Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Reflections at Novodevichy

When I arrived in Moscow on September 1st to stunningly cold and rainy weather, I was almost certain the only season that exists here is Winter. With a capital "W." And maybe a capital "-INTER" as well. Perhaps I've been softened by the years I spent in Houston, but in my defense, even the locals acknowledged the early chill.

I love fall and all it's festivities: Michigan football, the changing leaves, cider mills and homemade doughnuts, the scent of the fresh chilled air, boots and sweaters...the thought that perhaps I'd missed it completely was a bit much. I haven't been granted the gift of football (it's still on at 3:30 am) or cider mills, but Moscow did give me a taste of the season I so dearly love this week. I seized the opportunity for some time outdoors and spent a considerable amount of my Autumn (by which I mean one late afternoon/evening) at one of the sights on my Moscow Bucket List...Novodevichy Monastery.
Novodevichy Monastery in Fall

Gates of Novodevichy Monastery Moscow

Novodevichy Monastery Moscow

Founded in 1524, Novodevichy is now an official World Heritage sight and has some pretty stunning scenery to add to its equally fascinating history. Tolstoy fans will have read references to it in both War and Peace and Anna Karenina as the happening skating rink of the 19th century was located in the meadow directly in front of the convent.

Novodevichy Reflection Moscow

Novodevichy Cathedral Moscow

Angel Monument Novodevichy Moscow

Novodevichy Reflecting Pond Moscow

Novodevichy became the home and shelter for several women of the Russian royals, though not by choice. Sophia Alekseyevna, regent and ruler of Russia for 7 years (while her brothers who were the official rulers came of age), commissioned the octagon bell tower pictured below in addition to overseeing a serious renovation of the convent in the 1680's. I won't get into the details of her fascinating and terrifying history but, for the opera lovers out there, her rule is the historical foundation for the plot of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. After her brother Peter took over (her political opposition), she was forced to take the veil and lived in Novodevichy, completely isolated save for Easter day.

Novodevichy Bell Tower Moscow

Novodevichy Bell Tower Moscow

I love the views within the convent, and the museums are definitely worth a vist, but my favorite? The stroll alongside the pond, complete with some fall foliage, sunshine, always...people watching!

Novodevichy Reflection Pool Moscow

Fall in Moscow

Fisherman at Novodevichy Moscow

Monday, September 17, 2012

1776: America and Moscow Meld

A little over a year ago I submitted yet another online application. The past 10 years I’ve practically made a profession out of the process: undergrad applications, graduate school (twice!), summer music festivals, Young Artist Programs, doctorate degree applications, grants…and of course the credit card and student loan applications to cover the cost of my online application hobby.

I’d always wanted to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. Three years ago I even went to Vienna and met with a prospective teacher in the hopes of creating an affiliation that could aid my prospects. The application process and deadline fell, however, as I was in the midst of learning my first Russian opera, preparing my Russian master’s recital, and auditioning for opera young artist programs. So that online application fell by the wayside.

Until last summer. The application deadline fell, once again, at an inconvenient time. In the final week of its preparation (still debating whether or not to actually go through with it), I was offered a contract with a fantastic opera company that would conflict with the Fulbright term, IF awarded the grant. After an inordinate amount of self-inflicted, unnecessary stress (my usual routine), I finished the application. Pressed the submit button. And then accepted the opera contract for Fall 2012. Otherwise known as NOW.

And here I am in Moscow. Researching what I love, working at the Bolshoi Opera to accomplish said research, and enjoying the struggle of doing said work in a language that still feels extremely elusive. The past few days have been a series of reality checks. In a good way.

I passed a company truck on the way into work and had to stop to take a picture.

1776. A pretty crucial year in American history. Also the same year my current company was founded.

This is the façade of the renovated theater, photographed at least hundreds of times daily. And that's just by me...

This is that same façade on the 100 ruble. One of my Russian colleagues referred to it as a храм (khram) or temple, as we sat in the theater at the opening troupe meeting of the season.

