and bolder from year to year, army of the Soviet people!"

Since the holiday began a many year ago when, of course, men defended the country and women stayed home to have babies and cook, I’ll save the discourse on sexist discrimination for another day.

The abbreviated history: the day was started under Lenin to honor those in the Red army, but once “the Fatherland”/USSR fell to pieces, they decided to call it “Men’s Day,” to balance Women’s Day on March 8. Or read the long history.

But, old names stick. Ryan and I went to a concert at the Philharmonic, bearing the name of the former holiday, attracting the age group of people most attached to such a name (i.e., seniors). It was also free, attracting a larger than normal attendance, as well as two poor American students, yours truly. (more…)

At the gate to my flight from Berlin to Moscow, again surrounded by the fur-donning crowd of Russland, I’ll admit, there was slight dread of going back. That was the closest to home I’d be for another five months. Landing in Moscow and re-arriving in Irkutsk four days after that, though, were happy enough meetings of Russia, that old friend, that one….

Russian birch on a pathI remembered the Irkutsk bus numbers and all the useful parts of life, but apparently had forgotten declension endings. That’s the revenge of the language pledge after two weeks of breaking it, I suppose. It was vacation.

Romany and I spent a good deal of time together the first half-week/weekend after my Wednesday arrival. One day, we traipsed around Irkutsk in the falling snow (meaning slightly warmer-feeling temperatures). I totally spaced on bringing my camera, and I want to revisit a lot of these places, too, so pictures of these places will come eventually.

First we hit the Officers’ House (Dom ofitserov), rumored to be a cool building with schizophrenically interesting and/or open exhibits through its halls of random offices and businesses. (more…)

Moskva. Bottom line: my feet hurt. Yes, great metro and bus system, but stepping out of every metro station and glancing around would hardly give a traveller the right idea of the city. Thus, walking can’t be done without, and so, walk I did.

Jan 1. And the decade begins. Streets quiet (except for the left-over fireworks and blank gunshots that continued until the day I left) and littered with empty bottles of Russian champagne ($2.99/bottle), Ryan and I got up early to get him to Sheremetyevo airport for his noon flight. Buying our train tickets to the airport just in time from the electric walk-up vendor (“3 minutes until next train”), only afterwards did the conductor decide to tell us that the first train wasn’t for another hour.

When I asked, “Because of the new year?” I noticed that it was a bit ominous to already be combining “new year” with “iz-za,” the participle used for negative reasons. No other bad omens have popped up since. (more…)

Wrapping up the end of a semester, year, and decade in Russia came with a few idiosyncrasies, challenges, and definite high points. Hardest of all was being away from family and friends in the comfort of my grandparents’ living rooms, wishing that my Christmas and New Year’s could be white. But, the trade-off turned out to be pretty darn good, too.

The night(s) before Christmas. I spent the few totally obligation-free days before Christmas doing some final shopping for the host family (travel picture book and a bottle of wine for the ladies, and a book of mostly politically incorrect Russian jokes for Yevgenii), wrapping them, and adding some final decorations to my room.

I had bought a package of festive napkins that I ended up using for wrapping paper for said presents and the ones I’d bought for Ryan earlier, adding (baller) hand-made ribbons out of newspaper or brown packing paper. The modest pile of presents (with the ones sent from home) on the window-sill, along with the stockings and snow-flake cut outs (I know, I’m a kindergardener at heart at Christmastime) hung on my shelves made me happy.

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To properly describe my experience in the realm of the Russian “holiday season,” if such a concept actually exists as a period defined apart from the general conception of everyday life in this country, then I should go back to my Thanksgiving holiday here.

Walking out of a delightful evening of intercultural dialogue (conversation over wine with Russians) on the last Thursday of November, passing the central market, my cohorts and I noticed that within the past few hours, a gargantuan “Happy New Year’s” light-up sign with accompanying fir garlands had been hung on the face of the main shopping mall. That may have made my Thanksgiving more complete than the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie had.

I don’t consider myself a total minion of the U.S. of Consumerism Culture that I left behind in order to spend the holidays abroad. But, I won’t lie, the probably coincidental Black Friday start of the Russian end-of-the-year shopping season with the Irkutsk central market’s sign-hanging and Christmas-tree construction really did touch my little heart, somewhere between my conviction that Christmas is the “Season for Giving” and my capacity to get an adrenaline rush when I see big red signs including the symbols “-” and “%.”

Thanks to the Soviet reconstruction of, well, everything, (more…)

I’ll blame my lack of posting on a few things. First, wrapping up finals season always comes with alternating bouts of productivity and extreme laziness, meaning that when I was working, I was burning the midnight oil, and when I wasn’t working, I really wasn’t. Second, Ryan got into Irkutsk two weeks ago, so between showing him Russia, making sure he knew where to go around the city and how to get there, and trying to keep him entertained, that’s occupied me, too. Finally, it’s Christmastime, which I’ve been preparing for with great anticipation (!). Check my next post for that.

But, having Ryan here to show around the streets of Irkutsk (he’s been clinging to my Irkutsk-Detroit analogy as an explanation for many of his discoveries) has been fun to one, see what I’ve learned since I got here almost four months ago equally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and two, to revisit and expand my knowledge about a few aspects of the life and culture I’ve been living.

Russian America. Our Buryatia trip hadn’t completely run down Midd’s budget for excursions for our Irkutsk group, so Elizabeth organized a van tour around Irkutsk two weeks ago after our classes. The theme of the tour was “Russian America and Irkutsk;” to give the appropriate history lesson (parts of which are from our Baikal studies learnings, parts from the tour). . . .

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December has a special meaning (kind of) for Eastern Siberia (the region of the middle of Siberia, not the Far East), if not just for Irkutsk. For better or for worse, it has nothing to do with the Mandy Moore song (blog post’s title) or the Disney movie Anastasia about the last Russian tsar, in which the song is featured.

The history. The unsuccessful Decembrist Revolt against the tsar of Dec. 14, 1825 by the so-called “Decembrists” (dekabristy), a relatively small group of high-ranking members of the army, bureaucracy, and society, resulted in a variety of sentences for the group’s punishment. Most were sent to the area around Irkutsk to do hard labor in mines for a number of years, and then were required to settle in Siberia for the rest of their term before they were allowed to return to the European part of the country, excluding Moscow or Petersburg.

The expedition. On Wednesday, our grammar teacher, Irina Melentievna, organized an expedition for us 3 Americans and the German/Austrian/Swiss group of international students (6 of them came) to Irkutsk’s Decembrist Museum, which is the renovated house of the wife of the Decembrist Sergei Grigoriyevich Volkonskii.

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“. . . Thanksgiving, hooray! / We’re going to dinner / at Grandma’s today,” is the little stanza from Jack Prelutsky’s collection of Thanksgiving-related children’s poetry that I end up recalling every year about this time.

Obviously, I’m in Russia, and obviously, in Russia, American national holidays are not observed. So this year was a bit different. At the same time, I feel like the distance made me think about the whole “cultural exchange” idea in a different light, and out of that, I think I have a much deeper understanding of Thanksgiving, home, and similar luxuries.

The first and foremost discovery of Thanksgiving ’09 was how much the holiday is (and probably most holidays, cultural practices, etc., from which I’ve been isolated for the past months, are) based on tradition.

Here are the deviations from tradition, from unforgivable to perhaps pleasant, that helped me discover this.

1. We had school today. Rating of deviation from tradition: mostly unforgivable. I realized I’m now part of a probably small percentage of American citizens who have ever gone to school on Thanksgiving. Snaps for me, except not really.

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