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.