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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.

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Friday Music: “Let’s Blow this Popsicle Stand”

3 Jun

Now that I’m close to leaving, all of my emotions are coming to the surface. Sentimentality is rearing it’s nasty head, and despite my best efforts to ignore it, I am starting to feel a little bit sad. Let’s investigate my mood…with music!

I kept singing this song while I was Moscow earlier this week. Good description about my strange two-sided relationship with Russia right now.

This too.

Also.

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!

I know what a Russian flash mob looks like

4 Apr

It’s April now, the snow is melting and the weather is (finally) getting warmer.  This increase in temperature is doing great things for my mood.

Nothing really exciting has happened since my last post. I was pretty busy this last week, because I had to help teach one of the other English teacher’s classes while she was out for personal reasons. The extra classes really weren’t that difficult to take on, and they were with a group of students that I really like. We ended up watching the 90s cult-classic The Fifth Element, which is weirdly popular here in Russia. Now I’m getting requests to watch other popular American movies, like the Step Up trilogy (those awful dance movies with Channing Tatum). Pity me.

So what about that Russian flash mob? Well I’ll tell you.

In a few days–April 12–Russia will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. To celebrate this anniversary–and also as a kind of propaganda for their upcoming student Open House–the institute where I teach decided to organize a ‘flash mob’ this past Sunday in the main part of Kaluga. Now, I say ‘flash mob,’ because I’m not really sure if what I saw counts as a flash mob. Basically what happened was a group of students walked along the main street in Kaluga, carrying balloons and a homemade aluminum rocket. Here’s some video:

What do you think, does that count as a flash mob? Even if it technically doesn’t, it was still kind of a cool/random thing to watch. On the actual anniversary next week–called the ‘Day of the Cosmonauts’–I’m sure there will be more wackiness for me to film on my tiny point and shoot camera.

How to fly internationally

10 Mar

Tatar Air plane

Over the past four years, I’ve ridden on a decent number of international flights (including two 11-hour flights to and from Moscow).  Now I’m by no means the most experienced international traveler in the world, (not even in my family–my jet-setting dad wins that award) but my relative inexperience isn’t going to stop me from telling the rest of you how you should live your lives; people on cable news get to do it all the time!

1. Don’t fly with me:

Members of my immediate family and others who have flown with me (hi Mike) can confirm how horrible I am on planes.  I get way to nervous and have a habit of madly clinging to the person next to me at the slightest sign of turbulence.  If you’re looking for a relaxing flight, don’t take me, or at least don’t sit next to me.

2. Bring sleeping pills

I used to be a big sleeping pill nay-sayer, but I’ve since changed my ways.  If you buy powerful drugs (and not the weak Tylenol/Advil stuff), you can knock yourself out for the majority of a trans-Atlantic flight.  This really helps cut down on the tedium of being trapped in a small space for eight or more hours.  The best situation is if you’re leaving from a foreign country, and can buy sleeping pills there, where pesky FDA regulations don’t apply.  My favorite apocryphal flying story involves a friend who bought some Georgian (the country not the state) brand of sleeping pills for his flight from Moscow to Chicago.  He took the pills right after take-off and only woke up 15-hours later, when the plane had already landed.

3. Upgrade to Economy Class Plus or whatever the airline calls it

Don’t get too excited, economy class is still coach, but with six more inches of leg room.  That might not seem like much now, but after you’ve been stuck sitting behind a person who insists on reclining their chair alllll the way back (without fail this happens to me on every single flight I take), you’ll be longing for those extra inches (insert ‘that’s what she said joke here’).  Depending on what airline you’re flying, this upgrade will cost anywhere from $50-100, which is a lot less than upgrading to business class, so just suck it up and fork over the extra cash.  Your legs will thank you later, trust me.

4. Don’t listen to the fools who tell you to stay up the night before a long flight

I hear this piece of advice get passed around a lot: don’t sleep the night before a flight so that you’ll pass out once you get on the plane.  Anyone who tells you to do this hates you, and you should stop taking advice from them because they’re probably secretly trying to kill you.  Staying up the night before never helps you fall asleep on the plane; it just makes you more miserable than you should be after hours of flying.

5. Don’t travel alone

If at all possible you should never travel alone.  It really helps to have at least one buddy (although a trio is the ideal situation) who can watch your bags while you go pee or while you nap on the airport floor.  If you travel alone you not only have to carry all your stuff with you everywhere, but you also have to stay alert the entire time (which is why not sleeping the night before is especially dangerous for the solo-traveler).  Plus it’s just boring to travel alone; there’s no one around to help you irrationally judge the other airport patrons–one of the only good parts of flying.

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