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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Help I'm Alive


And just like that, my semester abroad has come to an end. We all have those moments when we are reminded of how old we are, how far we come, and we are consequentially stupefied by how fast time passes. Graduation comes to mind. Birthdays too, as well as the beginning of every school year in the fall. I know we all understand what it feels like to welcome (or reject) the end of an era, so to speak, so I won’t elaborate here, but I can’t emphasize to you enough right now of how much I cannot believe that five months have passed, and that I’m arrived safely back home in the USA. 

Living abroad has the potential to change you completely. Hell, I have a hard time believing that living abroad for an extended period of time WON’T change you. And I’m no exception, but I don’t want this last entry of this blog to be a realization of how Petersburg has become my second home and that I’m an ex-pat or blah blah blah. It’s not. I had the best time, but I was only gone for four and a half months, and I loved my time there immensely, but I won’t pretend to say that I went native or fell in love so deeply with a city that I’m already planning my trip back. I had a wonderful time, but I was very much a tourist my entire time there. Moreover, I know that when I return, whenever that is, it won’t be the same. 

Saying goodbye wasn’t as bad as I had made it all out to be in my last post. I think it’s because it all happened so fast, and it still hasn’t registered that I don’t live on the 8th line of Vasilievsky Ostrov anymore. My goodbye with Nina Vasilievna was brief. I bought her flowers and wrote her a card, and we shared a big hug on the landing while my suitcases waited for me below. Elena and Nastia (the program intern) took us to the airport, and in a chaotic rush to get through the next line of security, I gave them a hug and a big thank you. Mike Freese took Will Watkins to the airport for his separate flight in the early morning of the 8th, and so wasn't there to see us off. Therefore, no goodbye from Mike. Jenna says it’s because Mike didn’t want us all to see him weep when he would have to say goodbye to Jenna... Clearly! 

The flight to Finland went smoothly and lasted about an hour. We didn’t have a long layover at all. We went straight to our gate and boarded our flight to JFK within half an hour. Our flight left around 2 pm St. Petersburg time, so it was weird timing in terms of trying to sleep on the plane. I dozed on and off over Iceland, but other than that, I stayed awake for most of the flight. I watched Monuments Men (with George Clooney and Matt Damon - it just came out this winter/spring) and was disappointed. The tone didn’t seem to match up with a story about World War II at all, and I found it a little too cheesy in terms of its jokes and one-liners. But that’s just my personal opinion. It’s based on a really cool true story, nonetheless. 

When we landed in New York we were all bubbling with excitement. I myself almost keeled over with joy when, at passport control, the older man behind the counter smiled, asked me how I was, and said “welcome home!” I skipped down the walkway belt onto baggage claim with everyone else. Sean and I took the same flight to Boston, so once we got our bags we said goodbye to everyone. It was a series of quick hugs and “it was so nice to meet you - if you’re ever in [insert region] give me a call - we’ll stay in touch.” It all happened so fast that I didn’t really dwell on the fact that I was saying goodbye to all these people. 

Sean and I waited at our gate for a few hours, and then for an extra hour as our flight was delayed. At this point, it was around 3 am - 4 am our time in Petersburg, and I just felt so exhausted. I tried to sleep on the flight to Boston, but what felt like five minutes take off the captain said over the over-com that we had 25 minutes left until we landed. The short flight made up for the long layover. Sean and I collected our bags, said goodbye, and then I met Barry, my favorite Air Force cadet/Coast Guard Academy one-semester-er and someone I’ve waited what feels like FOREVER to see, who greeted me with hugs, kisses and a bouquet of 15 roses.  

I’ve spent the last few days in a jet-lagged haze of on and off sleep, Grey’s Anatomy on the lifetime channel, and really long showers. My parents are picking me up in Boston later tonight, and I am so excited to see them. This is the longest time I’ve been away from home, and no matter how much time I will spend away from my parents and from Maine in the future, I will always be overjoyed to see my family (if only until we all want to kill each other). I’ll spend a few days at home before I come back to Boston to head to Harvard on Friday for a little meet and greet orientation shin dig. I start on Monday! (Wish me luck). 

For now, I’ll be fighting this oncoming cold, trying to catch up on sleep, and slowly adjusting back to reality. I can already tell it’s going to be weird and terribly sad. Yesterday I woke up slightly disoriented - it took me a second to realize that I couldn’t walk across Bolshoi Prospect and onto the bridge over the Neva. I’m a little worried about this whole reverse culture shock deal, to be honest. I think I’m usually pretty good at adjusting to different environments, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m going to be really sad for a while about not being in Petersburg and not being surrounded by all my friends there. Their absence is definitely what I’m feeling the most right now; I’m going to miss them all so much. They were really more than just your average friend in Russia; they were a friend plus a relative/lifeline of sorts. The experiences you go though in a foreign country with other people in your same boat are different than you’ll ever have anywhere else, I think. 

Nevertheless, I’m excited to see how much I’ve changed. I know I have, but I don’t know in which ways, you know? At least not yet. Maybe I’ll respond with some Russian the next time I go buy groceries at Hannafords, maybe I’ll give a stranger a glare if they smile at me randomly (what’s wrong with you? why are you smiling?). Maybe I’ll crave raw garlic cloves for dinner, maybe I’ll insist on toasting to мир и здоровье every time I have a drink in my hand as Nina Vasilievna does. I’m sure I’ll come back with new habits, and hopefully it's all exciting.  

I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying that I’d never trade these past four and a half months for anything in the world, and that, if you or anybody you know is on the fence about living/studying abroad, you should 110% go for it/recommend it to them. I know that people (I’m thinking about people at Conn in particular) who choose not to study abroad usually have good reasons, but I will say that I think that studying abroad helps those who are not just studying languages, area studies, international relations or what have you. I thoroughly believe that studying abroad, ESPECIALLY in a country where you don’t have easy access to English or in which the native language is one you’re studying, simply helps you become a better person (not that I've come back a better person - more independent, I should say?).

