Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Life. It's News.

Almost. Or not really at all. My life in itself is as newsworthy as whatever you may read on this blog. BUT there have been interesting news events colliding with my existence this week.

Meteor, anyone??? While there's a lot that happens in Russia that I wish got similar international press, it is refreshing to have people remember that: A) Russia exists. It may seem like stating the obvious, but sometimes it feels like the sphere of existence for many does not extend past Europe. (NOT going to open the debate about which continent Russia belongs to!) B) I live here. Special thanks to all who were concerned/curious to find out if I had any interaction with said meteor.

I did. Via YouTube. Here's what I saw:

There are definite advantages to everyone in the country having dashboard cameras my friends. Just for a frame of reference, Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountain region where the meteor hit is about a 23 hour drive away, so no excitement in these parts. And for any of you who haven't looked at a map in a while, I check out Russia almost once a day, often only to reconfirm how MASSIVE it is! Check it out the next time you have a minute!

Next up, remember My New Life: The Cruise Edition? Well, the very ship which supplied me with a continuous flow of frozen yogurt, did not perform quite as well this time around. Let's just say I'm counting my blessings that the days I passed on board included a functional sewage system.

My favorite quote from one of the passengers: "I want a hot shower and a daggum Whataburger." I don't blame the individual on either account. There's something so purely Texas about that line though that I couldn't help but smile. Unfortunately, the article that contained this has been "updated" so that I can no longer provide you with effective linkage proof.

Last, but not least in the news category: I've been nominated.

I found out via my SPAM mail yesterday that I've been nominated for a blogging award! Something to do with international exchange program blogs and the qualifications/nomination process seems unknown. Here's the thing: I have very mixed feelings about promoting my blog. Any of you other other bloggers out there dealt with that identity crisis? Somehow I don't mind and actually LOVE when people happen across it and we make friends. But I'm slow at this game and would say that this year is the first time I've taken any measures to let the internet world know that this little corner exists.

That being said: I do have pride. Due to the SPAM delivery, I've missed out on the voting period ALMOST completely. BUT...I would like to receive a vote. Or more. Pride in this case = not being voteless. So, if you happen across this before the 17th of January at 11:55 pm CET, visit this link and check the "Stephanie Says" box. And if you do so, feel free to comment below, so I can thank you personally! My pride appreciates it.

That's all for this News Edition!



Thursday, February 14, 2013

From Russia with Love: The V-Day Special

Love and Russia. Put those two words in close proximity and I immediately get a bit wary. The complexity of life (and language!) here have made the past 5 and a half months quite a rollercoaster. Do I love Russia? Yes. Is our relationship status "It's Complicated"? YES!

Today it came to me that it might be a bit like a sibling relationship. Your job is to tease them, "snake" them, blow spit bubbles in the face, dunk them repeatedly while swimming in the lake, put food that you don't want on their plate (even if it's already been chewed), give their suitors grief, and basically complicate their life as much as possible. Or maybe this is just my life calling...

But should someone else hurt them, make fun, or give them too much of a hard time? Sister's not going to stand for it. And suddenly it's all love and loyalty. (Although those attributes are generally present in "snaking" and spit bubbles as well. Just less evident.)

RUSSIA: I complain, make fun, and try and give difficulty back when it's been handed out to me. And it gives me a pretty thorough sibling treatment in return. But at the end of the day, it's somehow a part of me now. And I'll love it forever, flaws and all.

Valentine's Day Eve was as Russian it gets:

For 3 weeks, my Russian sister and I have been trying to meet up to go to an ice-sculpture exhibit which she purchased tickets for, courtesy of Groupon. (Note: Groupon in Russia does NOT mean the same things as Groupon in the US. Consider yourselves warned.) Tonight was the night it FINALLY worked out. We met at the metro, where I was greeted with a "rose"=CHOCOLATES. Is there a better combination of two fabulous things?! LOVE.

We made our way to the exhibit, only to see all the lights out and a "CLOSED" sign on the door. A closer look confirmed that, according to their "hours", they were open until 9. It was just after 7. Another sign on the door said they'd taken a 5-minute break and would be back shortly.

We opted for a walk around the neighboring scenery while waiting, which included the Cathedral of Christ our Savior and a bridge with some stunning Moscow views. And standing on the bridge in a relatively-biting cold, Moscow took my breath away. LOVE.

And as we headed back to the exhibit, we passed by a man peeing in the middle of our populated, non-discrete path. A little extra bit of Moscow scenery that didn't quite have the same effect as the earlier views. And upon our return, it became evident that the only accurate signage on the exhibit door was the "CLOSED."

Luckily, love for Moscow won out this evening, appropriately given the day. You see, this city has gifted me with some amazing people and relationships and, even on the lowest of days, they manage to help me find the laughter and love in any given situation.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

3 Questions

1. Do you think they're organic?

Moscow, you never cease to surprise...

2. What's your life motto? I think I've found mine.
(Good Meat...Good Men...Good Life). Courtesy of a St. Petersburg restaurant.
Which is no longer running, it seems. They're busy out living that good life.

3. What would be your color choice for a winter cape? Or just a cape period? Why limit ourselves to winter..

Happy Monday!!!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Petersburg and Прокофьев

Фанатик. (Fanatic).

It's what I was dubbed by one of my colleagues when I told her I was making a quick trip to St. see a concert performance of Prokofiev's "War and Peace." As soon as I saw it on the Mariinsky's schedule, I knew I had to be there. And the fact that the stars aligned and I finished Tolstoy's novel just before the concert was an added bonus. Now, I don't often get nerdy and operatic in this space, so please bear with me, but some of this music has to be shared. Fanatic may not be too far off...

This doesn't have any video, but it's Vishnevskaya at the Bolshoi. So deal with your lack of video and listen away. This first scene is stunningly beautiful and I wish this excerpt began from the top of the scene and included Prince Bolkonsky's Aria, but you can find some other snippets on your own if you too turn fanatic. I highly recommend doing so.

Next up is Natasha's first ball. First, let me introduce you to the eternally long Soviet film version of "War and Peace" which I'm now working my way through. As should you.

And Prokofiev's musical portrayal. Which was one of the most unforgettable moments in Wednesday night's concert. Complete with Hvorostovsky and subtitles that make Russian seem like a beautifully simple language.

I'll ease off the linkage, but it was necessary that you be introduced to my current love. Or reminded, in the case that you've already met.

Now, St. Petersburg. Today you hear the musical highlights, because that's what has given me a newfound energy and romance with Russia. I took the overnight train to Peter on Tuesday night, got in Wednesday, napped briefly, had a lunch date and made my way to rehearsal! It's always fascinating contrasting rehearsal with performance, and the Mariinsky system is especially unique. Due to the complex nature of their schedule, rehearsals are limited and often will take place on the day of the show. (The Bolshoi will occasionally have rehearsals the day of, but it seems to be a more rare occurrence then our northern counterpart). I would love to hear some of my American singers' reaction if they were placed in said's not how we typically roll. Post-rehearsal bite to eat and then it was back for War and Peace concert style. There are many performances that will stick in my memory for a lifetime, and this will be one. Watching a world-reknowned conductor in the repertoire that is considered his best and hearing the talented orchestra respond was truly stunning. And then there were the singers. Far from shabby my friends. It's not an easy sing and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Was the performance perfection? No. But that's the beauty of our art. The magic is in the creation, rather than the perfection. Sitting in the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia may have also added to the ambiance.

Thursday night was spend in rehearsals and performance as well, this time in Italian and in the Mariinsky theater itself. I was pretty thrilled with my seat.

I could see the stage from my box as well, but I always love a clear view of the conductor. It must come with the profession.

It's rare that I'll leave an opera early, but when catching a train is a factor, exceptions are made. So was the case with Traviata yesterday evening. For all I know, this Violetta lived.

And here I am. Back at home after a day at school and work. Tired. But inspired.

St. Petersburg: Round 2 (the non-musical) will be coming your way shortly!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Russian-American Relations(hips)

Apparently I'm not a "typical" American. Or so I was told several times today by Russian friends. When I asked for clarification on what that meant, things got a little complicated.

"You know that one American we all know? Well, he smiles." Just for the record, I smile. Maybe not in the metro, but even I know that's not allowed in Russia.

"The skirt you're wearing isn't long and it's not short. It's European style." And the jokes begin.

So, what's a typical American?

Maybe I'm not the one to ask. After working/living in Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri, Washington DC, San Francisco, and New York City, and traveling across most of our country, I feel like the primary unifying characteristic might be diversity. I'm not going to argue that many stereotypes of our country are founded on accurate trends. We smile. Our portion sizes in restaurants are often ridiculous. We use credit cards. We plan.

But at the end of the day, we're people. And no person is typical.

I spent Monday and Tuesday in a mid-year conference with fellow Fulbright grant recipients, hearing about their research, their experiences in Russia, their cultural frustrations, but most importantly...about their passion for Russia and its wonderful people. Topics ranged from US-Russia science cooperation to the study of the Chuvash language; patterns of rainfall along the Volga river over several thousands of years (based on the analysis of an 11,800-year-old stalagmite) and the history of Cossack music. Not one project dealt with bringing any type of change to Russia, but simply understanding and appreciating all that this country has to offer.

I'm not going to say that this was a conference of "typical" Americans. But I love the thought that I was sitting in a room filled with people who might defy the standard Russian definition of "American" and who, in turn, will take home a picture of Russia that can help broaden American understanding of the Russian people.

Speaking of those American stereotypes of Russians...while I myself never assumed there were bears roaming the streets here, and never even heard said stereotype until arriving here, I have witnessed where such misunderstandings are born. I don't know what animal this is, but I couldn't help snapping a picture. Please look closely so as to not miss the tail.

The complexity of Russian-American relations politically speaking seems unending. But politics aren't people. And, as I see it, Russian-American relationships are alive and well, containing only the universal complexities that characterize relationships in general. I love this country. The complexity of the language while mind-numbing on occasion, is brilliantly fascinating and seriously beautiful. But the best part about this place is without a doubt the people. Many of the relationships I've developed here are the type that will last a lifetime. The type where at the end of a conversation about cultural differences and frustrations, you don't really feel like you were speaking in a foreign language because you understood each other so well. The type of relationships that can be defined as anything but "typical."

--Steps off soapbox--

Side note: (hips) in parentheses was too comical an effect to eliminate once typed. But I will now forever desire to type (hips) as such purely for the visual imagery.
The end.

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