Sunday, August 26, 2007

Did you know...

Teachers get nervous before the first day of school, too?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again


What a week! Just this morning, while I was getting my hair cut, the stylist asked me how long I've been coming to that salon. I replied that it had been over a year now. Then, later, I thought about it and realized no, no. I've actually only been coming there since April. A whopping 5 months. But such a strange 5 months time-wise that I still have a hard time believing it was not longer.

School started, for me at least, on Monday with a surprise faculty meeting up in the mountains. Surprise, because the district actually scheduled our first day for Tuesday. That wasn't good enough for our principal, though, so we came back a day early to sit through a rather uninteresting course on diversity. I think the intention was to help us fight prejudice in our classrooms and ourselves, but the presenters never really got around to how we should prevent it, or even address it. Rather, they seemed bent on making us believe that it still exists.

Duh.

Personally, I checked out when they were listing eight "isms", which they said were the key areas of discrimination. Among the expected likes of "racism", "ageism", "faithism", and such was "heterosexism".
When they uncovered that word, my vow of silence (hello Mandy!) shattered.
I raised my hand and asked where that term came from.
They gave a long non-answer.
So I, as politely as I could, pointed out that that particular term seemed inherently biased.
They replied that the majority's point of view, and therefore the prevailing prejudice, is what's reflected in that term; therefore, it's an accurate term.
By now, some of the other teachers picked up on it and began pointing out the fallacies in the term. The program director came to the front of the room to "settle things", and said that yes, while it is a biased term, the perhaps-more-accurate term "sexual orientationism" is long and awkward.

Anyway, that's just a taste of what the 11-hour training was like. I'm proud to say that I did hold my tongue, for the most part, but I'll say here that it felt like an enormous waste of time to me.

So that was our entrance to a new school year. I've had some time in my classroom, where I finally picked an arrangement for the students (four groups of eight, made with two tables pushed together per group - we'll see how bad the talking is). I also am getting better at giving myself permission to not do things. For example, my bulliten boards are covered with a base fabric (to cover up, for example, the swastika some student scribbled on there in ink years ago), but no decorated beyond that. My show posters aren't up, the clocks are still awaiting fresh batteries befor e going up, and I haven't touched the disaster that is the prop cabinet. Still, the room is neat, clean, and I am almost ready.

What I've mostly been doing all week is attending meetings. We had a faculty meeting, a department meeting, a calendaring meeting, and a meeting for the musical. The last one was my own doing, since I started having a mild panic attack when we scheduled musical auditions for the week after Thanksgiving. Which is just one week after the Advanced Drama play wraps up. I still get a surge of panic-laced adrenaline when I think about how freakin' soon that is. It's a necessity, though, which I will explain the cause of in a few more weeks. I'll just say that it's not my news to announce yet, so I'll wait until it's public knowledge because who knows who reads this blog?

I also had a few meetings with Howard, which included his approving my choice for the fall play, his blessing to try to arrange for the entire ninth grade to see a touring production of "Romeo and Juliet", and his approval for me to take a group of students on an all-day (as in 6:00am-9:00pm) field trip to the Shakespeare Festival south of here. I'm excited about all three, and eager to announce the last one to my students on Monday to see how many want to go.

I guess the summary is that it's been a busy week, a warm week, and I'm starting to feel ready for school on Monday. I'm getting a sense of what this year will shape up to be, and I'm excited for it. I've got the usual pre-school jitters, though, and I'm anticipating some tense dreams the next two nights. I have a lot of to look forward to, though, starting with a family trip to San Diego next weekend.

Wish me luck, friends!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Not My Kitty...

... but it sure is cute!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Statements I Made in Russian, Translated Into English



There's nothing like trying to get along in a new language to ripen your humility. Here are some examples of how my language abilities were reduced to those of a two-year-old:

To the lady at the Kirovsky Elderly placement, after a conversation with her six year old granddaughter:
"She is very red. Very, very red, yes."
(To be fair, the Russian words for "red" and "beautiful" are from the same root, and are very similar)

When trying to buy a hat, the word for which I assumed was printed on the price tag:
"I want, I buy sale, please. Very big sale, please, is here."

