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.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Celebrating Xmas in Samara: I'll get to the trains next blog- I promise!

So it's been a while and I apologize. Between Jeremy's surfing and working and my meandering about on the internet, I never took appropriate measures to spend some time explaining developments here in Samara. What a lazy bum I've been! Now is my chance for redemption or as a very poor student of mine in Korea says, "It's chance!"

So how was our merry making? Snowy, so an expected white Christmas took place. Christmas Eve was spent preparing for our ELc Russian friends. I made food and Jeremy and myself prepared Xmas games that were Russian friendly. The evening's events were fun, but too short for my blood, so I wondered what to think of the friends I have made so far. Was it obligation that had them come to our door or was it work obligations the next day that had them leave so early? One of the many enigmas to plague me I suppose...Anyway the following day was spent half in the kitchen (making cinnamon buns and spinach lasagna) and half enjoying myself with Jeremy and our American friend Dan who shared his insight about Russian friendships which sealed my thoughts that it's easier to make friends than in Japan but harder to get as intimate with them as Koreans. Anyway, I have a few New Years resolutions to help conquer such cultural maladies. I'll share them with you in future blogs- I promise. Expect a train trip blogstyle as well.

So all in all, we had Xmas music, a decorated tree, some good friends and a few presents. What else was needed on Christmas? The shock of James Brown's death will probably always resonate with our first (maybe last?) Christmas in Russia, but all in all we made it merry as best we could.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Short Stay in Suransk

(Suransk's Flag)

Have you been wondering what Jenevieve's been up to? I guess it depends on if you enjoy Jeremy's blog as mush as mine, but if you hate reading a computer monitor for so long, we had a little trip north in Suransk, which is about halfway between Moscow and Samara. Our train trips, which I'll explain in my next post, left much to be desired, but our time in Suransk was extremely pleasant albeit exhausting.
Like Tatarstan, Suransk is the capital of the "independent" republic of Mordovia which has a smaller but significant Muslim population. We arrived in Suransk around 5 am and promptly went to the university's guest house for a short but much needed nap before beginning the day. After a rather greasy breakfast where we learned Mordovia has their own special bliny pancake which tasted like a donut more than a pancake ( I told you it was greasy), Jeremy and I separated for most of the morning as he and Ludmilla, our good friend who will accompany us from time too time on future visits, went off for lectures and I was escorted to different classrooms for impromptu talks about whatever interested the students. Both classes that morning were on the small side,about 20 each, so this lent to an easy question and answer forum for both me and the girls (neither class had a male student). It was nice to see so many sparkling eyes that morning, since most of the students seemed to enjoy themselves and made my first experience in Mordovia quite positive.

Then after another large greasy meal and a meeting with the vice rector where we received some goodies, we toured a bit of the city with a young teacher named Olga who also took some pictures for us since we forgot our camera- thanks Olga! A recent addition to the downtown was this gigantic cathedral. We got a chance to go inside where we were assailed by an extremely large amount of shining gold. The icons though were a treat to see as they reached from the floor to the ceiling and Jeremy remarked as a priest opened the door to one to walk through, it was like a gigantic German advent calender. Sorry, like mosques, no pics could be taken. I also got to whimsically hold hands with Pushkin before heading back to the university for another discussion session and dinner. Then, with our main hostess, Natalya, we went for a final night stroll in the city where we ended up meeting her very sweet husband too before crashing for the night.

After a pretty good amount of sleep (the grease had gotten the better of Jeremy), we did a bit more of the same with lectures and discussions. After lunch though, I had a chance to take a rest while Jeremy presented to small lectures. I was glad for the respite since I finally got my hands on a copy of "The Master and Margarita" and I was itching to read it the last few days. Incidentally, although I haven't finished it quite yet, I believe it will definitely fit in my top ten list of all time best books to read. Go read it! You won't be disappointed. Plus, I'd like to talk to you about it. Ok, where was I? Yes, after lunch, Katya, a young teacher showed us the art museum in town. I especially liked meeting Katya because she found me some vanilla which had seemed to elude me since coming to Russia. Back to the museum though, We had a nice tour of their permanent collection of a native Mordovian/Russian named Stepan Erzya. Now unfortunately, I have been looking through out the internet to give you an idea of this man's genius because his work is quite astounding, but very few things can be found about the man. Supposedly he is well known in Europe, but I could only find info on him in Turkish and Russian. However, I did find one of his most fantastic works, Moses. You would gasp if you saw it in person, but this will have to do.

It was really a lovely way to end the two days in Suransk. After a light meal, we boarded a van and then a train, waving good-bye to Sergei and Natalya our new Suransk friends.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sweatin in Samara

Guess what. It's warm here! I know my posts recently have been about the weather. Being American and all, it can't be helped, but it's such a wonderful sound hearing the snow slush under my feet this week instead of engineering my every move in most areas people walk because there is a sheet of ice below me and I can't predict how slippery it will be. Incidentally, I actually did trip last Friday right on my kiester. It was a pretty funny moment because before I could stop my feet the stepped right onto a large patch and then my brain said, "hey, my feet are moving up. Looks like you're going to fall, Jenevieve. Brace yourself! 3 2 1, boom!" Jeremy said the whole moment was in slow mo for him too which is funny how the brain works in such a situation. If only we could be that aware all the time. I really need to start meditating again! Anyway, I was just fine since I had on my very cozy and puffy winter coat and I have a sufficient amount of cushion anyway back there. In fact, I was surprised that it barely hurt. There wasn't even a bruise back there although my pulse was up for the next few minutes so I ended up being extra warm!

That same day, but earlier, Jeremy and I walked around downtown and found an area near the opera house that they had just plowed to make a nice ice rink. Some kids were trying out their skates and at that moment I wished I knew how to skate. Then the very next day Katya had us over to her place for dinner and she suggested we go. We've also been told we will definitely get a chance to ski, another sport Jeremy and I have never really partaken in, so I may get to finally learn some winter sports this year.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Icy Blue

It continues to linger around zero these days, but we are trying to adjust. Of course, having the right equipment helps too! This week Katya and I went to a market that reminded me of Dongdaemun a bit since it was just a big building with stall after stall of things to wear. Korea is still cheaper though. My main objective was to get a warmer coat, but I eyed some average looking corduroy pants and they wanted more than 50 bucks for them! At such markets, I never expect prices to be so high and they will barely haggle with you. I shake my head at how crummy it must have been to go from communism to capitalism here. I've read and been told people don't really understand the fundamentals of capitalism and so things are expensive. I am about to step on my soap box so let's change the subject.

While I was waiting for Katya outside, I'd been warned it was -4 F outside, but I wasn't so well prepared. My feet were starting to feel numb as well as my upper lip. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walking toward me. Of course I could only identify half his face so I wasn't about to say anything but then he recognized me and came to give me a hug. It was pretty odd, but it turned out to be my buddy Dan who is a fullbrighter here. We had to just keep staring at each other for a minute to make sure we really knew one another since we were so wrapped up! But it sure made Samara feel a lot smaller to me, running into him and all.

