Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guessing game / Post office / New Year's resolution

When people hear my accent in Russian, they often ask where I'm from. My favorite response is, "where would you guess I'm from?" I don't have an official tally, but the most frequent responses are Germany and Poland. Sometimes I get the Baltics. England has been the closest guess, since I don't think anyone's ever said the US. But last week I got the most interesting response so far: Iceland. I decided to make friends with the respondent ☺


Odd as it might seem, I was beginning to think that the post office in Russia was a lot friendlier than in the US. (US post offices are one of my least favorite places on earth. On many occasions I have been barked at, a couple times lectured, and once or twice screamed at, for... well, I don't know what for... I would stop doing whatever it is I'm doing if only I knew what it is I'm doing...) So, I went to pick up a package yesterday at my neighborhood Russian post office with a copy of my passport, but not the real passport, because the copy usually suffices. The post office employee wouldn't accept my copied passport and when I tried to urge her to rethink her decision, saying that the copy had been accepted in the past, she started screeching at me and told me it was toilet paper and she wouldn't accept toilet paper. A profanity may have slipped out as I backed away from the counter. Yep, post offices are the same everywhere.


My energy for blogging, along with my energy for just about everything, has vanished. As a result I've been writing a lot of unenthusiastic blogs. So, I've decided to take a break for the rest of the year, the month of December, and pick up blogging again in 2011 with newfound blog-writing energy, a more positive (or at least interested) outlook, and pictures. Surely I'll have my camera back by January.

That is my New Year's resolution. (At least it's one of them.)

Happy New Year! S novym godom! Feliz año nuevo! Šťastný nový rok! Ein glückliches neues Jahr! Etc.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Better Left Unblogged?

I hesitate as I write this blog. The idea came to me several weeks ago, but I've debated to myself whether or not it's really a bloggable topic. I've finally decided to just go ahead with it. This is partly because no other ideas have descended upon me. It's also because I'm still separated from my camera. We've been apart since Halloween. It's possible that all of November will pass un-photographed.

Now time for the disclaimer: this blog is about bathrooms, mainly public, in Russia.

A few differences in restroom culture are immediately apparent upon arriving in Russia from the US (many of these differences also apply to Europe more broadly and other areas of the world as well, but I'll only talk about Russia).

First off, most public bathrooms charge a fee. If you patronize a restaurant or cafe, you don't pay for the toilet, but otherwise, you'll probably have to shell out 15-30 rubles (50¢ - $1) to use rather uninspiring facilities. Here's the entrance to a public toilet in downtown Moscow:

But there's actually something unique about this public toilet. Zooming in on the sign, one can see that below the section reporting the hours of operation is a section announcing that it's a "free public restroom." I still almost can't believe what I read, and am tempted to go back to this bathroom to see if perhaps I had momentarily stepped into in a rip in the space-time continuum.

Of course there are ways around paying for public toilets, such as finding a nearby McDonalds or Starbucks.

The biggest bathroom shocker for me was the stand-up toilet. I've been told these are quite common in (parts of?) Asia, but I came across them for the first time in Russia.

Many of these are pay toilets. They're particularly expensive and unsavory at train stations.

However, when there is a toilet seat, standing is frowned upon:

Most toilets place the flusher on top of the water tank, not on the front side like we're used to in the US.

I took the last picture because of the mildly amusing pun in the brand name of the toilet paper. If you speak Russian you get the pun right away and if you don't speak Russian it would probably be the most unexciting thing you've ever heard, so I won't bother explaining it☺

Speaking of toilet paper, it is a big no-no to flush it in public restrooms. I can't remember the last time I was in a stall that didn't have a sign respectfully requesting that I not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. I find the practice rather foul and try not to think about it.

And with that I'll close my first and (so help me God) last blog on toilets.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Read no further

Seriously, read no further. Because there's no blog today. But I promise something magnificent and thought-provoking next week. Well, at least I can promise that there will be some pictures!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November is the Cruelest Month

Over the last week I've lost my credit card, hat, gloves, a metro card, and my dignity (OK, that last one's a little harder to prove).

