Friday, November 30, 2012

Staying Healthy in Moscow: Is it even POSSIBLE?

People, help a girl out. Only 3 months in Moscow and I'm already on sickness #3. I will now exercise my mathematical expertise by saying that's an average of one cold per month. Except that Cold #1 lasted approximately a month, which alters the average significantly. Math aside, I am OVER it! How do you stay healthy in the winter months? Any secrets? Our winter is clearly underway, and likely not going anywhere anytime soon, so it's time to find the inner strength that has to be lurking somewhere in my immune system!

We now have a serious amount of snow accruing, and continuing to do so. I share the following picture in contrast to yesterday's. Given the darkness (I'd take pictures in the daylight if we had any) it may not be quite as apparent, but note the bench below in comparison.

It's a decent amount of snow, but nowhere near an obscene amount. So I was a bit surprised when Moscow seemed caught off guard by the pile up. We're in Russia. They know about winter right?! When I commented on the subject to a Russian friend, I got this video in response. For any Russian-speaking readers, enjoy. And for any non-Russian speakers, it's a comedic sketch on how winter is new "news" every time it comes around. You can appreciate the facial expressions at the very least.

I felt a bit caught off guard myself...of the two pairs of boots I brought to Russia, neither are going to cut it for the winter. Luckily, I have a Stateside shopping date in the near future!

Hope you're warm, healthy, and basking in rays of Vitamin D!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


There's something about the first magical snowfall. We've seen snow in Moscow already this year, but not the beautiful, sticking kind. I'd call it more of a muddy slush. There was a light snow falling when I left home this morning, with a thin coat on the ground, but it continued as the day wore on. And by the time I left work, Moscow was a new city, blanketed in a lovely, soft layer of white.
I could have happily wandered around the center all evening...something about this type of snow makes me feel 5 years old again. Skipping wouldn't have been out of the question, were I not aging and wary of losing my balance. Joking...maybe? After a bit of roaming, though, I decided the best way to appreciate the snow was at home. With a blanket, book, and hot chocolate.

Snuggled up in my cabin in the middle of the Silver Wood as the snow falls. (With functioning internet, as a side note.) I love this version of Moscow!

November 27: A Day Off

While my posts may be a day off due to the Russian internet crisis (if I have a problem, it must be of national proportions), today I actually had a day off! It had been a 10-day stint of work, and while that's obviously doable it's definitely not preferable. So how did I spent it?

In rehearsal. With the Russian National Orchestra. AND some of my Houston opera family. This week I have not one, but TWO visitors from H-Town and I'm loving it. One of the beauties of my profession is the traveling often required. And while I am not doing said traveling at the moment, I'm grateful that other people are! Especially in my neighborhood.

Lessons learned at rehearsal:

It's such a gift to be surrounded by talented, inspirational people.

Playing a gig at 12:30 am the night before ANY rehearsal in which you may be called upon to translate is a BAD idea.

Translating? Not an easy job. Props to all those who are good enough in their languages to do it effectively. While I did only a very little bit and had to find synonyms for adjectives that I have yet to learn in Russian, it was totally thrilling. And terrifying. Oh, this language...

While traffic in Moscow is ridiculous, it is sure lovely to be in a car every now and again. That is NOT a marshrut.

Post-rehearsal I made a visit to the opera to see another familiar face and was presented with a gift she had brought me from a true friend:
T2 was already one of my favorite people, but in sending me these from Houston, he secured his place at the top of the list. Christmas and Reese's in combination!!!

Next up was a stop at the gigantic Библио-глобус bookstore for yet another book on Russian grammar and some enjoyable browsing. I've always been a sucker for bookstores--there's something so awe-inspiring about all the information and possibility contained in the seemingly endless pages available! And this store is the real deal. If you're in Moscow, check it out!

Add a religion class in Russian to the end of the day, and this girl was seriously exhausted from a "day off." But I came home to pumpkin pie and Reese's and look forward to the sugar-enduced coma that will shortly ensue.

Since I couldn't post from my computer yesterday, I am now including a Turkey Day picture. This makes me laugh every time I look at it: gloriously ghetto and I SO know how that turkey feels! Long legs can be such a challenge!

November 26th: Happy Turkey Day!!!

Occasionally your home in the forest and the fates combine against you. Such is the case this evening, as I type my post for Day 26 of the NaBloPoMo in Microsoft Word. Knowing that it will not reach publication before tomorrow evening, best case scenario.

The internet's gone out. Again. **Sigh**

Except that my neighbors have it. The new router just happens to be invisible to every other computer in the world except theirs. So I hate them. Not really. But sort of.

Instead of fuming on about such things, let me wish you Happy Turkey Day! That's right, the day finally came to put the bird in the oven. I had a 4-hour gap in my schedule to cook and eat Thanksgiving dinner and get out the door dressed to play a concert. This was NOT a drill people!

I want to set the scene for you with a few numbers. I had:

0 ovens
0 measuring cups
0 kitchen appliances (spatula, whisk, masher, etc.) Luckily a very functional fork.
1 giant multi-tasking knife
1 neighbor. With an oven.
1 large pot. 1 pan.
1 purchased non-functional can opener.
2 stovetop burners. 1 large. 1 small.

Needless to say, things in this Silver Wood got a little crazy. At least statistically speaking. I cooked the turkey in a pan that it almost fit into and without any tin foil to cover it on the last leg (in every sense) keep it from getting slightly over-darkened. Stuffing, pumpkin pie crust, and filling all had to be made in the same mixing bowl. Though I opted not to do so simultaneously. My tiny countertop had to be supplemented with some floor space--for storage, people! Wasn't rollin' out the pie dough down there--and my sink was and IS still overflowing with the 5 dishes I own.

And I loved it. We had our first truly beautiful snowfall today and it was absolutely blissful to be at home and awake for four hours. Chopping, mixing, kneading, and slashing cans open with a pocket knife was so therapeutic! It almost convinced me I like cooking as much as I like baking. The feeling was fleeting, but lovely nonetheless.

