Monday, December 31, 2012

Mid-holiday mumblings and (Happy???) New Year!!

The last week of work for 2012 was intense. Thankfully it was bookended with two nice nights out with some of my students. Saturday the 22nd I went with my intermediate class to a bar called “Suare,” which started at 6pm and which lasted quite late into the night. I left my phone at home, in my backpack from Friday (whoops) and didn’t call grandpa or grandma and they were a little worried about where I was, especially since I came home after public transit stopped running and I was walking alone. Many apologies to grandma and grandpa. However, I will say it was a nice time with my students and since it was outside of class I tried speaking what Russian I could with them.

Then the workweek came and I taught 2 extra classes (and by 2 I mean 4 lessons, but for two classes that meet twice a week). They were both teen classes and the MW class was fine and we seemed to have a lot of fun. The TTh class was also fun, but a lot more challenging. Had to separate a couple of the boys. The highlight of that class though was on Christmas, I was reviewing their vocab from the lesson with a game of hangman and one of the words was “shelter” as in homeless shelter. One of the boys that I separated on Thursday kept saying “Chester” for some reason beginning when the board was blank. When the board looked like       - - e - - e r, it only egged him on. Then the board read - - e - t e r and later  - h e - t e r. Almost “Chester.” Eventually one of the girls got “shelter,” but it was a hilarious way to end the lesson. My intermediate class wanted to celebrate Christmas so they brought cake and pie and candy. I brought champagne (much cheaper here than in the US). I also brought champagne to my Pre-Intermediate class on Wednesday to celebrate both the New Years and finishing the test. My Intermediate class told me it’s bad luck to celebrate before a test, so Tuesday was a Christmas party and Thursday after the test we ate the left over candy (no left over pie) and had more champagne and Tang Tea (courtesy of my parents’ package). They greatly enjoyed the tea so I feel I should share it with my other classes as well.

I ended the week on Friday meeting my Pre-Int class at Pickwick’s Pub and enjoyed some nice English Ale of a quality that I haven’t had in a while. I was also better about both calling grandma and grandpa and getting home at a reasonable hour to take Karma out for her late night walk. I had let her go a little too long on Saturday. No accidents, but not good to make her wait that long.

Speaking of Karma, she has been enjoying actually walking since the weather has warmed up. I don’t think -7C feels so bad to be out in for 15 minutes after she knows sometimes it reaches -21C. The past few days we’ve even been above freezing and she has pranced around in the snow and run circles and barks at the snowman in the park. I think she’s getting a little more used to the northern climes. Or maybe the energy got so pent up she just had to get out and use it. Either way, we’ve taken a few longer walks and played in the parks.

Ella also has more energy and for the last week she meowed every morning for 15-20 minutes waking people up. We give her meat and she’s not satisfied. Then she runs up and down the halls or comes into the room and paws your face until you get up. Not the most pleasant wake up call. But when she’s not acting crazy she plays her cute card and gets forgiveness.

Yesterday after church I walked around downtown taking daytime pictures (I promise I’ll get some photos up during this break; I’ll learn how) of the festive city. I went back out at night to get some nighttime photos. During my daytime walk I went to the “holiday festival/fair” where there sell lots of crafts, you can ice skate, and one of my favorite things from 2010 is the hot mead they sell there. Well, I didn’t order any. I was too embarrassed of speaking despite the delicious looking pastries and the smell of the hot mead. I wanted lunch and instead I ate at a chain café called Teremok where I knew I could pronounce what I wanted. It was anti-climatic. And watching the people skate around, I wanted to skate with Daria and felt completely slighted by this bi-continental holiday.

To add to the lesson of "var" I did get to enjoy some delicious vareniki this week. You wrap something up in dough (ours was cabbage) and you boil it for about 5 minutes. During the summer, it's more popular with blueberry filling. It was then topped with fried onion. Mmmmmmm.

Well, I should see if I could help prepare anything for New Year’s Eve. Not feeling very festive though. Talk to you all in 2013 I guess.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Daria's departure and some random thoughts

So this week saw a big change in the Russia experience. As I was reading through the post I realized this is also reads more like a news update so feel free to allow your head to have the voice of a radio newscaster giving you minute updates.