I've convinced myself that I hate Moscow, Russian food, and Russian people, including the ones I live with.

I've whined and complained to everyone who will listen (or feign to listen) to me. To my Russian tutor, to my expat friends, to friends back home over Skype, and to my mom, who I called in a frenzy at 9 AM on Wednesday (I usually wake up at 10... or later☺) because I was convinced that I needed to move out of my current apartment and into my own flat. Stat.

What has led me to these extremes of glass-half-emptiness? What is making November so cruel? It's not the weather, which has been hovering around a surprisingly pleasant and rain-free 40-45˚ F. No, it's not the weather -- it's the cruel academic job search.

I have written so many drafts of postdoc grant proposals and job cover letters (a genre I particularly loathe), that I'm beginning to feel like my own pen and keystrokes are turning against me, making me into a fool, exposing me as an imposter.

For "fun" and in my "free time" I've found myself obsessively reading about higher education in the news and following online gossip columns about job & postdoc searches. News stories, that is: horror stories, report on the Crisis of the Humanities - how the earth is about to open up and swallow humanities departments whole (which is not an exaggeration in some cases) - and the flooded job market, where there are 300, 400... 600 applicants for every postdoc job advertisement [postdocs are TEMPORARY (1-4 year) jobs!!!]. So much for academics in their ivory towers. The economic crisis affects the academic sector as well. (I don't mean to sound insensitive here, I'm just trying to say I empathize.)

This is why I have been a bad blogger lately. And this is also why my Halloween costume was a flop. I'm still without my camera, so I'll just tell you that I had some sort of hybrid costume that I think coincided most closely with a roller derby girl outfit. I had a green polyester dress, a pink glitter cowboy hat, and some shapes painted on my face... but no roller skates.

And so, with November and all its cruelness getting me down, I decided to take a trip back to October today, that is, to the Red October (Krasnyj Oktiabr' ) factory. It's where they used to make Red October brand chocolate, but it now houses galleries, clubs, restaurants, boutique stores, etc. I was especially in the mood for some photography (maybe due to separation anxiety from my camera?), and that's what I got. Here's a view of the cool factory complex:

photo courtesy of

I suppose I don't hate Moscow so much when I'm actually in it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I might turn into a pumpkin

Happy Halloween!!

OK, don't be mad (or sad!) but I'm not writing a real blog today. I offer two excuses for my poor behavior:

1) I have a crazy scary job deadline tomorrow

2) I left my camera with Halloween photos at a friend's apartment, and I can think of no good reason to blog about Halloween without visuals

The costume I finally settled on was...

To Be Continued

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fluffy Blue Marshmallow

A fluffy blue marshmallow is what I feel like in my winter coat. I'm having trouble getting used to the fact that in October I need to wear my winter coat. Russia's a serious place, yes it is.

I can't write much more today because I am drowning in work and exhausted. A whole slew of job and postdoc deadlines are rapidly approaching and I'm falling more and more behind with each word I type in this blog...

And I also need to figure out how to register to vote by absentee ballot before tomorrow's deadline. I must do my part to ensure that tea party wackos aren't running the government when I am back in the US.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm dreaming of a white... Halloween?

It snowed twice this week. Allow me to remind you that no fewer than two months ago -- mid August -- we were in the throes of a record-breaking heat wave in Central Russia. Now, this:

(This week's single blog photo is sort of a cop-out; it's recycled from a facebook posting.)

The snow's not sticking yet. But I'm anticipating a white Halloween.

Meanwhile I've been plugging away on job applications (mostly for postdocs) and remaining bits and pieces of my dissertation. But this is a frightfully boring topic to blog about, so I'll write about something else I did today: drive around Moscow! Yes, that's right, I was behind the wheel of my hosts' car, which is a stick shift without power steering. I managed to transport four of us, including the two kids (who, ahem, were not wearing seatbelts), to a botanical garden and back unscathed. Was this legal? Who knows. Was it scary? Sort of, but also quite an adventure. But more on driving in Moscow, including weird laws and other behaviors, in another blog. Right now I'm rather exhausted.