And while I had approximately 5 minutes to down the works...turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, green beans and their mushroomy soupiness, and pie (saved for tomorrow!)...eating felt somewhat secondary. I use the disclaimer of somewhat as I never actually consider eating anything but of utmost import. But the real pleasure of this feast was in the anticipation and the preparation. Topped only by introducing my Russian friend and neighbor (it was her oven that carried my turkey baby) to some of the flavors of an American Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stop and Smell the Roses

C’est un métier que j’ai appris dans ma jeunesse… quand j’étais malheureux… Je dois peut-être aux fleurs d’avoir été peintre.
I love flowers. And I love French. Combine the two with a dash of Monet and it's parfait. When I was twelve, I had a corner of our backyard designated as my flower garden. On my first trip to Washington DC, I purchased some flower seeds from Mt. Vernon and couldn't have been more excited about a souvenir. (I purchased = "my parents purchased" for a 12-year-old). And while I have not had a flower garden or even a house plant since, I still fall for flowers. Luckily, they're a thriving part of the Russian culture and after two concerts this week, I have a lovely bouquet on my kitchen table. In a totally classy plastic Pepsi bottle vase. (Unfortunately/Fortunately shrouded in the picture below).
But while I may have flowers, I'm missing a piece of my 12-year-old self. I had two gorgeous bouquets in my apartment last week, and while I remember walking into my apartment one evening and smelling that it was time to throw them out (gross...I know), I don't actually remember ever smelling them. Or really even giving them a second glance. Except to avoid tripping over the bouquet I strategically placed on the floor. Slightly pathetic, no?

I don't need to go back to the 12-year-old Stephanie who likely sang and talked to her flowers...I sing and talk to myself and others all day...but since when did life get too busy to take a minute and inhale the amazing scent that has made me smile so many times before? And how did I manage to go an entire week without really even seeing them?

Life is full, when I'm optimistic. Other days it's just flat out overwhelming. But a little reminder to slow the pace ever so slightly never hurts, and I'm going to use this round of roses as a healthy little reminder of perspective, balance, and simple enjoyment.

With yet another concert wrapped up, I'm hoping a slightly revised schedule will also aid in this week's quest. Tonight was our last of this series, and I'm looking forward to moving on to some new repertoire, new challenges, and new discoveries. A musical change of scenery, if you will. Although this scene looked pretty great, even from backstage.
While I didn't catch the view before they dimmed the lights, it's always slightly exhilarating seeing a theater from this perspective.
And while the music and art might be performed on stage, the dressing rooms (which have doubled as coaching studios in more than one company I've worked for) are often where the real discoveries are made.
So, after a brief pictorial detour, I'd like to invite you to treat yourself to some roses this week. Be they literal or figurative...I recommend can only add to the beauty that is already your life!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Serving up sour cream

One of my favorite things about visiting, or in this case living, in a new country is discovering the FOOD! No shocker for anyone who has witnessed my mad skills in the eating department. But we are what we eat, right? In which case this method is clearly the best for researching and adapting to a foreign culture. I'm all over it.

Russian fare has its staples. Beets. Dill. Mayonnaise. Cabbage. Potatoes. The list continues. The item which has drawn my recent attention? Sour cream.

Sour cream in my American existence has been used on primarily two occasions: baked potato night and taco night. How often does baked potato night happen? Since I struck out on my own 10 years ago, maybe twice. Taco night? More frequently...maybe twice a year. But I find I'm often too lazy resourceful to purchase even a small container of sour cream that is bound to sit spoiling in the fridge after eating approximately 1 tablespoon.

How many containers of sour cream do I currently have in my Russian refrigerator? Two. And they're medium-sized. Both this evening AND yesterday I had heaping spoonfuls of this white goodness. With DESSERT. Go figure.

As it turns out, sour cream is a go-to ingredient in these parts. If you have a bowl of soup, be it borscht or several other varieties, it's going to come with a spoonful of sour cream added. And if it doesn't, you best be requesting it. Otherwise, you're not getting the real Russian treatment. Blini, our equivalent of crepes, or an anorexic pancake, are also frequently accompanied with a generous dob. Depending on the flavor, of course.

And dessert for the past two evenings? Syrniki. Here, they can be considered a breakfast meal but they're a bit heavy for my average breakfasting taste. Basically a really thick pancake made out of a type of cottage cheese, sugar, and eggs. Toss in a little flour and you're good to go. As long as you've got a side of sour cream and jam.

Which I do.

And maybe you do too. Am I the only one that's missed out on the sour cream craze previously? Please fill me in if that's the case.

Regardless of my past, I feel this is a part of the Russian culture that is definitely embraceable. Occasionally odd, but nonetheless doable. Sticking power post-Russian life (whenever that may be)? I'm skeptical, but will revaluate when the time comes. For now, here's to the Russians and their love for yet another milk product!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Building a Foreign Language Vocabulary

This week I found myself engaged in an extended conversation about the Moscow Zoo and the animals that reside therein. And I was grateful for every animal flashcard that my family quizzed me on prior to departure for Moscow. The animal flashcard unit happened to coincide with Shark Week, a popular occurrence in our household, so акула (shark) was firmly engrained in memory. But despite said flashcards and the unfailing vocabulary of "shark," said conversation about the zoo left something to be desired.

What to do about it?

There's only one clear solution: watch Король Лев. The Lion King. Which is, not surprisingly, easily available in Russian on the internet. I think I'm going to use this as my new study tactic. Slash relaxation tool.

So please excuse me for the rest of the evening. Scar is currently serenading me and I need to study.

Thanksgiving Someday

Remember when I bought a turkey and was ecstatic about my newly-found life purpose? That purpose being to stuff and cook said bird.

Well, it's still in my fridge. And I haven't exactly determined when Thanksgiving will take place in this household, but I'm preparing for it nonetheless. Pie crusts are made and filling them is on the itinerary for tomorrow. I've cubed and dried bread for stuffing and have all the ingredients to brine the bird. I'm adopting the whole "If you build it, they will come" approach. If I keep gradually preparing, maybe my schedule will open a window for bird bake-age. And, especially critical, maybe an oven will appear in which to do so. I'll keep you posted on the status of said Thanksgiving miracle.

