Sunday, August 5, 2012

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.

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