What I said to the lady who sold me the ballet ticket, at the end of the transaction:
"Hello!... no, Please!.... no, th-thank you! Yes, thank you!"

I thought the kind old man was telling me to take home a stray cat I was admiring near us, so I said
"I have one cat in house in Colorado. She very beautiful. That's enough."
Then Acia told me the gentleman was actually saying that there is an old Russian folksong about a black cat, and he could sing it for me if I like.

Flustered, I combined the word for water ("voda") with the brand name of the bottled water ("aqua voda"):
"I buy two vodkas, please."
The cashier laughed at me, then brought me two cokes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Amanda's Toilet Rubric


There's nothing like traveling in a foreign land to make you appreciate the comforts of home. With that and my recent excursions in mind, I give you

Amanda's Toilet Rubric

The restroom facilities at any given establishment can be assessed using a standard grading scale (i.e. A, B, C, D, or F).

The grade depends on the following factors -

1. Structure. That is, does the facility include the basics of a room, including some separation from the others waiting in line for it (such as a locking door)?

2. Equipment. The basics demand a toilet and a sink in the vicinity. What, exactly, qualifies as a toilet and a sink is left to the evaluator's discretion, thus allowing room for the debate over whether a hole in the ground with a cinderblock on either side of it (for your feet) counts as a toilet.

3. Accessories. Toilet paper gets the utmost priority. Soap is secondary, paper towels or other hand dryers are negotiable.

4. Cleanliness. You know what I'm talking about here.

5. Smells. While this often is related to cleanliness, it's so vital to your overall bathroom experience, it merits a separate category.

6. Cost. Those of your unfamiliar with European toilets and/or the origins of the musical "Urinetown" may be baffled by this category. It matters, though. If entrance is free but tips are required, those restrooms also count in this category. and don't think about running out on the tips - just ask my friend Emily about the gypsy curse she received when she tried that.

Six categories, five possible grades. By sheer existence and availability, the bathroom you encounter begins with an "A". Should it be deemed deficient in any of the above categories, the grade drops by one letter for each lacking category.

For example, the restroom in the salt museum in N. A locking door, a toilet with a toilet seat, no lingering unpleasant odors - it did well, actually, but there was no sign of toilet paper. Thus this restroom received a "B".

Of course, one can use those grading negotiables, "+" and "-", to refine your assessement. Thus, if a lady at the door of a nice, clean bathroom insists on getting 15 rubles in exchange for a few squares of toilet paper (see categories "Cost" and "Accessories"), but it is the cheapest bathroom you've seen in town, feel free to give it a B+.

Likewise, if the restroom does, indeed, contain a toilet that you sit upon, but the toilet seat is made of wood and hangs on a nail next to the toilet, then it would earn an A-. (Actually, that particular example earned a D-, failing in the categories of accessories, sight, and smell. My favorite part of it was the flushing system - a tub of water with a pail in it that you used to pour water into the toilet bowl.)

So there it is. Now that you know the six categories (which you can remember with some rearrangement by the acronym "ACCESS"), enjoy them the next time you're traveling and wishing for not just home, but a particular room in your home.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New York, New York!


Hello from the states, my dear friends!

I am writing you from a computer in the lobby of the NYU dorm, where mon ami Jason is kind enough to put me up for a few nights. After the long ride to the airport, the long wait at the airport, and the long, long, long airplane ride with a long wait on the runway afterwards, and a long wait for the luggage to show (where, in a Aeroflot miracle, both of my checked bags arrived!), I am really glad I decided to break up the journey home with a quick sojourn in NYC.

Small things that made me very happy last night:
The salad I had for dinner
The ice in my drink
People speaking English without looking bitter about it
The "You're welcome" I got from a cashier when I said "Thank you"
Outlets everywhere that I can use!
Free internet
Brushing my teeth with water from the tap
A shower with pleasant water temperatures
Signs I can read swiftly, rather than sounding out the words

and so on. I'm liking America right now.

Since Jason is in the midst of a terribly busy week, I had the day to myself to enjoy. I slept in until 9:00am (and, I'm glad to report, I'm feeling very little jetlag. Staying awake for 26 hours yesterday was hard, but I'm just about adjusted thanks to it.), took a luxuriously long time to get ready (did my hair and makeup and everything!), then headed out.