Despite the lack of Thanksgiving in my household, I successfully crashed another Thanksgiving feast with the offering of a pecan pie. I don't care for nuts. Or pie really. But when you happen across hard-to-find pecans and have been told that it's your host's favorite? Done and done. It was always one of Grandpa Rhodes' favorites, so I happily enjoyed a trip down memory lane while making it. And given my love for multiple Thanksgivings, a pie was a small price to pay for Thanksgiving Round One.

Ate turkey, check. And more importantly stuffing, check. Pie, check. Gratitude? Feeling it.

Two years ago I celebrated my first Thanksgiving out of the country. In Moscow. And would have never guessed I'd be living here today. I'm so grateful for the unexpected. For the twists and turns in life that take you to places and in directions you yourself never imagined.

I'm grateful for possibility, for scheming and dreaming, for success and even for failure. I'm grateful for the ability to change, to grow, to adapt, and to learn. And to eventually become.

And most especially? I'm grateful for all the people that make the above possible.

Happy Thanksgiving! Round One...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Little Joys of Life

We have already established that I live in Moscow. In the woods. The Silver Wood to be exact. A decent distance from the rest of Muscovite humanity.

Tonight I was pretty wоrn out from 3 hours of commuting/grocery shopping post-work day and was relieved to see my marshrut waiting outside when I surfaced from the metro. This number of marshrut is a rarity after 10 pm, and it was already 10:15. And the fabulous thing about this particular marshrutka is that it saves me a 20 minute walk, which feels like an hour when laden down with groceries.

The danger is in the driver. Living near the end of the line has its problems. Mainly, none of the marshrut drivers want to drive ALL THE WAY to the end! If they've gotten rid of their last passenger, they'll flip a u-turn and head back. I have witnessed this first-hand many a morning as I've walked from my "stop" toward the main road, where my ride can be seen vanishing in the distance.

I was once again the last passenger in the marshrut this evening, with about 5 minutes to go until home. This is the moment when the driver looks at you, wondering how far you're going to make him drive. And I, as apologetically as possible, said yet again: "To the end of the line, please." And waited for the attitude that would ensue. Or the flat out refusal to take me that far. Both are normal.

Instead, the driver simply said, "Да. Конечно." (Yes. Of course.) And he said it in a seriously kind, helpful way. As if my apologetic attitude was completely unnecessary and he was more than happy to do his job and make my life easier. It was the first time I'd experienced this reaction in 3 months.

Two words. And they made my night.

It's all about the little joys my friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Joy of Juicing

I got home from work today around 9:30 and was filled with the inevitable dread that accompanies making dinner post-normal eating hours. Until I saw that my spinach was looking like it was on its last day or so of life. And then I knew what had to be done and dread turned to joy. JUICE!!!

If you ask for a list of my hobbies, juicing will likely be included. It gives me that much pleasure. I have owned a series of juice extractors and have even successfully carted them in my luggage and onto planes. (Only one at a time, mind you...I'm not quite crazy enough for multiples. Yet.) If you don't own one, you should. That's all.

I'm normally a fan of Trader Joe's (a lovely grocery chain in fortunate parts of the USA). And when I say fan, I would happily shop there every day to buy out their supply of dark chocolate peanut butter cups. And peanut butter-filled, chocolate-covored pretzels. But I digress...juicing. Despite said love and devotion, I happened across one Trader Joe's advertisement that left a sour taste in my soul. None of that mouth business, it cut right to the core.
It felt like my best friend wanted to cut me, take my fabulous boyfriend for herself, and offer me an ugly replacement who is not a good kisser. If you're with me on this one, then yes. I did just call my juicer my boyfriend. And if you're not with's likely you're not alone. It's late.

We have no boyfriend-stealing Trader Joe's in Moscow (sadly!), so I was left to my juicing joy. And proceeded to spend the rest of the evening juicing nearly everything in sight. Russia does not have a great selection of greens, but I've still managed to make a successful variation of my favorite green juice mix. (Recipe included below). This country does, however, have some shockingly huge carrots. The average-sized lemon is included in the picture for scaling purposes.
They also have an endless supply of beets, so the red juice options (and ensuing stains) are endless.

After making three batches of juice, I decided I should actually drink some. And since juice doesn't feel quite right in a coffee mug, I opted for the only other glass that came with my apartment. A shot glass. When in Russia...

If you fancy a shot yourself, try the following:

Kale (If you live in Russia, disregard this non-existent ingredient)
1 Large Cucumber
2 Green Apples
1/2-1 Whole Lemon
Parsley (Do not accidentally use cilantro. It will not be a success and you will still feel obligated to drink it.)

Pick your own's part of the joy of juicing!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Moscow Mondays

Monday. To most of of you this word means work. Shackles. The end of peaceful weekend reverie. Real life and Karen Carpenter.

But here in Moscow, Mondays are my "day off." What that means in Moscow-English is that I attend 6 hours of Russian class, but come 2 o'clock...the day and this city are mine! When I first got here, I made Monday my designated "Moscow" day, picking an item off my bucketlist and making an afternoon of it. Then life and work happened, as they often do, and my afternoon of freedom became the time to clean, grocery shop, regroup and reorganize. And now the time has come to mesh these versions of Monday, in the pursuit of that unattainable ideal of balance.

While today is not yet over (there is homework waiting to be done!), I'm going to coin it a complete success. Why? Get ready for it...

I. Bought. A. TURKEY! Those of you in the USA are at this point offering a pathetic, slow clap, if even that. Turkeys are, after all, literally almost a dime a dozen. And if they're not that cheap today, they will be come Friday. BUT, here in Moscow it's another story. You can come by turkey bits quite easily, and rumor has it that you can even request a whole turkey at the market. It might still come live with feathers, but since I haven't tried that, I can't testify one way or another. I decided to try the route where I pop my head into every upper-tier grocery store I passed over the past week. (Someday it might be worth outlining the grocery gradations in Moscow...that day has not come.) Today, my efforts were rewarded. I purchased my beautiful little bird and took it to class with me. I don't have children or pets to show off, but I was thrilled to put my turkey baby on exhibition.