Katya came soon after and as we said good-bye to Dan and walked toward the market, my legs felt like they had heavy blocks attached to them. Inside the market, I came to find that Katya and I shop alike. We look at everything; then hit our targets. She was super helpful not only with the language but with her opinion on what to get or not get. We had a little snack in between and had to share a table with two guys. One realized after a few minutes that I was not Russian and he was very intrigued. He said I was the first foreigner he had ever met. He wanted to buy me a second cup of tea, but I didn't really need it. I thought the whole experience though was something I needed. I have been noticing that people in Samara are becoming friendlier. Maybe it is just because I am adjusting to being in Russia, but I've seen a lot more smiles these days which is a great relief!

Lastly, although it has been egregiously cold, especially knowing Moscow has been above freezing, I am trying to appreciate all those parts of winter that make it unique and just plain gorgeous. Here are two examples. One, this week it snowed again and I think it was partly ice because now all the trees have snow on them but it sticks out a bit like little feathers. It's the acme of a winter wonderland these days. Also, Jeremy told me of a phenomena where it's too cold to snow, but somehow the air around freezes and if the sun is out, there is glitter everywhere. It happened twice this week and it felt like some awesome dream or a fantastic effect for a nightclub! Here's a view from our place.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Katya Time

I keep telling you I'll write about Katya, so I think now is a good time, don't you? Next time I can corner her, I will take her picture, I promise.

Last week I got a chance to know Katya a bit better. Besides her being my Russian teacher and Russian helper, we are quickly becoming friends too. Last week we had her and her boyfriend, Maxim, over for dinner. It was so funny because Maxim wasn't at all how I pictured him. He was a cross between Jeremy Chell and Adam Halbur, so he looks just like a friend to us. Unfortunately, he doesn't speak much English, but his listening skills were surprisingly good. It was a very pleasant evening!

Than a few days later I told Katya I was interested in looking for a fake fur coat. The temps have taken such a nose dive, as I mentioned previously, that I knew I needed to get serious about staying warm. She suggested we go to a coat market next week but she also had an old coat at her parent's place not far from the ELC, so we took a walk over for a look-see. The coat sadly, made me look like a boxed sheep, but it was neat to see where she grew up. While we had tea, her cat sat next to me and let me pet his head. He was a bit sick but some scratching on his forehead led to some loud purring! Later her grandmother who lives downstairs came up and the cat jumped onto her shoulder and sat there for the remainder of the visit! She also had a coveted jar of peanut butter! On the way back to the ELC, we talked about old people and that part of life. She had an amazing great grandmother who died a few years ago and she learned some great things from her. It was yet another pleasant time with Katya...

*****BIG NEWS! I have begun a new blog called When I make something that turns out especially good, I'll share it with you. Look for my first post soon!

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Slipping in Samara

As you have probably heard, old man winter is now sitting on our coach with his feet on the coffee table feeling right at home. Although I had overestimated my new used coat could handle the job, I think we are quite fortunate to be stuck in Samara than almost anywhere else in Russia. Why? Well for one thing even if the high today is 15, if we are lucky, it's still warmer than most areas. Top that with the fact that the sun sticks around till 5, how can I complain? In Kazan it would be dark by 4 and that just felt troubling to me. By 3 you could sense night was just around the corner. Where did the day go?

I think though that if harsher winters are pretty much 50% of your year, you handle it a little differently. There is the obvious example of the sunbathers in January, but I was thinking more along the line of sliding to work, not sledding. I think the average Russian is more agile, not giving pause to their speed even if they slip a bit. I just take baby steps because I really don't want to end up with a broken limb. The sidewalks are still pretty treacherous even though it hasn't snowed for a good week.

The other "difference" is all the fur! Whenever I tell a Russian most Americans think fur is beautiful but despicable they can hardly believe it. Almost everyone has part of a dead animal sewn into their outer apparel here and I really can see the need for it in a way. That does not mean I will run out and get one. Besides the guilt, the price tag would definitely stop me! But it sure looks warm!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Last days in Kazan

After focusing on Tatar State for three days, a woman named Rezida and a guy named Dmitri looked after us. Jeremy had three presentations on that Saturday, two at T U and then another at an engineering school. We had been in constant motion for three days that by the time we returned to out Soviet style hotel room, we were absolutely beat. Here's a view from our window.

It reminds me a lot of views in Moscow. Way in the back if you look closely, you can see the Kul Sharif mosque which is within the Kremlin walls. On Sunday, Rezida and Demy (Dmitri) took us on a very lovely tour for the day. We headed straight for the Kremlin, which is gorgeous and free! Here is a much closer look of the mosque on the left and below that is part of the cathedral in the Kremlin.

Jeremy found the mosque to be very calming and the cathedral to be oppressive. The reason, I think is obvious, but unfortunately I can't use visuals to make my point since we couldn't take pictures inside either. The mosque was very open with colored glass and a large chandelier. The Cathedral was completely covered with icons or paintings depicting scenes from the bible and then some. It just seemed more "In-your-face" for lack of a better term.

We were quite lucky because Rezida used to be a tour guide for Kazan so she could recollect all the important dates and significant events from Kazan's history which we were delighted to learn about. We were also able to eat more authentic Kazan food. Oh, you want to know what they eat in Kazan? Well, one is this is a kind of chicken pot pie without the pan and another is a layered cake with rice, egg, raisins, and dough. On one occasion I got to try a dill soup that was also quite nice. Actually the food only slightly deviates from Russian fare and fortunately is all good in my tummy!

We also picked up a few souvenirs and toured the Tatar history museum which had a bit of archaeological find to a natural history sections with whale whiskers. Although it snowed most of the day, we were enjoying ourselves so much we barely noticed our cold noses.

The last day before we left, Jeremy and I went to public school 18 which is a language school. Jeremy gave a presentation on Total Physical Response in Japanese and the teachers really enjoyed it. Afterwards, they gave us a little tea party. One teacher asked me where I was from and I soon found out her daughter is an exchange student at a high school in Westminster!!!! In fact, she is the first Russian exchange student to come to my hometown! I just could not believe this coincidence. Could there have been a bigger sign that I was destined to be in Russia?

I know Jeremy wrote a bit about the train, but I may add more next posting, we'll see...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kapow, Kazan! : Presentation time

So what were we doing in Kazan? Jeremy had important people to meet and I got to tag along. Actually the first place, Tatar State University, had arranged a three day conference featuring basically lectures by Jeremy but yours truly did one on Participatory Activities for Large Conversation Classrooms- woo! Jeremy's was mostly theoretical while mine was all movin. At times the very long room we used reached a capacity of over 100 participants! We could actually see the great need for native English teachers in Kazan and it was so cool how warm everyone was. They all just were into the presentations. At times you can get people in Russia that just have that look on their faces, the one that says "Yeah, just try to impress me!" This group was way more accepting, so we were already loving Kazan. One woman even gave me a hug on our last day there. It was my first hug from a Russian!

