Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pussy Riot

I'm tired of explaining the same principles over and over both on Facebook and in news forums. Here's the deal.

The issue with Pussy Riot is not about Pussy Riot at all. They are not trying to bring attention to the freedom of speech or the freedom of protest or the freedom of conscious or the freedom of thought. These are not the issues they are trying to bring into the light of discussion, yet these are what the western press is focused on.

While it is true the freedom of speech and protest is much more limited in Russia than it is in the US or other western countries, they certainly had it, and somewhat still do. Back in January Pussy Riot utilized their freedom of speech in a public protest that was outside in public grounds to protest Patriarch Kirill's support and urging of Orthodox to vote for Putin.

There were no arrests. There was also not much attention brought to the issue.

One month later, Pussy Riot stormed the main Cathedral of Russia and during the service (westerners might call this Mass or Communion or Eucharist - the Orthodox call it Eucharist or The Great Thanksgiving) and performed their prayers on the altar to remove Putin. They were subsequently removed with the help of Russian forces. A few weeks later both a video of their act was released and they were arrested for hooliganism.

The law they broke is a simple and just law. You cannot protest on private property (even if open to the public) without due consequences. The same law is in the US, the UK, Western Europe, Australia, etc. If it were allowed, anti-abortion critics could non-violently protest inside of Planned Parenthood and the Westboro Baptist Church would be much closer to the scene of their protests. The WBC is very careful about remaining their proper distance from everything they attend/protest so that they are not arrested. Terrible theologians, but good lawyers.

However, again, again, again I repeat, repeat, repeat, this is not about Pussy Riot's right to protest or freedom of speech. They desire that we pay attention to the corruption between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin. Not about their rights. About the unjust political ties.

I do not think I can emphasize this enough. Let us pay attention to what Pussy Riot wants us to pay attention to, not their own ability to protest.

To emphasize this, let's go back to the beginning. They utilized their right to protest and their freedom of speech in January (before it was taken away and protesting has since received much heftier penalties - change came after their February arrest). When they realized their protest didn't work, didn't garner the attention about the corrupt policies/relationships they went for a new route.

This is my speculation, but I think that Pussy Riot decided that they would break a just law, a law that should remain in existence (although perhaps with lesser penalties - a fine and community service would do well. Although they did get 2 years out of a possible 7 and they might get some commuted so from the possibility they received some leniency even if I don't think jail time should be part of it). There is nothing wrong with the law they broke, except maybe the penalty, but they broke it to bring attention to something else, something greater.

This is not about Pussy Riot, their conviction of their crime, their sentencing, their right to speech, their right to protest or any of that. This is about what Pussy Riot was trying to bring to our attention and that is the unjust relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin. I give them a lot of respect for this and I might even liken some of the actions to the Holy Fools like St. Basil the Innocent of the 15th century.

I have a lot of respect for them and for what they're trying to do. I do not have a lot of respect for the way we're not focusing on what they want us to focus on.

So, please honor Pussy Riot and don't demand treatment for them; demand a change in Russian politics on the whole and their church-state relations.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Tonight is my first night off since I started teaching Russian students. Three nights in a row was rough, especially since I didn't get much prep time for the second two. Sure, once you know what you're doing they say you can plan a 2.5 hour lesson in about 40 minutes or less, but when they check the lesson plans and make you rewrite them clearly so the supervisor can also read them while you're teaching, even for a 45 minute lesson it takes me perhaps 2.5 or more hours. Basically the reverse. But also we don't know where all the materials are in the library and with a new class each night (good to give us experience at each level: beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate ...) it's a little hard. That, and we have our own class all day, daily quizzes, and apparently a phonetics test tomorrow.

Speaking of phonetics, we had to learn this new language.

There are 44 main symbols used for most English as a Foreign Language classes. You can find them here, but this gives you more than we use. Unfortunately I can't give you the link to what we use because you have to sign into our website. The symbols we use are on the left.

The other trick with the language is it's not how I pronounce most of the things, but the Brits, so the phonetics for "father" doesn't have the "-er" symbol, but the "-uh" symbol; and "caught" and "court" are phonetically spelled the same.

I will say that I think I am much better prepared for the test tomorrow that I was for either Tuesday's or Wednesday's lessons. I also think that I am already much better prepared for next Monday that I was for either yesterday or two days ago.

Liza, the cat in my home-stay is apparently in heat and making the home situation, shall I say fun. I came home and opened the door to my room and Liza immediately followed me in and tried to mate with my computer cord lying on the floor. However, she is a pretty neat cat and is no longer scared of me. And quite tame I might add. There are two birds (a parakeet and a Russian canary, both in their own cages) also in the house and the parakeet is allowed to have the cage gate open and often walks around it's own cage, the table the cage is on, and sometimes around the canary's cage. Liza will be right next to the cage and the parakeet is within a paw's swipe, yet the bird is not afraid, nor does Liza ever try to go after it.

I'd like to try and share some of the beauty of the Moscow Metro life, but I'm sure that my words will be dismally amiss. Overall, the passengers generally read, listen to mp3 players, sleep, or stare off into space. Little is said, especially on a crowded train, although often even on fairly empty trains, some friends will speak, but most are still quiet. If someone says something to you, you can be sure it's some form of "please move/excuse me, I need to get to the door, this is my exit, etc." Many read whether standing or sitting, although from longtime residents and longtime Language Link employees, I've heard that reading used to be near universal whereas the mp3 players have really become the new way to pass the time (I would estimate about 60-70%). Some people will watch TV or movies on iPads or iPods.

