Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blogger hates me

I know it has been an apologetically long time since you last heard from me. Besides going to Saratov and Orenburg over the last two weeks, Blogger has decided to be fussy around my presents, hence the lack of blogs. This is not a dubious complaint since I just tested my theory when Jeremy quickly finished his blog so I could go on and the site immediately recognized me and began to slow to a grating halt. Needless to say, Jeremy had to log me on which took mere seconds. Blogger, whatever I did to you, I am sorry! Should I leave you an offering of some kind to show you my sincerity? How about an orange or a cup of hot chocolate?

Moving on, I am still working on my Turkey site, so please check it out when you finish reading this post. While I am here, let me tell you about Saratov.

This city in the Volga region is about the same size as Samara and is famous for the German population that once thrived here, but has dwindled in numbers. Luckily, we experienced a Deutshe bakery before heading home. Ahh! It made me think of Nicole's mutti's specialities- yum! We worked directly with Saratov University which was having a conference that week. So while Jeremy was doing his presentations I did two both about the underground railroad to help promote Black History Month. I wish my presentations had been as successful as Jeremy's , but alas since I expected my participants to speak and move around the room with my activities, it failed miserably. I think they were expecting a lecture. It wasn't a complete loss. I learned English teachers in Russia or more self-conscience than I had predicted and next time I will have to be more demanding about scheduling and the classroom situation. A little amphitheater is not very conducive for my classroom activities.

Anyway, the ladies that had prepared our visit and helped us throughout our stay were lovely and the food was fantastic. Jeremy, who usually has tummy woes, had less intestinal grumblings, which helped him stay focused and pleasant while there. For recreation, we took a walk down by the Volga with our guide, Irina who was a great conversationalist and invaluable for learning more about the area. She also took us to the near by art museum and some healthy restaurants. The guy is the founder of the art museum. Doesn't he look snug in his blanket of snow? We really enjoyed the museum since it had a wide range of paintings and Irina could explain some of the history and more well known artists to us in detail. We could reciprocate by giving our own view of light and distance that stood out in some pictures since Irina felt at a loss when interpreting art.

Here's a pic of her and Jeremy at the train station before our departure.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Leaving Samara, heading for Saratov


Well, I have been trying all week to get somewhere with my Turkey blog, but everytime I want to log in blogger is super slow- nuts! So you will all have to wait until I get back from Saratov, the city we are heading to tonight. Well, look at the bright side. I'll have Istanbul and Saratov pics to show you when I get back! Can you tell I am less SAD these days? I hope you are all HAPPY.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

SAD in Samara

Sorry for the very long pause in my posts. Besides being in Istanbul, I was not in a very good mood last week either. Apparently the weather has finally gotten to me. Before I knew it I was cracking thinking it was due to culture shock although no definitive event sparked it. After a few days of being unable to connect my thoughts to my words, in the middle of a Shostakovitch performance, I realized it was probably SAD. I called my mom that night to get some advice since I doubt special useful bright lights are available although they should be and she suggested I raise the dose of my SSRI of choice. It has already helped thankfully so I am back to getting things done including my beloved blog. By the way, I have begun a new blog to glorify our super duper trip to Istanbul. It's called

Next week we will be going to Saratov, so there will be another few days of no new blogs, but I will do me my best to have plenty of bloggy fun for you beforehand. Toodles!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Between trips

We are home for the next 36 hours. As Jeremy may have told you, we came back on Sunday from a very thirsty camp. How eloquent his explanation was of the nutritional end of life there! I would like to add that by the second day I had an idea about how governments condition people at special camps. Nothing will alter your mood quite as quickly as a bad/good meal! Nuf said!

Traveling to an area where there is a specific purpose in a culture like a camp, is always a new experience, of course. In Korea we had Membership Training (MT's) which shed new light on social interactions between student-student relations as well as student-teacher relations. It was more fun than I expected. At this camp, the same can be said about observing the culture especially since I have had few interactions with kids here in general. My class was incredibly mixed as far as ability went, but by trying to keep the class upbeat, we played enough games, I think, we both felt satisfied in our fun0meters by the time Jeremy and I left. It was interesting to watch the kids with one another. I learned they are not very different from US kids, teasing, chatting, laughing. One thing I noticed is the touch element is more prevalent good or bad as it may be. Girls love hooking arms or holding hands and many would do the same to the teachers, but on the flip side, several kids also had no problem smacking each other when a joke or tease went too far. It was usually ignored and ended quickly on its own, but I didn't like seeing it since it made me think of the impending abuse that awaits many Russian brides in the future. Domestic abuse is commonplace and barely talked about, but as I have read countless times in our folktales book, it an unblinking truth. Please don't think the folktales book is my only source of proof though. I could go on, but I don't want to get too dark with this post!