I had arranged to do some sight-seeing post-lessons and considered taking Indyeka out on the town as well. But like any good parent, I decided it was best to let her nap at home. By herself. In the freezer. Please take notes if this is the first time you've been introduced to this parenting style.

I headed back to the metro to meet up with one of my Russian friends/tour guide. Friendship is awesome. Tour guide and simultaneous language practice just makes the relationship that more rewarding. Not sure how much I bring to the table yet in these relationships, but I sure make a great listener!

First stop, Park Pobedy, via the famed Парк Победы metro: it's the deepest in Moscow and the 3rd deepest in the world when calculated by mean depth, at 97 meters/275.591 ft. and the deepest in the world when calculated by maximum depth. (Stephanie's Scientific Measurements are sponsored today by Wikipedia.) And the escalators are the longest in takes around 3 minutes to surface from the underground. I fell in love with this metro station today. Yes, you read correctly. A metro station. Maybe it was the turkey bliss exuding from my being, but I think it also had something to do with the shocking lack of people and the fascinating design.

The amazing visual spiral that the reflections and patterns create is completely fascinating. It probably brings to mind all those artistic metro stations in NYC. Or maybe DC? False...the Russians win this contest hands down!

Eventually I decided to surface and see what the outer world had to offer. It's offering was cold. But I snapped a few quick shots of Park Pobedy and the Triumphal Arch before diving inside to grab some hot chocolate. And take a phone call saying that I was now to meet my Russian friend on the other side of town.

Still exuberant over my turkey child and my newfound romance with the metro, I braved the masses at peak hour and made it to Chistye Prudy. It turned out to be worth the effort.

Good company, good conversation (despite the fact that I could not remember the word for raccoon for the life of me! Critical to any conversation...) and a great city. And let us not forget: the turkey.

A Moscow Monday for the books!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Address Survey

This is not some awkward internet post where I sleazily ask you all to tell me your address so internet stalkers can put their hobby into real time. But I would like to ask the following: is there an adult out there who doesn't know their address?

Stephanie slowly and sheepishly raises her hand.

There are a few things most of us can answer without a second thought: phone number, social security number, address, and birthday being among them.

I have now lived in Moscow for 11 weeks. And today I realized I still don't know either my address or phone number. Slightly pathetic, yes? I memorized my first Russian phone number (pre-theft), but for Round 2, I just added contacts into my phone as they called. And on the occasion that I need to give out my number...I have it carefully (and slightly shamefully) saved in a text message. Why have I not memorized it? If you can solve the riddle that is my mind, I hereby award you a gold star. Apparently I find it important and perhaps even in my power to memorize a gazillion words in Russian, but can't wrap my head around seven numbers (I do know the first four). What empowerment will be mine when I can finally recite those figures by heart!

As regards the address, no explanation can be offered. I love maps. My dream is to have a nerdy study filled with fabulous books...the real kind...and a giant world map that fills an entire wall. I think this love is somehow tied to my love of language and travel. That one shouldn't be much of a riddle, so no gold star awards this time around. This love of maps should equivocate to love of knowing my location. But fact of the matter is, I don't receive mail in Russia. When filling out my paperwork, the required address is that of my registration, which happens to be my university. And I can easily explain to someone how to get here via public transportation, so...what's the big deal about this address nonsense anyway?

Google knows where I live and that's all that matters. And they probably can find you too. And take a picture of your house and show it to the world. Which is not creepy at all. But I digress...

Now that my justifications are offered and my ridiculousness has been placed on display for public derision, I am hopeful that I will find the inner motivation to be an adult. Or even a kindergartener. They seem to have this phone number/address down. We'll see if it takes me another 11 weeks!

Best Seat in the House

While my glory was total about 45 seconds of playing and 5 minutes on stage...I'm still convinced I had the best seat in the house. I love the mass of sound, color, and possibility that comes with a skilled orchestra, and performing alongside them (however brief that virtuoso recitative may have been) is always a highlight.

And while I have played for auditions on the mainstage previously, tonight officially marked my company debut with the Bolshoi Theatre. So I'll take that recit and run with it. Additionally, this evening was also the first time I saw my name in a program in cyrillic. They can't make up their minds on how to spell it here: Родес or Роудс. And since neither are actually correct pronunciation-wise, I prefer the first. I think it looks prettier. And we all know that's what really counts. :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mind your Makeup

"Is everything okay? You look so sad."

"Are you not feeling well?"

"You must be really tired."

"What's wrong?!?"

"Something's the matter. Are you unhappy?"

And the list of questions go on. When expressed with genuine thoughtfulness and concern at an appropriate time, they can be just what you want to hear. And when would be such an appropriate time? If you are actually feeling unwell, tired, upset, or unhappy.

Asked on any other occasion, these questions are only infuriating and will effectively serve to MAKE you upset, unhappy, unwell...etc. You get the idea.

I'm pretty sure I heard all four of the versions mentioned above today. And while I started the day a bit tired--it happens at the end of the week people--by the time it hit 2 pm I was beyond irritated. And why all the questions?

I was not wearing makeup.

People, give a girl a break! I made the mistake of going all out and both brushing my hair AND wearing makeup on Thursday, so apparently doing neither today was too much of a contrast to handle. (Exaggeration: I brushed my hair and put on lip gloss.)

No mascara?!?
She must plan on crying non-stop all day and was worried it would smear.

Hair slightly frizzy and un-straightened?
She's really given up on life, hasn't she???

Why wasn't she smiling during orchestra rehearsal? She's American isn't she?
I think all the joy has been sucked up from her soul.

I, for one, don't see much of a contrast between my made-up self and my au natural look. I present the following for your consideration, and dare you to try and detect a difference.

Baffled? That's what I thought.