We felt like VIP too! They even had a press conference for us! I think like 5 or 6 journalists came. Of course, Jeremy was their focus, but I got to pipe in my two cents too! We also met the rector, which I think is the equivalent to Vic Farrell for all you Beloiters. He had a nice lunch for us and pressies too! We ate our lunch and din din the first 3 days in a secret room next to the main cafeteria. Wasn't there something like that at Commons? Anyway, at this point I am just bragging so I will stop now!

There are a few impressions though I had about this part of our trip. One was that I felt wooed, in fact, almost seduced by this university. They were so incredibly appreciative we had come and they were so professional. It seems like they would like to get some major plans accomplished and Jeremy is trying to guide them with the information he knows, so I really wish them the best! Another point was besides superficially kicking Samara's butt, the reaction we received all around the city was less stoic. I felt like I was in some sort of dream city! To demonstrate, let us move our attention to this dynamite theater where we saw a ballet performance

That's me in the center. We sat in a kind of balcony section rich people in the movies sit in! And all that red is velvet!

Please for give me for all these exclamation points. One of the professors at the university said you should take 9 days after going somewhere to reflect on the experience to have a more objective view because as you can see, I fell in love with Kazan!

Tomorrow, the gripping conclusion!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kapow, Kazan! : Tatarstan 101

So it's been a week and we have safely returned from our journey to Tatarstan. By the way, I am doing a bit of restructuring with my blog, so now anyone who would like to make a comment can. You don't need to be a fellow blogger to do so. Try and and see if it works! And to Sarah and Nicole, thanks for the comments!

Before I embark on an exhausting account of our experience, let's get acquainted with the Republic of Tatarstan, shall we? As we can see, Tatarstan is the area
just north of Samara Oblast. You can also clearly see the Volga River runs through the republic and works its way into Samara too. Now you remember that the Volga River is the longest river in Europe, right? Yes, I knew you did!

Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan. And as a republic, it seems to get a different position in the country, if not politically than at least culturally. Unlike Samara there is a "President" in Tatarstan, but it's more like "you say potato" because his job may not hold more political clout than the governor of Samara, but its pseudo independence has helped it build strong relations with other countries which I will talk about it a moment.

Kazan's population is 1.1 or 1.2 depending on who you talk to and is the largest city in the republic. The city recently celebrated it 1,000th anniversary this year. Historically it was attacked three times by Ivan the Terrible who most Tatar's still hate to this day. Tatar's adopted Islam into their culture long before Peter the Great got the idea to rid his country of any religion besides his own, so he too isn't well liked. Nowadays, the ratio of Greek Orthodox believers and Muslims is about 50/50 and after perestroika there was a strong movement to tolerate both religions in the republic. In fact, at the city's Kremlin, a gorgeous Mosque and pristine cathedral are walking distance apart.

I found there were also some aesthetic differences between Samara and Kazan as well. Since there is a large Muslim population, some Middle Eastern countries have been only too glad to support the little land by donating gifts of money to the capital. I am not sure if this is the key reason for Kazan's beauty, but it sure makes sad Samara look like a dump! Okay, I am going on a little tangent, care to join? The reason I write this is because where Kazan's money has helped develop the infrastructure, it seems Samara's money has gone right into the pockets of shrewd businessmen. One can not help but compare the two when in Kazan you see light colored buildings in blue, green and pink with white ornamental decor outlining them and in Samara it's one concrete box after another. It's not that I hate Samara, it's just that they got a bum deal after communism. In fact, it was such bad luck that right before Yeltsin took office, Samara was next in line for some major reconstructing. Poor Samara!

Hopefully, I got all my facts straight. Check me out tomorrow when I explain our first few days in Kazan...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

snow sprinkling in Samara

If you have been keeping up with Jeremy's blog, I think he may have mentioned that he would be going to Penza, which is an 8 hour train ride from Samara. He left last night and won't be back until tomorrow morning. On such occasions alone, I always treat myself, so I bought a frozen pizza and some grapefruit juice. I also just finished taking a lovely bath ahhhh...

Today my Russian teacher Katya, whom I intend on devoting a whole post to some day soon, went to a large grocery store with me to help me figure out those questions marks still looming about certain food items. Mostly I was curious about certain ingredients needed to cook goodies at Christmas and what sausage was a good quality. Sausage is pretty big here. Anyway, I found Turkish bread by accident and a great dumpling I gorged myself on in Turkey too, Mantu. So now I have to find a good sauce recipe for it. Hmm seems like my blog these days might be making you hungry, sorry!

Afterwards we bought a few Russian pastries and bought some tea and chatted. We sat in a booth with a large window and in the middle of our conversation we both saw bits of white from the corner's of our eyes- snow! It was just a sprinkle, but it has become quite cold here now, so it was only a matter of time. Katya said after the first snow fall people say that in 40 days it should blanket the ground and stay put for the winter, so I guess we are almost guaranteed a white Christmas!

Before closing, I hope all my readers will go vote! I wish I could, but if you read Jeremy's last post, we didn't meet the deadline. I for one believe the whole voting system needs a major revamping! Anyway, if I can't do it, will you go in my place instead?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Piroshki and other bits

So I made my second from scratch Russian meal in Samara, Piroshki. What are they? Well from the name, maybe you can guess they are in a species with pierogies from Poland. Instead of pasta surrounding the filling, you use bread. My Russian teacher, Katya has generously loaned me her Russian cookbook full of pics to get me in the mood to cook. Katya translated 3 for me to start. I'll probably make the other two when we return from Kazan next week, but I couldn't wait that long for the piroshki. I've only heard of two restaurants in Samara worth eating at for authentic Russian fare and even at these places, it's better to get certain foods because others aren't worth leaving your kitchen to eat. One such food is pelmeni, a drool inducing dumpling and I have a feeling another might be piroshki. I suppose if you look hard enough you could buy yourself one, but I've had only one opportunity so far to see them in plain sight in public. Of course that opportunity I took with delicious results! So about the filling, meats are good, but potato and such is fine. I may tray a dessert fruit filling in the future...

Let me tell you about the ones I made. The recipe called for ground beef and sauteed onions, but I tweaked it a bit, adding yellow peppers and some garlic seasoning. They were nice, but these days meat can just taste like dead animal to me. I also made some with ham and Gouda, plus the onion and pepper. After making 7, I thought I would just freeze the rest of the dough and beef and I added the rest of the cheese to one last one. My presentation needs work, but here are the results.

My mom said she wants the recipe, so look for a recipe blog in the near future. I might just make a complete new site where I add in new recipes now and then. Of course it won't be as frequent as this one, but maybe it will encourage you to try your hand at Russian cuisine?

Extra things. Seeing Saddam and the whole sentencing thing is almost sad, not only because it is more like an afterthought to the chaotic and failing war we've been suckered into, but I hate thinking about anyone having some sort of right to another's life even if he was a big jerk. The whole thing just smells of a diversion to me. Anything to get off the wrong track. Let's see if life changes for the better in a few days...

Another bit. I found this pic today. It makes me super excited about the prospects of going to Turkey which may happen sooner than later since Jeremy's schedule is basically full for the rest of the year. I better write my Baba Blue and good friend Ahmet...There's a bakery nearby that has like a dozen different types of baklava, but I will only look until Christmas. A holiday is good excuse to have butter and sugar soaked pastry, right?