As for the stations, they are beautiful. Most have some sort of extravagant decor, gilding, stained glass, marble, or polished granite. One of the two stops that is near Language Link that I use has a colorful mosaic of "Peace."

Oh, heck I decided to search for an image and found this. It has some nice pictures of many stops. Новослободская (Novoslobodskaya - which I can now pronounce btw - I couldn't when I first gave it a try), on the brown line, has the picture of МИР (Peace).

I live at Братиславская (Bratislavskaya - in case you want to look it up) and can take either the light green line to the brown circle line and exit at Novoslobodskaya or take it to the grey line at Трубная (Trubnaya) to Менделеевская (Mendeleevskaya). I think Trubnaya is one of the most beautiful, stops. It's simple with just a beige and dark forest green, both marble, but it's gorgeous. The green is mesmerizing. I have been taking that line more often lately just to exit at that station to transfer trains. One of these days I should take my camera out and take a pic, but I keep forgetting (and I don't want to look like that much of a tourist/am running to work). I also need to figure out how to put pictures into the blog, but alas, right now I'd rather update and continue with my work that I need to do.

Anyway, I should probably be off by now and study some more before tomorrow.

Monday, August 13, 2012

First day teaching

Last week was a long week. When they said "Intensive Training Program" they meant INTENSIVE!!!

So it was Friday and I, like many of my fellow trainees/teachers, was looking at the clock in high anticipation of 6pm. Check out time. Go home, de-stress, sleep. Nope. About 5.30 they announced that we'd all be teaching actual Russian students this week and those who would be teaching on Monday had to stay, prepare a lesson plan, and couldn't leave until it was signed by a senior staffer. They strongly recommended everyone stay to start preparation for Tuesday's and those few fortunate people who didn't teach until Wednesday, well still do something on Friday night, but certainly didn't have to do as much work.

Me? I was fortunate to land teaching Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thankfully that means I don't teach Thursday or Friday. Everyone does have three days and there are 5 of us who have the first three. Anyway, I was very exhausted and while I've done lesson plans before (both for a college job 8-10 years ago and when I substituted 5-6 years ago), this was new. It took me until about 10pm, they signed me out "not final" and sent me on my way. I wasn't able to talk to Daria (her birthday was Friday) despite calling/sending an sms (text).

Alas, Saturday came and I talked to Daria for a little bit. My home-stay family left Saturday for the weekend and returned Sunday night so I had the place to myself which was nice. I do wish I asked how to use the washing machine before they left though. I tried to translate the settings, but I gave up until they returned and washed some clothes late last night.

Spent a lot of the weekend de-stressing and then reworking my lesson plan. Well, my lessons/activities were all fine, but they wanted more substance in the side bars stating the aim of the activity/lesson and a better break down of time (this part of the activity takes 2-3 minutes instead of the whole activity takes 10. Really???? Ok. Well now I understand better how they want it so I can write tomorrow's better. Tomorrow morning. Oi) so I had to rewrite it again today. I think there were 6-7 drafts.

Well, ok. 7 drafts. I'll be fine. I know the material and how to do it. 7pm comes and I teach from 7-7.45 when another trainee picks up the second part of the lesson and a third trainee does the third for three 45 minute sessions ending around 9.30pm with small breaks between each teacher. Pre-intermediate so they have some knowledge of English, but I still have to speak slowly and at perhaps a 3-5th grade level.

On a side note, it is extremely windy tonight. My windows are rattling quite hard. I'm sure the 17th floor aids to the speed of the winds since we're above most other buildings, but still, crazy. Oh yeah, lots of heavy rain and even hail the size of small marbles coming at the rate of someone dumping the entire canister of BBs off the counter. Beautiful t-storms.

Only half the students showed up at first, so my warm-up activity went much faster than anticipated. Well so did all the activities. Eventually 2 more students showed up, so we were only missing 3 (11 for the class). So all my activities went much faster than I anticipated. I was teaching 3rd form (aka past participles - 1st = infinitive, 2nd = past simple). I had two bingo games (full blackout the card, not row, column, or diagonal) set up to help practice where I'd say the 1st form and they'd have to mark their card written in the 3rd form. Second game, I said the 2nd form and again they'd mark the 3rd form as I'm trying to get them to connect the form to verbs they already know. First game, no one yelled bingo so I used up all my list of words. Second game went much better, but I still had 15 minutes left in class and I used up all my "regular lesson." Even my "excess" lesson wasn't 15 minutes. I dragged that out very slowly and decided to officially do attendance for the last few minutes since everyone was finally there. And I attempted to pronounce their last names and made them correct it for me to slow up the time. Whew. Made it.

I know there are a lot of things I could have done better in the entire lesson, but overall I think I did better than I was expecting myself to do. Fortunately I was able to do a lot on the fly that wasn't in the lesson plan to stretch both the teaching aspect and activities out.

Tomorrow, I have a different class. Elementary. Beginners. On the way out the door I asked one of the teachers from that class today how it went. He was much more tense and stressed than I at the end of the day. Warning for tomorrow: lots of gestures; single words - no sentences; don't do pair work even though we're supposed to make them do that (I'll have to ask advice from a senior teacher/staff); and just be prepared for frustrated students and that I'll probably get frustrated.