I went to Murray's Cheese Shop first to pick up some lunch (a very salty Italian ham and cheese sandwich and some tasty jalapeno coleslaw) and took the subway uptown to Lincoln Center. I ate my sandwich on a bench in the park there, then went into the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts to do some script browsing. What a great library! What cool resources they have that do me very little good as an out-of-towner.

After that, I took myself to a movie and saw Stardust, which I enjoyed quite a bit in a silly, romantic-fantasy kind of way. But then again, I tend to like any movie that has David Kelly in it, as Rose and I discussed the other day in our room.

Back on the subway, then, and down to Times Square and the excellent Drama Book Shop. I still need to pick the fall Advance Drama play, so my main goal for the day was to pick up some good possibilities while I was around scripts I could paruse in person, instead of relying on the blurbs offered through online ordering. I got some good possibilities, as well as some sheet music for my brother.

I settled in a Starbucks next with a double chocolate chip frappachino and did some editing for Jason. (He's working on a writing sample for his clerkship applications, and asked if I would help him pick one out and offer suggestions.) Jason called while I was there, so I met him at his office in the New York Times Building. He gave me a quick tour, including the best view I've ever seen of the city, and we headed back for the dorm together.

And that brings me to now. Jason's downstairs being all studious, and I'm about to go back up to the room to repack my bags for tomorrow. We're planning on going out to a nice dinner tonight (thanks, Dad!), and maybe a movie, depending on what time it gets to be. Then tomorrow it's back to the airport and back to Colorado.

By the way, if I had had access to the internet yesterday during my whole Moscow airport debacle, you would have seen a post with a much-less pleasant mood than this. Rather than go into the whole sordid details now, I'll just say that there are five (FIVE!) different security points to go through, one of which I had to do twice, and there are rules there which are not posted or explained anywhere, but rather are just apparently part of the Russian consciousness. I'm going to avoid flying Aeroflot in the future as much as possible, and I hope I can totally avoid the Moscow airport. Still, it was nice to have a strong emotional break with Russia - I was glad to go once the plane took off.

Over the course of the transcontinental flight, I came up with a few topics for future posts. These include -
Amanda's Toilet Rubric
Statements I Made in Russian, Translated Into English
Finding My Inner Russian
and
White Gloves and Waterbottles: What to Expect at a Moscow Airport.

Enticing, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Few More Russian Pictures

Just a few I had on my jump drive from our trip to Tutaev this week.



Finally!

I've been without internet access for a few days now, hence my delay. I wrote the entry I posted below, but my hotel internet card ran out, and the front desk would only sell me a card for 300 rubles or above. Since I didn't need three hours worth, I tried the internet cafe across the street the next day. There, I bought 15 minutes worth and had typed a lovely post for you all, but the computer logged me off when I had 2 minutes left on my card, and since the cashier lady had disappeared, leaving me alone in a kind-of creepy room, I gave up. Today, though, I was out making last-minute purchases in Yaroslavl and passed another internet cafe, so I thought I would give it a shot. And here I am!

The time has really flown by here. It is my last day, and while I can't say that I'm sad to go, I can say that I'm glad I came. I decided to take it easier my last day here, so I've been walking all over town buying souveniers and gifts and taking pictures. I'm heading back to the hotel soon to pack, and tonight a few of the long-term volunteers are throwing a CCS party. Anthony, Caitlin, and Rachel were working on the food in the CCS office last night as Rose and I were watching a movie in there, so we got a preview of the menu. They're planning five courses, the highlight of which is a "Real" Salad. "Real" being defined by the presence of lettuce and the absence of mayonnaise.

I'll have to do a post-reflection on the whole shebang when I get stateside again, plus I have a few more stories to tell (including my adventures with the elderly at my last placement yesterday). My time online's running short, though, and I am trying not to go to the ATM again before I go.

I leave Yaroslavl at 5:00am tomorrow morning, Moscow at 2:30pm tomorrow afternoon, and New York City at 12:30pm on Tuesday. It'll be a crazy, airplane-filled next few days, but I'm excited to spend some time in NYC (hopefully finding a script for us to do this fall) and to get back to such luxuries as ice cubes, water from the tap, lettuce and other non-root vegetables, internet access, and customer service where you don't feel like you've offended and throroughly inconveinenced the waiter because you ask for something. America - hurrah!

