Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Then vs. Now

All I can say is it's lucky I don't use my fingers for a living. With the recent drop in temperature here in Moscow, I may never feel them again. I had this amazing conversation with my dad the other day, in which I shared my secret love of the cold. I grew up with snow, definitely saw my fair share of freezing days in Logan, UT and waited many a cold morning at the bus stop in Ann Arbor. And there's something about feeling frosty. A chill means holidays, hot chocolate, snow ball fights, Christmas Sweater parties---gearing up for this year's!!!---ski bus, cuddling, ELF, and lots of other fabulous things. I don't mind being bundled up and cozy and occasionally venturing into the wintry cold.

But that was then. I believe "then" was about 1 degree Celsius. Overnight we left the blissful days of cool behind and are now around a comfortable -19. And bundling's got nothing on that. I can now empathize with plastic surgery victims as my face freezes in one position on direct contact with the cold. But, hey, it's Russia right?!? Might as well experience the real deal.

Other ventures in Russian authenticity this week:

My first caviar. Served directly from a giant plastic tub fresh off the plane from Vladivostok. Amazing!

This is the inside of the bus I rode home the other day. You haven't experienced real until you've been in this.

My brilliant Russian family: Svetlana, Sasha, Dasha, and Katya.

My first visit to a Russian lavra on our daytrip to Sergiev-Passad. Sasha was kind enough to purchase a children's book explaining the history of the saint whose remains are interred here. Don't judge. It's an intense children's book!!!
And as it turns out, the onset of frigid cold has its perks. I watched a sunrise for about as long as it took to snap this picture and then ran while I still had feeling in my feet. Nothing like a dose of sunshine!!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the Colorful Side

Red Square

GUM: The Galleria's Moscow counterpart (Pronounced GOOM)

St. Basil's. Look familiar?

My flashed-out face in front of the Bolshoi Theater!

Another Day at School

While I imagine there's a learning curve with most jobs, it would seem that it's ever-constant in my profession of choice. Once again I've landed myself back in school. Perhaps a bit shorter than in days past: M/W 9-1 and T/Th 9-3. Factor in the fact that every second I'm getting schooled in Russian and the hours do seem to add up a bit. Luckily it's paying off, and even more luckily (if that's incorrect grammar, consider it as me just coining an expression) I love it! While school/life here can be exhausting it's also unbelievably rewarding.

So what does school look like in Moscow?

Well, first there's the commute...

A lovely store that cleverly disguises my metro stop.

We're pretty festive around the metro in these parts.

And that's my building. It's actually home to the Moscow State University dorms, in addition to the language program for foreigners. I mean...the authentic Russian university experience is a must, and 20 year olds will show you how it's done!

To inspire work ethic, I climb this set of stairs to class---not foreboding in the least---and at the top there is an all-seeing eye which through the marvels of technology, sees you, screens you, and buzzes you in. A bit of an intimidating process, I must say, though after adjusting to the system I will say that I don't think any actual screening goes on. I have yet to show ID on entrance. As a sidenote, I have seen more guards in Russia than I think I have in my entire life. Although perhaps ours are just kept a bit more undercover.

The view...

And the hall of learning itself...

Complete with the grammar charts which wreak havoc on my brain. CASES, People...CASES!!! And don't get me started on verbs of motion. Thanks.

One of the great joys of this school setup is the coffee/HOT CHOCOLATE!!! dispenser. I have the choice between Milk Chocolate, Hot Chocolate (haven't quite figured out the distinction between the two) and a DOUBLE chocolate. I go for the double typically. Hard core like that.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture. Happy Imagining of the machine which dispenses liquid joy!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

день благодарения

Happy Thanksgiving!

Despite the slight distance from the native land, celebrations were had. Wednesday evening was spent making a pumpkin pie with a recipe from that well-known cooking newspaper---The Financial Times. Despite a few ingredients whose Russian counterparts left me slightly concerned, it turned out quite lovely! When I made it to the kitchen for breakfast this morning, it was sliced and waiting on the table. Can't say I've done pumpkin pie for breakfast before, but why not?!? I've had many a stranger thing.

After six hours of Russian class in which I was clinging to my American identity (translation: ROUGH day of Russian), the celebration continued with a stop at the Starlight Diner.

Svetlana, host extraordinaire and now dear friend, took a break from work for our Thanksgiving feast, which was entirely executed in Russian! Mom, it was weak in comparison, just for the record. Perhaps not foremost, but ever present amongst today's thoughts of gratitude is that we celebrated on Halloween in H-town. Bingo and ALL!

Forgive the poor photography, but through this you can see my standard Russian look. LAYERS! So much for a figure---right in line with Thanksgiving!

Tonight I'm especially grateful for family. For friends around the world. For love. For life. For opportunities. For religion. For laughter. For mistakes. For education. And for Moscow.

Monday, November 22, 2010


It’s amazing how quickly a place can begin to feel like home. One week in Moscow and already things are beginning to feel comfortable, even routine. Yes, there’s that minor detail of speaking Russian which doesn’t exactly fall into the comfort category, but that aside…I’m home. Albeit a makeshift monthly home. Which carries undertones of “squatter.” But I digress…

I love Moscow. At first glance it seems grey and bleak, especially given a week of 0 degrees Celsius with no snow---warm for this time of year apparently, though my currently soft Texan self would claim otherwise. Conversations are direct, straightforward, blunt, and a slew of similar adjectives. Fighting your way through the crowds in the metro you begin to understand how the Nazi offense was stopped on the Eastern Front. And don't get me started on the drivers...

