Friday, April 9, 2010

Someone has flipped the switch


Over the last two weeks, Moscow has been blessed with a very dramatic change in the weather. We have risen out of freezing temperatures, all the snow and ice has melted, and we've been basking in temperatures around 60 F for the last few days. After a 5-month winter, I feel like it is well-deserved. I have seen grass for the first time in Russia since early December, and I can finally start exercising outside again.

I can't afford to get my hopes up too high, however, as I have been warned that frosts can (and usually do) return to Moscow by the middle of May, and the city has been known to suffer frosts as late at as the first week of June. I will go crazy if this turns out to be true.

Well, it's been a long time since my last update. To keep things short, however, I'll just tell you the basics of what's been going on since the first week in March.

-I've been to a Russian cabaret performance. GREAT.

-I went to see the wonderful Picasso exhibit at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. Since the exhibit opened, there hasn't been a day when the line hasn't been at least a two-hour wait. Worth it, though.

-I went with a couple friends in search of an Old Believer's community in the east of Moscow, but we were foiled by the Lonely Planet's directions and the trolley-bus system. Instead, we ended up hiking across east/southeast Moscow for about 3 hours until we reached Kolomenskoe, a beautiful territory where a few tsars/tsarinas used to reside occasionally. Here is a photo of some of the grounds.
-I participated in a student conference here and gave a presentation on the cultural difference of smiling between Russians and Americans.

-Had an American-style beer-party with some friends here, during which we played quarters. I missed Paul's Deli on that night. And I even missed Bud Light...which goes to show you the quality of Russian beer, and why they stick to vodka.

-I checked out Kuskovo Park where Count Sheremetyev had one of his several palaces. Beautiful grounds, especially when approached through the adjoining forest, which gives you a great view across the massive pond where the count used to stage naval battles to entertain the masses. Unfortunately, the weather and the lack of funding has taken its toll on the exterior of the buildings. There is no heating inside, either, making for a very chilly experience in the winter months.

-I went with Thaddeus to a Russian hockey playoff game. Unfortunately, Spartak (our team) lost to Yaroslavl's Lokomotiv in overtime and were soon after eliminated from the competition.

-I went to a free concert at a nightclub by this really strange gizillion-person band whose oldest member appeared to be about 19. They were dubbed the "Russian Arcade Fire" because of their range of instruments and the fact that they covered "Wake Up." You could only distinguish about five of the instruments, however. And we waited all night for them to play 'Wake Up', which was their finale, and it was terrible.

-I went to the city of Tula with some friends for a day-trip. There we went to three museums which exhibit the reasons for Tula's fame: samovars, prianiki (apple/honey-filled cakes), and weapons. It was a nice little city. The highlight, however, was the Ukrainian restaurant that we lunched in. Here's a photo of a GIANT samovar.

-I had tickets to see Swan Lake at the Kremlin theater with some friends, but we arrived only to learn that the costumes for Swan Lake had been left in Beijing, from where the troupe had just returned. So, they had The Nutcracker on stand-by for us. It was beautiful, although a little out-of-season.

-Went to an English pub to watch the first leg of the Arsenal-Barcelona Champions League match-up. Great comeback by Arsenal, although ЦСКА Moscow was also playing that night, so the whole pub was shouting about that game, which they lost, of course. Arsenal also went on to get schlaked by Messi and Barcelona the next week.

-Had a great visit by a few W&M people to Moscow: one a fellow ETA in Tolyatti, and one studying abroad in Vladimir---both in Moscow to show the city off to friends from home. We had a great Georgian dinner and a fun time at a bar (after getting face-controlled at another bar...ouch).

-Returned to Kolomna on Easter Sunday for a day-trip with a tour group. The convent and cathedral were open this time, so I got to see some things I hadn't seen earlier. We also witnessed a fun Easter egg-rolling game for the kids. Plus, the weather was gorgeous.

That's what I've been up to (in addition to work, of course), and here's what I've got coming up:

1. A trip to Kazan from April 22-25 to participate in a conference.

2. A vacation to St. Petersburg, leaving from Moscow on May 1. I don't have a return ticket yet, and I might just keep it that way.

3. Another student conference May 21-22 at my univeristy.

4. A big FAO conference is being hosted at my university June 2-3. Apparently, I was signed up as a representative of the US by my uni, without first asking me. I'm not quite sure what my responsibilities are going to be, but it sounds intimidating.

5. Immediately following this conference, I'll be making my way to Elista from June 5-12 to teach in an English camp for students. Elista is the capital of the Kalmykia Republic in southwest Russia, and is the only Buddhist republic in Europe. I'm really looking forward to it. Plus, they say that the weather there in June is HOT--just what I'm looking for.

After returning from Elista, I've only got two more weeks of teaching left!!! Then, I've got some hopes to go to Lake Baikal for a week in July before returning home. Can't wait. Not being able to watch the Phillies or the Master's is eating away at my spirits.