Alright, I’ve written enough sentimental, cheesy crap already. Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog - I meant to do this for myself, but the fact that I still get views on this blog makes my insides tingle with joy. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, and who knows, perhaps I’ll start another one the next time I find myself in Russia or another part of the world. I’m certainly going to miss recording all my adventures. 

But anyways, I’m back in the states. So come find me! Let’s hang out! 

Пока пока! 

Breathe (2AM)

(From 5/8)

Well, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, and I already expected it to be absolutely brutal. I’ve just gotten back to my room after my last dinner with my host mom, and I’m so terribly upset to leave her tomorrow. 

So, something happened to me my junior or senior year in high school. I never thought I could cry out of happiness. I believed for the longest time that, if I chose to have children, I would be abnormal in that I wouldn’t be able to cry after the birth of my first child. Or whatever (that seems like the #1 thing adults cry out of happiness for. Or a wedding). And then I watched that one Grey’s Anatomy episode when Meredith built a house of candles for Derek (“Olivia. Is everything okay?” - Dad), and then I bawled when I got into college. And then I found out that I couldn’t handle winning, or losing obviously, big sports games. To this day, I can’t watch anything to do with motivational speeches, Nike ads, or team celebrations. The Olympics? Forget it. The upcoming World Cup? I’m definitely going to choke back some ugly tears. I don’t know why, but I’ve become a mess when it comes to emotions, and luckily (I guess), I’m getting used to really embracing my nervous wreck... ness. 

I am, without a doubt, one of those people who could never say “I never cry.” I cry all the damn time. I’m an emotional person, but this somehow became amplified since the last few years of high school, and now, as a result, I just have to accept that I’m going to be a basket case when it comes to change and coming back home. 

So, I know I’m going to be really visibly upset tomorrow when I say goodbye to Nina Vasilievna, but I had no idea I was going to melt into a blubbering puddle at dinner tonight. She asked if I wanted to have a few drinks during dinner, and although I’m still half asleep from my all nighter the night before (more about that later), I couldn’t refuse. She held up her shot glass to propose a toast, and it was at that point that I made peace with myself. I’m going to cry. I couldn’t help it, and I never have been able to. She cheered to peace, health, and to my parents. She wished me happiness, and that I marry a great man and have lots of children (three minimum, apparently). 

Ugh, I just wrote four paragraphs of four-shots-of-homemade-Georgian-vodka-drunken nonsense that I have to go edit later (it’s only 6:22 pm!), but I kind of want to keep it as it is. More authentic this way... Yes? Yes! 

Anyways, now that Lowell Libby is 110% regretting putting my blog up on the Upper School website (how far have I come from your essay writing class, Lowell?), I’ll fill you in on the last few days. 

In sum, these past few days have been a slow blur of anticipation. I absolutely do not understand that I’m going home, and I have an even a harder time believing that four and a half months have passed - no, scratch that, VANISHED. I’m convinced that it’s the weather that is making it so hard to believe the passing of time; for the most part, spring and summer just started a few weeks ago (ok, maybe a little longer than that). The Russia that I am living in now could quite possibly be a completely different planet from the one I arrived in; one that was dark until 10:30 am and became dark again at 4 pm. Now, the sun doesn’t really set, and it’s at least 80 degrees out and gorgeous. I’ve packed my Bean boots and parka away in my suitcase for good, and I’ve been sporting my tank top and shorts go-to look. I’m not sure that it’s all really hit me yet that I’ll be leaving Russia and this cozy little nest of a life I’ve built for myself here over the past four and a half months, but if it ever did, if only slightly, it hit me a little at approximately 3:30 am last night after we watched Palace Bridge raise, as I shouted my way across Palace Square about how fast time has gone by and how much I’m going to miss all these people and friends, who, for all intents and purposes, have been my world for these past four and a half months. 

In other news, Andrea and I met up on Tuesday, and I took her to the Decabristov Cafe by St. Isaac’s. We chatted for an hour (in English), and it was so nice. To be more specific, talking with Andrea overall feels like my soul is getting a hug. She’s the best! 

But anyways, last night!

Last night was so much fun. I feel so lame (for ALL of us) that we hadn’t gone out like that before, but I’m glad we stayed out all night to see the bridges go up and engage in a night of complete hooliganky. 

My night began when I left home around 6:30 to see Will Watkins at his host parent’s apartment in Primorskaya. Will is back from the hospital, and I figured that if I didn’t see him then, that I probably would never get to say goodbye to him (he’s not going to be able to make it back to the group flight with us). Clarissa and I both stayed with him for half an hour before we headed to Adam’s dorm apartment/suite. Almost everyone hung out there from 9 to 11, when we were technically supposed to leave. 

Earlier that day I went to the Nabokov museum (finally! Lots of dead butterflies) and the inside of the Cathedral of Our Lady Kazan, and on top of all the treadmill running and my crappy shoes, my legs were just not having it. I’ve been wearing my $15 sneaks that have zero support, so I was really dragging before the end of the afternoon. Luckily, alcohol exists. I felt less pain in my legs for the rest of the night (until I sobered up, of course), so I was able to trek, skip and run throughout Petersburg for the whole night and not feel my knees protest. 

After Adams, we walked all the way to Nevsky Prospekt and onto Doomskaya (the place we were told not to go at the beginning of the semester). We got a drink in one bar quickly before we moved onto another. The bars/clubs we went to were dark with music so loud that threatened your hearing; exactly what you’d expect/want out of a to-be crazy night. After the second bar (which was characterized by telling Will Bliss how much I love/am going to miss him), we split up. I went with a group to the Radio Baby club (where we watched Game of Thrones on Monday), but we were delayed by a fight that broke out on the bridge we needed to cross. Militsia quickly found the fight and broke it up, but we decided to take the long way to Radio Baby and avoid the police by all means, as we were in a group of chattering, inebriated 21 year old Americans, who, somewhat funnily (is that a word?) somewhat stupidly, felt all the more inclined to speak (shout) Russian at/with random strangers. 