What a good cry can do...

That last post, boy, was I cranky. My mood wasn't so much about being waffle iron deprived but more about fatigue and analyzing what's happening these days. I have always been susceptible to a cranky mood in the evenings too. I guess everything came to a head. But after crying, I got myself a good night's sleep and I'm back to being sunny Jen-jen again.

I can hardly believe that it was just this past Tuesday when Halloween arrived in Samara. For some reason, it seems so far away. Actually that Tuesday Jeremy and I went to Yuri's university to be special judges for a Halloween skit contest. It was quite interesting to watch future English teachers acting like ghouls. Here are some pics

Sveta and us
Yuri, Sveta, Jeremy and Ira scaring the crap out of Yulia!

I'll post a bit more so very soon. Why? Because come Wed night, Jeremy and I will be leaving for Kazan for a whole week. Jeremy will have loads of presentations, but I get to do a few too! To make up for my absence, I'll try and write a new post each day before we leave.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sudden Mood Swings in Samara

While most of my posts have fortunately been on the sun shiny side of life abroad, it should be expected that days will surface when fog is all one can see. The obvious strange version of culture shock I sometimes suffer has slipped in again. It's different than the first bout a month ago, but it still makes my brain buzz in a somewhat maddening way. I am sorry for this more unpleasant post, but after some thought, I believe it is also good to write about the hard days as much as the fun days being here in Russia.

A few weeks back Jeremy and I had dinner with Alison and her roommate, another fulbrighter, Dan. Dan mentioned that extroverts are more likely to be missing adequate levels of serotonin, so to make up for it we generate extra by way of our socializing. Introverts usually have a nice stable amount of the lovely chemical, less likely to endure roller coaster symptoms. It definitely made sense to Jeremy and myself. I wonder if that is what I am sitting in, my very own Baba Yaga butter churn flying high and low. To tell you the truth, I can't quite put my finger on why. One part of me is saying,"When the hell are you going to stay put, Jenevieve? I would really like to have my own waffle iron and a nice tube to punch out sugar cookies for Christmas!" And I lament, I understand this funny domestic woman living inside me. She wants a nice place full of color. She wants to cook new delights, but that woman (maybe her clock is ticking louder than the baby one!) will have to be muffled eventually. I suppose this disgruntled cook in me should have a chance to vent now and again. Maybe then she can keep quiet for awhile. But I am afraid if I dwell on her thoughts too much, I won't enjoy my time here.

And I have been, enjoying my time. This turn of events isn't like our others. There is no set schedule, no boss listening in on lessons, no finals to create and then destroy before some one gets their hands on a copy and sends it out into the internet. Maybe too much free time has bound me more closely into this introspective mode. I am sure I will wiggle my way out of it. Buddha says "all things change" and it's very true. This always gives me hope. Whatever has wrapped itself around me will have to let go. Life can return to normal for awhile. Such movement is constant.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Unscary Halloween Samara style

It's funny because I am probably celebrating Halloween more here in Russia than I have as a full fledged adult in the states. On Saturday, Jeremy, Alison (a fulbright scholar here) and myself hosted a party through our American Club. We did our best to get the word out, but sadly, the numbers have been dwindling and only 4 people not actually associated with organizing the club came. Jeremy had made a website for it saying there would be prizes for costumes, but guess who dressed up? Only me and Jeremy! What were we? I was Baba Yaga.

You can learn more by clicking on her name.

Jeremy was a demon. I will get you a pic of both of us when we actually take some.

Although the turnout was small, I think everyone had a good time with the games I prepared. Plus, we had a buttload of candy we ended up bringing home! I need to get rid of it fast before my clothes don't fit!

Tomorrow we will get to be judges for a Halloween party at the pedagogical university where Sveta and Yuri go. Actually, they are in charge of the whole deal. A bunch of students will be putting on scary skits and we get to pick the best ones along with some of the faculty at the school. It's really nice to be included in something for a change. I hope they like my outfit!

One last note- Yesterday Yuri and Sveta came over for dinner and a game of pinochle. Sveta told me about a Russian novel that is a notable piece of Russian literature from the last century. It's called The Master and Margarita. I think I'll ask for it for Christmas from Jeremy. I'm only mentioning it to you because the devil plays a significant role in the book- yikes!


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seven Days later in Samara

Sorry I haven't been blogging recently. To make it up to you, here is a picture called Morning Prayer by Nicholas Roerich. Roerich is a well known modern Russian painter who was deeply affected by Buddhism and the Himalayas, hence the mountains in the back and the praying dude. The artist couldn't paint enough of those mountains. In fact, he painted some he had only seen through meditation and you can actually find them in Tibet! Yuri took us to a museum here in Samara some time ago. Maybe I wrote about it...Anyway, one section is dedicated to this painter. It's funny because the first place we stayed when we came to Samara had two of his paintings which I instantly loved. I was so happy when I found out I could get my own prints of his work right here in Samara. Some are just fantastic enough to help lead me in a good direction with my book, which, by the way, I have written over 50 pages! Yeah, I need to start meditating more myself. I just feel like adding I love you all! I know my blog entries are usually more controlled than this, but today I am a little too tired to work for order! :)

For being so loving and understanding, here are two more works of art by Mr. Roerich...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Top secret in Samara

Last night, we finally got Yulia to come over for dinner. We wanted to begin to show our appreciation for her hard work and eating my spaghetti is a good way to say thank you. It was such a pleasant dinner that she wants to do it again, so I am very glad to hear this since I too would like to cook more for her and share some time talking with her. Usually, with Yulia, conversations, as Jeremy has mentioned, are not very linear because she is so darn busy, but last night we learned some interesting facts about Samara now and then.

Jeremy explained some points about Samara being a closed city during the span of the USSR a few weeks ago and I would like to add to it. Yulia told us about a time when she was in college where she saw this little sign on an announcement board to go to England. Turns out she passed the first step because no one else was actually "Russian." I think she meant they were Tartar or of other ethnicities since there are many in the Volga region. Anyway, the second part of the process was an interview with, you guessed it, the KGB. Those guys had her so scared telling her to never talk to anyone if she went and to not go out at night and to always go places with someone. They made England seem so scary, staying in Samara sounded like a better idea.

Another time she went to an English exhibition in Moscow. She was so excited because it would be the first time she thought she would get a chance to speak with foreigners. Imagine studying and teaching a language and never having a chance to practice with a native speaker because they can't come to your town! Anyway, when she got there, she got up the nerve to talk to a foreigner. She said it was like a 15 minute basic conversation about each other, very innocent. Ten minutes later a young man approached her and said she should never try such an act again if she wanted to be "safe!" Only certain people that had been okayed by the government were alllowed to converse with the foreigners at the exhibit.

Of course, we've all heard stories and seen movies about the omnipresent and intimidating KGB, but when you hear personal stories about them in the city you are lving in, it's just shocking!