Daria flew back to the US to do interviews for her internship next year. We knew there would be interviews, but we had hoped they'd all be in January because logically that makes sense. You know, as in organizations receive your applications in November, inform you in December whether or not you have an interview, interview you in January after the holidays . . . . Well, one group in Boston decided that Thursday, December 20th was a great time for interviews, and in the competitive fight for placement, you must take every interview you get so Daria flew to Boston on Tuesday and doesn't return until mid-to-late January. This completely changed our holiday plans, and I don't know what I'm doing now. I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. I'll also admit that for some reason I took this departure especially hard. I knew it was coming, and it's not the first time we've been apart for a long period of time, but it was hard. She was in France for a year when we were in college, I lived in CA and Daria was in CT for a year after college. Both of these we had some intermittent visitations, but there were still large periods of time between seeing each other. Two years after we were married, Daria spent 6 weeks in Mexico and I stayed in Berkeley. And then even this past summer I was in a foreign element in Moscow as Daria stayed in SPB. I don't know why I took this one harder than the rest, but I did for some reason and it sucked to put it bluntly. Thank God for skype.

As mentioned in the last post, Daria and I went to a family dinner on Friday night. This was followed with a Saturday dinner with Language Link at a restaurant called "Tequila Boom," a name I can only assume comes from the cocktail of half tequila and half ginger ale. I will say it was nice to have some Mexican food (something I do miss dearly and there is a reason I ate a lot of it my last week in CA), and in a place where tequila is expensive because of taxes on all foreign alcohol, it was also nice to have some tequila/margaritas. Some of the food tasted legit, other parts lacked, but hey I was spoiled in CA. The corporate parties before New Years are a really big thing here as many of my students have missed class b/c of their parties and Daria and I got to witness a couple parties when she and I went out to the Paulaner Brewhouse before she left. Our Language Link party was a lot of fun, Mariachi hats were passed around, an MC organized different events for the various parties in the restaurant, and it was kinda nice just to blow off some steam with fellow coworkers.

A few random thoughts to share. First, it's funny that Karma has become the protectorate of the house. Apparently grandma doesn't think there's any reason to set the alarm because we have a "staffordshire" (another name for a pitbull). Yeah we lock the door, but the alarm hasn't been set. It's good to know that Karma is well-loved :-) in the house. Ella is also well-loved, demonstrated by the endless supply of cat food in the fridge.

Yesterday, on my walk back home, I saw some people out playing on the pond in таврический сад as the pond has long been frozen. I decided to venture out as well so I walked around a little bit on ice. Ice never quit got thick enough in Tahoe for us to dare walking out and I must say there is something exciting and exhilarating knowing that underneath there is liquid water. My first experience of this was 2 years ago walking on the Gulf of Finland.

The weather here is crazy. Wednesday and Thursday it was -23C in SPB. In western Siberia it hit -40C and eastern Siberia -50C. In a 24 hour period from Tues - Wed 21 people across Russia froze to death. Not homeless people, but those with homes whose heating went out. This brought the total from Friday - Wed to 45 nearly doubling it. It is currently -19C and the forecast for this coming Wednesday says +4C. Yeah, that's right in the matter of a couple days we're going to swing from temps below that of a freezer to the temperature of a refrigerator. Seriously, when I've wanted my room-temp water to be cool I stick my cup between the two sets of windows and it cools my drink in less than half the time than if I put it in the freezer and yet in a few days it'll be shorts weather. In Michigan shorts did come out in March when it got above freezing. I guess Karma will be happy for an actual walk, if I can manage the time, since even with her coat her walks the past few days have been "pee, poo, back to the door."

Last thought. So a few posts back I spoke about the deliciousness that is mead. Because of the Latin script the name of the most common mead escaped me. That is until I read part of the label in back where it was in Cyrillic. The name is Medvarus. Мёд or "Med" is both honey and the drink mead. вар or "var" is part of the root for boiling and is found in many words like the ones for brewery (a beer boiler) and for dumplings to the festive "kettle" the samovar. I had this "aha" moment when reading this feeling like, oh hey, the name of the brand is just the name for meadery and since the script was in Latin, they were just being cool by adding "us" as the ending of Latin words (and well-known for a grade school joke mentioned in "Life of Brian" that I won't repeat here for some of my audience). Nope, Daria corrected me. рус or "Rus" is the ending as the short form or Russia. So there you have it, the name Medvarus is "Mead - ery/boiler - Russia." What a better portmanteau than my name Tahodoga.

I'll try and do another Holiday filled post before Christmas, but we'll see. If not, whatever holiday or days you celebrate may they be joyous and wonderful. Since I celebrate Christmas (although it'll probably not be on the 25th for me this year), I will say Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sonic Wintry Musings and other trinkets

While of course I hear things every day, this past week has been especially focused on sounds. Actually, most of them from Sunday, but we can say it has carried on throughout the week.