Speaking of Halloween, I'm bound and determined to celebrate on October 31st this year, contrary to my usual apathy for the holiday, and also despite the fact that Halloween is not such a big holiday here in Russia (it seems to be more of a tradition in English-speaking countries).

I am now taking suggestions for Halloween costumes. A prize will be awarded to most creative, economical and weather-appropriate suggestion!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy St. Petersbirthday!

I spent my birthday in St. Petersburg, Piter affectionately in Russian. Here are some of the photo highlights.

Things that are round...

Wedding festivities continue into October...


It rains so much in St. Pete that even fire hydrants wear rain ponchos:

And so do dogs:

But it didn't rain on me! I had a couple of colorful autumn days. Leaf bouquets were all the rage, among old and young alike:

I was sort of disappointed with the accommodations...

OK, you caught me there. That's a prison cell from a museum in the Peter & Paul Fortress.

Other highlights were ballet, pumpkin soup, french-style pastries... And these guys singing in the fortress cathedral:

But now, back in Moscow and back to work.

Winter soon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kids in the Kvartira

As you know, I'm living in an apartment (kvartira po-russki) in Moscow with a family, including two young children. Russian kids, as far as I can tell, are the same as kids everywhere. But in Russian culture (or at least in our kvartira) I've noticed some quirks in the way kids are raised.

My observations include: (1) They drink a lot of milk. Are kids really supposed to drink so much milk? I don't think American kids drink quite this much milk. (2) The kids are not allowed to eat or drink anything cold, because it will (supposedly) give them a sore throat. That means no ice cream. Ever. Really? Even when it was 100 degrees and muggy in Moscow over the summer?? Nope, never.** (3) Kids are, however, allowed to drink tea. But no alcohol. Nope, no vodka, pivo or wine for the little 'uns.

Hmmm... non-food-related stuff is harder, since kids' lives seem to revolve around eating and sleeping and running around the apartment screaming at the top of their lungs.

One interesting thing is that school doesn't start here until kids are about 7 years old. Seven!! Kindergarten is not mandatory and is not at all like it is in the US, where kindergarten is our first year of school. Russian kindergarten is more like our daycare and kids can go there from about age two until they start school. My kids (that is, the kids I live with) are about 3 and 4 and a half years old and they don't go to kindergarten. Instead they have a nanny that takes care of them during the day while their parents are at work. In the US, I always associate nannies with posh rich people, but here nannies seem to be more common. I mean, the family I live with is definitely not posh and rich (though smart and nice!). Olya, their nanny, is also really nice and cool, but I'll blog about her some other time.

Olya usually takes Tanya and Gosha outside in the middle of the day to play in a playground for a few hours, except when it's raining. Just a few weeks ago they also started going to lessons in things like drawing, singing, and dancing. At home they play with toys, ride around on a little bike or scooter, and watch a lot of cartoons.

Toys here seem to be the same as in the US. Russians also socialize their kids early on with "gender appropriate" toys -- guns and trucks for boys, dolls and mini household items for girls -- and behaviors pattern accordingly. So Gosha, the little boy, is fascinated with trains and other vehicles and Tanya, the little girl, dresses in pink and wants to be pretty. (Yes, yes, I'm hinting at a lot more than just toys☺)

It's interesting to live with kids -- not just Russian kids but kids in general -- because of all the things I never realized before about children. For example, I didn't know that kids cry so often. I think they cry every day. They cry when they're tired. They cry when they don't get to eat what they want or play with what they want. They wake up crying in the middle of the night. One minute they're laughing and happy and the next minute they're crying for no apparent reason. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions!

I also never realized the many things kids need to be taught how to do that they can't just do automatically. Like holding a fork. Or coloring. I didn't realize how hard it is to color within the lines. But as I watched Tanya and Gosha painstakingly attempt to color a simple tree and sun I understood that coloring in the lines is a skill that takes time to learn.