Placements

Here is a post I wrote on Thursday. The delay is explained in the entry above.



Sorry I didn’t post yesterday as promised. It turned out to be a very long day with no breaks. Fortunately, my afternoon placement was an early one, so I have some time now to write about this work.

So. Placements. I think I’ll just describe the ones I’ve had the past few days to give you some idea of what, exactly, it is I am doing here.

The placement I’ve worked at the most is the deaf kindergarten. The kids here are between 2 and 5 years old, and are very, very cute. Ask me to see photos when you see me in person and I’ll prove it (it’s the only placement where photos are allowed). They are not orphans, but they are all deaf or extremely hearing impaired. The number of kids there varies day to day – as few as 3 and as many as 8. It’s apparently dwindled as the summer has gone on, and the government will be closing the program at the end of the month. Instead, the building will become a camp for kids with TB.

The building is enormous for a school of less than ten kids – larger than the hospital for kids. I haven’t been inside – instead, we set up the craft in one of the play areas outside. There are four of those, I think – sandboxes, metal structures (like one sided jungle gyms), and metal and wooden shacks where we do the crafts. These are all painted in shocking colors and interesting murals. It’s all a bit sloppy – I tore my pants on a nail sticking out from a cracked board the other day. The ground is covered with some grass, mostly weeds, and a bit of the sandy dirt that’s all over.

The crafts with these kids last maybe five minutes, ten if it’s a really good one. This week we made monster hands, last week they decorated bowls I made out of foam. Stickers were a big hit. After the craft, they go for the cars first. Also popular are balls, bubbles, the swing (a rope with a climbing clamp on either end we hang from a beam in the shack), and this set of magnetic tiles. We mostly play with the items with the kids, chase them about, and settle arguments.

I was at the hospital for kids again today. Next to the white building with bars across the windows is a play area fenced in by high iron poles. We hang our bags on those poles when we arrive, out of the kids reach to keep them from going through them. This play area is mostly dust, although there are weeds covering about a third of it. Again, there are some metal structures about to play on, and several large trees.

The kids here have a wider range of ages – the youngest is perhaps 4, the oldest 15 or 16. They are a mix of orphans and kids with families. They are there for anything from schizophrenia (which is apparently like the ADD of Russia – it’s the “in” diagnosis) to aggressiveness to bed wetting to running away too much. There are usually more boys than girls, and the play is a lot rougher. They like chasing each other about, playing soccer and basketball, smacking each other with the balls, and such. Allison does well there – she has a good rapport with the kids, chasing them and getting tickles by them.

I am not sure if it’s a general dislike of touch, or if it’s the result of teaching in public schools where it’s so taboo, but I just can’t get comfortable with the kids touching me. At the hospital, there’s one girl who frequently sneaks up behind me, then runs her hands repeatedly over my hair. Other kids try to hang off me or hug me, but I’m stiff and cold with it, I’m afraid. Some of it is germophobia – they only bath once a week (going to the banyas, so it’s a thorough bathing), and many of them have sores. At the summer camp, one boy who sat next to me had such terrible body odor that I could only breath when I turned my head as subtly as possible to the opposite side. That worked until another boy who reeked of cigarette smoke sat down on my other side.

This afternoon I went to the Kirovski City Camp. This is a day care-type program for kids in town (with parents). It’s the calmest of the placements, and in some ways the one where we feel the least useful. Today we made finger puppets (thanks, Mom!), then brought out the board games. While the kids enjoy the board games and got way into the crafts, they have five or six women there as staff who are very attentive to the kids. Today there were seven girls and two boys, between 9 and 14 years old, I’d guess. They are pretty creative – the more artsy crafts go over better with them. The adults were very curious about the felt I had brought, though. They had never seen it before.

The thing about the work here, I’ve decided, is this: we’re not here to make an individual difference as volunteers. Instead, the CCS work is making a difference with the kids and the programs, and I’m here as a clog in the machine, a drop in the ocean, pixel in the Pixar, as it were. So I have fun, I help where I can, and I enjoy Russia.