Alright, so maybe makeup does make a difference, but let it be known that it is not reflective of my inner state of mind. In all actuality, when I'm most tired or even down (it does happen despite my American status), I tend to dress up. So as to look life in the face and say "Is that the best you've got?" But I have been reminded today and will be careful to remember in the future, that the transition from au natural to made-over...or vice versa...must be subtlety performed. A day with lipstick and glasses (aka no mascara) can more smoothly flow to a day without lipstick and slightly frizzy hair. And that can nicely transition into wearing my pajamas and slippers at work. All the ballerinas are doing it, so I might as well.

False. I will not go to work in pajamas. But I will continue to go in without makeup on occasion. But let us all take a moment before we begin questioning someone's state of well-being and simply ask: "might it be that she's simply not wearing makeup?"

Thank you,

Yours Truly

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One Vote for Hibernation

In case you didn't know, today is Thursday. I offer this reminder because...I forgot.

I like to think that I am not alone in my forgetfulness. Opera World has an odd schedule with sporadic free days and an ever fluctuating schedule, which can be both a blessing and a curse. In this case the latter, as knowing what day it is loses its significance. Monday isn't dreaded when it's your day off. Saturday isn't the weekend and Wednesday isn't a halfway marker. It might seem like a ridiculous justification, but it's one of mine.

And I need justification. In forgetting that it was Thursday, I stood up my Russian teacher for an 8:30 am Russian lesson. I was even awake and functional at the hour, despite a late night rehearsal yesterday evening. And when I say functional, I mean it in every sense except that of knowing what day of the week it is.

Not only does it get difficult to remember days of the week, but now time is also becoming an issue. In this case, I believe my excuse is legitimate.

Exhibit A:
Any time the sun rises after 9 am and sets just after 5, I'm convinced that having an accurate sense of what time it is becomes an impossibility. Beyond a sense of time, I also have a very limited desire to do anything productive. I really have only one thought on my mind: hibernation. Let's take a lesson from the Russian bears, which are unfortunately scarce in Moscow.

So, in the end, I blame my forgetfulness on humanity's refusal to hibernate. It's the only logical explanation! Back me up?

Language and Listening

On Sunday night I was walking to a concert with one of my дорогая's (daragAya or "dear" seems to be the equivalent term of endearment found in English phrases such as "Hey lady" or "Girl, it's been ages!") and was surprised when she asked me, "Could one of those English guys be your millionaire?"

Oddly enough the content of the question was not the surprise. My quest for a millionaire is a frequent topic of conversation. It might have been the first joke I was able to make in Russian, which makes it nothing short of monumental. But the real surprise for me was my answer to her question: "What English guys?"

I hadn't heard the English.

This was a stark contrast to my first month in Moscow, during which my senses would instantly clue into any stray English sound that happened across my path. I haven't suddenly become fluent in Russian and oblivious to English, but I think there is a significant transition which has taken place from hearing to listening.

In the beginning, I was swimming in a world of sounds. Not knowing what half of them meant, and trying to tune into the fast mumbling which seemed to constitute the Russian language. I felt like I was truly trying to listen 100% of the time, but couldn't quite figure out what to focus on. Exhausting. I took a quick trip to San Francisco for a concert after 6 weeks in Moscow and found it miraculous that I could casually walk down the street and unintentionally understand the fragments of a passing conversation. Not really listening at all, just hearing. I have to say, it was a welcome relief. I think my brain was functioning someplace way beyond overload.

Working in the music business, listening is not an overrated skill. Several friends shared a recent article which appeared in the New York Times on The Science and Art of Listening. And while it obviously applies to my profession, I found it interesting in the context of language. I'm not going to get into the details, as you can read it yourself, but I will share the final quote which I loved:

“You never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

While Moscow has its challenges, one of the true beauties is the amount of listening that's required. At this point, passive hearing is not an option. But if someday it should become so, I hope I don't forget the level of attentiveness that is now a necessity. While I have no intention of becoming oblivious to casual overall sense of awareness is important...there's something to be said for truly giving a conversation with a friend 100% of your attention.

It may mean you miss out on your English millionaire, but it just might be worth the sacrifice!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Battle of Beet Salad

Let me just start this post by saying, the salad won.

I happened across a pre-made beauty of beet goodness during yesterday's revelatory shopping experience. I happen to love beets and, in this respect, Russia and I were made for each other. Combine said beets with goat cheese and a spinach/arugula mix and I'm about as happy as it gets. Yes, I love food that much.

Except for when it decides to wage war. Not everything likes to be eaten.

This beet salad falls into that category. No sooner had I finished than I found myself thinking, "What's that rough edge of something stuck in my tooth?!"

Answer: the rough edge WAS my tooth. Or the lack of a piece thereof.

The Battle of Beet Salad claimed it's casualty. And I'm praying a Russian dentist doesn't claim any more...something about the sound of Russian combined with a drill seems a bit frightening. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grocery Goddess

I HATE grocery shopping.

Clear enough?

It just happens to be one of those "tasks" that there's never time for. And it's always a slap-in-the-face reminder of my lack of domesticity. Let it be known, I do have domestic roots and the potential to be a domestic's one of my life ambitions...but my current lifestyle doesn't lend itself to exercising said "goddess" skills. So I look longingly at all the fun, interesting ingredients, think of my wasted potential, and head to the frozen foods section.

Moscow has some added difficulties:

1. No car. This means hauling all groceries on metro/marshrut transport.
2. #1 means that the amount I am able to purchase at one time is limited. Which means...
3. More grocery shopping.
4. Breaking the sequence chain, finding the ingredients that constitute my quick recipes can be a difficulty.
5. It's expensive. Think NYC or worse on occasion.

All of this being said, I think I may have found my salvation...
If I'm correctly translating the title, it's "The Alphabet of Taste." I stopped in today post-university, taking advantage of an evening off to put the pieces of my life back in order.

It was HEAVEN!!! They were starting to decorate for Christmas, it was clean, calm, and all the food was BEAUTIFUL! They had lovely things like fresh spinach, brussels sprouts, a wide variety of spices (the saving grace to the quick recipes!) and SO many cheeses. I've never felt so thrilled to be grocery shopping--it was like adult Disneyland. And while it may have cost a small fortune, it was worth every penny for such a novel experience. Dare we say even a turning point in my grocery shopping existence? Too soon to tell, but I'll keep you posted.