I often have difficulty understanding Tanya and Gosha when they talk. Sometimes it's because they say things that are so non sequitur to my mind that I can't even place the sounds with any kind of potential meaning. Another problem for me is kids' pronunciation. Neither Tanya nor Gosha seem to be able to pronounce a certain set of sounds (a subset of fricatives), such as "sh" -- similar to English ship -- and "zh" -- sort of like the sound we make in English when pronouncing the "g" in mirage. These sounds are in a lot of Russian words and I have to ask them to repeat what they say over and over again since they'll often pronounce, for example, 'car': masina and not mashina, or 'yellow': zolty and not zholty, and so on.

And those are my impressions of Russian kids so far. Well, at least of two of them.

** I bet you're wondering how they drink all that milk then, eh?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Starbucks Incident

A Moscow Starbucks. Not the scene of the incident:

This story is embarrassing on a number of levels. For one, I'd like to hide from you exactly how much time I spend in coffeeshops in Moscow. And two, I'd like to be able to claim that at least I'm spending time in cute boutique cafes. But as the title gives away, I've recently broken my no-Starbucks pact and occasionally started patronizing the Seattle coffee giant. This is because (1) the coffee tastes good (mind you, my taste buds have probably eroded after many months in lands with nasty brown liquids posing as coffee) and (2) it gives me an injection of American culture that makes me feel oh so warm and cozy...

Which leads to the next level of embarrassment -- my inappropriately naive behavior of late.

So the deal is that I spend a lot of time in coffeeshops because I can productively work in them. I tote my computer and some files and maybe a book to one of many caffeinated locales and sit for hours, usually without scrutiny, and work on my dissertation or job applications or something of that sort. I also work in libraries, but they don't serve coffee (well, actually they do, but I'm convinced that eating in the state library cafeteria is how I've gotten food poisoning twice here).

On Thursday, I planted myself in a Starbucks for several hours. I purchased a very overpriced medium (I will not use Starbucks terminology) coffee. I diligently edited Chapter 4 of my dissertation. I started to revise part of my essay for a postdoc application. Then after an appropriate amount of time I had to use the facilities. I knew I would be quick, and my stuff seemed secure in an upstairs corner of the coffeeshop, so I grabbed my wallet (maybe I'd indulge in a cupcake...) and headed downstairs. I did, in fact, decide to indulge in a cupcake, and while I was waiting in a short line I noticed the girl from a table near mine upstairs push her way through to the cash register and say something to the Starbucks employee. My gaze followed her as she turned and ran over to her boyfriend, who was holding MY computer in his hands. I was suddenly standing before them. They told me that some man had tried to run off with my computer and they recognized right away that he was stealing it (because he wasn't me -- that is, the person who had been sitting behind said computer for the last two hours). I didn't see the perpetrator myself and I don't know how the boy caught the thief or got my computer back from him. I was in a state of shock and relief. I must have said "thank you so much" thirty times to the couple. They told me I really shouldn't leave my computer unattended. (A no-brainer that I apparently hadn't wrapped my brain around.) When I returned to my little table (sans cupcake, avec computer), the couple -- my guardian angels -- packed up to leave. I wanted to give them something or do something for them, but all I could do was say "thank you" a few more times. And then I sat there feeling naive, stupid, but most of all insanely LUCKY.

I never thought of myself as the Ivan-Durak type. Ivan-Durak or 'Ivan the fool' is a Russian fairy tale character, who is a naive and simple fool who nevertheless always has amazingly good things happen to him. Anyway, there I was, an American Ivan-Durak in a Moscow Starbucks.

Wow, let's hope I've learned my lesson. And let's also hope that many other Muscovites are as kind and amazing as the young couple that saved my computer. Wherever you two are right now: SPASIBO!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wedding Season Wanes

My dear friend Melissa Marsack got married last weekend in Michigan. I was sad miss the ceremony, which I heard was lovely, as well as the chance to be there for such a pivotal event in her life. Since I couldn't attend Melissa's wedding, I decided to crash some local weddings instead. Well, I didn't actually crash anyone's wedding (at least not à la Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn), but I did briefly glom on to some wedding parties in a park and snap a few photos.