However, for comparison sake let's begin with First Advent. About 2 weeks ago, Daria and I went to the Anglican Chaplaincy for First Advent (something I knew about 7 years ago, was on hiatus 4 and 2 years ago, and while it has been back longer, we learned about it back in October). The service is very basic with standard Church of England script and led by a Finnish Lutheran Pastor on account of his availability and the CofE/Swedish & Finnish Lutheran Concordat ("agreement" for those of you none theological people). Anyway, this small service is very similar to the one I grew up with: fewer than 20 people and an attempt at music with an atonal congregation; spirit filled, but not musically inclined.

Contrast this to Second Advent at the Catholic Church in Russian (so I only understood parts of it), which was in a space with perfect acoustics where the choir was heard at the same volume and same beauty no matter where one stood in the church. The priest has a divine voice to boot. It was so moving that despite my lack of understanding of the words, I was carried away to an ethereal space. My friend Tripp at the GTU is doing his Ph.D. in sonic theology. I could not help but think of him, and I believe that experience could give some people a theogasm. It is precisely the role that music and sounds ought to have in a spiritual experience. This is not to say the Spirit wasn't moving throughout the Anglican Chaplaincy service, but the AC transposition came through words, whereas the Catholic experience was through music and so regardless of language, one was with the Spirit.

Sunday evening, we went to the philharmonic again. However this time it was in the big hall and it was not with our friend playing. The opening concerto was a Mozart piece and after the intermission we had  a symphony from Brookner. What I enjoy about the philharmonics here is that they are easily available to the people. My ticket for a good seat was 400R or about $12. While there are various prices for seating, Russia keeps the prices of the arts down enough that people who are lower middle class can enjoy the arts quite a few times a year, and I would say even completely lower class people, if they so chose, could enjoy the arts at least half a dozen times a year without hurting their finances. While it is true that Daria and I were inhibited by time to see things in San Francisco, let's face it, we were also inhibited by money. I give many thanks to both the government and the private benefactors here that cover the costs so that we can cheaply enjoy the theater and philharmonia. The other exiting thing about the philharmoia experience was that I was able to read most of the booklet. I knew enough vocab and grammar to get the context and then used the context to bypass words I didn't know. I may not be able to speak it, especially verbs in the perfect tense, but I was able to read it, and I felt this was a proud accomplishment.

Well, winter has fully arrived, and with winter comes clearing the snow and massive icicles, some as long as 3 meters quite wide, from the roofs. Men stand atop buildings tied with a cable and armed with a shovel. I don't have a fear of heights, but I don't even know if a cable would calm my fear of a slick icy roof from 4 or 5 or more stories. They mark off the sidewalk where they clear and the men shovel the snow off. It lands with a muffled "thwop" that snow does unless it hits the roof of a bus stop and then it's a thunderous clamor as the metal or plexiglass takes the blow. And for the ice they use the butt of the shovel handle to break it up and try and knock the icicles down which shatter like glass. Despite seeing this all winter every year, I'm amazed at how many people still often stop to watch this spectacle. Although I also stop often because it is mesmerizing.

With winter settling in that also means frozen canals. The small canal near where I work has long been frozen over. This canal may be about 10-15 meters wide. However, the largest canal, Fontanka, perhaps 30 meters wide or so, is slowly freezing (and yes I realize for those people on the west coast, these canals are wider than most of the rivers we know). For the past two weeks I have watched the ice slowly creep over the water the way ivy creeps on a building. It moves in two directions: the first is where it has frozen completely across, but you can still see water and the ice gets closer and closer to the bridge my bus passes over. The second is from the sides as the ice on the embankments get thicker and thicker. Both directions there are noticeable changes and 10 days ago the ice was about 200 meters from the bridge but now it is under the bridge so on the south side of the bridge there is no visible water, but the north still has plenty of visible flowing water. It is a beautiful thing to watch progress.

I also want to give kudos to pigeons, sometimes snubbed the flying rat by people who think of them as dirty city birds. People don't admire them for their beauty, although I've started to notice some very pretty blends of purple and green with the grey-blue or even white pigeons. Additionally, in "Home Alone 2," which has played in the office a couple times this week along with its predecessor, the "crazy lady" is the one who spends time with pigeons. However, last I checked pretty much all other birds have flown south or holed up for the winter. There are some ducks who didn't migrate, but most are gone, yet the pigeons remain to brave the truly subfreezing weather. They even gather around frozen water such as the ponds and canals which tend to be colder than other parts of the city. I think the pigeons deserve some respect for withstanding what other birds and animals avoid.