Yan asked if I would switch shifts with him tomorrow, which I gladly did. He wanted to go back to the summer camp, which worked out well since he was scheduled for one of the elderly groups and I wanted to do one of those before I left. I hear they do karaoke on Fridays, so whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Russia - The Train Ride

I have 27 mosquito bites at the moment. As Lindsay so graciously described it, I’m starting to look like I have chicken pox.

Sorry. I’m a bit out of it right now, as I try to stay awake until dinner. We didn’t sleep much on the train last night. The bonus was that this time Lindsay, Rose, Allison, and I were all next to each other, with Lindsay and I on bottom bunks. On the way to Petersburg, we were spread throughout the car, all on top bunks, which kept us from being able to sit up for the duration of the ride. Note to travelers – get the bottom bunk. You can store your luggage inside the bench (as opposed to sleeping around it, as I did going out there), and you have enough headroom to sit. The top is nice because that’s where the breeze from the window goes, but get the bottom bunk. Or, even better, don’t do third class.

I figured I should be more descriptive today, you know, using imagery and all that creative writing stuff, so here’s a description of the train ride:

Picture an older-looking train, perhaps from the 1980’s. It’s green on the outside and the windows are curtained with yellowish lace. You walk down the platform, looking for your assigned car by checking the numbers in the window. You find number 11, and hand the female conductor standing at the door to the car your ticket and your passport. She checks them, then hands it to you with a stream of Russian. Somewhere in there is your seat number, which you fortunately know from the ticket because the number’s syllables are buried among the Slavic tones. You step up into beige plastic-and-metal interior, take a sharp left turn to squeeze past the toilet, drinking fountain, some piece of heat-emitting machinery, and the conductor’s compartment to find yourself surrounded by red-pleather benches. There are two benches on your right, one above the other, running parallel to the train. To our left are sections of four benches apiece, laying perpendicular to the train two above and two below. Between each four is a collapsible table, and the middle part of the lower bench on your right also flips over to become a small table. Scattered on the benches are various bedrolls, luggage, and Russians.

The heat is stifling on the train – there’s no air circulating at all. You find your seat number, shrug off the backpack, and immediately try to open the window. By practically dangling from it so that your are using gravity and your body weight to assist you, you manage to lower the window about 6 inches. You lift up the bench you’re assigned to and store your backpack inside.

While trying to sleep last night, I searched for some comparison to these benches. I think they must have been padded at some time, but the padding left long ago. So imagine a bench made of metal or plastic. There are the bedrolls – thin cushions you spread out to sleep on. They smell a bit, but at least you paid the higher price for your ticket so the conductor hands you a plastic-wrapped package of sheets when she comes by to check your ticket.

Once the train starts moving, the motion is actually rather soothing. I felt it still for a while after we got off the train in St. Petersburg – kind of like how you still feel the waves of the ocean after you spend the day at the beach. They play techno music during the waking hours, then apparently arbitrarily, decide it’s bedtime. That’s when they turn off the music, turn off the lights, and everyone lays down to sleep.

If you are a male reader of mine, let me speak directly to you. Please don’t take off your shirt in public. It’s not attractive. Even if you’re young, no no. And especially no if you’re older. Just, no. I know it’s hot on the train, believe me. But I manage to keep my clothes on, and so should you. There were many fellows on the train whose sweaty backs I had to see (or worse, sweaty fronts with man-nipples and such. Ew.) on the trains, including two guys who stripped down to their boxers to sleep. Again, ew.

This train didn’t stop as often as the one going did, which was nice. I started to drift off around 1:30am, when there was suddenly a loud bang and this older Russian lady in a green floral dress in the section next to ours started screaming. She yelled at somebody for several minutes, then I guess the conductor managed to appease her. The same thing happened again around 3:30 am. I’m not sure what the banging was. Theories include – someone falling out of bed, a bench collapsing, a car hitting the side of the train, the train hitting a metal barrier. Who knows?

The conductor shook my knee at about 4:30 am, saying “Yaroslavl” gently. My traveling buddies and I packed up hurriedly, folded and returned our sheets to the conductor’s cabin, rolled up the bedrolls, then sat and sat and sat. I really needed to use the bathroom at that point, but the conductor locks them up within 30 minutes of a town, so I sat there cross-legged, waiting desperately for the train ride to stop.

