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A Moscow Interlude

4 Jun

Now that the ETAs are finished with their classes, we all have a lot of free time on our hands. Most of us decided to use that time to travel, which explains why I spent the better part of this week in Moscow with three of my fellow Fulbrighters.

Surprisingly, we spent most of our time outside of Moscow. On Tuesday we took a bus to Sergiev Posad, the largest Orthodox monastery in Russia:

View of the monastery

On Wednesday we decided to visit Lenin’s old estate, which is located right outside of the city. The plan was to take a bus to the estate and walk around for a little bit. Of course, our plan did not work out as well as we’d hoped. First, we almost didn’t find the right bus to get to the estate (if someone in Russia says that the bus stop is right next to the metro, what they really mean is that the bus stop is all the way on the other side of the street). When we finally found the bus stop, we accidentally took the wrong bus (a easy mistake to make, since both buses had the same numbers) and were dropped off in the middle of a small Russian neighborhood, with no Lenin museum in sight. We did finally find the estate, after walking through really sketchy forest paths for over an hour.

The estate itself was pretty interesting. It has ton of museums dedicated to Lenin’s life, but because of our forest detour we only got to see two of the museums. I learned a lot more about Lenin than I would have ever wanted, like the fact that he had bad allergies, so the only plants that he kept around were palm trees. Still, it was not a bad way to spend the majority of the day.

Peasants carrying Lenin's body

Lenin's old house

Creepy Lenin museum

Even though I had a lot of fun going to these places, doing the tourist-thing wasn’t my main point in going to Moscow. I was more excited about seeing a few ETAs before we all scatter to parts unknown. I’m going to miss the Fulbright camaraderie when I go home. At least we’ll always have Moscow.

Celebrating--ETA style

Now I’m back in Kaluga, tired, sunburned, and covered in mosquito bites. For the rest of the week I’m going to be cleaning and packing, because I fly home on Tuesday! It’s insane how this whole year-long experience is basically over for me. I almost can’t believe it.


A Visit to the Tsiolkovsky Museum

28 May

Happy Memorial Day Weekend America! In celebration, let’s talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with America and also is about space!

A week ago I visited the Tsiolkovsky Museum here in Kaluga. The museum is located in the original house of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a famous Russian scientist who, according to wikipedia, was a pioneer of astronautic theory. He is directly responsible for the Russian space flight program and spent a major portion of his life in Kaluga. Clearly, a BFD.

One of the teachers at the institute arranged for a personal tour of the museum with a few of her students and myself. The man who led the tour was actually a former student of hers and gave the entire tour in English, which I think is the first time I’ve ever had an English tour in Russia (no surprise there).

Now, I’ve been to my fair share of Russian museums. I half-jokingly, half-seriously told one of the students that I’ve been to more museums in Russia than in America (this is true). After awhile, you kind of know what to expect in these places: the silent older women who watch your every move, the ropes that are (laughably) meant to keep you away from the more delicate exhibits, and the complete lack of air-conditioning. It’s all old-hat. As jaded as I am though, the Tsiolkovsky Museum was still pretty cool. They’ve managed to preserve most of the original set up in the house:

Tsiolkovsky's air-horn (he was partially deaf)

Work bench

Tsiolkovsky's bike (with the laughable rope and bonus air-horn!)

The man himself

Interesting! Tsiolkovsky was also a science-fiction writer, and his books are still read here in Russia. After finding out that one of his novels describes a future utopia where the elites of society live in orbiting-spheres and laugh at the rest of us schmucks that are stuck on Earth, I also kind of want to read his writing.

The whole trip was a nice little send-off from my students, and they ended it by giving me a few very considerate gifts. I actually managed to get a little teary-eyed, which really drove home the notion that I’ll miss at least a few things about Kaluga.

Expect a few more sporadic posts as I countdown the days until I come home. Have a good three-day weekend!

In Which I Celebrate Me, A Lady

8 Mar

Today is the official end of my four-day weekend (sad), oh and also International We Love the Ladies Day or something.  In honor of this important day, let’s explore gender issues and feminism in the modern world.  Not controversial topics at all!