The wedding tradition here, a Russian acquaintance tells me, is roughly as follows: (1) go to ZAGS, the government office, for the official exchanging of vows (this is very brief), (2) tour parks and historical sites with the wedding party and take lots of photos, (3) have a big wedding party/feast that goes on for two or more days. I've never officially been invited to a Russian wedding, so the only part I've witnessed is (2) -- walking around sites and snapping photos.

Wedding wheels:

Here's a wedding from early August in Novgorod with some of the wedding party in traditional garb:

A cute wedding tradition that's cropped up in recent years is the love padlock, where couples write their names or initials on a padlock (often heart-shaped, awwwww) and lock it to a bridge. Apparently the custom was inspired by an Italian book & film and is now hugely popular in Europe and beyond. (I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there's a Wikipedia page describing the tradition...) Many Russian bridges - especially pretty and prominent ones - are now covered in padlocks. One bridge in the center of Moscow - Luzhkov bridge - is lined with so-called "trees of love," which were placed there specially for love padlocks:

But wedding season is winding down now that it's September, so I won't be crashing any (many?) more weddings this year. And hopefully when my next friend gets married I won't be on the other side of the world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sick Day

I'm calling in sick. No blog (no real blog) today. Some kind of a stomach something-or-other. I won't go into details. Blech. 2nd time since I've been here. Perhaps my metaphorical sickness for "home" is manifesting itself in concrete ways. Anyway, until next week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

So Long, and Thanks for All the Coffee

I'm in no state to be blogging, but I'm doing it anyway. For the last four days I've been attending an inspiring, if a bit intense, conference in Vilnius, Lithuania and it has left me pretty zonked. (Though I was kept very alert during the conference by two delicious coffee breaks and delicious lunchtime coffee service.) I'm already headed back to Moscow tomorrow morning.

I can't say that I'm incredibly excited about this.

Vilnius -- besides being a fantastic and adorable historic town -- also knows what food and coffee should taste like (something I'd have trouble saying about Moscow). I was actually a bit surprised I like it here so much, because two years ago when I visited as part of my Baltic Backpacking Bonanza, I wasn't such a fan. I don't know what I was thinking back then. The only reason I can come up with is that I was tired and cranky and took it out on poor Vilnius. I mean, how could one not like a town where achoo means 'thank you'?? (Actually spelled: ačiū in Lithuanian but pronounced sort of like achoo, just with the stress on the first syllable.)

Well, at least I won't be arriving back in Moscow quickly. My travel itinerary has me on buses and trains (well, a bus and a train) for almost 24 hours. This was also how long it took me to get to Vilnius from Moscow.

What?!?!?!? (You might be thinking.) Well, I decided not to fly because the prices shot up at the last minute, but secretly I wanted to take the train anyway. However, I couldn't take the train directly from Moscow to Vilnius because that train goes through Belarus and Belarus hates Americans and would have charged me $177 for a transit visa. Soooo... I took a train from Moscow to Riga, Latvia (transit time: 16 hours), then waited a few hours in Riga, then got on a bus from Riga to Vilnius (transit time: 4.5 hours). On the map the green letters are the train stops and the red arrow is the bus part.

I quite enjoyed the traveling. And I'm looking forward to the return trip tomorrow (aside from the "leaving Vilnius" part). I thought this was because I'd developed a romantic perspective on Russian train travel having to do with more closely aligning the the passage of space and time and staying connected to the land. Then today I realized that I was fooling myself with all of this. The real reason I wanted to take the train (+bus) was to get out of Moscow for as long as possible.

But on Tuesday morning I'll arrive back in Moscow. And that's where I'll remain for six straight months.