Yulia explained to us why the position Jeremy holds as an English Language Fellow is so fantastic to Samara. It wasn't until after the fall of communism that such a person could even set foot in the city. So having anyone come to help teach the people about teaching methods and life in other countries is a treat for many people here. Maybe the younger students are less aware of this since they have lived most of their lives under "democracy", but the older ones, I think, feel lucky.

We also talked about the current political situation in Samara. This weekend people will vote for a new mayor and just down the street there was a debate two nights ago. Turns out politicians here are no different than at home. The Russians have a saying, "Do you pick the bad one or the worse one?" Sounds like a few sayings we have in the states!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Our Apartment!

So it's time for you to see the apartment, yes? Beforehand, I would like to just say I am sorry about my last post. I think it could be due to a little culture shock (it comes and goes, you know) on my part. I am sure all those people in the Italian restaurant are very nice people, but if I feel uncomfortable it can't be stopped, no?
Sorry for the ranting...

Now onto the good stuff. Let's start with the view you will see after you get past out two bolted doors, yes two!

Very narrow? To the left is a little coat area and a place to take off your shoes. This seems to be a common custom in all the countries we've been to, but this one also has a fridge. There's no room for it in our tiny but quaint kitchen!

To the right is our living room, and it lives up to its name; we do a lot of living here. You can't tell from the picture, but the couch curves in the corner for tons of room and the brown thing to the right is the entertainment center full of places to put books and stuff. While we are on the subject, most Russian apartments are furnished, some austere but luckily for us ours is quite homey.

One extra point I would like to make about our lovely living room. Do you see that kind of balcony to the right of Jeremy. It's a great place to escape for most Samarans lucky enough to have one. They put out plants or dry their clothes there, but for us it ends up being a useless room right now. Maybe we'll use it when the weather is nicer. If you have any ideas for it, let us know. Our only request is that the decorations would require little money since we don't want to invest too much in a place we may not be living in in nine months!

In the hall on the first left is the dolphin room aka toilet closet. We had one in Japan too. It's nice for isolating stinky smells!

The next door on the left is the bathroom. I am so happy to have a bathtub! Ok we don't get a sick for the room, but it's not a problem for us. As you can see, it doubles as a laundry room.

Opposite the bathroom is our bedroom. I am not too crazy about all the pink, but the bed is quite nice and there is plenty of space for clothes. We both get a little side table and would you take a look at that vanity! I've never had it so good! The main problem with this room is the curtains. I used to think the bows were too much, but then Jeremy said they looked like Zorak from Spaceghost, so they bother me less. Since they don't keep much light out though, it's tough to sleep since we are facing a very busy intersection complete with television billboards. Luckily we found out the landlady has no problem fixing them especially after hearing I wear an eye mask to bed every night and it only partially helps! By Monday, I think I'll be sleeping a bit more deeply!

Lastly, directly opposite of our door is our kitchen which I really love even if it is tiny. There is a seat that bends around the table which makes me think of my Aunt Pat's house although I don't know why...

So that's it. Wanna come and see it in person?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Steppin in Samara

On Saturday, my Russian teacher Katya took me to her all female gym. She had invited me last week and when she showed me the gym's schedule, I thought a step class might be fun since I have a few yoga and pilates dvd's with me. I really wanted to go just to experience a Russian fitness club, but I ended up in hell! The class was super tough. I forgot how uncoordinated I am so I couldn't keep up. I remember a step class I took a while back and I think the teacher took a bit more time to go through new steps with us, but this teacher was too pumped I think to care. We also didn't stretch enough so my calves are killing me two days later. Still, I am glad I went especially since I got to hang out with Katya. We talked about teaching and our lives a bit, so it was nice to connect to someone new too.

That night I had Jeremy take me out for dinner. We go out about once a week. It's a weird experience sometimes to go out especially at this one Italian place we like. Everyone there thinks they're hot shit or something. Sorry, but it is just weird to me. Some people in Korea would be like that at the nicer restuarnts, but in Korea everyone goes out to eat. There is a wide range of eateries and prices and people party out, not at home. Here most people are too poor to go out to eat more than once a year. I think the standard of living must be higher in a city like Samara, but it feels so strange to feel pretty rich especially since I want to stay down to earth and I am no good at thinking I am the shiznit!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lost but almost warm

Last night I heard one of the most beautiful sounds to come out of Russia, the puddling pipes in our bedroom. The sound is quite like going up the chromatic scale of a xylophone or as Jeremy describes, putting packing tape on a box. The sound only meant one thing when it woke us around 4 this morning, heat is on its way! Actually Jeremy went over to the vents and could feel warm air, but by the time we got up, they had been shut off already. Like other towns in Russia, you have to wait to get your heat. Some mysterious place decides which neighborhoods get to negate the cold and which ones have to really add on layers to their outfits during the fall. And theories about when and where abound. I've heard everyone will have heat by the 15th or after 3 consecutive days of it being less than 55F. The latter has been proven false, but maybe 15 will be our lucky number. Universities already have air pumping through their classrooms and if you are lucky enough to get a seat on the tram close to the window you are now gauranteed warm feet! Actually I am really not complaining since we have surrendered ourselves to spending most of our time home in the living room where our 12 inch heat/fan we bought is able to reach the circumfrance of the room. Last night was a tease, but a hotter fate lies in store for us!

About the Lost reference, Jeremy went off to another town which I have a feeling he will write about on his blog today, while I stayed home. For a bit I just sat to knit and thought I'd watch a little Russian TV. Lucky for me, Lost was on, of course sadly dubbed over in Russia and it was an episode from last season, but I could catch some bits here and there. Pathetically those bits were "I'm sorry?" and "Yeah, I know." besides question words, but I knew it was stimulating a few brain cells!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Independence, ho!

So this week has been exceptionally good as far as getting over my culture shock by venturing out a lot more alone. Yesterday I had to go downtown for a little class I am teaching. Right now I am taking a class with Katya at Yulia's school. In return I said I would teach. So while Jeremy was at his training class, I had to navigate myself around Samara. Usually I depend on Jeremy since he is a human compass. For some reason, the downtown area is a maze and I can't find the cheese! So I took a map with me and got there without losing my way. Then I went to a supermarket (oh how interesting) and walked home all by myself. I don't think I could have done it two weeks ago and here's why- those Russians are always asking questions! Maybe it was easier in Japan and Korea. Obviously I was a foreigner, but here everyone thinks I know where such and such a place is or what time it is! If my Russian was great, ask away, but since I am still learning, it's a dead give away I'm not Russian when I widdle out "Ya Ne Zna Yu"- I don't know. Although it's kind of funny that they take me for Russian. I thought I stood out with my bright orange coat, but maybe not.

So where was I? Yes, independence! Then today I had to go downtown again for my Russian lesson. Jeremy was still ill, so sans Jeremy. It was nice to have Katya all to myself. She invited me to go to her gym's aerobics class this Sat- fun! Aftrwards I thought I'd survey a larger area and try to get my barings which went well. Confidence, ho! I was also looking for a winter coat. Luckily in Russia, all the second hand stores say,"Second Hand" in English! I found one candidate, but Katya mentioned in class there was a store a few tram stops after our apartment, so I walked around my neighborhood too until I found it. I am winter coat-less, but by tomorrow I should be quite snug which is a good thing since it's forcasted to snow on Sunday- ya!