As we waited the 45 minutes or so of slow arrival into our station, I watched the sun rise. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but a sunrise does look and feel different than a sunset. The sky turned milky-blue, then cream with pink streaks under the clouds. As the light grew, you could see this fairy-tale mist between the trees and bushes in the forest alongside the tracks. As dawn came, the mist crept back into the woods, dissipating slowly around the greenery and the few scattered houses. It was really rather lovely.

We got back to our hotel around 5:30 am. Rose went straight for the shower, and I dropped my bags right next to the door and curled up on the bed in a fetal position. We slept until 8:30, getting up in time to dress for our placements for the day.

Speaking of, I feel like I haven’t done justice to my descriptions of the work. I was going to write about today’s work, to give you some ideas of what it’s like, but this entry’s long enough. Tomorrow, then.

St. Petersburg Pictures

Greek food! Happiness! Now picture the soundtrack from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" played by a live band in a blue room as I ate this.


The Peter and Paul Fortress across the Neva River at Sunset. I took this while waiting to meet Rose and Yan after the ballet. It's 10:30pm in this picture, by the way. Geography's weird.


Me in front of the Church on Spilled Blood.


Women selling produce outside of the church near Dostoevsky's house. (It's a little blurry because I was shooting surreptitiously.)


Rose and Yan at the Literary Cafe. This was the cafe Pushkin met his second at the morning he fought his fatal duel. We had a yummy dessert there, and it was only a block from our hostel.


The stage and orchestra pit of the Hermitage Theater (I took this withot a flash, long before the show began, by the way).


The waiting area of the train station we left from in St. P.


Sunset from the window of our train.


Not a St. P. picture, but this is my favorite of our CCS drivers. A very funny guy.

Monday, August 06, 2007

St. Petersburg

It's about 2:30pm in St. Petersburg, on a sunny, hot Monday. We are exhausted!

Yesterday, Rose, Yan, and I headed out on the town. We took the metro to the monastery southeast of town, and went into one of it's three cemetery's to do some major tourist gawking. There we found the grave of Dostoevsky, which sent Rose into spasms of delight. We also hunted out Tchaikovsky's tomb and I found M. Petipa's grave as well. It actually was quite lovely, as graveyards go - lots of intricately carved monuments to the dead.

We tried to metro back towards the city, but had the delightful experience of sitting on the train as an unintelligible announcement is made in Russian, then watching every single person on board the train get off, leaving you there alone. Huh. Using my deductive powers, I figured that the next station (the one we were trying to get to) was closed, so we hoofed it along something-that-starts-with-a-Z Prospect to the Dostoevsky House-Museum. Again, much delight for Rose. We toured his flat, looking at his hat, his office, his clock, etc. This was his last apartment - the one where he wrote "The Brothers Karamazov". Literary coolness.

We were starving by that time, so we made our way back towards Nevsky Prospect, stopping for lunch at a pizza place on the way. Our main culinary goal in St. P. was to avoid Russian food, since we get plenty of it during the week. Hence some delightful meals of the Greek, Italian, and Sandwich variety. Excellent.

Next was the Hermitage. I've got to say, it's one of the few museums where the actual structure rivals the art inside. I enjoyed it as much as possible, but it was absolutely packed, particularly with tour groups, which I began to despise as I had to wait again and again to enter a room while masses of people wearing pink stickers followed ladies with paddles that say "Baltic Tour #9" and such poured through the small doorways. Still, I had art satisfaction.

After dinner at Subway's (on Nevsky!), we walked to the Church on Spilled Blood and went souvenier shopping. Many, many roubles later, Rose and Yan were kind enough to escort me to the Hermitage Theater. They went on a boat tour, and I saw Swan Lake in Catherine's theater - a tiny, lavishly decorated place. It was filled at about 200 people, all seated in a semi-circled series of benches. I got there about 30 minutes early, and sat in a decent seat to the left of center in the back row of benches (it was open seating).

There was a live symphony, the conductor was this charming old guy in a white bowtie, and when the curtain went up and the dancers came out onto the beautiful set with splendid costumes, it was so pretty I teared up a little. Then the tourists started.