In all honesty, I don’t think I ever really got excited to come to Moscow. I didn’t have time to be. And when I finally did have the time, I was too busy trying to plan the details of getting here. And worrying about what I was leaving behind. But despite said emotional conflict, I’m in awe at how life has played out out. And when I walked into the theater I knew I was in the right place. Despite being surrounded by unfamiliar faces and a foreign language, I sat down at the piano and knew I was home.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Prisoner in Serebryany Bor

I may not be able to speak Russian, but I do know how to unlock a door. Or at least I thought I did…

The problem with learning a language is that no matter how long you’ve studied it, when you get down with the natives, you feel completely incompetent. And let’s face it, you are. And when I say you, I’m talking about myself. But thanks for keeping me company.

The problem with feeling incompetent all the time is that it starts messing with your head.

Yesterday was my first day at the theater. Not actually working, but sorting out my contract, getting the grand tour, and then waiting on a couple of my colleagues to help me heft my bags through the metro to my new place of residence. Permanent place of residence, I might add. Most of the day was spent in Russian, and despite the horrific sense of inadequacy which Russian brings to my heart, I was at least able to keep up with the conversation. Successfully followed the meeting on my contract details, my work schedule, and some of the ins-and-outs of the Bolshoi. Score!

But then my colleagues escorted me to my home which, as a side note, happens to be in the middle of a forest. And they were speaking real-time Russian. And all sense of self was quickly diminished. I started settling in to discover, as I had been warned, that I have the worst internet connection in existence. Farewell self confidence and my mother’s words of reassurance. Lifeline to English-speaking civilization officially cut.

Head officially messed with, I had a bit of a problem figuring out the lock on my door. I’d try to unlock it and the key would just turn and turn, accomplishing nothing. (CRUCIAL: I’m talking about the lock on the inside. Which requires unlocking to leave the apartment.) My Russian colleague tried it once. It worked, of course, and he looked at me like I was a complete idiot. Which I definitely felt like at that point, so he wasn’t too far off.

Instead of trying it again, I decided to unpack…finally! It felt fabulous!!! There’s something so grand about NOT living out of a suitcase. I then whipped up a quick pasta dinner, tried to rejuvenate my tired soul with a considerable amount of success, THEN attempted opening my door and STILL couldn’t, so I called it a night and took a couple shots to knock myself out.

Shots, you ask in disbelief?!? No, I have not taken up drinking despite the current abundance of vodka in my surroundings. (For the record, in my new digs I have only one coffee mug, no normal-sized glasses, and four shot glasses.) But as a “welcome to Russia” souvenir, I successfully managed to pick up the cold virus that was rampant in my hostel room. For a solid week I’ve been surviving on an evening shot of my Tylenol Cough&Cold. Possibly the most valuable item I hauled across the world with me. Its current status makes my survival of the coming year questionable. See below:

This morning there was sunshine and with a slightly clearer head post a solid night’s sleep, I thought I might have the intelligence and confidence to get my door open and venture outside. I REALLY wanted to run...the weather was perfect and that’s not an easy commodity to come by in these parts! So I grabbed my keys and gave it a go. And they turned and turned. And didn’t open the door.

6 hours passed. I did some Russian reading, then tried to unlock the door. Sent a few emails while I had a briefly functional internet connection. Tried to unlock the door. Waited by the window, pretending to study Russian verbs while hoping for a passerby who could try opening the door from the outside. No luck. Tried to unlock the door. Examined my exit options and realized the only window was a bit high and had a screen to inhibit my exit. PRISONER!!! Tried to unlock the door. No success. My self-confidence is not at a peak, given the Russian language, so the repeated attempts were made hoping that the problem was with the door, but secretly fearing I’d simply found yet another Achilles’ heel---locks. Put on my shoes and jacket, determined that I would make it to the store…no food and no toothpaste was not going to happen…and tried the lock again. You guessed it. Didn’t work.

Call someone??? I had no phone numbers for anyone within a 45 minute radius of my new residence. And besides that, every outbound text I’d tried sending the evening before had been met with the word ERROR. Service issues or my issues? The constant questioning. Can’t work a phone, can’t open a door, can’t get the internet to work…enough of the mind games!

I kicked the screen out of the window.