Monday, October 09, 2006

sicky poo in Samara

If you have been reading Jeremy's blog, you already know Jeremy and I were sick yesterday. I am doing much better, but Jeremy is (cough cough) still under the weather. This is my main reason for not writing yesterday. I'd like to write several times a week. At first, I thought every day like Jeremy would be good, but maybe I am already getting used to my life here, so it's not so interesting everyday. I know that I have some extra topics during boring spells...Anyway, today will be about being sick a little in Russia. I just learned Jeremy will write about something else tonight, so I am free to go nuts- hazaa!

Besides a big spicy vat of minestrone to help combat our health woes, we took this special medication Yulia suggested yesterday night. It's Anaferon. Supposedly it should build up your immune system super fast. Yulia recently had a cold and found the effects amazing, so we took a few doses yesterday and it's worked well for me. I was achey and had a bad headcold, but most of my symptoms have disappeared. Jeremy's is still mooching, but I have a feeling he'll be chipper tomorrow. I thought you might like to see how bad it's really gotten illness-wise. Jeremy's was more in his throat...

While mine is all over...

It's not bad being sick in Russia. There are more medications to take which lean towards prevention than the suppression of symptoms. Although a few medications might sound a bit weird to us, (one even has E coli in it!) Russians swear by them. We've learned through a few culture books that Russians love dispensing their knowledge of cures for all sorts of health issues. Since I wasn't interested in taking notes, we only asked Yulia about it. Unforntunately for Jeremy, he had a training course today, but the good news is that his class was super sympathetic and they all appreciated he stuck it out. Such a perspective was pleasantly surprising! It's nice to know Russians care so much, but then there is the expression "Na Zdarovya" which means "to your health!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Scary Samara?

So you know how my last post was all about how I had a good episode of culture shock? Of course, I wanted to know where it was coming from, so I did a bit of soul searching. What I found is a sad but true revelation- Russian people are scary. I don't really feel that way now and I think by the time we come home (whenever that will be!) I'll have a much different perspective about Russians, but this idea is not altogether, for lack of a better word, ignorant. Just think about it. For several decades Russians were our major enemy, dare I say, comparable to El Quiada? Well, the government would have made you believe it. There were times in American history when we didn't know if the Russians would push that A Bomb button or not. Now, of course, we can focus our fear on another ridiculous boogie man. I'm sorry, I understand terrorists are real and all, but I think Americans are way too freaked out about foreigners!

OK, so even if we are "allies" now (who knows how long that will last?), I think we still percieve Russia with some caution. There was a time not long ago when people likened Putin to the future anti-christ. We hear more about the Russian mafia than we do about its culture or economy too. Plus, personally, when we first got into Moscow, Jeremy had a security workshop on how to stay safe in Russia. There are even accounts of major xenophobia leading to attacks on foreigners here in Samara, albeit it usually happens to Eastern Europeans. Still that sucks of course! All this most have been bobbling through my head when my culture shock kicked in.

Also, I couldn't help but compare Russia to Korea or Japan. In Japan, I've heard stories of drunken guys falling asleep on a park bench and waking up with their wallet still in their pockets! Basically Japan is one of the safest places I have ever been. But they have the Yakusa, right? Only if you want to find them, will you and even then I think you'll have to really search the under belly of Tokyo. In Korea, I only worried about drunk American soldiers getting too aggressive. I lived near an area frequented by many Korean business men and I only got a few strange calls when they were wobbling to the subway. One was "Beautiful!" which made me blush and the other was "Hello How are you? Sugar and Cream?" That was with my best bud Erica. I said she was cream because I really wanted to be sugar! Maybe I took that sense of safety for granted or maybe I was just accosted by more generalizations from America and a very anal embassy when it came to Russia...I realize this now that it is sad to think a country that has helped shape the world into a more beautiful place with its art, dance, music and food should be seen less as brothers and sisters and than suspicious "Reds" even if that term is history. I am confident while I am here that such riduculousness will become a silly thought from long ago for me. I mean how could it not? I used to be Kim Jong Il's neighbor and that didn't spook me for a second! Ah denial is a grand elixir!

Yeah, so like any place I've lived, there will always be places to avoid and a way to hold myself. I think I've mastered how to take care of myself, so please don't be worried. I swear my head's screwed on pretty tightly. Plus, I don't want to spook anyone interested in coming over. I promise to take very good care of you!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shockin Samara

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. It just came a little earlier than expected. Last week, after a fantastic romp on Samaraskaya Luka, I was feeling slightly mad, as in wiggling out of a straight jacket. Really I was more pensive, trying to keep it from Jeremy and examine it by myself. Thinking it was just spending too much time alone, by the end of the week, it was clear. Culture shock surprise. It's funny though because even though I was altogether funky feeling, I got a lot of work done on my book.

Oh I didn't tell you I'm writing a book? Oh, you want to know what it's about? How does one answer that question? Let's just say it's a multi-cultural fantasy book I'm trying to write for children and hoping I can make it into a trilogy. You'd need to take me out for a drink to hear the detailed version.

Anyway, back to my unnerving feelings...I had spent most of the week inside. One reason being there was only one copy of our apartment key and Jeremy needed to meet with Yulia several times and even if I had one, I don't know if I would have ventured out. After thinking it through I think my perspective of Russia had a significant effect on my mood. I'll get into that in more detail next post. It has all left me now, so let me tell you how.

Besides really examining myself thoughtfully and emotionally, I finally talked to Jeremy. He agreed I was "just not Jen-jen." He remembered a time in Korea that rang of the same notes too. Just talking to him helped, but the next day we thought we'd navigate through the downtown area. I was so tense and irritable. I suggested we hit a coffee shop, so I got a nice caffeine shot and Jeremy mentioned during high degrees of culture shock, we yearn for comfort food, hence the coffee fix. Actually, it helped a lot more than I expected it to. Another reason for the shock was that I was just feeling helpless, the main cause for shock. That same day we got a key from Vasili (our go-to man) so I could have a bit more independence. I am not the sort of person that handles being so dependent on people. I love shopping by myself and even going to restaurants or a movie alone doesn't bug me. I think my brain just had had enough waiting for life to settle. I had to remind myself that learning a language and becoming well oriented to my environment would take time. I understand mostly that I just need to be patient about everything on a new level. As a follow up, this week has had some small victories, which I will also explain later, so as is well with my head!

One note of interest- Jeremy has so far eluded this shockin' monkey, but it's nice we weren't in the boat together, so someone could get us to shore!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Samaraskaya Luka Sunday

This Sunday (September 24- I'm trying to catch up!) was a day I don't think I will ever forget. It was such a good day, in fact, I was a little bummed the following few days because they paled in comparison. Jeremy and I woke up early to meet Yuri and take a few buses down to a dock. On the way, we met up with Sveta, Yuri's friend, and we all boarded a large boat that would take us to the island, Samaraskaya Luka which is in the middle of the Volga. Yuri had told me scientists believe it has strange magnetic energy a la "Lost" because on one side, the current goes north and on the other, south. Think of it circling the island. The boat ride was colder than we expected, but the view was fantastic. I hadn't anticipated the leaves would have turned since in our neighborhood, most were still green. The spectrum of colors was just brilliant and with the morning light, the sights were tinged with gold.

Once we docked, the four of us hiked through some woods until we came to a large field. Jeremy remarked how the terrain was similiar to Wisconsin, so his mood was very nostalgic. Eventually, we came to a town which was made of old traditional houses. Yuri pointed out a whote box like building. It was the only store in the village and it was closed since it was a Sunday. As we walked past some houses, we could see all the vedgies and fruit the residents grew. they backyards were teeming with produce. It made me envy how simple life must be there. We also found a bush with a berry I had never seen before. Since it wasn't on anyone's property, we helped ourselves to a few. The taste was sweet at first, but then a tartness traveled all around my mouth.

Here is one of the prettier houses in the town.

After some more walking, we came to our first destination- a spring that is said to be holy. A church was recently constructed near it, so it had a fence around the area. Luckily the gate wasn't locked, but it particularly irked Yuri since anyone had been able to go and take water. Why should the church be able to claim it as their's? I totally understood his view on the matter. Hopefully, they won't stop anyone from going to the spring in the future. We all brought some container, so was could bring some back. They say the water never goes bad. If you wished, you could take a dip too, but it wasn't a hot spring, so we passed. Afterwards, we found a nice spot for a picnic. Each of us had brought something to eat and together we had a nice feast. There was bread, cheese, sausage Jeremy and I decided was more like bologna than sausage, pistachios, tomotoes, and a sour cheese that reminded us of chees cake. Next, we hiked up a hill to a place where we could buy honey. A barking dog met us and a man who looked like he worked at the church told us they no longer sold honey. It wasn't too much of a letdown, especially since we joked the dog had been trying to tell us that all along!

We continued walking for some time until Yuri showed us the trail he thought we could climb. I was having a hard time up it since it was incredibly steep. For some reason, I just couldn't seem to balance. Luckily we found a spot to enjoy the view. Yuri told us that only two boats come to the island usually, the morning one and the evening one, so we had a lot of time to kill. Jeremy suggested, we sit in a field nearby and have another picnic. He had brought our Gong Hee Fot Choy game, a fortune telling game, and some pinochle cards. First, we gave Sveta and Yuri readings and then we tried to teach the two the rules of pinochle. Luckily Yuri was my partner. He kept looking at Sveta's cards and acting beligerent everytime we one a round. I would have been pretty annoyed if he were my opponant! We then had some more picnic food and made our way back to the dock. Jeremy and I were so beat by the time we got home, but our moods were so relaxed and happy. It really was a perfect day- beautiful nature, fun people and great conversation!

Here's a pic of Yuri, me and Sveta

2nd Saturday in Samara

On Saturday, not far from our apartment, there was a special English conference where local English schools set up tables and had info for perspective students. It was also to be Jeremy's first highlight as an English Language Fellow. I just came along for the free stuff. I only got a few pieces of chocolate but a nice pen! We mainly sat at the ELC table (Yulia's school) and we met Lubmila who, besides being the Longman Publications rep for the Samara area, is an expert at testing and assessment of English students (a real mover and shaker). We got to talking a bit and she said she may accompany us on some of Jeremy's trips which is fine by me because she seems like a cool lady. While we were there, we also tasted pierozhi which is like a pierogi but with bread. We had the meat and cheese which we enjoyed. Jeremy did a short informal presentation mostly about himself and being a fellow. Of course, I was very proud- like I always am!

That night I attempted my first pot of Shchi, the cabbage soup I mentioned in "Samara, our home away." I had only half read some recipes online, but it turned out quite well and only got better each day that followed (I made a lot). I think I'll make it for all those visitors I'll have in the future...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Internet Fiasco: At least we don't have dial-up!

Tuesday, September 20th was the beginning of our journey into the information supere highway, but there were many roadblocks before we met our destination. Was that painful for you to read? That morning, Yuri took us took us to the other side of the city by bus and marshrutka (a van taxi, kind of like a dolmush in Turkey). Then we hiked a bit looking for the office building before we found it. After deciding whose name went where with the paperwork, we went to another spot to pay (stretching out the work gives everyone a job!) and then headed back home hoping the guy who physically connects us would be able to come by that afternoon. While we waited, I fed Yuri and Jeremy lunch which these two skinny men devoured. Then I talked Jeremy into getting some cookies at the nearby supermarket. Yuri waited until 3:30, but no fix-it man came, so he said good-bye.

The next day a man came named Rishot. Do you know the English equivalent? That's, right- Richard! Anyway, lucky for us, he could speak English very well. He fiddled around for 3 hours but still couldn't get us hooked up. He promised to call us that night, so Jeremy and I went downtown crestfallen to meet the woman from the Ministry of Education in charge of getting us registered. Oksana, the aforementioned woman, has become my style idol. I think she's around the same age as Jeremy and myself which was a shocker for us. We imagined someone in this position carried a certain age. She also was very cute, but it was her outfit that made me realize some Russian women kick fashion ass! She had on a cute gray skirt with piping and a slit on one side, a collared shirt with a short fat tie, gray fishnet stockings with very small netting and white heals. It could not have been a more put together outfit for the office. Quite impressed was I!

The next day we expected to see Rishot by 2, but he never showed, so we went into town trying not too become too disappointed. After all, there was a time when we did without the internet, right? Yulia had pointed out a well stocked craft store the day before, so we went to check it out. After getting a new embroidery hoop and some yarn for a future Christmas project, we headed to La Cucaracha- a Mexican restaurant. We had read about it in our travel guide, so we really couldn't help ourselves. The guacamole wasn't as good as the guide claimed, but it was nice not to have to cook! After dinner, we met up with Yuri and his sister Anna, his buddy Misha, and his classmate Sveta for some classic jazz at the Philharmonic Hall. The group was great and we were in the third row! Yuri had seen them before; they are well known in the Russian jazz circuit. One interesting cultural fact- Russian women get a lot of flowers in this country including female singers. During the second part of the performance, the singer received flowers after almost every song she sang! Afterwards, Sveta left and the rest of us enjoyed a long walk around the city. We got to see a better view of the Volga from the Victory Park where there is a famous Samara landmark and a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church which was illuminated with night lights. There was also a portrait of Jesus looking rather bummed. Maybe he was sad because this church is only open on special holidays...

Friday was our day to celebrate. That morning two men came- oh before I go any further, this was this morning's phone dialogue (ring ring)

a: Hello
b: Hello, This is Sam Telecom
a: Hi, This is Jeremy.
b: No German, only English!

I hope it made you giggle. I think it's super funny! Anyway, low and behold the big problem wasn't that we had a Mac, Rishot's theory, it was an old cable wire to connect us. Once they put in a new one, we were up and running! Now I can call my loved ones for free!

And so ends our internet saga, but wait until the bill comes!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Saturday, Sunday, Samara

On our first Friday, we ventured around the neighborhood by ourselves. We went to a market with different rooms selling different things, of course and to a supermarket in the basement, but it was rather disappointing. There was, however, an electronics store full of kitchen supplies we will undoubtedly need. We then tried a supermarket closer to our place and found it full of basics for meal prep. Still, some odds and ends eluded me. I couldn't help but think of Korea. It took us a couple weeks to find the local supermarkets and a few months to find the foreign food markets! At least things are a bit easier here in some respects.

Sorry, I'm looking at my notes and I think this will be a four day post. Turns out the above was really Thursday, like you care!

Anyway, on Friday we met the landlady. She has fire red hair, which is obviously dyed and she loves pink! I thought it would be a good time to give her some souvenirs from the states since we had finally unpacked. She was super thankful and told us we should come to her dacha in the spring! They say in our Russian culture book that if you are ever given the opportunity to go to a dacha, take it! What's a dacha Jenevieve? It's a little house outside "the city" where you can grow some food, enjoy nature and take a rest. Many people have one. Yuri says the range in size is quite broad considering how big your wallet is.

Friday was also the day for our first communication "failure". A man was suppose to arrive that morning, hence the landlady's visit, but like we have come to learn in Russia, things may not turn out the way you planned. The man had to come and measure the place for some legal reason, although it didn't seem to apply to us. We said we would stay around the place until he got here. Eventually he showed up sometime in the afternoon. Try as we might to welcome him in, he wouldn't leave the stairwell area. We asked for his telephone number so Yulia could call him, but he just kept repeating things in Russia we obviously couldn't understand. We tried to gesture to him to come in, but that didn't work. In one word, he was completely unwilling. Once I realized this, I waited with Jeremy until the man saw it was a hopeless cause and left. I called Yulia afterwards so she could call Boris, our landlord, and explain to him the situation, so that he could take care of it. This is one lesson I learned quickly in Korea. At times, as much as I tried to be understood, some people were unwilling, even when I was speaking Korean! That's when I realized I don't need to take it personally or think I've actually failed. I did what I could; I can't change another person's stubbornness.

On Saturday, I made my first Russian meal- Pelmyeni (Siberian meat dumplings). I bet Kate (S) is salivating right now! I sauteed some garlic and onion before adding the dumplings. We topped it off with a bit of sour cream and were instantly sent to heaven! After lunch, me met Yuri so we could get a cell phone which was a very simple process- Thanks, Yuri! Afterwards, the three of us headed out to see other parts of the city. First we went to the largest bookstore in Samara. You have to go up a crummy stairwell to get there, something else I didn't expect, but I am getting used to. I thought they'd have some nice cafe connected to it like in the States- what was I thinking (Coffee?!) Anyway, it was definitely big. They even had an English section. There weren't any current bestseller's but plenty of classics and even some Russian works translated, of course. I was very happy to see them since one of our culture books had a list of must reads in Russian Lit and they practically had them all. We also picked up an extra map of Samara, but in Russia, unfortunately. Next, we walked along the streets to see the railroad station- a bizarre glass domed "Metropolis"-like structure situated between some older European buildings. Sorry I forgot my camera! The day had become quite chilly, so after more walking, I pointed out an Italian restaurant that looked nice inside. I was really eyeing the cappuccino sign! Once inside, we could tell it was a place for New Russians (the ones with money). The eatery ended up being more Middle Eastern than Italian, but we didn't mind kebabs in the least. It took an extraordinarily long time to get our food, but the waitstaff was pretty nice. The coffee maker wasn't even working, so I had to get Nescafe with milk. :( Anyway, we had great conversations. When Yuri found out I liked jazz, his jaw dropped. Turns out he's a huge jazz fan and that there was going to be a jazz concert that Thursday. So he said he would try and get us tickets. Maybe it's possible...

On Sunday, Jeremy and I braved the cold (it was in the 40's!) to find a super supermarket Yuri had circled on our map. The long walk there warmed us up, luckily. Hmm.. it seems that's all I wrote about Sunday. Guess it was a dull day spent inside. Anyway, that place had everything we were looking for- herbs and cheese we had heard of, even frozen pizzas and red lentils!

Stay tuned for the Internet Fiasco!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Samara, our home away

Continuing from the last post...
The next morning we met the landlord at the apartment with the two real estate agents, and of course, Yulia. After signing a very reasonable contract, we were told Vasili, the landlord's driver (this dude must be loaded!) would be our super, as in, we do all bitching and moaning directly at him.

We paid all the fees and rents and then headed downtown to get our fist peak of the bustling area of Samara. On the tram, we saw the only strip of road that would look anything close to new and modern in the states. It was kind of like a colorful main street with higher-end shops. Sadly, most buildings in Samara are dull in color while others are truly dilapidated. All around us were signs of a past, but few of the future. Even though Samara is growing in leaps and bounds economically, transition takes time, I suppose.

Our first stop was a traktir restaurant that I believe may have been mentioned on Jeremy's blog recently. Just for those too busy to check out both our blogs, it's a traditional Russian restaurant with a menu full of all foods Russian. We first got the salad bar, which, of course from all the salad bars we've seen outside of the states, is nothing like you would imagine. It was actually a salad bar of salads with many types of slaw and potato , but a few fishy ones we stayed clear of. We ordered Shchi for our main meal. It's a cabbage and dill soup teaming with vegetables which I have a feeling Nicole would really enjoy. Maybe I'll make it the next time I'm in Madison...Anyway, the soup came with buckwheat pancakes, but they, again, are not what you would imagine. They are much flatter, and disappointingly just plain funky. I don't know what it is about the buckwheat here, but it's a little weird. Instead of being like any other grain (tasteless) an aftertaste appears that's just not right to my taste buds. I'm rambling...We also got dumplings we didn't have room in our bellies to eat, so we brought them home for dinner. Lastly, we had the dessert bar which was obviously full of sweets. Most countries seem to get that right although sweet azuki beans in Japan took some getting used to!

Afterwards we visited the English Language Center and met two of the employees. One was Yuri who was interested in giving us a little walking tour of the downtown. So we walked a bit downtown, had some money exchanged and got a first grand view of the Volga. From the beach, you can see the Zhiguli Mountains which are like a large wall straight across the horizon. We learned Yuri had been in the FLEX program a few years ago. If you've ever been to a typical summer vacation spot, you've probably been served by a FLEX student. They're mostly form the Eastern Block countries and Russia. We even met one at Wisconsin's Devil's Lake this summer. Yuri said he worked at the McDonald's in Virginia Beach. He thought it was incredible that the average worker there makes 7 bucks an hour. At the one in Samara, they make about 30 cents! But the prices for things here are somewhat comparable to those in the states. I swear, I don't know how anyone can survive here

To end this blog, I'll leave you with a view from a bedroom. I love how the sky eats up half the view! You can see the Zhiguli Mountains from our place too, but can you spot the Volga?