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.