Four hours later I’m back inside. My door still doesn’t work. I even had a Russian try it. Just to ease my mind. I’ll likely still be locked in come morning. And there’s a 100% chance I won’t wake up fluent in the Russian language. But know this:
I will take my shots tonight and I will vanquish this cough and cold. I will leave the apartment tomorrow, albeit through the window. And I am going to speak my terrible Russian to my class and to anyone else who will listen. I may be losing daily battles here in Russia, but I will kick down as many screens as necessary to be sure that I win the war.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Tickets to the Kremlin

This summer I took an intermediate Political Russian course while working in Virginia. The Russian portion of the class seemed ideal...comprehensive grammar review, lots of speaking practice, etc. The Political portion? Not as much. It ended up being fascinating and informative, though several times the vocabulary seemed a bit impractical. As in, "when will I ever use this vocab outside of class?!"

Answer: my first week in Russia.

Wednesday the weather was stunning so, despite early signs of sickness, I decided to go out for a round of sightseeing. I was aiming for Red Square, but after people watching in Александровский Сад, Alexander Gardens, I ended up at the entrance to the Kremlin. Ticketless. After a brief conversation with one of the guards, he started me off in the direction of the ticket office. I walked that direction briefly, but decided it wasn't worth the entrance fee at the moment...I had plans to meet up with my 1 Russian friend shortly thereafter. I started to walk back the direction I had come and, lo and behold, there was the security guard. Walking towards me, with a ticket! This was wholly refreshing, given that the day before I'd been on a tirade about the unfriendly nature of several of the Russians I'd dealt with.

Despite having been in Moscow once before, I'd never made it inside the Kremlin. Stunning!
The Kremlin houses several churches in its walls, the oldest being the Cathedral of the Assumption (pictured immediately below), built in 1475-1479.

A fantastic ticket to have scored! Wednesday I loved Moscow. (I'm fickle at the moment. But so is Moscow.) Even more so when I walked outside and met up with Boris. Who offered me another ticket to the Kremlin! But this time, it was a bit fancier...enter heightened Political Russian course vocabulary. This invite was for a приём (priyom) at the PALACE! The Grand Kremlin Palace isn't open to visitors, so this American girl was seriously excited.

And so should you be. Because now you get an exclusive virtual tour!

Our evening was spent in the Aleksandrovsky Hall, Andreyevsky Hall, and Georgiyevskiy Hall, first attending a drink reception and then an orchestra concert featuring soloists from the Red Army Chorus. In the early 90's, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Palace was given a little the tune of about 1 billion dollars. It seems the restoration of these halls definitely put some of those funds to work!

Totally flashed out, but proof that I was in attendance.

My favorite details of the evening?

1. The entrance up the Red Staircase into the halls. 58 steps lined with armed Russian guards in uniform. Over the years, these steps have seen a lot of history and it was an amazing feeling climbing them with guards on either side.

2. Juice! It's likely due to the fact that it was a 5 o'clock concert, but alongside the champagne they had a myriad of fresh juices to choose from. For someone who doesn't drink alcohol and seriously appreciates juice, this scored pretty high. Go Russia.

3. The concert itself. A great orchestra, talented singers, and a highly diverse program. In 2 hours we covered Russian opera, Russian pop, "The Prayer," some military music, an Ave Maria thrown in...we were not wanting for variety! Eclectic like the Moscow I'm getting to know.

4. People watching. Always.

Another serious score of a ticket. And a welcome opportunity to see the little vocabulary I do know put to use!

I now have an official week in Moscow on the books!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Moscow Never Sleeps

Right about now I'm starting to enjoy simple things. Especially things like short words, easy memorization...basically, anything but Russian. So when I was introduced to this song last night, I found it quite appealing.

The lyrics:

Moscow never sleeps.
Я люблю тебя! (I love you)

The End.

Keepin' it real. Real simple.

Whether or not you think this song is the coolest thing you've ever heard, where I heard it was pretty fantastic. Check it out.

The arts might not have been a very lucrative career choice (a quick glimpse at my current hostel/eclectic grocery collection would assure you of that), BUT I did land myself a set of friends that tend to have hookups. I try and return the favor when possible. Here in Moscow I have approximately 1 friend at the moment, but he happens to be a musician. Who works for the government. (The latter being particularly useful in this country). Cue great tickets to the War Music Festival concert on Red Square. With a complimentary blanket to ward off the chill.