Well, so long Vilnius, and thanks for all the coffee!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 27th - August 27th

I haven't blogged much about where and with whom I'm living. All the fires and heat and archaeological expeditions have been taking center stage. So let me bring you up to speed. My Russian family has two parents: Yulya and Andrei, two kids: Tanya (4 & 1/2) and Gosha (almost 3), and until Friday one other American, Emily. But my Russian family is now less one member. Emily just returned to the US after being in Moscow for exactly 1 year: August 27th, 2009 - August 27th, 2010.

We had a small going away dinner for her on Thursday evening. Guess which one is the American? (Hint: she's over 5 and under 30 and smiles wider than everyone else):

The kids - Tanya and Gosha - were very excited about the party:

Now that Emily is gone, here are the remaining members of the family for the year:

You might be thinking -- because I'm sure thinking this - that the picture would be great if it weren't for my hair, which is starting to resemble a mop. I'm growing it out (out of laziness). It's at that stage where I can wear it down and it looks like this, or I can wear it in pigtails and I look... well, sort of like 4-yr-old Tanya (she was really excited the day I wore pigtails because we matched). But that's enough about my hair for now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Now back to our regularly scheduled program

Summer, quite suddenly, is over. The temperature has dropped. Russians are no longer bathing in fountains. The fires are extinguished. Moscow is no longer blanketed in smoke.

Relics of summer lurk around. Such as jars of pickles from the garden at the dacha.

Yep, everything's more or less back to normal. I'm in Moscow. I go back and forth between the library and/or cafes, working diligently on my dissertation. And so I'm also going to get back into posting blogs on Sundays. A promise I'll probably break in two weeks when I go to a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. Modification: I'll try to get back into posting blogs on Sundays.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Julia Unplugged

The last time I blogged I was fleeing Moscow for greener pastures in northwestern Russia. My goals were to find a place to think, move, and breathe without smog, smoke, and chaos (in essence, the opposite of late July's Moscow). Well, I got what I asked for. I spent six days in Staraya Ladoga and was without internet access the entire time. Four of the days I also spent without a cell phone signal. And the last day, after the severe thunderstorm, I was without power altogether.

Of course I searched for an internet connection, but to no avail. Neither Staraya Ladoga, nor the towns neighboring it to the north and south had an internet cafe or a place with wi-fi. So I decided to embrace my temporarily unplugged existence. I got a lot of writing and reading done. (I did have my computer with me so I wasn't completely "unplugged"). And I also got to leisurely explore local attractions in the historical town, including the old kremlin, monasteries, churches, and - my favorite - prehistoric pagan burial mounds. (I've been know to track down traces of Eastern European pagan culture in the past; looking at that post makes me realize I used to write much shorter entries... hmm...)

Unfortunately the mounds (called kurgans or sopki or long barrows, depending on the shape and the prehistoric ethnic group their attributed to) don't make for such interesting photos, but I'll put some up anyway:

I know they just look like big mounds of dirt or little hills. But on the inside there's supposed to be buried human remains and relics from the 8th to 10th centuries. And if you stand with your back to the sopki, you get to take in this peaceful view:

It's hard to say if all the peace and contemplation was good for me or not. I picked up some odd habits, like carrying around cat food and feeding local strays whenever I got the chance (there are a lot of stray or semi-stray cats in the area, as there were in Novgorod).

One thing I can say is that people are really nice up there. Locals started striking up conversations with me from almost the moment I stepped off the train. Interesting story, actually. I arrived by train from Moscow to the town Volkhov, which is the town closest to Staraya Ladoga with a train station (remember, I was out in the boonies), at 3 AM. The first bus to Staraya Ladoga was around 5 AM, so I hung out in the waiting room at the train station and made friends with a resident cat. I also made friends with a woman working at the train station who took a particular interest in me as an American female traveling alone in this relatively remote area of Russia. She helped me figure out the right bus to take to Staraya Ladoga and as I left she gave me her phone number, just in case something went wrong.

Yeah, it was good to get out of the city for a bit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Moscow Burning

I trained back to Moscow on Sunday morning and was greeted by the infamous smog. I suppose I didn't really have to come back to Moscow, but I wanted to pick up some of my stuff. I was also a wee bit curious about how bad things are here. And there may have been another reason or two for coming back...