Anyway, I loved being with the kids and we had fun, but I don't think I could go through another one. There are several reasons, the strongest being the food and the second being that it was my last obligation to a certain person and now I am done giving her the opportunity to use me. We are off to Turkey- ya ya. See you later!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Gong hee fat choy

Well, did you have a nice New Year's? Although Jeremy and I had been invited to ring in the new year with our buddy Dan, we were beginning to feel a little partied out, so we declined the invite and just spent a cozy evening together. Jeremy had been talking about taking me to this nice restaurant in the Renaissance hotel a few tram stops away, so braving the bitter cold (it was 5 degrees), we took a walk there for dinner. Unfortunately the restaurant wouldn't be open until 10 for a New Year's party. I had been hoping for a cheeseburger and fries, but luckily the cafe below it had a few choices. I had the roast beef and potatoes, a glass of wine and apple strudel, so I am definitely not complaining about us having to resort to plan B. We also walked around the hotel a bit. There was a ten foot tree and two large gingerbread houses in the lobby and an odd mix of Christmas songs could be heard, putting me in good spirits.

Afterwards, we headed home to find someone had left some fir tree branches in a jar of water and sprinkled a few strands of tinsel on it for us and our neighbors to enjoy when we leave our apartment floor. I think I might add a peace crane and ornament to it... we then enjoyed time together and watching Godfather Part 2 until firecrackers boomed and fizzled outside. We watched them glitter and disappear for a bit before surprisingly found they were putting us to sleep. I read one last Russian folktale to my love before we said good-bye to 2006 forever.

I haven't made any real resolutions since I kind of started thinking of a new strategy for my time here a few weeks ago anyway. The plan is to practice my Russian lessons without Katya around to gain come confidence in speaking. Just Saturday I went to the market and got myself a very nice head of cabbage. I understood everything the lady there said to me- success! I am also going to start making new friends and spending time outside of the ELC. I am beginning to feel a bit used, so I think distancing myself will do me some good.

Today I made blinies (if you click on the word bliny you'll be privy to my recipe) and we finished the Godfather which got me in the mood for Italian so I whipped up a spinach lasagna for my love. I am glad 2006 is over although I don't really believe it has come to an end. It might take me a few days.

Another factoid about the Russian holiday
In Russia, some people get dressed up in costumes for New Years, especially kids so it's kind of like New Years, Xmas and Halloween rolled into one day.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year from Samara

So did you have a nice Christmas? I realize my tone in a previous post was in part melancholy, but I've dusted off the new snow that's landed on my shoulders and am revving up for the New Year!

Maybe you are interested in a Russian Christmas or New Year? Let me tell you some things so you can imagine what's happening around the Volga these days. Everyone knows that Xmas is on the 25th and is celebrated by numerous countries, but the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates it on the epiphany on the 7th, so Russians technically celebrate after the New Year, if they consider themselves religious.

Luckily, some buildings are lit for the holidays and decorations are plentiful. We got a cheap artificial tree in which I made most of the ornaments, but after visiting a public school last week, we were given Father Christmas (Dyet Moros) and his wife the Snow Maiden (Sne something ka) which you can see at the bottom of the tree. A few days ago, I also found my only little Baba Yaga, so up she went in my tree too. Here the trees are known as New Year's trees, although the decorations are almost identical to what you are used to. These days you can find bundles of trees at different tram stops if you want to go all organic. Just today we saw a man with a tied up tree on a sled he was pulling along and Jeremy commented how this seemed rather Russian if not Northern European. One more thing about the tree. During Soviet times, people would put a red star at the top of their tree!

So let's get into New Years, which is a huge holiday here. In fact, it lasts about 7-10 days since more people get off of work and go somewhere to relax. New Year's Eve supposedly should be quite crazy. I'll report on that once I have experienced it, but while some people see it as a family holiday and have a cozy celebration at home, many people are running around drunk and fireworks should be going off whenever someone gets their hands on some. Most families give each other one present, maybe a large one so it's somewhat similar to Xmas that way too. TV plays a large role as well, since many celebrities sing and Putin will give a speech welcoming in the New Year. Russians are really into superstitions and the zodiac, so everywhere you look for Xmas stuff, you are sure to find ugly pig stuff. The Chinese year of the pig is as popular as Santa himself this year. Giving a pig is an easy idea for a present and should bring good luck to the receiver.

I am not sure if there is any special food eaten at this time of the year, but there are lots of well wrapped boxes of chocolates and candies if they count. I am stumped to think of any other significant details here. If you have q's, post them to this one and I will answer them with my next post. Anyway, I hope you keep your resolutions and have fantastic events this year to make your life happy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Snowy day in Samara

Last night we spent the second consecutive night hanging out with our fellow expat, Dan. The only difference was the setting, first night our place, second night Santorini and his place. Jeremy and I enjoyed viewing pics he's taken since his arrival in Russia, so it inspired me to take a walk on a very white albeit freaking cold day. I headed for a park I have passed by many times but had never ventured into before. The setup was all about recreation and little about nature, but I had fun snapping photos, so let's take a look.