The festival is part of the commemoration of the bicentennial of Napoleon's defeat in 1812. Military bands from several countries performed, offering up their national music and typically playing a Russian tribute as well (hence Moscow Never Sleeps). While there was no US delegation they did give us a nod musically. What with? Darth Vader's theme song. And Indiana Jones. I have to admit, I giggled. The tunes juxtaposed against the Red Square backdrop just didn't quite fit. Loved it.

It was a surreal evening I have to say. Walking around with a Houston friend in Moscow, taking in this amazing city, and then realizing its mine. It's not just a 10-day holiday, or even a month-long visit. For better and worse...and trust me, I'm feeling both...for now it's home.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Люблю тебя, моя Москва!

Posted in celebration of the city's 865th birthday: I love you, my Moscow!

What I love?

Finding the FAMILIAR in a foreign environment.
Thirsty?Hit up this restaurant, officially a DJ Cafe, called the Funky Lime/Функи Лайм.

Get your rubles. Avoid ATM fees. WIN!


No street parking available? Irrelevant in this city.


And the QUIRKS that go with it...
There's a babushka waiting to take your rubles at these city pit stops. Warning: Bring your own paper.

Don't even get me started on child mullets and clowns.

Люблю тебя, моя Москва!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Москва and Me!

I had every intention of arriving in Moscow this morning and spending the day productively...a bit of sight seeing, grocery shopping, and a few other errands. But then I arrived at my hotel and saw my bed. Farewell productivity, hello blissful sleep and lounging! After two red-eye flights, I could have cared less about waging a war with jet lag.

Said flights passed without incident. Unless you want me to launch into my tirade against sandwich seating. I do NOT do the middle seat gracefully. Or ungracefully. NEVER sit there actually. I have 6 feet of lengthy limbs to manage. But I wasn't going to get into this...

As the wheels hit the ground, I felt what's been possibly the second wave of nerves I've had in preparing for 300+ days in Moscow. The first round came on Tuesday when I had a Russian language evaluation via phone. As it turns out, NOT fluent. Thank you for reminding me. Right before I leave. The emotional basket case that was packing my bags and saying my goodbyes doesn't even warrant the Nerves category..way too much of a trainwreck to be appropriately identified. I actually lost it just seeing a commercial for the Michigan vs. Alabama game. Don't judge...I believe in true love when it comes to Michigan football. ANYWAY,that brings us to Round 2. We landed and for a solid 5 minutes I felt like I was approximately 15 years old. Who was going to walk me through passport control? What if my luggage didn't make it? Would my driver be there? How would I find my hotel without a functioning phone?!? The list goes on.

But everything went flawlessly. Luggage intact. Driver on time. Smooth passage through passport control (I even skipped the long line at a tip from a fellow passenger and hit up the Diplomat entry). And driving into Moscow, I finally felt the excitement that's been suppressed amidst the mounds of planning. I'm back in a city I love, surrounded by a language I love, and I've even figured out how to watch the football I love! Though it might have to be at 4 am...

And Moscow was excited to see me as it turns out. Street parties, live bands, fireworks over Red Square. They really went all out. It may have had something to with the fact that it's a city holiday...happy 865th anniversary to Moscow!...but I'd rather flatter myself thinking it was for me.

Highlights of venturing out when I finally tore myself from my bed:

A man walking a jaguar. Had to do a double take for that one. The advantage to staying near the circus. Or disadvantage, should the jaguar choose.

Hot chocolate. My favorite Russian past time. Yes, it's already cold enough here to warrant it. This does not bode well for the upcoming winter...

PINK! Most who know me are aware that this is actually my least favorite color. But, it happens to be the color of my new hair dryer, as well as the predominant color in my current hostel, especially when it comes to paint AND toilet paper choices.
Finding a hair dryer ended up taking far longer than I anticipated, but after several stores and a bit of google research I discovered why. They're sold primarily in stores that are the equivalent of our American Best Buy. I purchased mine at М Видео. A media/video store. Of course that's where you would look for a blow dryer. Right across the aisle from the Wii.
And now with no further ado...back to my bed! I have a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be a fabulous year.

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