When we finally got to Radio baby, there were a bunch of people there, but there wasn’t a whole lot dancing going on yet, and the club still had plenty of space. I bought an Amstel, and after the encouragement of a few friends, got up on the elevated stage/dance floor. I put my beer on the top of the piano and, like all the dances in the atrium throughout high school, proceeded to join the dance circle that had formed between all my friends who, at that point, I had never seen get down and silly in such a manner. 

In short, the next few hours were top notch wonderful. I’ve been suppressing some serious dancing hibbie jibbies over the past few months, and it became obvious once we started dancing that the rest of us were too. We danced like the energetic young adults that we are for a while before Will Bliss, love this kid, starting grabbing random Russians who were watching us go crazy and bringing them into our dance circle. Before we knew it, we had Will Bliss and these other Russian guys breaking it down right in front of us. I hate to sound all... whatever, but we (mainly Will Bliss) totally started the party. Not before long most everyone was trying to get in on our circle, and we just had the best time. 

Around 2:35 am Sean, Hunter, Jackie and I left Radio Baby momentarily to go watch the bridges go up. We walked to Palace Bridge and sat amongst other fellow viewers and flame thrower entertainers on a sandy part of the embankment as we watched the last cars and people walk across the bridge that was, to my surprise, raise rather quickly, in my opinion. I mean, I’ve seen the South Portland bridge raised, so I wasn’t expecting anything special, but it was nevertheless still pretty cool to watch the neon lights of the bridge and the lamp posts fold upwards in a matter of minutes. 

Of course, watching the bridges go up meant that I would not be able to get back home onto Vasilievsky island until the bridges came back down again and the metro opened at 5:30 am (a major reason why we hadn't gone out late earlier in the semester). When we had finished taking pictures and looking at the bridge, we decided to head back to Radio Baby to meet up with the others. The walk back to the club was infinitely longer than the walk it took to get to the bridges. When we finally got back, Will was still dropping it low in that same circle where we left everybody when we left. We danced for a little bit longer before we all realized how tired and hungry we were. We then left Radio Baby and headed to McDonalds. On our way to McDonalds, the sunlight became noticeably stronger from the time that we left Radio Baby and found ourselves on Nevsky Prospekt around 4 am. Actually, it looked like it was 9 am from what you could tell of the sky. Sadly, this 24 hour McDonalds happened to be closed from 4-5 am, during the time that we got there, of course, so we went to a nearby Subway instead (yes, Russia has сабвей). The only reason I have not gone to subway during my time abroad is because of how much talking is involved when you order a sandwich. Well, I guess nothing like drunken munchies will make you overcome such a fear, because I had no problem telling this employee that I wanted literally ВСЁ on my sandwich. The Subway was delicious and it totally hit the spot. From what I remember, it didn’t taste that much different than any Subway I’ve had in the states. Needless to say, however, that 15 cm sandwich didn’t satisfy me (what does?!). 

Around 4:45 am we left Subway and headed in the general direction of the metro. Dylan, Hunter and I stopped into City Grill for a quick burger before we joined up with the rest of the crew waiting for the metro to open (no shame). At this point, my body was aching all over. I got off at Vasilieostrovskaya (little did I know it would be my last metro ride) and walked the 10 minutes back to the apartment under clear, sunny skies around 6 am. When I opened the door home, my host mom heard me and came out of her room to ask me when I wanted breakfast. We both laughed at first as I stood in the foyer clearly in the same clothes from last night. I responded that I won’t be needing breakfast for a while; I’m going to sleep all day. 

All day turned out to be only until 11:30 am, but I didn’t get out of bed until 1. And so my last day in Russia was spent sleeping in, packing, buying Nina Vasilievna flowers, adding money to my Megafon cell phone so it doesn’t have a negative balance, and saying goodbye to Adam. It was also spent finishing Nicholas and Alexandra, and ahh, I HATE finishing this book. There is no rhyme or reason as to why, but I can’t help but feel that, no matter how many times I’ve read this book cover to cover, that the fate of the Romanovs might change by the time I reach the end - that they won’t all be shot at the end and that somehow, any one of the groups that tried to organize a rescue attempt would get their shit together in time. Hah, I know, it’s silly, but Robert K. Massie takes your through such beautifully told stories of the lives of all the main characters, from their births until their deaths, so much that it’s easy to forget that amidst this great story the ending is always so awful, and alas, the past never changes. It’s always a bit of a shock to read the 517th page when you find out that all the people you’ve followed for the past 516 pages have been shot dead in a basement in Ekaterinburg. It’s like, wait WHAT?! That’s not what’s supposed to happen to the good guys! Kind of like how you react to a really good movie with a tragic ending, or, oh jesus, a Game of Thrones episode. And that’s exactly what this book is: an incredible story brought to life by an equally amazing story teller, who managed to find all the right details and quotes from diary entries and letters sent a hundred of years ago. In my first entry to this blog I wrote about Eat, Pray, Love and Nicholas and Alexandra, and as you can tell, my feelings towards the latter (or the former for that regard) have not changed. If any of what I’ve written over the past four and a half months has sparked even the slightest interest in anything related to Russia, read this book.

Or not. Your choice. 

But I digress. By this time tomorrow I should be in Boston exiting my plane or getting my luggage. At this point, I simply wish I could fast forward these next 24 hours. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to everyone, but I would never consider avoiding the overly drawn out, “I’m going to miss you!” *sob “Let’s stay in touch!” *hug-awfulness that is saying goodbye to people you love. I’m one for closure. 

I will want to write one last blog post after I get home to close everything up, but until then, please wish me a safe flight home. I hate flying.

Nicely Played


(From 5/4)

Last night I went to the Mariinsky for a Shostakovich concert. He was only one of five different pieces, however. This is what the program looked like:

Igor Stravinsky (Symphony in C)
Alexander Glazunov (Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82)
Dmitry Shostakovich (Cello Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 126)
Felix Mendelssohn (Symphony No. 4 in A Major Italian, Op. 90)
Maurice Ravel (Bolèro). 