Extra bonus? As I watched them decorate for Christmas/New Year's (the latter is actually the more celebrated holiday here, as Christmas was not acknowledged during Soviet times), I realized that I live in a country where our American Thanksgiving does not exist. Translation: I can start decorating for Christmas as early as I want, and those who would like to judge me for doing so are a half a world away.

So here's to the holidays!!! And to the grocery shopping they're bound to require. I'm thinking I might be able to handle it...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Russians and Slippers

I don't believe in cold feet. In the completely literal sense. One of my favorite, albeit a wee bit strange, pastimes is soaking my feet in hot water. Ideally in the sink while sitting on the countertop. No matter how uncomfortably small said countertop may be, I will finagle it so my 6'0" self can be sufficiently scrunched to allow for soakage. Pure. BLISS. If we eliminated the stand alone sink from the market completely, I think the world would be a better place.

This being the case, I think you can understand why I have wholeheartedly embraced the Russian culture of slippers. And yes, it is a culture.

Traditionally, when you visit someone's home you're expected to take off your shoes and are offered a pair of tapochki to wear while inside. Note: Don't refuse the offer. That makes you not only completely foolish (do you really WANT cold feet?!) but also impolite.
There's more to this concept that I love than warm feet, however. Somehow taking off my shoes and putting on a pair of slippers immediately makes me feel as if I've come home. Slipping my feet into those tapochki creates a level of comfort and closeness that shoes just wouldn't allow for and, while I might be only a guest, for that moment I'm part of the household. And if you're lucky enough to be invited into someone's home, slippers are likely only the start of the generosity that abounds when Russians play host! And I'm finding, in many respects, that once they decide to let you in, you will be hard-pressed to find more loyal, giving, and kind-hearted people.

While I can fully get behind the slipper tradition, a quick shopping trip for slippers online produced some results that I am not certain I can readily support.

Bunnies? Maybe. Over-sized creepy toes? Not so much.

But slippers in general? Yes. Especially after a long soak in the sink---Don't question. Just go change your life. Now.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Life IS Grand

I had a brief chat with a friend/sister/inspiration this evening, and her response to my question "How's life?" summed up my feelings at the moment completely.

"Life is grand. Full and good."

I had been wondering how to put into words the satisfaction and contentment I'm feeling this evening, and fortunately (this late-night blogging game is getting to me) she did it for me.

Life in Moscow is far from simple. And frustrations are frequent. But at the end of the day, it's so rewarding.

One of the first difficulties in any new city, regardless of location, is finding your "people." While I am very fond of the internet for maintaining contact with my other life, live people are a necessity. In Moscow, relationships are serious work: trying to project a personality through a foreign language is no easy task. Witty banter in Russian? Let's just say it's a work in progress. But tonight, after another evening of Prokofiev in the theater (this time in Opera Land!), I stopped with two colleagues to grab some food on our way home. And as we sat there chatting, joking, and eating, doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, I was struck by the depth of feeling I had for two people who I've known only two months. Life lesson: relationships often reflect the amount of work you put into them. And while relationships in Russia haven't been easy to come by, they're better for the effort they've required. I think I'll try and take this concept home with me.

And luckily the rewards don't stop there. But this post will because it's far past my ideal bedtime of 10 pm. But tonight I'm truly grateful. For this life of mine in Moscow. It's full. It's difficult and it's good. And most's grand.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Running in Rain Boots

Once upon a time I considered myself a runner. Then I moved to Moscow, where I mostly do speed training: how fast can I make it from the metro indoors? But while the weather has impeded my running lifestyle a bit, I will have you know that I seize the opportunity to do so whenever it arises.

Take this evening, for example. The public transportation is such that if I don't make the 10 o'clock "group taxi" (this is GoogleMaps delicate way of saying "ghetto van/bus") I have to add a 15 minute walk onto my commute. And if it's after 11, no group taxi goodness. Period. It's the trolleybus and a 30 minute walk. No complaints, except for that I'm tired, it's cold out, and I've already commuted for about 45 minutes at that point. But definitely not complaining...

Well, tonight I was late. I was invited to opening night of the very same ballet which I raved about only two nights ago. I am an old woman, and would have preferred to spend my Friday night cleaning my apartment, catching up on life, and SLEEPING, but this was not an invitation to be turned down.

So I found myself facing the open road at 11:45 pm, on the final stage of my commute home. And I knew it was time for a run.

Unfortunately, I was decked out in pencil skirt, long dangly earrings, a giant coat (of course!), and galoshes. Carrying a bag with some of my music scores and my heels.

Remember the grace of those Bolshoi ballerinas?

Not. Me.

As graceful as galoshes might seem, they are not likely to be the trend which replaces the barefoot and "Five Fingers" running shoes movement. Add a seriously lopsided gait due to my load of scores, and I'm sure my lanky 6'0" self was quite the spectacle. I had the following video play through my mind at one point:


I've had some awkward running moments in my life. Probably even more than I realize. This one was up there with the best of them.

But here's the thing: I love to run. It feels strange even now to freely confess such a bizarre inclination. And running purely for the fun of it, without worrying about gearing up, pace, or distance, is exhilarating.

And completely hilarious.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

FEED ME or Forget About It!

I cannot be held responsible for my actions when I have not been fed. Consider yourselves warned.
Sometimes I like to pretend I'm an adult: show up at work, act professional, treat people with love and kindness. And other times the scheduling gods are such that I have to work through my lunch break. On a day when I raced out the door without breakfast. And then, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Once upon a time, a very attractive man arrived at my home to pick me up for a blind date. Almost an Ashton Kutcher look-alike. Who spoke French. Hot, right??? It was early, probably 5:30 or so. What are you assuming is coming at that point of the evening on a first date? DINNER. When we got in the car and my date asked the unfortunately ever-so familiar question, "Well, what did you want to do?" I knew it was trouble. What did you think I wanted to do?!? Introduce myself and then spend the rest of the night simply gazing into your eyes??? FEED ME, FOOL! I kept my inner dialogue concealed and calmly suggested we get something to eat. If you know what's good for you...

