Sunday, February 17, 2013

Log and community

It has indeed been a busy time the past few weeks. I would like to highlight a few events in a different manner than previously done and then write about a few thoughts I've had the past few weeks.

To start in no particular order:

Daria and I went to a balalaika (traditional Russian instrument I've wanted for a while, but have had no money to buy) concert. The guy was incredible and we bought his CD with over 3 hours of music. He didn't play much of the traditional tunes, but it was incredible nonetheless and well worth going. Just fueled my desire to buy and learn.

Last Saturday we went to the home of famed poet and member of the intelligentsia Anna Akhmatova. Well the room she had that she shared with fellow intelligentsia member Nikolai Punin and his family (through his invitation, not through forced commune yet) during the early Soviet years. This room had a beautiful view of the courtyard of the Sheremetevskij Palace and Akhmatova was tolerated as a scholar of Pushkin, but her poems were not published during soviet times because she held anti-soviet views. Eventually she was sent to a gulag, but she did return to this apartment.

After viewing her apartment we went to a modernist concert in the aforementioned palace (possibly the former duke's private concert hall). The two composers were there, although many musicians played. Some of the pieces were wonderful, but some I found, well banal. Maybe banal isn't quite right, as it was obvious they worked hard to write them, but they didn't appeal to me. But some of their pieces were great and included things like musicians hitting a hand drum stuffed into her belt as she played the flute or using the piano to knock on the door as the vocalist then opened an imaginary door before continuing to sing. Overall, a good performance.

Daria and I also went skating in a park where it was evident that they used natural ice (maybe with some added water, but certainly some was there before) on the walking path in the park. They put up barriers and the rink was about 15-20 meters wide, but probably 80+ long. No zamboni so it wasn't perfectly smooth and this was a new experience for me, but quite enlightening. I can skate backwards on a smooth rink, but I cannot on real ice. I now have so much more respect for the early hockey players and figure skaters before the modern ice rink.

Prior to the skating we were at the end of the park and walked out onto the gulf. Seriously, I cannot get enough of the frozen gulf. Saw the re-frozen part where someone had fished. We also went into a small zoopark and saw some foxes, deer, ostriches, and a goat escape his wooden pen because someone was illegally feeding the animals. The poor sheep left behind wanted the food, but couldn't escape.

I have also been sick, missed some work, had some Russian lessons on skype b/c I was sick and my teacher was sick. On Thursday I received compliments from two people that they can see my Russian progressing nicely. Neither are my students, but one is a person I speak to quite often on the way to the bus after work.

This evening (Sunday) we completed events by babysitting Nadia allowing Olya and Vova to attend the opera (Marriage of Figaro – Mozart). She is quite the wise child. Fortunately she’s also easily entertained with her favorite children’s cd.

Aside from events, I’ve spent the past few weeks pondering various things. One of the main things I’ve pondered is community. I don’t know if I can accurately express with words the differences I see and feel about community between the US and Russia. Certainly there are more people walking on the street and using public transit and public parks than I have experienced in the US.

I know that some of the differences come just from being in a city versus a suburban or rural area. However, there is something that I feel is different even more than that. The larger parks are always full of people playing with their kids, walking their dogs, walking without accompaniment, skiing, sledding, and quite a number of other activities. The smaller parks are full of kids always on playsets or slides. I’m sure people in places like NY or SF use Central Park and Golden Gate as well, but I perceive there is a community ownership of the parks in a way that Americans do not have. I suspect, although I am not sure, that this is left over from the American sense of the individual and the Russian concept left over from communism.

Additionally, there is an aura of community when people just walk down the street that lacks, even in other large cities. When I walk through NY I sense busyness and the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced life. When I walk on the streets of SF the ambience is of technology, youth, and hipness. When I was in college and went to Detroit I felt the hardness of working class life. Walking through the streets of Boston I feel a mixture of cerebral, working class hardships, and the spirit of the American Revolution. In SPB, I just feel community and communal ownership of the city. People in SF don’t walk the streets. They all drive. For an environmentally friendly city, the public transit sucks and there are cars everywhere. NY has public transit and lots of people, but the vibe is less friendly; at least from my experience.

Like I said, I can’t quite put my finger on the difference in feeling, and I really don’t know if my words did any justice. I recognize that I may be overgeneralizing quite a bit. I’ll also admit that my feelings may not be actual factual auras of the cities, but it is what I feel about here. Perhaps part of it is the legacy from communism; perhaps part of it is the apartments are smaller and there is less to do in one’s home so everyone is always out and about; perhaps part of it is city life that differs from the community of a small town like where I grew up. But I have been in many cities all across the US, Mexico, Canada, and all around Europe and I feel a sense of big city community that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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