I know nothing about music, and I just learned who Shostakovich was right before my trip (thanks, Neilan), so I won’t pretend to know what I’m talking about when it comes to whatever it is that composers, conductors and orchestras do exactly. I will tell you though, that from what I remember, the Stravinsky piece was my favorite, but only by a hair. The Ravel was an exceptionally awesome piece to end with. Will Watkins (who was supposed to go to the concert with me, but who, sadly, is in the hospital for having fractured his knee from playing soccer the other night) told me that it was a crowd pleaser, and that I’ve probably heard the Bolèro before, and he was right about both. It was one of those pieces that started out really quiet and soft, only to become increasingly more loud and complicated. More and more instruments kept on being added to this one beat, and by the end, the theater was exploding with sound. I actually wholeheartedly recommend finding this piece on iTunes or YouTube and listening to it now. It has a very happy sound that just keeps getting better and better!

The Shostakovich piece (why I was there in the first place) I thought was very enjoyable. It had a lot of different, err, “sections” to it, and some of them were really intense. It all had overall a pretty dark undertone, and there were a few really loud outbreaks (what language am I using here? How does one describe music?) that took me off guard. During the Shostakovich I distinctly remember envisioning some masked sleuth weave in between city buildings, and how, if this vigilante or whatever were to have some sort of soundtrack or background music, that this piece would do well. It was quite... sinister and mischievous, if I may. 

The concert lasted until almost midnight, but by the time I made it to the bus stop across the street, it was still light out. I overheard three people around my age speaking English right next to me, and after I listened for a British or Australian accent and detected none, I went right up to them and asked “so, where are you guys from?” Turns out, they’re all from UC Boulder here to study Russian through CIEE’s summer program. They all seemed nice and we chit chatted for a while before I hopped on the 6 bus home. 

Today was pretty uneventful; I cancelled my Megafon contract (without any communication problems woo hoo!), went to the bank, used the internet at Smolny, and then met up with the guys to play soccer at 3 pm. 

I think I’m going to start packing tomorrow. CRAZY.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Death and All His Friends


(From yesterday).

I cannot even begin to handle all that’s going on in Westeros right now. George R. R. Martin, the creator of Game of Thrones, and the series director have managed to, in one episode, oust two of my favorite characters on the show. Thank goodness Jorah is still alive for now, but he’s been banished out of Khaleesi’s kingdom, and who knows when the next time he’ll show up will be. And my poor Prince Oberyn. Oh Oberyn! You were SO COOL. So Spanish. So sexy. So liberal. And now your head is smashed to mushy pieces on the ground of the death-by-combat arena... 

Every monday at 9 pm at a popular ex-pats night club called Radio Baby they show the newest Game of Thrones episode, and we’ve finally decided to go and watch it together. I wanted to watch the episode this afternoon ahead of time to make sure that I could hear all the dialogue and see all the action from the quiet comfort of the Smolny couches, but I’m still going to relive it all again, despite the trauma it brought on me. This time, I plan on being thoroughly intoxicated (for the sake of my nerves and extremely fragile heart, people). 

Speaking of death, today, under cold drizzle and gloomy rain clouds, Beryl and I went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery to walk through the cemeteries there. The cemetery had two main sections: the first contains the graves of Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Glinka and a whole lot of other famous composers, singers, poets, painters, etc... What struck me first about the graves that stood amongst the winding paths that were crossed occasionally by the stray cats that live there were how charismatic the graves were. It was unusual to see a typical tombstone. There were busts, statues, mosaics and unique engravings everywhere. Statues’ faces had intense expressions, and there were even a few quotes on some graves. Beryl and I strolled through the graves and slowly sounded out the names of those we passed, most of whom I sadly did not recognize. 

The second half of the cemetery was a lot more crowded with graves, and it reminded me a lot of the Cemetière Pierre Lachaise in Paris, where Chopin and Jim Morrsion are buried. The above-ground tombs were close to each other, but most of them had their own special flair. In this section Beryl and I found Sergei Witte, who was the first Prime Minister of Russia under Nicholas II (which is super creepy and coincidental because I just read the part in Nicholas and Alexandra last night when, in a letter to his wife, Nicholas announced that he had just read about Witte’s death in the newspaper), Pushkin’s widow, Charles Rossi (he designed a lot of the architecture throughout Petersburg) and many others I have never heard of before.  

On the way out, we found a baby kitten drinking water from a tubberwear container around the graves. Beryl, I guess, is a lot more into cats than I thought, because she went after that cat, and pursued it for a few minutes. She even grabbed it’s tail and as she held onto the tail before the cat began to hiss, she pleadingly, but evermore politely explained, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I shouldn’t have done that; I shouldn’t have grabbed your tail.” I laughed so hard. I wish you all knew Beryl, because your lives would all be the better for it. She is perhaps the funniest person I have ever met, and I am easily entertained by people who lack any sense of humor. If, when you see me when I come home, you notice that I’ve picked up a few new mannerisms, or that I randomly change the infliction or pitch of my voice, or that I sing the last parts of my sentences, you can thank Beryl for that. Man, I wish you could meet everyone here. I like to think that all my blog posts would make a lot more sense if that were possible. 







After the cemeteries we took a peek inside the church in the monastery, but didn’t linger. We both took the 27 bus back to the city center, and I headed to Smolny to catch up on emails, Facebook, and, sigh, Game of Thrones. 