But a closer look and you start seeing in color. On nearly every street corner you can find a flower shop, brimming over with beautiful roses and arrangements that seem magical given the winter surroundings. And flowers are in high demand. It’s a generous city, concerned with gifting and gratitude. I have never been more warmly welcomed into people’s lives and homes. They skip the formalities (hence the seemingly abrupt and direct behaviors) and immediately want to feed and look after you. And the warring throngs of the metro are filled with secret courtesy. I’ve never seen gentleman quicker to give up their seats to an elderly or pregnant woman. And every hand reaches for change if an invalid is walking through the car. History is mingled with modern innovation, beautiful churches and cozy cafes amidst run-down Soviet housing structures. It’s cold but warm, harsh but friendly, and bleak but colorful. I love it.

I’ll be the first to admit I fall in love easily when it comes to places. I find people and their surroundings fascinating, and while I absolutely absorb the beauties and awe at the standard sights, I love the quirks. And quirks are plentiful in this city. While the occasional day as a tourist is completely necessary and certainly enjoyable, I find my daily commute on the metro, walks around the university, and stops at the market even more interesting. And true joy is trying to fit into it all, trying to understand, trying to speak, and learning something every second.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mommy WOW...

I'm a big kid now!

Yes that classic jingle came to mind today. It's amazing how functioning in a different language can take 15 year off your life while simultaneously adding 50. The stress of asking directions in Russian, figuring out how to get a metro pass which requires direct human contact in this country, purchasing a phone/SIM card, attempting to understand said plan you purchased, ordering in a cafe---the 50 years adds up easily.

And the 15? Well, maybe it should be 20. At one point tying your shoe was a HUGE accomplishment. As it should be---the majority of my current shoe selections no longer require it, in part given the complicated nature of laces. WELL, I think I've reverted to Age 6. Or somewhere in that vicinity. I have to say, successfully finding my way about the metro (luckily I had a lot of stops: by the time I got off I actually understood the announcement repeated at each statsia) and transferring to a bus might be one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my adult life.

And I'm pretty sure the 8-year old I'm staying with manages that for her weekly Spanish lessons. But since her Russian is far better than mine, I'll stick with 6. Thank you very much.

And just for the record, if you try and do a literal translation for "hot chocolate" you will not be served the American equivalent. Though the warmed chocolate pudding I was served as a substitute was nothing to complain about.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

I've found myself wanting to pen a letter over the past few hours that would go something like this:

Dear Singapore Airlines,

Having now been served Bluebell ice cream while aboard one of your aircraft, I no longer feel a need to frequent any other airline. Please amply reward the individual whose brilliance changed my life on 11/13/10 or 11/14/10, as I'm unsure of our whereabouts at the time of service.

Yours Truly.

I'd probably leave it unsigned. If they don't recognize me by the passion jumping off the page, I haven't expressed myself adequately.

Not only did S.A. serve me Bluebell and a slew of other airplane delicacies, they safely transported me to Moscow. And they did so WHILE helping me learn the Russian language! Cheers for the linguistic genius that created the video games which lead me to believe I now ROCK the Russian days of the week! A seven-word vocabulary can get you further than you may think...

So here I am. Basking in post-flight bliss---I've now been to Red Square, seen the Kremlin and St. Basil's cathedral, and am currently snacking on T.J's Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels. And perhaps there's some post-flight confusion. Wasn't I in Houston 5 minutes ago?! Not sure what time it is now---but I'm REALLY REALLY REALLY excited to sleep, what time my body thinks it should be, what actually happened during the drugged bits of the flight (Zoolander-esque), and that small thing of...what the HECK are they saying?!?!

Obviously not a day of the week...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Art of Practicing

I believe in Practice. With a Capital "P." Just ask Jason at Golf Galaxy. The day he tried to dissuade me from purchasing golf clubs will forever live in infamy. There's something about golf that's apparently a bit complicated for women, and really most people give it up after 6 months anyway---it's just that difficult.

Welcome to Life Lessons 101: DIFFICULTY. It happens. Suck it up. Deal with it. And PRACTICE. Someday it won't be as difficult. But no guarantees that it will be alleviated entirely. Ever. Welcome to my Life as a Musician. And the love I have developed for The Art of Practicing. (This is a book in actuality that I quite enjoyed once upon a time.)

Jason managed to work into the conversation that he didn't work on commission. Shocker. All I can say is that he's lucky he didn't get a golf club to the head. Or elsewhere. I left infuriated and wouldn't have purchased golf clubs in my rage had it not been for my kind and patient cohort (NOTE: when I am excited do NOT mess with me. It's like canceling Christmas for a 5-year-old. Or a 26-year-old. Whatev.) Livid. Thankfully I did purchase clubs. And took some golf lessons. And practiced. And will continue to practice. Like I said, I believe in it.

As of late, I have been practicing for my upcoming trip to Moscow.

I flew here last Wednesday:

Dallas: Approximately 45 minutes of flight time.

I didn't feel that sufficiently prepared me for my 12+ hour flight, so Sunday I flew here:

Seattle: Hmmm...wonder which picture was taken with my phone? Go ahead and guess. 4.5 hours---same numbers, but that little dot in the middle made a big difference. It was decided that I will next be practicing the effects of various sleep medications. 12 hours...suggestions on how to pass the time are more than welcome.

As language must be practiced as well, I spoke random bits of Russian to my co-passengers to further my art. And maybe for my personal entertainment.

I hope Jason reads this.

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