I'm glad I ran into him and got the head's up.

Few final notes for the night. I have noticed that some of the most vain people on the metro are the emo/scene/punk type people between 17-20. Maybe I'm misidentifying them since I don't know what music they listen to, but they dress like the emo/scene kids from about 4 years ago. Constantly looking into the reflection on the metro door/window glass fixing and adjusting their moussed hair. How many times can you do that in 40 minutes? Tonights 2 guys, I'll guess at least 60 times on my trip home. Also constantly adjusting their shirts to be just proper. Ok, tonights two were worse than any last week, but still, lots of self attention in the reflections. I honestly thought metrosexuals were bad in the US, but I think even those dressed more equivalent to a metrosexual in the US don't pay quite as much attention to themselves here. That or it's all at home.

Last note, I saw a pit-mix on my way from the metro stop to the apartment. Beautiful brown with tiger-eye swirls. Clipped ears :/ but full tail :-) and it did not look like a fighting dog. It was definitely a mix and the muscle definition is not as defined as Karma. On the pit-bull note. In the US the name pit-bull or pit can stir some anxiety in people, but most people don't know staffordshire terrier is the same breed,  just often a less terrifying name. We thought that pits wouldn't even be that known here since it's an American breed and usually in the UK and Australia. Nope, and staffordshire is a terrifying name here. Ok seriously the wind is very intense. Is my window going to crash into my room? Anyway, we tell people that Karma is a "mix" смес/смеш or something like that (which technically she is by her vet record). Any Russian reader want to provide the proper Cyrillic?

Oh, and Ella isn't eating so prayers for her please. We don't know if she's feeling complete stress about this or what not, but kitty is too small to not eat.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Halfway through the first week of training to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL). So far it has been an exciting, fun, and stressful few days. I'm not going to tell you a list of all that we've done or even necessarily state the day things happened, but I will run through some interesting things about the job and life around Moscow.

Language Link does not teach English through translation and therefore some of the interns actually do not know Russian or know about as much as I do, however they will be teaching full time and we could be at various levels. Their practice, as with most EFL programs I guess (although I did not know that coming into this) is to teach always speaking English, but at varying levels. It works by getting the brain to pick up language much like babies do. When adults speak to babies they adjust what level of speech they use, but there is no translation into a baby language. We will do the same thing and use gestures, pictures, and a variety of other ways, but we do not translate. Those who are interested in learning I guess actually pick up the language. Just like if one immerses oneself in another culture without speaking the language, but they slowly learn things. Once I thought about this it makes sense because EFL students who come to the US from various countries actually take the same course. It is not as though the EFL teacher actually translates from the various languages.

This terrifies me a little bit thought because that means that's how my Russian class is going to be as well. Perhaps I should have taken the intern job to just teach the whole time and earn more money. Or perhaps even though this is different than any language class I've ever taken (which all focused more on translation), this will benefit me and I might learn Russian faster than the interns who work full-time. Only time will tell. I'm also supposed to have my host family only speak to me in Russian to help my immersion, but so far they haven't kept that up. I think they want to practice their English and learn English from me and so they're intentionally refusing to follow that rule.

We have already had to start practice teaching. In my small group (the 30 people are divided into 3 groups of 10 for the entire day) I ended up going first. Yesterday. It wasn't terrible, but I don't like the idea that I have to do homework. I knew I would have to do that, but after four years of grad school I wanted the ability to come home at the end of the day and not do anything. Sadly I still have things to do and I had to come home from the first day of training only to prepare a lesson plan for a 15 minute session. No bueno.

While training is not entirely the same, I often think both to my homiletics course and to my training to be a canvasser for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. The drilling and formulas is very much like CCE, but the feedback and speaking in front of a crowd feels more like the situation from preaching.

Language Link (LL) also has feels a lot like the crowd from CCE except for now we have to dress up professionally (Maryli if you're reading this, I'm totally thinking of preparing for my interview: Me- "I'm told for jobs here in Connecticut I need a suit. Do I need to need to wear a suit?" Maryli- "Please God NO!! Don't!"). Well, ok, I'm not wearing a suit, but no jeans during the training sessions. Dress shirt, "smart" trousers/skirts, are a must, ties optional. And tattoos should not be showing. After a few weeks of teaching and once you've established with your students that you are the authority jeans are acceptable and tats can show. Dang. I want my short-sleeved dress shirts now. It is hot to keep my sleeves down, although they have let quite a few of us get away with rolling them up partway as long as we still appear professional. I mean one of the main staff has also been showing his forearm tat and another main staff person has sleeves, some on the back of his hand, and one on his head mostly covered by hair, but some shows, I guess a slight show of tats isn't too bad. Although the latter definitely keeps his shirt sleeves down, so only his hand and head show in class. He was my Skype interview back in January. I now know why he only spoke to me and did not do video. His appearance does not follow the dress code that we are allowed to break once we've established ourselves with the LL community and our clients. Lastly, the guy I argued with about beer on Saturday night apparently is one of the directors. Oops. So far he has been good to me though.

Speaking of tattoos, they are becoming more popular in Moscow just like they are becoming more popular in the US, although they're still far less popular here than there. They're still just mostly associated with prison, military, and gangs (organized crime more than street). And while a handful are quite good, I must admit I'm a little disappointed with the quality that I've seen. Maybe most of what I've seen are prison of some sort and the studios are good, I don't really know, but a lot of them are just really really bad. The ink isn't spread evenly so while it's all filled in, some areas are dark and others light.