Here's the thing. I understand that you may want to capture the moment of a play. Sure, there've been several productions that I've wished I could take pictures at. But I learned at this production exactly why pictures should stay verboten. Not only did the touristy-tourists (I am not one of these, I decided, since I was there as a theater connoisseur) start taking pictures, adding little digital "pings" to Tchaichovsky's score, but they did it with flash! And they wouldn't turn off the eye, so there would be a little flash to pull you away, then a larger flash right afterwards. I got angrier and angrier as again and again my focus was put on the audience and their damned cameras instead of the dancers I had paid to see. I started translating "No photography during the show" in Russian in my head, so strong was my desire to stand up at the intermission and shout out the ban to the audience, but then I realized that there probably wasn't a native Russian speaker in the house. I hit the boiling point when one Japanese couple started creeping into the aisle in front of the stage to get a better shot. So mad was I!

Ranting aside, I really did love the show. The principles were great, the chorus was a little sloppy at times, Odette had no respect of the sight line upstage left. Still, I am happy to say that I saw this ballet in St. Petersburg's oldest theater.

Rose and Yan met me after the show, and we walked back to the hostel, enjoying the night's coolness.

Today, we slept in a bit, did a tad more shopping, then hit the Russian Museum, which I really liked. There's some great pieces in there, especially in the more modern sections. We ate dessert at the Literary Cafe, and are now killing time back at the hostel until our train in about an hour. We could do more, I guess, but we're all pretty tired and feel satiated artistically and culturally. At least I do.

Last heinous train ride of the summer. Whoo!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Russia - St. Petersburg Arrival

Hello from St. Petersburg!

We survived the very long, very hot, very horizontal train ride and found our hostel without too many problems. It's Sunday morning now, and Yen and Rose and I are heading out in just a moment to go to 1) Dostoevsky's Grave, 2) Dostoevsky's House-Museum (a bit of a pilgrimage for Rose), and 3) the Hermitage (!). I plan to get ballet tickets for myself for this evening along the way, too. Dang well better!

Anyway, the others are waiting. I'll tell you more about the train ride when I have longer. In the meanwhile, off to the cemetery! Whoo!

PS. St. P. is SO much better than Moscow - more open, more friendly, more European (v. Soviet). It's a winner in my book so far. As is the awesome Greek restaurant we ate at last night. Again, more later. Tah!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Russia - Weekend Voyage Two

Just a quick note to say that I'm off to St. Petersburg in four hours. I'll post a description of the new adventures when I return (and recover, I imagine. Our train back arrives at 5:00am. Fun!)

TTFN!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Russia Day 10 - Back to Work

Hurrah! Despite a cough, I'm back at placements today. I will say this for my cold - it seems to be making me sleep soundly at night. Although I woke up when my cell phone rang at about 1:30am (Janelle left a voice message), I did not wake up when the drunken Russian from down the hall came calling on our suitemate at around midnight. Our hotel room is a little suite of rooms - you enter a door from the general hallway (which can't lock), and to the right is the toilet and the shower rooms (2 seperate rooms). One the left is the door to mine and Rose's room. Straight ahead is Allison's door, which is where Vulva (no, really, that's his name) came pounding and demanding to be let in. Fun! He woke Rose up, who locked our door. I didn't wake up, which is okay with me. We notified the hotel staff today, but who knows what the harrassment laws/policies are here. Try not to worry too much, Mom, now that I've posted the story.

The placements today were quite, but nice. Deaf kindergarten in the morning, with 7 kids, the largest group so far. There were three girls who went nuts for my camera, posing and dancing all the time. I played quite a bit with the kids, swinging them about and playing monster with them. I'm picking up some Russian sign language too - words like "share!" and "Thank you!"

The afternoon placement was the Kirovski City Camp. We did fingerprint drawings and played games with a very tame group of kids with an excellent and friendly staff.

Tonight I joined a group for pizza at a place called Marios, although it tasted more like a tortilla topped with gouda. I'll tell you more later, but my time online's about to end, so I need to post this asap.

Love you all!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Russia Day 9 - Rostov

Unbelievably, I am halfway through my time in Russia.