Not having internet, although refreshing, sucks when it comes to coordinating things. I only got an email from my Russian professor and Slavic Studies advisor Andrea Lanoux around 4 pm about meeting up after dinner today, but I never heard back from her before I left at half past six. Andrea is in Petersburg for the week to attend a conference on Russian children’s literature, and I literally could not be more excited about it. I rave about Andrea every time I get the chance, and if you knew her, you would too. I first met Andrea freshman year, a year before I started taking Russian, for she taught my freshman year seminar “Russia After Communism.” Looking back, I would say that Andrea is at least 50% of the reason why I decided to take Russia (Petko would be the other half, haha). I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. Andrea, just to confess the inner workings of my soul (haven’t I been doing that for the past four months?), is everything I hope to be and more. She is so intelligent, friendly, warm and genuine. I’ve never been in the presence of an adult who has been interested in my opinions and who has believed in me more (with the exception of my parents, and that’s saying a lot because I have been incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by a lot of amazing people in that regard) than Andrea. When you make a point in class, or even if you are talking with her informally, you can tell by the way she looks at you that not only is she paying attention to every word you say, but that she is also sincerely trying to learn from your point before she comments on it or politely proves it wrong. Andrea is not the type of professor who would ever dismiss a student’s thoughts because she thinks she is better than them. She totally has the right to think all that, but she’s so incredibly humble, and she knows that she’s not perfect. She understands that she, although quite accomplished, can always improve and can always learn from others, and for that reason in particular I have an immense amount of respect for her. She has done wonders for the Slavics department at Conn, and she also manages to find time to become involved in the administrative areas of our college in order to actually make the institution a better place. Andrea wrote my recommendation for the Middlebury summer language intensive program, and then helped me with my application to UC Berkeley’s Summer Research Opportunity Program when I couldn’t go to Middlebury. She got me into Berkeley, she set me up for Harvard, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that wherever my future career leads can be traced back to her help and support. 

I could quite possibly be delusional and making this last part up, but I firmly believe that when Andrea and I chat, that there is some sort of crazy vibe between us. Because Andrea is so awesome, I’m sure she has this affect on a lot of people, but when we talk, I practically forget that she’s my professor and advisor. I feel like I’m talking to someone who gets me and with whom I’ve been friends all my life, but one that is my mother’s age and who can give me all this wonderful advice. Waynflete did a great job of making me feel that comfortable with teachers and adult figures (probably a little too comfortable for my own good), and I remember thinking as a freshman of how much Andrea reminded me of a Waynflete teacher. In the classroom, Andrea is a little bit crazy, but in a good way. She’s so enthusiastic, and she sometimes shrieks because she’s so happy or surprised, but students love her for it. You can tell that she is beyond passionate about what she studies, and that she’s damn good at it. She is married with three kids, and she somehow finds time to be a powerful female in academia. 

And I guess that is my ode to Andrea Lanoux. Needless to say, I can’t wait to catch up with her. 

But the countdown continues! I leave in five days! I’M SO EXCITED!! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Countdown


Yes, a countdown has begun. One week left! I’m getting restless (kind of like the feeling I got during freshman orientation at Conn. We’re all going through the formality of these days, but in reality, everyone just wants to get on their merry ways so they can see what they’re classes are like and find the friends they’re meant to be with). Now that everything in terms of work is done (so long, Vladimir Nabokov!), everybody is just spending these last few days in anticipation of the big return trip home, or in some cases, their big trips to other places in Europe. Adam is traveling to Bergen, Norway for a week, Beryl is meeting her mom in Dubrovnik, Croatia (King’s Landing!), and Jacob is traveling all over Europe for the next month. As much as I would love to travel back to Paris and see family friends there, my wallet is practically empty, and I’m in the mindset to go home. Although, on the other hand, I’m pretty confident that if I was staying here over the summer, or if I had another semester here, I’d be fully committed and happy to stay. 

These past few days have been slow, but fun. It rained and temperatures dropped for most of the week, but towards the end the skies began to open up again and the sun came out. On Friday ten of us met outside the Dostoevsky metro station at 11 am to go to the banya. Because there were so many of us, we decided to rent a private bath house room. We all ended up paying 300 rubles a person ($10) for two hours, and what we got was SO WORTH IT. The owner of the bath house led us into a back room, through a bunch of unlit sketchy corridors, and finally up a narrow staircase which opened up into our own private banya, and what we got was something else.

Our private little banya room turned out to be multiple rooms. There was a large living room/entertainment area that had changing rooms, a massage room, couches, a pool table, and wait for it... a stripper pole and platform. Apparently there was karaoke too, but we just played music. There were even disco lights around the stripper pole. If you walked past the stripper pole and walked through the closest door, you found yourself facing another door which opened into the sauna. Next to the little sauna house was a cold water pool (not ice water like the last time we went) the size of a small dorm room (in length and width). There were shower heads on the wall across from the pool, and there was also a bucket that automatically filled with ice cold water to the left of the shower heads. It had a little rope dangling from it, and all you had to do was tug it downwards a little bit before you were greeted with a serious shock to your system with freezing water. 

For the next two hours, we all got into routines of sweating in the sauna, dousing ourselves with ice water or showering, jumping and lounging in the pool, and then doing it all over again. Since a few of us went earlier in the semester, I had a better idea about what to expect (so I left my necklace and rings at home), but I still found myself melting and needing to switch between the sauna and the pool quite often.  

By the end, I felt great. I was thoroughly drained of energy, but my skin was silky smooth and my body just felt incredibly relaxed. Later that day I met up with Jackie to check out a craft fair, which ended up being disappointing, but I bought a few souvenirs at some other stores and headed home afterwards. 

Yesterday, oh my god, you’ll never believe what I ran into on my way back home from the gym. On the 7th line of Vasilievsky ostrov, there was a dachshund fashion show. I kid you not, there was a wiener dog extravagant festival yesterday, and it was one of the greatest, weirdest events I have bore witness to over these four months in Russia. Never have I ever seen so many dachshunds in my entire life. On my way to the gym I noticed a bunch of them with their owners walking around, and I wondered what in the world was going on. On my way back, I heard the announcer before I got close to the crowd. There were hundreds of people surrounding an elevated runway, where owners walked (sometimes dragged) their dachshunds, who were wearing some of the silliest costumes a dog has ever been embarrassed to wear. At this point, I was cracking up to myself and muttering under my breath, “oh my god. Oh my god!” I’m at a wiener dog fashion show! I saw a dachshund dressed up as Cleopatra. I saw Sochi dachshunds, bumble bee dachshunds, Rusland and Lyudmila dachshunds, Victorian age dachshunds, Mexican dachshunds, a dragon dachshund, princess dachshunds, butterfly dachshunds, and the list goes on and on! By the time I got there, the #110 contestant was walking their dachshund down the runway, and I left around contestant #170. It was the cutest, most bizarre thing I could have stumbled upon, but it made my day. It was a little sad at times, because some of the dachshunds were clearly not having it. I wiggled my way through the crowd to the stage at the very end, where the stairs leading down the runway were, and some of the poor dogs were shaking and really scared to a) simply be on the runway with music and the announcer blasting and/or b) to walk down the makeshift wooden stairs. Luckily, dachshunds are quite the lapdog, and their owners came to their rescue by scooping them up with one quick motion. 

But like, what in the world? I kept thinking as I was watching the show how I could literally be in a Buzzfeed article that will show up tomorrow about “St. Petersburg’s Wiener Dog Fashion Show.” It’s just one of those things. Man, this world is a silly place. 

Adam is spending the week in Budapest and Prague, and because he lives in the dorms across from Smolny and has constant access to wifi while, as of a few days ago I no longer have, he was nice enough to give me his key. As a result, I spent yesterday afternoon sprawled out in Adams room catching up on emails and Facebook messages. I’ll definitely head that way after I get done writing this. 

I left his place around 6 yesterday, ate dinner and then took the metro to Primorskaya, where I met up with a bunch of people to play some late night soccer again. We went back to where we played last time, in that turf filled ice hockey rink, and we played for a little while before, unfortunately, one of the Wills fell down wrong and twisted his knee. What ensued was a whole lot of ridiculously unnecessary drama (not from Will though). Will, thank heavens, stayed calm and didn’t scream, because if he was screaming bloody murder, chances are, I would have joined right in there with him (I cannot handle panicky, stressful situations AT ALL. I cannot stay calm). Someone ended up calling Mike, who called a taxi. Eventually a taxi showed up, but because of the weird payment method (I don’t know how it worked), we couldn’t load Will into this taxi because it was the wrong one. We had to wait another half an hour before Clarissa, bless her soul, found the correct taxi which was waiting the whole time however many blocks away from the ice rink. We slowly got Will into the taxi, where he and Beryl took it to the American hospital. Will was definitely in pain, but from the looks of it, it seems like he will be okay and that no serious damage was inflicted. 

But what if Will was in serious pain? What if bones had broken through the skin?? Would the taxi still have refused to take him the first time? Hopefully we would have had the sense to call an ambulance if this were the case, but still. I remember reading in Alice Brock's Russian history course senior year how some people died waiting for ambulances to come because the traffic in Moscow was so bad. Common, Russia. Get your shit together! 

Getting back to soccer, as much as we should have probably quit playing soccer out of respect for Will’s injury, we didn’t. Beryl and Clarissa took care of him, which makes me feel like a dick because I clearly didn’t go out of my way to do anything for him, but ahh... I didn’t know what to do. What was there for me to do anyway? Go get him ice? (Beryl went to a produkty and bought him frozen veggies). Call Mike? (Beryl did that). Hoist him onto the bench? (the boys took care of that). Wait with him for over an hour?

Ugh.

Anyways, we kept on playing after Will and Beryl left. We played some loose scrimmaging  ( = Dylan dominating everyone) before we moved onto a few rounds of World Cup ( = Dylan dominating everyone). Although the flow of the game was definitely shaken due to all the drama with Will’s injury, everything was still a whole lot of fun after. I left the courts, with the boys still playing, at 11:20 pm in order to catch the metro home, but alas, it wasn’t dark out by the time I got home around midnight. I had gone to the gym in the morning, and I was so exhausted when I got home that after a quick shower and a midnight snack, my body melted into mush under the covers of my bed. I slept until 11:30 am this morning, and I felt so well rested. I can’t remember the last time that I slept that late!  

Glorious. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Somewhere a Clock is Ticking


(From yesterday)

Today is day 1 of 11 without internet at home (I’m going to start a survivor’s log), and in my last entry I said that you may not hear from me for a while, but I’m starting to think that without constant access (albeit shitty access) to Facebook, Pintrest and Project Free TV, I may be writing here more often. Which is where I find myself now. 

I finished my phonetics and grammar exams, and I have conversation and reading and writing tomorrow. After that, all I have left is my Nabokov essay, which will be 10 pages of whatever I want (and I really do mean that - whatever I want, Valerii Germanovich Timofeev!), and that which is due simply before I leave the country. I can see the home stretch, and I am seriously itching for it (although I have no mercy for myself. This semester hasn’t been nearly as stressful as a week at Conn in terms of work). 

I find myself fantasizing about arriving at JFK and again at Logan Airport. More specifically about being surrounded by people who speak English, and who also dress normally (well maybe not at JFK or Logan since their airports, but you know what I mean). The other day in the summer gardens Will, Jackie and I found ourselves behind four visitors: two men and their wives, and something just told me they were American. One of the men had a baseball cap on, and he was wearing running sneakers too. There was also something about one of the women’s outfits as well that made me think this, and when we eventually passed them I heard them speaking English. They happened to be British, but I was still pretty proud of my intuition. Getting back to JFK, I’m looking forward to being surrounded by people who dress, well, like Americans. 

I also participated in a room swap for next year’s housing at Conn this afternoon (I got a bad lottery number a month ago and consequentially selected an undesirable room), and I ended up getting a single on the second floor of my top choice dorm. I’m so happy! 

I know, a few entries ago I was super sad about leaving. That’s still true. I AM really sad to be leaving. In fact, I, oh gosh, don’t even want to think about saying goodbye to my friends, and, oh no, my lovely host mom, but ever since my trip to Tallinn and Helsinki I’ve become increasingly more excited to go home. Maybe it was because I had my passport on me all the time and I went through borders and security and other sure-tell signs of international travel. Maybe it was because I spent a few days in more Western cities, where people spoke English and where people smiled and said “how are you?” like they meant it. It’s probably because of the mere fact that I KNOW I’m coming home. In any case, something about it made me realize that my return trip was actually right around the corner, and ever since then I've been thinking about all the things I’ve missed. 

It was during my little trip outside Russia that I finally allowed myself to make a food list; that is, a list of foods with which I plan on stuffing myself once I get home. And because I’m feeling silly, I’m just going to go ahead and list everything off, in their original order (don’t know what to cook for dinner tonight? You may find some inspiration below!):

“American Food to Eat When You Get Home!

Home-made burgers
Onion rings
Mozzarella sticks
English muffins with peanut butter
French toast
Scrambled eggs with ketchup
Chobani
SMOOTHIES
Avocado, tomato, cheese, hummus wraps
Tacos salad or burritos 
Applesauce
Celery and cream cheese
Bagels and cream cheese (lox!)
Greek salad
Tortellini
Coconut dates
Sushi
Italian subs
Tapioca pudding
Zucchini
Ravioli
Grilled Cheese
Shrimp
Veggie burgers
Chickpea, avocado, fetal salad
Shepherd’s pie
Pumpkin pie
Spaghetti and meatballs
Colored pasta
ICE CREAM (Ben and Jerry’s)
Italian ice
Peas
Corn.”

Here’s to getting gloriously FAT. 

Anyways, I was going to write about how much I can’t believe four months have passed already, but writing that list of food has oddly enough put me in a less philosophical, depressed mood. I guess I’ll save that for my next entry. 

Tootles!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Life in Technicolor


Time for a study break. My first final is tomorrow at 1, and it’s phonetics. If there is going to be any final that I fail, this will be it. All we have to do is read a piece we picked out at the beginning of the semester (I picked a folk tale by Pushkin) with correct pronunciation, and unfortunately, my accent has probably gotten worse since I got here. Жаль.

These past few days have been super busy, but before I get into any of it, I must start with this: I saw Putin! Or at least, I caught a glimpse of what I believed to be the back of his head. How did this happen? Well, Putin was in Petersburg for the weekend for a few different reasons. The main reason he was here was definitely for the economic summit, which lasted three days and was held at Lenexpo, which is on Vasilievsky Island (where I live), and it’s also where they held that Romanov exhibit back in February (oh goodness, back in February?!). The city is also celebrating it’s 311th birthday this weekend, and so there have been lots of events taking place all over. As a result, there have been hoards of policemen literally on every corner of the city. Police really scare me to begin with, so you can imagine how on edge I’ve been walking around these past few days. 

As part of one of these events to celebrate Petersburg’s birthday, there was a massive choral concert of 5,000 participants yesterday in St. Isaac’s square, and according to Sean, whose host dad sang in this choir, there was a rumor that Putin was going to show up to it. I woke up on Saturday morning, started getting ready to go to the gym, and then metaphorically slapped myself across the face. Why would I even consider going to the gym when I could possibly see Putin?! That was enough. I took the day off and met some friends by the Bronze Horseman at 11 am. It took me 25 minutes to get there on foot, and in those 25 minutes I saw dozens of policemen. It gave me this eery, calm-before-the-storm feeling, and it made me excited. When everyone found each other, we walked around St. Isaac’s cathedral in order to get past the barricades that had already been built around the square. We found an entrance and I passed my backpack through the security and metal detectors that were positioned in the middle of the streets.  We made ourselves to an open space in front of the cathedral, and proceeded to bake for a good 45 minutes before the concert started. The weather was beautiful. Almost too nice, actually. It was incredibly sunny and it was at least 80 degrees. I wore a tank top yesterday, and I woke up this morning with that awful, itchy sunburnt feeling on my shoulders. 

There were, as expected, a ton of people. By the time we got there people had filled the first few rows of space in front of the barricade which separated spectators from the choir participants and announcers and whatnot. There were cameras everywhere. St. Isaac’s had undergone quite the transformation. The choir of 5,000 stood on a very, very long bleacher, and there were two television screens on either side of the front of the cathedral, which played on loop a clip about the city’s celebration. To begin the ceremony, the conductor of the choir was introduced. Some important man, who was particularly famous during the Soviet Union, and whose name I forgot. He got a big round of applause though. 

And then, before the concert started, the patriarch (good ole Kirill) gave a speech. His face was broadcasted onto the two televisions, and we could hear his voice projected through all the speakers, but we had no idea where he was. It was impossible to see anyone behind the barricade because of all the rows of people in front of us. He was apparently there though, about 30 feet from us. I wasn’t paying attention to what he said, but I guess if it was something earth-shatteringly important my ears would have perked up. The concert began and St. Isaac’s square reverberated with, well, the voices of 5,000 singers. I took my nalgene out at one point for some water and felt the vibrations of the water through my nalgene. The songs they played were, surprise surprise, incredibly nationalistic. Songs from World War II, songs about Easter, and oh, get this, they broadcasted for one song the choir from, ahem, Sevastopol in the Crimea. Awkward. 

Although there were just as many people celebrating Maselnitsa (blini week) with traditional songs and dance (we saw them at the Peter and Paul Fortress months ago), this concert rubbed me a bit in the wrong way. Maybe it’s because a lot has happened politically since Maselnitsa, maybe it’s because I could read the lyrics on the screens in front of me, but I definitely felt that the songs they sang were a little too aggressively proud for me. Ahh, I don’t know. They were probably all fine, but there were a few times when I looked at all the cameras and wondered to myself, “I’m curious what they’re going to say on Russian television about this celebration, and more importantly, how brain-washingly patriotic are they going to make it all out to be.” Ugh, I feel like a hypocrite. Obviously we do this kind of stuff in the US, but, I mean, it really freaks me out how much the media, especially when it’s practically 100% run by the government, influences the masses. Just to go slightly off topic for a second, I’ve had a few mini-crises while I’ve been here concerning whether or not how I’ve been raised, how AMERICANS have been raised, and the values and philosophies we preach vis-à-vis Russians is right or wrong in the context of the... universe? That seems too grand. This is a complicated thought I’m about to unpack. In the states, we (for the most part - I hate to generalize, but roll with me on this for just a sec) firmly believe that there are parts of Russian culture, such as the corruption of their politics and judicial systems, and how they feel about human rights (gay rights for one) that, to us, are straight up WRONG. But here’s the thing. Some Russians, from the way they are brought up, firmly believe with the same amount of strength that American values are fundamentally wrong as well (this statement can be applied to other cultures too). Could you imagine living in a world where everybody else in the world thought that what you believe with your entire being was inherently wrong? Ok, I’m getting way too philosophical here, and I'm not sure I understand what I'm writing anymore, but what I meant to say was, my world and how I view the world, in a sense, has been shaken up (not that I've changed any of my opinions).

But I digress. Getting back to Putin...

After about five or six songs, over the microphone all of a sudden I heard something something something ваш президент российской федерации (the president of the Russian Federation...), and then I ceased to hear anything else that was said. I felt the mood of the entire crowd in front of me shift into action. Cameras were out, and heads all turned to the same direction. And then all I cared about was seeing the one and only, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Regardless of how I feel about that man as a politician (or as a human being, for that matter), it all went out the window. I tried as hard as I could to push and shove my way through, but it became apparent very quickly that I probably wouldn’t be able to see him. At this point I started jumping up and down. I put my wide zoom lens on my camera specifically for this moment, but I also realized that it wouldn’t be any help to me. I jumped and jumped and then, like seeing the loch ness monster or big foot, I think I caught a glimpse of the back of Putin’s head. But again, all of his body guards were in similar suits and bald, so I could have easily been mistaken. That is going to drive me crazy for the rest of my life, but I can’t deny that my memory, especially when I really want something, can be deceptive. In any case, I can say for certain that I was about 30 feet away from him, and I was in the audience he gave a quick speech to on the 311th birthday celebration of St. Petersburg. It’s closer than I’ve ever gotten to any of our American presidents! (Famous people don’t really exist in real life anyways). 

So that’s that, and my day actually got better too! After Putin showed up we left the choir, which, I must add, is хор in Russian, pronounced exactly like the word “whore” in English, I walked back home, made lunch, and studied briefly for one of my finals. A few hours later, I set off for the second time that day to the Bronze Horseman to meet friends for a picnic on the grass there. I bought cookies, and because I had plans to meet more friends to play soccer around 6 pm, found myself walking around the streets of Petersburg in my neon pink Conn College nike shorts and a grey tank top (gasp!). The next hour and a half was spent lying barefoot in the grass in between the Bronze Horseman and St. Isaac’s cathedral (who says that?). Becca brought henna, and others brought fruit and more sweets. We alternated between English to Russian (April had brought a few of her Russian friends), and we enjoyed the summer weather in lush green grass. 

Around 5:30 I set off for Smolny, which is located about 20 minutes away, to meet some guys who planned on finding an empty soccer court to play on for a while. We all met around 6, and then, dear god, for the next TWO HOURS we basically walked around the whole city trying to find courts that weren’t occupied (we ended up going back to the Bronze Horseman at one point). Eventually we took the metro to Primorskaya, one metro stop north from me, and walked for another half an hour trying to find a space to kick a soccer ball around. We finally found a small ice hockey rink that had turf on it around 8 pm. By the time we got there, after all the walking I had done that day, my little legs were just about ready to give out. It was sweltering hot out, and I hadn’t had dinner yet, but oh my, I REALLY wanted to play soccer, as did the six others, so we kept on. 

The next hour and a half playing soccer on that small turf filled ice rink was probably one of the best few hours spent during my entire time abroad (I’m so serious). It was me, Dylan, Will, Adam, Bill, Hunter, and Lea on and off, and we were all so into it. We took frequent water breaks (I was happy to know that all my work on the treadmill still left me huffing and puffing), but we kept on until 9:30. I can’t tell you how nice it was to touch a soccer ball again. I absolutely made a complete fool out of myself on multiple occasions and Hunter and I both went down at some point, but it felt so good nonetheless. Hah, there were a few times when Bill had the ball in a corner, and I found myself practically body checking him. I have my Waynflete soccer coach, Todd Dominski to thank for that one. The last time I played soccer with a guy was indoor gym soccer with Todd, and Todd was so convinced that all of us on WVGS were all painfully “soft. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it!” He always told us to “PUT A BODY ON HER!” or just “BE AGGRESSIVE!” And so when we had the rare opportunities to play with/against Todd, he would take the liberty to up the anti and in a very safe but playful manner, completely rough us up. It was all in good fun of course, but I guess it left an impression, because I actually treated Bill the same way I did Todd when we played. That is to say: sloppy, aggressive and slightly dirty, but only cause we weren’t taking the game seriously. After I did it the first time I was so taken aback that I kind of grinned to myself for remembering such a habit from high school soccer. I also found myself shouting things like, “one on!” or “turn!” or “time!” Oh, how WONDERFUL. God, I knew I would miss playing for Todd, or just on a soccer team in general as a senior in high school, but wow. I really do. Frisbee is great, but it’s not the same.  

We played until 9:30 pm before we called it quits, but we could have kept playing because the sun doesn’t set anymore! How insane. I was absolutely beat, and I headed back to the metro with Adam and Will. I made dinner, showered, and fell asleep after ten minutes of the first episode of 30 Rock. 

Today I woke up sore, but it was a good sore. Later this afternoon we went for a boat cruise around the canals and the Neva for our end of the semester celebration. There were fruit, pies (pies filled with meat and salmon, and others with strawberries), and some champagne. Until I left my apartment to meet everyone outside Gostiny Dvor it was just as beautiful and hot out as the day before, but, alas, it started to downpour and the sky darkened just as I left. The downpour just became rain, but the boat trip was still on. The boat we took had a downstairs (what's that nautical term... below deck?), and so we didn't have to worry about getting wet. Eventually the rain stopped completely and the skies started to clear. It was pretty awesome to be on a boat throughout all the canals of the city, and it felt especially amazing to exit into the Neva in front of the Winter Palace and in and around the Peter and Paul Fortress. After having walked along all those embankments and along that same bridge a bagillion times since I arrived at the end of January, it was so cool to see all the views of the city from the river. 

Okay, I’ve written enough. Exams start tomorrow and my monthly internet runs out in two days. I’m not going to buy another month because I’ve got less than two weeks left here, so my blog posts may be a bit absent for a while. I’ll do my dandiest to keep you updated during my last few days here. 

AHHHHHHH.