Another interesting thing I've noticed is that many people in suits don't have the suit pressed or ironed. Many do, sure, but they're usually the ones trying to look crisp, sharp, with polished shoes clearly demonstrating their wealth, but others who may even be pretty wealthy or upper middle class at least have wrinkles. And suits here are usually reserved for certain types of work. Many people just use dress clothes like my job or even polo shirts. Oh well, perhaps some of the status comes just from wearing a suit.

One last sucky note. I believe I got giardia. I thought I was good about drinking water, but perhaps I got it from some food washed in contaminated water and I actually think I got it in St. Petersburg before coming to Moscow. I bought metronidazole and it seems to be working, but still sucky. However, I will say that was the cheapest I've ever paid for medicine and thankfully I can just go get it. No prescriptions here. If you know you need something you ask the pharmacist and they give it to you. If you don't know what you need you visit a doctor and they tell you what to get, but you still don't need a prescription. Everything is behind the shelf so you can't pick up Tylenol, but ask for metronidazole. You'd ask the pharmacists for Tylenol too, but still, pretty nice system. As for price, yeah 78 rubles which at 32 rubles to a dollar = $2.44. That's 20 capsules, high powered anti-biotic, couple bucks.

To end on a more exciting note, can I say that I love the metro here? Like seriously. 12 lines (it's huge), but awesome. I will honestly take an hour commute (like it was to get home today - rush hour is a beast) on the metro over driving for 30 minutes in a car in the US. I can walk, move around, still listen to music, read a book (if it's less crowded than rush hour), and even when it's crazy like coming home today, it's not stressful. Nothing like sitting in traffic even when it's only stop-and-go for 5-10 minutes of that 30 minute drive. Beautiful. And unlike BART, it's the same price to go all over the city. Could you imagine going from Dublin-Pleasanton to Daly City for 85 cents? Amazing!!!

Well, I should be off for now, but more exciting adventures to come. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Second week

So week 2.

Sunday, 29 July: We left the Lisiy Nos dacha and returned to Gorkovskaya to celebrate the birthday of Vera Ivanova (Olya's mom). Every year she has a big party and I first experienced it in 2005. In the backyard of their dacha, which is across the street from our dacha, there was a feast on the tables and probably about 25 people or so. Champagne, wine, and cognac were flowing, with a little bit of vodka flavored with currant leaves at one end of the table. Home-flavored currant leaves is by far my favorite flavor and 7 years ago it is what inspired me to flavor my own vodka (although it took me until January 2011 to do so and I had mint, lemon, and ginger - no currant leaves for me). They had me give a toast in English and I gave an embarrassingly horrible toast. I tried to toast to the friendship and hospitality their family/the birthday woman had shown me over the past 4 trips and how next year I'll hopefully be able to make the toast in Russian. However, what was in my head was not what came out of my mouth and I made a cultural faux pas as it appeared I was boasting of my own future accomplishments rather than celebrating the person of honor. Alas I think overall the party was good.

We ended the evening by driving out to the lake to swim (this is the lake featured in the background picture). In the past we have ridden bikes, but we drove because we couldn't take any of the kids on the bikes. Nadia is too small, but we also had Olya's sister Karina (so you'll notice a repeat of many names as cousin Masha's daughter is also Karina, Vera is both Daria's sister and Olya's mom -we shall distinguish with Vera Ivanova - and Vova is both Olya's husband and the name of Karina's son), her husband Sergei (also Olya's dad's name, but Karina's husband is Sergei Sergeivich), and their three kids Panya, Vova, and Tonya, the latter are twins, I believe age 3 and Panya is 7. We took two small old soviet cars called 'Oka' and I ended up having to drive one after halfway and then home despite the fact there is a zero tolerance limit and I don't have a Russian license. Olya had to get in the back seat with Nadia, Daria can't drive manual (although hopefully she'll work it on this month/year), and I was much more sober than Vova. Near the lake is an enclosed hunting ground for the wealthier crowd and we were able to view caribou through the fence. That was pretty neat.

Monday, 30 July: I think we pretty much just relaxed at the summer house and went to the lake again. I don't recall much else. This time at the lake a helicopter from some wealthy person with lakefront property landed. I guess they fly in and out of the city instead of drive.

Tuesday, 31 July: Actually, perhaps we returned to the lake Tuesday and Monday was the day with mediocre weather. I don't know. One day we were going to go to the lake and didn't because of weather whereas the other day we did. Pretty much both days were spent relaxing and one day had swimming.

We ended Tuesday playing cards with Vova and Olya and I learned a new game called "fool" or "idiot" or something like that. Each of us lost a hand so we were all idiots at one point. It was a fun game and I look forward to playing some more.

Wednesday, 1 August: Prior to coming to St. Petersburg the Metropolitan (bishop) at the Orthodox Institute in Berkeley had asked me if I'd be able to help show around someone who was coming to St. Petersburg. Today was the day Nicholas (visitor) and I arranged for Daria and I to play guide. Unfortunately our morning was a little rough and we missed our train back into the city literally by seconds because they built new structures over the rails so that people don't get hit by the new high-speed trains from Helsinki. We used to cross tracks at ground level. Caught a train a couple hours later and once back in the city we met up with Nicholas and his dad, George. They had taken official tours of some major places, but we were to help with a couple shrines they wanted to visit, yet we had never been either, so it was new for us.

We met up and went out to the Shrine of St. Xenia, patron of St. Petersburg and associated with jobs/work/not having either. Here is a little bit about her:
Walking through the cemetery was very powerful. It was overgrown with trees and even low-lying shrubs and plants instead of nicely groomed like every cemetery I've ever been to before. I cannot express in words how moving it was and the connection of truly returning back to the earth: "to dust you shall return." What a wonderful experience that was. The shrine itself was also very moving and had many people there (probably because joblessness is so high). It is not often one sees such deep spirituality as I saw in the people venerating. Pictures of the building to come. I did not take pictures inside the shrine.

On account of rain, the tiredness of Nicholas' 83 year-old dad, and the already moving experiences of the cemetery and the shrine we called off visiting the other shrine. We showed Nicholas and George a small chain restaurant and had some mushroom soup, blini (pancakes, but more related to crepes than ihop or Denny's), some chai, mead (mmm good honey drink), and kvas.

Thursday, 2 August: Daria and I spent the day preparing to send me off to Moscow for my month long training I have to do there. Nothing super exciting except for when a guy creatively asked for change saying something to the effect: "Would you help contribute to the projected image of alcoholism in Russia?"

Friday, 3 August: Train mishaps continue: I was supposed to leave on the 7am speed train that would arrive in Moscow at 11am. Short story is ticket issues and unhelpful agents and I missed my train despite being there 20 minutes in advance. Bought a new ticket on a slow train (couldn't afford the higher price of the next speed train and new slow train ticket was about what my first speed train ticket was) and hopefully we get refunded for the first ticket. New train ride was from 12 noon to 10pm. Speed train has regular seats, long train has cars divided up into sleeping rooms which house 4 people with bunk type beds. You can sit on bottom or roll out bedding. I now had a top bed so when the bottom people wanted to nap I had to go up top.

I must say Russia has beautiful countryside. Lots of flat grasslands and forests of birch and pine. Sorry Montana, I think Big Sky Country belongs to the space between St. Petersburg and Moscow. It made me think of the opening to the movie King Arthur (with Clive Owen from 2004) and the description of Sarmatia. Something about oceans of grass with the horizon as far as the eyes can see. Yes there were trees, but honestly, flatter than Kansas and Nebraska - perhaps as flat as the Florida peninsula - but much more beautiful than any of those. A few rolling hills, like those of Kansas, appeared about an hour out of Moscow. The 10 hours provided lots of time to be amazed at God's hand in creation, ponder thoughts, read, and take a nap. I was a little sketched out about taking out my computer considering one guy in my car was drinking quite a bit like Russian hooligans and Macs are pricey in the US, but very pricey in Russia. I'm sure I would have been fine in the end as it turned out, even though he was drinking a lot he was quite reasonably friendly with the mother and young daughter who shared our room. Still I decided to play it safe.

I arrived at my home stay around 10.45pm after being picked up by a Language Link (the organization that I work for/study with) driver. I am staying with a family, Maxim, Tatiana, and their teenage son Grigor. They are very hospitable and helped me settle in nicely.

Saturday, 4 August: So my home stay is a little more ritzy than most people get to experience. I would certainly consider them upper middle class. Moscow is wealthier than St. Petersburg, but even so, I guess most other people in my training cohort do not have as comfortable as lodgings. I have my own room with a TV and balcony (although I think Grigor was kicked out of the room and is sleeping on a cot in his parents room). Even so, we have a security guard downstairs like a gated community, but apartment style (I am on the 17th floor of a 25 story building), a dishwasher - not a sink for hand washing, a large flat-screen TV in the living room, a tiled kitchen with a fancy stove. Well, I guess rather than describe everything, let's just say I feel like it's a gentrified condo or a wealthy suburban house. And when we went to the store today (couple minute walk) it was a western style supermarket about the size of a walmart, instead of the normal Russian stores. One thing I first loved about Russia 7 years ago was the fact that stores were everywhere, and you could pick stuff up easily on your way home because it was never more than a couple blocks. These little stores are like small street corner markets in the US but without the high price and bad selection because it is the norm. You also usually pay separately at the bread counter and the meat counter and the vegetable counter. It sounds like an inconvenience, but honestly it's not. I actually think it's more convenient than a supermarket because you pay right away for what you need, don't have to wait in line, especially for only a couple items. I guess think of the convenience of a convenient store with the selection of your groceries and you have the magazine/product stores (what the little stores are called). At some point I'll describe more about these stores.

Anyway, while the family is very nice, I find it kind of comical that they're trying to show me how westernized they are and I want more of the Russian experience. Currently as I type this they are watching the Matrix Revolutions dubbed in Russian.

Later in the day I had to go into downtown to meet the Language Link directors and then meet up with fellow trainees for a meet and greet at a local bar. My directors are much younger than I expected and it appears they're all former teachers who have stuck with the organization. For you Citizen Campaign for the Environment folks it seems similar to CCE in many ways. The directors are from the UK, Australia, Canada, the US, and Russia. As for trainees, apparently I'm the only "work-study," which means I'm the only one who is taking Russian classes and teaching English. The rest are all "interns" who have either studied Russian before in college (many recent grads) or decided they're not going to take formal classes, learn what they can through the culture and teach full-time. A guy from Pennsylvania and I got into a quick spat about the quality of the brewpub's brews. Brewpubs are not popular here like in the US, but apparently we gathered at one of the few that is a couple doors down from the central office of Moscow. He claimed to be a beer snob of the Philly micro and craft brew variety who prefers hoppy IPAs (my kind of guy) and said the brown ale wasn't good (and so he resorted to drinking Amstel light????? - no longer my kind of guy). I would certainly put the brown ale on par with Lost Coast's Downtown Brown or Big Sky's Moose Drool. No, as I said, there is no hoppy IPA, but this was quite a delicious beer. I have the feeling he and I might not be friends anymore, although I'd be happy to put it behind he, he apparently had no interest in talking to me the rest of the night once I started listing off good brews from all over the US and why I thought this held up to good taste. Oh well, I met some other nice people like Paul from Salt Lake City who is a Presbyterian converted to Antiochian Orthodox, Emily, a recent university grad and hopeful future archivist from a small town an hour south of London (although her resume of languages suggest she'd be better in linguistics), Stephanie, another recent university grad Brit who spent a year in Russia for her degree in Russian, and many others.

Sunday, 5 August: Ok, I know this post has been ridiculously long, but it's almost over since this is today. Future posts will be much shorter. Today I had a free day and so Maxim and Grishka (dim. Grigor) took me on a tour of the city. We visited the main cathedral for the Russian Orthodox Church and nearby is where gatherings/councils take place. It is right on the river and has a nice pedestrian bridge that enables a great photo opportunity so again photos to come. Walked past, but did not go in the Kremlin/Red Square, we went to a couple different monasteries. I will add that it was difficult to feel spiritual at them today though. Certainly not like Wednesday's experience at the cemetery and shrine. The family seems to be like many Russians today with a renewed interest in the Church, but don't quite know how to handle the Orthodox faith. There are 3 small icons in the house and Grishka crossed himself at the monasteries, but Maxim did not and he was definitely showing them more in a touristy way than spiritual experience. We also walked down a street that is known as "The Golden Mile" because it's luxury apartments are apparently more expensive than most of Manhattan. I think walking past 5 Bentley cars and numerous high-end BMWs and Mercedes confirms this. We also just drove through various parts of the city and I was shown cultural things like the 7 Soviet-era towers for various government departments, buildings with an architecture called Stalin-Churchill, and I was informed that a certain style of yellow brick buildings were quite prestigious to live in during Soviet times.

I will admit I almost wish I would have told my hosts that I was vegetarian instead of my chicken and bacon (which has expanded to pork on a shashlyk - shish kabob; I'm too lazy/tired right now to change the keyboard and hunt and peck, but I can spell this in Cyrillic). This family is particularly meat and starch focused and I haven't had a salad yet : ( and while I do eat meat on occasion I think between yesterday and today I had my normal meat intake for two weeks. Don't get me wrong, yesterday's chicken cooked in a Georgian style (they had me help prepare too which was cool) was ochin vkusno (very tasty - I can also spell these two words). Perhaps I can take more control over my meals while I have to be at work.

Overall it was a good day, but soon I must head to bed as I have to get up early for an 10-11 hour day tomorrow at the office for the first day of training/registration of my documents in Moscow (I am registered in St. Petersburg, but if you're in a city for more than 7 days you have to register there too).

Spokoynoy nochi (good night - and can also spell this although while I've known the phrase for quite a few years now, I just learned to spell it Friday night and spokoynoy is a lot longer than I thought. I mistakenly sounded it out as "spokoi-oe").

Arrival/First Week

First week: Arrival in the Motherland.

Monday, 23rd July, 01.40am. We arrived a little behind schedule, but not terribly so. The pets made it fine and much to our surprise not a single person checked out our vet forms. I won’t complain. We had them done and quite frankly, I’m sure the extra vaccines and medications they gave us are probably for the better. We were picked up by Vova (diminutive of Vladimir), who is the husband of Olya (dim. of Olga), who some of you may remember pushed back her wedding a few weeks so that we could make it when she found out we were coming winter of 2010-11.

I had slept far more on the plane than anticipated (I was expecting to do some work), but that is most likely due to my lack of sleep the entire week before as we packed. I did not sleep much that first day, but I took my paperwork into my workplace and we got our mobile phones (not cell here). Additionally, Daria’s half-sister Vera (pronounced Vee-era) arrived from London that afternoon; one of her shorter summers in Piter (St. Petersburg) over her past 12 years.

Oh, and I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the most delicious milk, butter, and икра (ikra – an eggplant spread) with a nice cup of чаи (chai –tea). Actually, I think it's spelled чай, but I cannot remember as I type this. A couple notes: 'ikra' alone means black caviar, but is often used to designate 'spread' and sometimes you'll add a modifier describing what type of spread it is. I cannot remember the word for eggplant, but I was only told it once, whereas 'ikra' was used many times. 'Chai' is just tea, not that fancy spiced stuff you get at Indian restaurants or your local coffeehouse. The ikra is made by Daria's grandpa (I know how to pronounce, but not spell as of yet, so you'll have to learn grandpa later). Might I also add, I may make a food section because food is very important, and is sooooo delicious here. Perhaps because they don't screw it up by unnecessary processing (although they're in the moving that direction thanks to western (ahem American – let's face it, even most of western Europe has better food) influence. Oh, and all dairy here is amazing, starting with milk from the cow, unpasteurized, very creamy and I'd drink buckets full if too much lactose didn't make one sick (did this once in college – 4 pints milk in 30 minutes = no fun).

Tuesday, 24th July. We did something. I am currently writing at 08.17am on Saturday out at the дача (dacha – summer house) trying to chronicle the events to post when I get back to internet in the city. I believe we did a lot of cleaning in the room we will be living in for the next year. We are staying with Daria's grandparents on her dad's side and her grandpa is a physicist. Then environmentalist in me wept when we threw away all the old electronics since I wanted them to be recycled, but I realized her grandpa was the recycler. As a hobby he took old broken things and fixed them with pieces from other broken things. I don't think recycling was his intention, it really was a hobby, but still. I guess there isn't much use for old vhs players, floppy drives, and 32MB harddrives (yes you read that right). That and he turned 80 upon our arrival so perhaps the electronics in his room will be enough for his hobbying. On a good note, some people scavanged the dumpster, probably for the precious metals, so perhaps more good than waste came of it

I know dinner had other things, but I just remember the amazing cucumber and tomato salad coated with real sunflower oil (tastes like sunflowers – also not pasteurized, nor processed for high heat like our American counterpart. Think quality difference of amazingly good olive oil compared to standard low-grade vegetable oil. You might think this is unfair because they're two different types of oil, but let's be real, sunflower oil in the US might as well be soybean compared to the taste of the sun here). Oh, and the cucs and toms burst with flavor of their own. The tomato juice is enough of a dressing. Ok, you perhaps might think I'm bashing the US food a little too much. I did get delicious fruits and veggies at Monterey Market, but we are talking a standard in Russia and an upscale in the US (even if it was cheap at MM), and the oil and dairy are certainly no comparison; better here. I'll throw the US a bone or two though. Cherries and apples tasted the same and while the dark bread is better here, the white bread here has nothing on Acme. That and I don't have my IPA. Good beer, but where is my hoptastic hoptimonium h-op-eaven?

Wednesday, 25th July. Between Tuesday and Wednesday I also worked on a bunch of the grammar modules I had to do for my job. I was quite behind (about half done and technically the last one was due Sunday on the plane, but they gave an extension to Wednesday for everyone on that one – I had the extension already for my other ones) due to wrapping up and defending the thesis and moving and let's face it, saying bye to all of you for the next year. I was almost done too, knocked out 7 of them that night. The final one was time consuming because it required us to use the International Phonetics Alphabet (I was missing my IPA, but that did not fill my need) and I had less than 10 minutes to go, the taxi called. He was 20 minutes early and it was time to head to the train station to go to the dacha. (We would usually take the Metro, but Karma isn't allowed on the subway – no dogs). Now I hope it saved properly and I am anxious to get to the internet, but so far, no avail. So close.

So we arrived at the Diakonov/a dacha. I am currently writing at the Lisiy Nos dacha. (Side note: Ella did fine for all the travels. Karma hated the plane, and was quite freaked on the trains to the dachas.) First order of business, well for me, eat all the wild blueberries (again, I know the word, but cannot spell in Cyrillic) in the yard. Well, ok, not all, I don't think a family of five could do that in a week. Certainly a couple handfuls was possible. Vera immediately ran to play with the neighbors, grandma and grandpa unlock and start to set things up, and Daria spends time talking to Olya who came to meet us at the train station (she's been at the dacha so was not at the airport). We settle in a little, set the pets up in their second new place in a few days, have a small dinner with the family and head across the street to have a second small dinner with Olya and Vova and hang out with their barely year-old daughter Nadia. Very cute. Certainly more on her to come. I was amazed that I would feel the effects of a 3.8% non-filtered flavorful Czech beer so fast. However, in the end it kept true to its percentage and Vova and I polished off quite a bit without feeling much more than that first glass.

Thursday, 26th July. I'll have to give a fuller account of what the dachas look like, but that will wait to later. I feel this first post will be more focused on events. Daria and I take Karma for a morning walk to the pond which is non visible, quite a few houses between our dacha and the pond, but still is probably closer than Nichols to CDSP (or for those of you non-GTU or Berkeley crowd) means from door to pond is 3 minutes or less (well with a dog sniffing all kinds of new things is closer to 5 or 7). Olya and Vova must have seen us leave because shortly behind us come the trio with Nadia doing a far better job walking than I would have expected (also probably makes it 5-7 minutes). We hung around the one side of the pond for a while and Olya and Nadia fed the ducks dry bread. Karma got all excited and Daria thought I should let her run and chase the ducks (no way Karma is actually going in the water; she loathes it). I said I didn't want to let her loose since I couldn't see who might come around the corner. We agree to go to the otherside of the pond and from there walk through the forest: birch, pine, spongy-mossy ground covered with lots of shrubs and blueberry bushes galore (all picked near the pond by the kids nearby, but go deeper and no a basket in 15 minutes) and ant hills 6 feet high of dried needles and twigs (I'll try and get some pictures). Karma was great off-leash there, kept close, but had a blast running around. We picked some wild mushroooms (only way to get them; forget the store; Russians know the good and the bad; I know two good types, but I'm not here every summer – my favorites are лисичкий – I think that’s right – leeseechkee/lisychki – little foxes – very orange).

The rest of the day I just kinda sat back and enjoyed, drank some chai, read, took a nap (it's taking much longer to adjust this time than normal). I would have started this then, but I couldn't plug my computer in there for some reason the plug wasn't accepting my cord so I was saving my valuable battery on that module hoping my computer wouldn't die since I don't want to retype everything in the phonetic alphabet and it's saved only as best it can be in an online entry. Once safari shuts down, byebye.

Friday, 27th July. Daria and I head to the other dacha taking Karma with us. Ella we left at the Diakonov/a dacha since we're only here for a couple days, but Karma is a bit too much to ask some octogenarians to take care of, even as fit as grandpa is. Seriously, grandpa and I carried a couple hundred pound crt tv down four flights of stairs to the dumpster Tuesday and he took the bulk of it and he carries a 40kg pack quite often to the dacha walking a mile to the Metro and a mile from the train station. That is when the taxi isn't there for the first leg.

Anyway, on the train from горьковская – again I think that's right – Gorkovskaya – Diakonov/a dacha to лисий нос – Lisiy Nos (long o and it means fox’s nose. You might recognize the first letters from above), the Lisiy Nos dacha, Daria ordered an ice cream from the person peddling snacks (lots of people walk up and down the trains trying to sell various things) and I turned down the opportunity because I hadn’t had breakfast and I’m not that big of an ice cream person; I prefer my pies. Anyway, I took a bite and immediately regretted not buying one too. The yummy sweet cream taste (I’m telling you dairy here wins – sorry all you Wisconsin or even Marin peeps, I, the no cheese man, even like a form of some sort of cheese here called творог Tvorog – don’t really know.

So we arrived and ate breakfast with Daria’s mom’s mom, бабушка – babooshka (grandma) – and her sister-cousin Masha (dim. Maria), and her two-year-old daughter Karina (another cute kid you can expect to hear more about). Daria calls her her sister cousin because while cousins they grew up so close to each other and at that time neither had siblings (or half siblings) that they were practically sisters. After breakfast we went to the beach Masha, Karina, Daria, Karma, and I went to the beach (also close, but not quite as close as the pond), which is the Gulf of Finland and was less salty than I expected. They talked and I just hung out with Karma and sometimes waded in the water and sometimes tried as best I could to play with Karina. (Side note: Olya speaks English - Vova speaks about as much English as I do Russian, but somehow we manage. Masha and her soon to be husband Vanya (Ivan)/Karina’s dad do not, so I’m left out of conversations with them for now. Russian, I will speak you soon and will no longer be an outcast).

We then came back, had some great food out of babooshka’s garden (she’s a botanist – excellent garden). First we picked fresh raspberries, but then we sat down at the table for soup, salad, and bread. Karina kept asking for салат –salat (I hope you figure that one out), but babooshka and Masha kept telling her she must have her суп – soop (better get that one too). Vanya came back from work and they all decided to go to the beach again (I took a nap after the one from the previous day screwed me up and I was awake at 5 am. Go figure, 6.30 today. I need to get this straightenend out, but it's hard with their schedules, and the land of the midnight sun. Well, now 23.15 sun). They drove and took the long way for some reason this time, so I was awakened at 22.00 (10pm for you westerners/non-military time people) with two beckonings. First the feral kitten that had been sick (I'll explain this in a minute) died, and second they needed my help to get the car that got stuck in the sand. Lesson, don't drive to the beach when you can walk, and don't drive on the beach once you arrive (although who is to blame them when so many people around here do drive on the beach). First we bury the kitten in the woods, then Vanya and I go to take care of the car (machina, but I don't know which of 3 letters for the (s)ch or two letters for i to use there). He tried to ask me questions but I could only understand 3-4 words so every one was a bust even if it was only 1 or 2 words I didn't know. Digging in the sand, a couple planks, his driving and my pushing and we got the car unstuck. For 15 feet until some soft sand again. Second time, and we were on the way home.

As for the kitten, it was a preoccupation all day. It was sick when we arrived. Thoughts were poisons left by construction people nearby to kill forest rodents, poisons of neighbors for various reasons (although very few people put them down, all it takes is 1 neighbor, a feline disease that is going around (now good thing we didn't bring Ella, although she is indoor, who knows), and a worm of somesort. It lay around feebly most of the day and it's mother had clearly rejected it. We didn't know whether to try and nurse it, to leave it, or put it out of its misery. We did a combo of the first two, trying to feed it some milk, some crushed coal and water if it was poison, kept it warm, but sadly it didn't make it. Daria picked some roses, Vanya and I dug a hole in the woods and the three of us said some words and Daria put two flowers in the grave with the third on top. The orange kitten and gray/ash colored kitten continue to frolick under the house and in the garden, but the little black nameless guy now has a home 18 inches deep under one of a thousand birches. It was an interesting brush with death that I'm not used to and am still pondering.

We ended the day watching the opening to the Olympics although I didn't understand the commentary save for a few brief translations/summaries from Daria. I'd like to offer more thoughts on this later, especially the industrial happenings because I had just been thinking about pre-industrial life versus industrial life during my Thursday afternoon at Gorkovskaya.

On a happier note. It's Saturday morning, people are now awake and I believe a good breakfast is coming soon.

Quick notes: the layout is not quite how I want it, I will tweak those soon, but I wanted to get this up. For the Russians following this, please do not correct transliterations (but feel free to correct Cyrillic spelling). I will figure out transliterations soon.