There are several people who are leaving this weekend, and I am glad I’m not one of them. There is a lot left to do, and I think doing three weeks was the best choice. I will be ready to get back to the comforts of home, but with the satisfaction of not feeling rushed here to cram it all in.

Today was our second field trip, this time to another Golden Ring town, Rostov. It was about an hour away by van, and we left after the Russian lesson this morning (numbers 100-1000 and directions). Our first stop was the town’s enamel factory. We toured the museum (which was really just a room with a few cases in it), the guide explained the enamel-making process to us (1. Cut a sheet of copper to the shape desired, 2. Coat the copper with a glass powder mixture on each side, 3. Melt the glass powder. 4. Transfer a picture onto the glass using paint mixed with ‘technical oil’, 5. Bake and repeat as needed), then we got to go upstairs to the factory to see the workers making the pieces. We went into two rooms – one for the painters, one for the jewelers who were shaping the wire that frame the pieces. The end of the tour was, of course, the factory’s store. They were cash only, and I wiped out the rubles I had with me buying Christmas presents (and a bit for myself). I did not bring enough rubles.

Back in the van, we headed to the town’s kremlin. The buildings inside the kremlin have been falling into disrepair, so the town began renting them out. They’re now used a various museums, plus one as a hotel. We did not go inside any of the museums, but we walked around the area and took a lot of pictures. I’ll post a few below. Appreciate them, since they charged 60 rubles for the privilege of taking pictures.

On to the town’s monastery. The women in the group had to wear skirts and scarves for the day, since that was the dress code of the monastery. A guide met us there and she took us through two of the cathedrals inside the monastery’s walls – one built and frescoed (can that be a verb?) in the 17th century, and one built and decorated in the 19th century. It was very interesting to compare the artwork of the two and see the progression in fashion and in skill. They figured out how to paint depth, for example, in between the two, as well as trompe l’oeil. The latter one was decorated with plaster-formed flowers all over the ceiling, and where the flowers couldn’t fit, they had painted in fake replicas with shadowing underneath.

We also climbed to the top of one of the wall towers, where there was a grand view of the monastery’s buildings and the nearby lake.

After posing for a group picture, which our driver was kind enough to take for us, we drove to the center of the town for lunch. We were going to eat at the monastery, but it was a religious holiday today (Elijah Day, or something like that), so instead we went to a cafĂ© in town. It was one of the better meals I’ve had in a while, although the ingredients were very familiar by now – beet and pickle salad (with potatoes), a regional soup called “salenka” (?) that was spicier and made with at least five different kinds of meat, a meatloaf topped with onions and potatoes and cheese, and the usual tea (I mixed a Theraflu dose in the cup instead). They also gave us little pasteries baked in the shape of walnuts that were filled with cooked sweeten condensed milk (dulce de leche, essentially). You know, that would be a wonderful way to get children to drink milk!

We got back to our hotel after a very, very bumpy ride (the driver took a different route, and the road’s disrepair got to a few of us – I had my ReliefBand cranked up to 3 for it). I found the laundry I had sent out folded neatly on my bed, as shown below. This was definitely costlier, but classier than sink-cleaning I had done with the faster-drying parts of my wardrobe. I sent out 13 pieces of clothes (three pants, including my jeans, and several shirts), and they came back within 24 hours clean and folded for 380 rubles (about $15). Hopefully this will tide me over until I get home. They really were not exaggerating, though, about how dirty you get at the placements.

Speaking of, I’m feeling a lot better today, so with luck I’ll be able to get back to work again tomorrow. I’m scheduled for the deaf kindergarten in the morning and a new placement (to me), the Kirovski City Camp, in the afternoon.

Paka!

More Russian Pictures - Rostov

The soup from lunch today:


A jeweler at the factory welding some silver:


An artist painting an enamel piece:


A window of a building at the kremlin in Rostov. Beautiful woodwork!


The catherdral inside the kremlin - I liked the pattern painted on it:


The entrance (as seen from inside) of the monastery:


The view of the monastery from the top of the wall's tower:


Our group in Rostov:


My folded laundry:


The view from our window yesterday - a lovely rainbow after the usual rainstorm, somewhat obscured by our drying unmentionables: