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").


  1. Wow, that was longer than I expected, but I wanted so badly to fill you all in. I forgive you if you didn't read it all. I promise, shorter posts in the future.

  2. What part of Moscow are you staying in? (Near which Metro?)

    1. I am right next to Bratislavskaya on the light green line. 3 minutes from the station. PS you don't happen to have any family that you know of buried in Novodevichy? I'm sure you're not alone in your last name, but I noticed at least 2 if not 3 Ulyanovas.

  3. Ah, pretty much on the opposite side of Moscow! :) My family is at Altuf'evo on the gray line, the last stop at the northerly end. But we have some friends at Vyhino, which is sort of close to you...

    My Ulyanov ancestry comes from the steppes of the Caucasus - I think my grandpa was the first to come to Moscow, and I know he's not buried there. But it's not an uncommon name at all. I don't know if you knew this, but Lenin's real last name was Ulyanov. I also had an Ulyanova classmate in my tiny grade school that had like 100 people. So, pretty common! :)

    1. Yup, definitely opposite side. Although I will laugh that I knew Altuf'evo before you described where it was. I work near the Novoslobodskaya and Mendeleevskaya stops and I have used the gray line and since that is the end stop I knew exactly what stop once you wrote it. I also knew Vyhino from riding on the purple line on Saturday night.

      Yeah, I figured there were quite a few people with your last name, but thought I'd ask anyway. And actually I did not know that Lenin's last name was Ulyanov. Fascinating trivia.


    Ulyanov adopted the nom de guerre of "Lenin" in December 1901, possibly taking the River Lena as a basis.

    And Stalin's last name was Jughashvili! :)