He vetoed my proposal. As it turned out, he was on a watermelon fast. To cleanse his kidneys. Or bowels. We talked about both in the course of the evening, so it's hard to recall which fascinating internal organs we were discussing at the time. Eventually we decided on a movie, none of which were starting anytime soon. I didn't want things to get to ugly, so I recommended he take me to the grocery store where I purchased myself an ice cream. I know how to treat a girl! He was, unfortunately, rather clueless. It may have helped him somewhat had I found the following sign earlier:
I'd rather it say, "Don't feed me? Don't flirt with me." But I have approximately zero photoshop skills. I still enjoyed this version.

It contrasts nicely with the following:
"Feed me...and I'm yours!!! I'm picky like that.

Unfortunately for all who happened across me, today was one of low caloric-intake. Which meant my Russian-ness was all the quicker to come out. Or maybe it's some of the Southern-ness I acquired during my time in Texas. A girl has to get a little diva every now and again...

It also meant I had to eat my last two Reese's peanut butter cups upon arriving home. <<Sniff, sniff>>. Luckily, I still have PB M&M's on hand. But who knows what kind of terror Russia will face when those vanish???

Best to feed me and avoid finding out.

Blue Skies and Ballet at the Bolshoi

I woke up this morning feeling something was slightly out of place. It was oddly light. Had I drastically overslept?!? Normally in these parts time of day doesn't significantly impact our lighting...could it possibly be???

SUN!!! It may have been short-lived, but seeing blue skies made for a magical moment. Not knowing when such an event may occur again, I seized the opportunity to document it. Please enjoy the picturesque power/trolleybus cables.

The darkness in the lower half of this picture is NOT overstated! So despite the Bolshoi Theater to the left, our new stage to the right, and Red Square straight ahead, the best sight of the day was the patch of blue!

This was not the only sight of the day worth photographing, but I do believe I would have been shunned for breaking out my flash mid-performance at the Bolshoi. And I have to say, I don't think any camera or photographer could adequately capture the show. It was my first time seeing a ballet at the Bolshoi...I live in Opera-land. And Иван Грозный (Ivan the Terrible) to music by Prokofiev was stunning. One of my favorite things about my job is working with words: I love languages and I love literature, so a libretto makes for a good combination. But watching a story unfold and considering the characters and their emotions based solely on their expressive and MIND-BLOWING gift for movement was creatively refreshing.

It also made me want to go to the gym. Not for some sudden weight-loss routine, but rather because I felt as if there most be something more my body is capable of doing if other individuals can do something THAT amazing. Like being able to touch my toes on a consistent basis. Or do a push up. I'm not going to get crazy here (obviously), but these people running around my work place might be a good source of inspiration.

If you are in Moscow now or EVER, I will say this: Do not miss seeing a ballet at the Bolshoi. It will take your breath away. And after you catch it? Head back in for an opera!!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dear America: An Election-Day Letter from Moscow

Dear America,

While I may be thousands of miles away, my heart's with you today. You're far from flawless, but you're a part of who I am, and I love you.

Tonight I've had my eyes on a map, painted with your familiar Red and Blue. And it's beautiful. It's voices. It's passion. It's individuals. It's democracy.

But I have to say: I've been wishing for a little more white. Remember, that other random color that helps make up our Stars and Stripes? I don't believe we need passivity, but maybe a slightly larger dose of amity. Politics will never be associated with purity, but as I sit here in my beauty pageant crown contemplating world peace...(not really friends)...I'd like to blissfully believe that things could be a bit cleaner. Not just from the candidates. Or even the media. I'm not that crazy.

But maybe from "We the People."

I'm under a different Red, White, and Blue flag at the moment. And it's not one that's renowned for its upbeat relations with Old Glory. But it too holds a special place in my heart. I often find myself contemplating the differences between my two current homes and, while said differences clearly exist, more often than not I'm struck by the similarities which surface. But how can two countries with different national languages, political structures, occasionally conflicting agendas and sometimes strained relations possibly be similar? It's simple.

We are People.

I can't help but believe that around the world, at the core of our beings we are united by a common thread of humanity. And here in Moscow, exploring the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of an ever-so-foreign country, I've managed to see myself in those surrounding me. And somewhere (maybe deep, deep, deep down) I like to think they can find a part of themselves reflected in me as well.

I believe we can all own our Red or Blue with passion. Maybe pieces of both. And I believe we can do so without degrading others for differences of race, religion, political persuasion, sexual orientation, language, culture, country...the list that describes humanity is unending. Honoring ourselves and others with the basic respect and civility that all People warrant.

So---from one set of Red, White, and Blue to another---here's to America on Election Day! When the votes are cast and the results determined, I hope we can find it in ourselves to celebrate our individual Reds and Blues while standing on the middle-ground of White.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Translations: Your Turn!

Every now and again I wonder, "how could anyone possibly survive in Russia if they didn't speak any Russian?!?"

Answer: Money.
Second answer: With a much better sense of humor.

I received an email from one of my favorite partners in crime a few days ago...our evening of "Moscow in Manhattan" was one for the books...which contained some insight to Russian translation that needed to be shared. So, with her permission, please consider the following rules and regulations posted on a sign found in St. Petersburg (you may need to click for a close-up!):

Ms. Mezzo and her cohort came up with the following translations, based entirely on the images presented. I am including my interpretation, derived from the actual Russian translation in italics.

1) No heil-ing
No holding public demonstrations or meetings. We already drove Hitler out once.

2) No weighing
No organizing trade without direct permission. Or without a balance scale. Amateurs...

3) No walking of toy horses
No walking dogs or other animals. Which would obvs include toy horses. Slithering dogs, on the other hand, acceptable.

4) No jumping
No walking on the roofs. We have no room for Mary Poppins types in this culture people!

5) No saxophone playing
No musical instrument playing PERIOD! Keep that tuba in your pocket.

6) No pregnant people
You can't walk around in a bathing suit. We don't want to see that gut.

7) No skiing or ice skating. I especially love that this immediately follows restrictions on wearing your bathing suit...can we combine these rules please??? :)

8) No littering

9) No fires

10) No making out by poles
No pouring of alcoholic beverages. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that includes drinking them. But I, too, prefer looking at the bottle as a pinheaded individual. A much more attractive picture.

11) No biking

12) No witches.
No spoiling the greenery. We don't care if you're strong enough to break a tree in two with your bare hands. Save it for the circus.'s YOUR turn! I am well aware that I have a handful of highly humorous readers out there, and would love your input for this "translation" segment! Please comment with your favorite description of one of the pictures above. Prize for the best response: a trip to Moscow! False. Complete and total lie. But I have no doubt you'll feel yourself nearer to mastering the Russian language via participation. I did.



Happening across Happiness

“Most people ask for happiness on condition. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set any condition.” — Arthur Rubinstein

His attitude towards music also seemed to be embodied in his general approach to life. A legendary pianist, he believed each performance should be something new, a process of discovery in and of itself, and often discouraged younger pianists from over-practicing. You don't want something to sound prepared and artificial after all.

To that I say: Fine. And you're a genius. Talk to me when you're a normal person and then we can have a conversation.

I do like the concept, however. For music and for life. Do your work, prepare the best you can, and then live and enjoy the moment.

Liking and applying a concept are very different things, however. Here in Russia I find myself constantly planning: for next season, for next month, for next week...heck, for my next SENTENCE! While this is not a Russia-exclusive behavior, I've decided that here it interferes more directly with my immediate happiness. Because it is SO not a part of the culture!!! They've clearly found their system that "works," but it's so far removed from my version that it often seems completely non-functional. (Which might not be totally invalid, but that is OFF topic.) But that system involves a lot of unknowns, requires extreme flexibility, and not always the product you expected.

Today, however, just happened. And quite happily. Which was a welcome breath of fresh air. Accidental happiness. No conditions set. And I wouldn't say anything extraordinary occurred. Just that the ordinary somehow had a different light about it.

I want more of that. So I'm going to continue to prepare, but I'm going to try to do so Russian-style. Which requires an immense variety of milk products, superstitions, warm beverages, and chocolate. (The latter may not have anything to do with Russia itself, but as it has everything to do with my experience here, it makes the cut.) And maybe a great deal more flexibly.

Here's hoping your week is filled with happening across Happiness!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What the NaBloPoMO???

So, on October 31st I read a post from one of my new blog best friends (this making friends via blog is an entirely new concept for me--loving it!) who participates in the NaBloPoMo. Don't worry, I had to look it up too...the only thing it brought to my mind was the string of substitute expletives I like to use when dealing with UPS. As it turns out, it stands for National Blog Posting Month, which is apparently going on as we speak! The NaBloPoMo challenge: pronunciation. I dare you to try and pronounce that string of letters. It almost brings Russian to mind. But not quite. Second (and actual) challenge: write a blog post every day for the month of November.

I'm not a quick one to jump on the commitment bandwagon, so I was a bit reticent to declare any intentions of participation. I decided to try blogging for two days in a row and see how it went.

Answer: I did NOT want to write anything tonight.

I've always loved writing. When I was in the 4th grade I was selected to attend a writing conference at the nearby university and promptly came home, convinced I would be a great author, and set up a writing station where I could get allow my creativity to really flow. This "station" happened to be in our basement storage room on a TV tray. I emptied out my neon green Kindergarten binder...I was so over that child's play...and filled it with empty sheets of paper. After writing one horror story for a competition sponsored by the Goosebumps series author, and NOT winning, I moved along in my ambitions. Like I said, commitment isn't always my forte.

Despite the fact that I did not pursue said career as renowned author, my fascination with words never went away. But where I like to write varies. Occasionally that might be for the masses. Meaning my 8 followers...thank you family! But in my life I have also found that writing often equivocates to cheap therapy. Translation: journal. Somehow putting thoughts onto paper frees my mind up enough to see them in a different light. But even when I write for myself I'm inconsistent. And that's something I'd like to change.

So I'll start by declaring my intentions and commitment here in the public arena. Here with Day 3 of NaBloPoMo. Committing myself to write, to clutter up your feeds, and to see if somewhere along the way forcing myself to use my words helps me rediscover them.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Girl Named Candy

All relationships require effort. End of story. (Not really). But some are more complicated than others. While I believe that working in the opera business has trained me to quickly recognize high-maintenance behaviors, I am nonetheless mortal and, in so being, occasionally fall victim to relationships that are less-than-desirable.

Meet Candy.
At first glance, she seems so simple. Even familiar. But on closer acquaintance, things get complicated.
I try not to ask too much of her, but pushing her buttons even lightly tends to send her into nonfunctional disarray. It would seem I can't find the right combination to induce a proper response.
Candy washing machine
Originally, I thought she was just a washing machine. But she actually comes complete with weather forecast...primarily clouds and rain. With occasional snow and...leaves???
She thinks she's world class...
Candy washing machine
...but is often too smart for her own good.
Candy washing machine
Take, for example, our Halloween Holiday celebration. That afternoon I decided we should spend some quality time together. So I gave her some dirty clothes...always makes for a nice time...pushed a few of her buttons, and waited. But apparently she wasn't in the mood. I tried to coax her out of her sulking, non-responsive state, but after 20 minutes found no success. I checked back in an hour later to see if I could get her going. No luck. I gave up. I'm only willing to work so hard for Candy on Halloween...

About three in the morning, I woke up with a start. Apparently Candy had decided it was time for the party. And gave me a mini-heart attack.

The next day, I decided it was time for Round 2: I put in a load, pushed some buttons, and walked away, waiting for a response. And I got one...about 2 hours later. Apparently there's more than one temperamental lady in the house.

So, I guess you could say we're still working on our relationship. But for the time being it seems we've come to a mutual understanding: when laundry needs to happen, it should not be done with any type of time frame. This machine's got a mind of her own.

Talk about high maintenance. Now you know what to expect the next time you run into a girl named Candy.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...