Whatever my reasons, I can now say firsthand that Moscow is not pretty. Case in point:

I am now entering self-declared pseudo-refugee status and fleeing Moscow tomorrow afternoon. Where to? Back north, but this time to a small historical city, often touted as Russia's first capital. A little place called Staraya Ladoga. I seek cooler temperatures, cleaner air, peace, and some points of historical interest.

I am also now declaring a blog-writing hiatus. It may not be for long, but I need a little break as I've recently been finding it difficult to post weekly and my new refugee status is upping the ante on this. I know, I know, I haven't even blogged properly about Novgorod yet. But you get the idea: archaeology, linguistics, old stuff, etc. etc.

Oh, all right -- here, I'm adding a couple more pictures from another excavation site I visited last week in settlement a bit south of Novgorod called Gorodische. I didn't dig there, but I still thought it was cool to observe and visit. And this group is more hard core than the Novgorod crew: they live in tents during the dig, whereas the Novgorod archaeological team gets to live in a dormitory (how posh!☺).

You know what, I'll up the ante on you here for a moment. I'll make a little game for you. If you guess what inspired the title of my blog I'll post again in a week. And while I'm sure there's lots of things "Moscow Burning" could have been based on, I had just one in mind. And it's not even necessarily related to the content of the blog or anything, just what I was thinking of when I typed the words. Go for it. (I'm only doing this because I assume that both a) no one really wants to bother figuring it out and b) no one will guess anyway... but allow me to stand corrected!)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Novgorod the Great

A view of the charming Novgorod Kremlin from my balcony:

I've been feeling a bit guilty, because... (well, because I'm good at feeling guilty), but really, because I had been getting pretty down on Moscow and Russia in the last few weeks, which certainly crept into this here blog. My observations have been a bit severe and mean-spirited. But in my defense, an "eyes wide open" stance can be tough here in Russia.

But, Novgorod has saved me (if you'll allow me to dramatize a bit). The town is simply lovely and I've thoroughly enjoyed exploring its history and delving more into aspects of my research that up to now have remained vague or opaque. I plan to write more about all of this next time, including details of my participation in an archaeological dig (!!) and decoding of 800-yr-old documents written on birch bark (!!).

For now, I'm still a bit busy with various things going on here so I'll cut this entry a bit short and leave you with a few teaser photos...

Inside the Novgorod Kremlin: the famous 11th century St. Sophia cathedral and a monument to, uhhh... the Millennium of Russia (thanks Wikipedia!).

...Hey, cool -- this is the same view that's on the 5 Ruble note! (which is about 16 cents; it's no longer in circulation, replaced entirely by a coin, I think).

Here's me digging for buried treasure at the excavation site in Novgorod:

Last, but not least: buried treasure itself -- a letter written on birchbark from the 13th century (or earlier!):

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bathing Beauties

It's time to turn the camera lens on Russian men. And I've gotta say, it's not a pretty time to do it.

The heat has persisted and so it's not unusual to see men in speedos, or often more accurately: their skivvies. I wish I could say that the average age of the men in this apparel was under 50.

And the skivvy-sightings aren't just from this beach in the center of Novgorod...

(I escaped to Novgorod from Moscow for a few days, well actually for 2 weeks).

Before leaving Moscow I managed to snap a shot of a not-infrequent sight: fountain-bathing.

You can't really tell from this picture, but there was a musical fountain show going on when this guy stripped, dove in, and cooled off in the spray.

But I can't say that I blame them right now. It's still really f@#$@ing hot.

I've felt my will to live partially return after arriving in Novgorod. Moscow's heat and city-ness were driving me a bit batty, which I didn't fully realize until the night train from Moscow dropped me off at 6 AM in Novgorod. While it's still really hot and humid here, I'm at least getting some relief from traffic and concrete in a beautiful historical city. The cool monuments and buildings also help (more on these later).