And to wrap up this post, tonight we had dinner with Daria's grandpa's cousin. The spicy food (read flavorful more than hot, although both are more rare - spice that is as there is plenty of flavor- here than CA/USA) was a nice treat, the conversation was way over my head, but what is worthy of note is the fact that the cousin's husband repairs old books/bindings with old school stitching and an old school press. That was truly something wonderful to see.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Being thankful for dog booties, trains, and Robert Frost

Last Saturday we had Thanksgiving dinner with Olya and Vova and Nadia. On Friday Daria had gone over to help prepare the pumpkin pie (completely from scratch - I mean everything including the pumpkin from the Lisij Nos garden), and the cranberry sauce. On Saturday we went and cooked the turkey (we found a whole bird, 3 kilos - about 6.7 pounds), and made mashed potatoes from scratch, and a salad. We washed this all down with some mulled wine. I've never made the turkey myself, and frankly I really only eat turkey at Thanksgiving, but we did a pretty good job. We stuffed it with diced apples (no stuffing), as well as had diced apples around it in the pan; salt and pepper. That's it, but it was good. The cranberry sauce was the best I've ever had as the mashed potatoes I'd say came in some of the top. Another reason not to buy boxed things. Golden potatoes, good natural butter, good milk, a little salt. Never cared much for mashed potatoes, but these were good. And the pumpkin pie was a great way to end the meal. There was much to be thankful for and it was nice to enjoy a small delicious meal with some good friends. Didn't spend the day with family or even celebrate on the right day, but we did have Thanksgiving. And Olya and Vova know quite a bit about it already because of the TV show "Friends" who have a T-day episode every season. We watched a few as it seemed appropriate. However, it must be noted that while Vova is more than happy to bbq the meat out at the dacha, he was a little shocked that I was helping cook the bird and make the mashed potatoes.

To resolve Karma's feet and the salt issue we took her the local pet store (well one of about 4 within a 5 min walk from our apartment, but the best of the 4) and got her outfitted with new booties. They let us try them on in the store, the owners/employees daughters helped us get them on Karma the first round and they were just wonderful to her. While she still prefers nothing on her feet, she is much more comfortable with the new ones because they're shaped to curve with the feet/leg. The booties we bought in the US/brought with us are just straight and don't adjust well with the dog. Karma walks a little funky when you first put them on, but then she runs around just fine with them on and she's comfortable walking long distances in them. We've also discovered a park not far from here is small and has only one entrance so we can let her run off-leash and guard the entrance. It is such a pleasure to watch her run through the snow, take a nibble every once in a while to taste the snow and then continue running. As for Ella, well we've been sparingly giving her her meds and she seems fine and healthy with just the special food. I'm happy to report about two healthy pets.

Last week I reported that winter was coming and that it came Saturday according to social media. Well, yes it has. We have an average high of -3C and an average low of -6C. Snow flurries most days which are followed by trucks to clear the road. I want to make this clear, they are not plows. The trucks get parked with an open bed in back and then a few track front loaders scoop up the snow and dump it in the truck. When full, the truck drives out of the city and dumps the snow and the loaders fill up another truck bed. Today as I was walking through таврический сад there were teenagers playing on the frozen pond. While I don't think I'd trust it to be frozen enough, they clearly thought it was able to handle them to run out into the middle. I just hope it held after I left. And for those of you who didn't get my facebook post, last weekend from Friday-Sunday, on a stretch of highway about 100 miles long between St. Petersburg and Moscow over 10,000 cars were stuck for 3 days because of the snow storm. Part of that can be blamed on weather, part on old soviet era infrastructure, but I personally put most of the blame on "why didn't they take the train?????" There is a great rail system here in Russia. Even the old soviet era rails are still pretty dang good. The more modern ones are wonderful. So, why weren't those people taking the train????? And, dear Americans, when are we going to get good trains? Start small like between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe/Reno: winter skiing, summer activities on the Lake or in the Bay depending on which direction, maybe some gambling. I see a win for everyone involved.

And to wrap it up, last night I used "The Road Less Traveled" by Robert Frost in my lesson. With a few new vocab words, it is an appropriate poem for intermediate students, and they quickly gathered the meaning of the poem when they knew the new vocab. They seemed to have loved the poem and it was a great way to end a long, hard day. Let's just say the Russian lesson kicked my butt, and I was glad to have a fun class with a great poem ending the class to end my day. I was exhausted and the two roads in the yellow wood with some great personalities is reenergizing.