For all you Americans who apparently hate women (hi Republican controlled House that voted to defund Planned Parenthood!) International Women’s Day is when the rest of the world celebrates their ladies with gifts of flowers, candies, and other treats.  And what about the rest of the year?  Ha.  What are you some kind of lady-loving feminist?  Women only need/get one day!

So how did I celebrate my Women’s Day?  Pretty much like every other day: I hung around the apartment, did a few chores, and went for a walk around the city (but I listened to some Bikini Kill on my iPod while I was walking, so I guess that counts for something).  Also, I got a surprise flower.

This actually happened yesterday, when I was on a different impromptu walk.  On my way home, I randomly ran into one of my students who was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers.  He had 10 flowers in total (a big no-no in Russia, even-numbered flowers are considered bad luck) so he decided to give me his extra flower.  It was completely unexpected and kind of sweet–even though I was really just doing him a favor by helping him not violate Russian cultural superstitions.

my unexpected flower

While it’s nice to see all these women walking around with flowers (and to get a flower of my own!), the cynical side of me can’t help but see the hypocrisy.  Russia doesn’t have the best relationship with women–not like America is much better–and one day isn’t going to erase years of inequality and sexism.  Still there are encouraging signs of progress.

The vast majority of my students are women, and most of their future goals focus around building a successful career.  Sure a lot of them want to get married, but not until they can support themselves.  Women are also starting to play a larger role in Russian society; many of the leaders of popular activists groups are women. I think all this says something positive about the future of gender relations in this country.  Despite all my Irish cynicism, I’ll allow myself just a little optimism.

To end my Lady Day celebration, I think I’ll head over to the local grocery store and buy some 50 ruble (that’s 2 dollars!!!) boxed-wine and watch Sex and the City: The Movie on Russian TV.  Oh, and I’ll be wearing sweatpants.  If I’m going to be a stereotype, I’m not going to half-ass it.

It’s Maslenitsa Time!

7 Mar

This past Sunday was the official celebration of Maslenitsa–a Russian holiday that recognizes the end of winter and the coming of spring.  Pretty much every Russian city has some kind of outdoor festival for Maslenitsa, and Kaluga is no exception.  I decided to venture out into the cold (yes, even though we’re supposed to be celebrating spring, it’s still freezing here) and see what all the spectacle was about. Continue reading

Who doesn’t love a four-day weekend?

4 Mar

If you couldn’t tell from my creative title, there’s a four-day weekend coming up.  Everyone at the Institute gets Monday and Tuesday off because of the Russian Lady Day holiday on March 8. (Notice that the men only got one day off and the women get two)  To celebrate our mini-break and the up-coming holiday, my second-year students threw a Maslenitsa party in class today. Continue reading

Hurry up and get here spring!

3 Mar

The season is changing here in Kaluga.  The sun is rising earlier and setting later, and the temperature is getting noticeably higher.  Today, it was even warm enough for me to wear my lighter winter coat!  Little signs like these are convincing me that spring is really close.

To celebrate the end of winter, I painted my nails with some obscenely bright polish.

Baking and a Weekend Recap

28 Feb

Well now I’m really glad that I didn’t stay up to watch the Oscars.  From the few clips that I watched and all the comments I read on Twitter, the whole show sounded even more boring than usual.  Definitely not something worth losing sleep over.  Besides, I need to conserve my energy, this week is shaping up to be pretty crazy.

Before I get to my future plans though, let me fill you in on what happened over the weekend:  Nothing.  The only thing I managed to accomplish this weekend was baking and rewatching my favorite Sex and the City episodes.  It was pretty amazing.  On Saturday I tried a recipe for apple crisp that I found here. Since apple crisp is absurdly easy to bake, my attempt was pretty successful; it tasted just like apple pie.  An added bonus was that my hands smelled like cinnamon for the rest of the day.

Apple Crisp

Continue reading