Sunday, June 27, 2010

Clean and dirty, old and new: late June in Moscow

I've been remiss about portraying some of the real sights in Moscow, so I thought I'd start rectifying this with some pics today.

A lot of people here think think the church above with the huge gilded domes -- The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour -- is ugly. It's practically brand new: it was rebuilt in the 90's after the break-up of the Soviet Union (the Soviets dynamited its predecessor in 1931). Whether or not you think it's ugly, it's striking. And hard to ignore. Oh, and it's also directly across the street from the institute where I'm working.

But there's still plenty of stuff left from the Soviet era. For example, in the foreground of this picture is the back of a statue to Friedrich Engels (of Marx and Engels... you know, the great communist thinkers ;). I know it's beyond cliché to say this, but Moscow really is a place of opposites. The religious and secular. The old and the new. The rich and the poor. The clean and the dirty. The big and the... well still bigger (it's hard to find anything small in Moscow).

You'll get pics of the Kremlin next time, but here's another important building in the center of Moscow: The Bolshoy Theater (or in Russian: The Big Theater).

They've done a lot of restoration on the building over the last few years, and I think it's looking quite nice (except for the box-thing covering up the horses on the the top).

Oh, and I promised depressing, suicide-provoking pictures from the inside of the newly opened Dostoevsky metro station. The first thing you see upon entering the station is Dostoevsky himself:

And here's a mural for his novel Crime and Punishment. In the top left-hand corner you can see a man with an axe preparing to chop up a woman. This is from the scene where Raskolnikov kills his landlady for her money. It's one of the images that caused controversy in the press. I don't know. It doesn't make me want to kill myself, but I'm not Russian.

And I apologize if my entry this week is sort of blah. It's really hot here. It has been about 88 degrees Fahrenheit and muggy every day for a week. I've been feeling slightly ill for several days, which might be because of the dense city heat & dirt, or maybe because I'm still not used to my new Russian diet. Anyway. I hope to have more inspired things to say next time☺

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is it disrespectful to jog in a cemetery?

My first week in Russia has been relatively uneventful. I think this is good. I'd rather it be uneventful than be robbed and thrown over a bridge, have a leopard maul me, or be crushed by an elevator. Even though these would make great stories (if I lived to tell them, that is).

Instead, since I've been here I've been preoccupied with finding spaces to do things. For as big as Moscow is, I'm having a bit of trouble finding good places to (for example) get work done. I don't have an office or designated space at the Institute of the Russian Language, where I'll be doing most of my research, and while the institute has a small library where I can work, its hours are sporadic and limited. I won't have access to larger state libraries until later next week, so in the meantime I'm trying out different coffee shops. I've found a few that pass muster, and I'll be exploring some more in the coming days.

Next, and perhaps more challenging, is finding a place to jog. I came very close to jogging in a cemetery the other day, since it was the only place at all park-like nearby my apartment. Then I found a mediocre park across the street (hidden behind a strange red brick building). And today, further away, I found a nice park with lots of paths and even a pond.

Yes, there are children trapped in large transparent balls in the middle of the pond. It appears to be intentional.

While I may be having trouble finding the right places to do things, there will be no problem getting to the places once I find them. That is because public transportation here is great. I especially love the Moscow metro. In fact, Moscow's 181st station opened this weekend -- a station devoted to Dostoevsky. Its opening was delayed because of complaints about the violent imagery and themes that could provoke suicide or depression. Seriously. Read about it.

I went to the station today (it's not too far from where I live) but I didn't need to ride anywhere so I didn't go past the point where you have to pay, thus didn't get to see the murals. But here's the shiny new passageway to the station:

I'll be sure to post depressing pictures of Dostoevsky and Raskolnikov once I actually enter the station.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

I won't lie. Over the last few weeks I haven’t been looking forward to coming to Russia very much. What I felt was more like dread. But I decided eventually that I need to approach this trip – and Russia and Moscow – with eyes wide open. That is, to just take things in, with as little judgment as possible.

Now, a few things have made maintaining this attitude somewhat challenging. In particular, my luggage was mis-directed by the cheap, crappy discount airline Germanwings (anti-advertisement: Don’t fly Germanwings!!). My itinerary was: Leipzig-Stuttgart-Moscow. My baggage’s itinerary was: Leipzig-Köln-???

Then, as I was trying to get money from the ATM (which turned out not to be an ATM, so I shouldn’t have even been there), a mother carrying a small vomiting child raced past me, and the vomit sprayed onto me and my backpack. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit. It didn’t really spray all over me, but there were some bits that landed on me. Could it have been worse? Yes. Was it nauseating nevertheless? Yes.

Anyway, things are coming around. My luggage finally arrived in Moscow and I picked it up today. That’s right. I picked it up. Germanwings doesn’t deliver lost luggage. But I had an interesting conversation with the taxi driver on my way back in to Moscow, so it wasn’t a complete loss of time and money (reminder to self: eyes wide open).

And I was greeted by very friendly hosts – I am living with a family of a man and woman in their early forties and two small children (whom I haven’t met yet: they were asleep when I arrived and the family is at the dacha = summer cabin all weekend). The hostess – also Julia (Yulya) – felt badly that my luggage was lost and rushed out to get me a toothbrush, pajamas, and some other things I might need immediately. Another American graduate student is also living here until early August and she has been very helpful with some logistical things involved with settling in.

I'll leave you with a picture of the building where I’m living on Novoslobodskaya street (the apartment is on the other side of the building)...

And the train and metro station Savyolovskaya close to the apartment:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Where the Slavic Speakers Are

First off, I'm not in Russia yet. I have my visa in hand, but can't leave until Friday, June 11th because of some kind of paperwork that needs to get approved in the US. Sorry for the vagueness. I had to stop paying attention to details to preserve my sanity.

However, I did make it to some other Slavic-speaking areas in the last week. I took a day trip last Wednesday to the Slavic-speaking enclaves in Germany. You see, only about an hour by train from Leipzig are areas where the Slavic languages Upper and Lower Sorbian are spoken by an ever dwindling number of populations.

I visited two towns: Bautzen and Cottbus, which are home to the Upper and Lower Sorbian cultural centers, respectively. In Bautzen, in particular, there is a lot of Sorbian language presence.

Here is the Bautzen train station with the sign written in German (top) and Upper Sorbian (bottom):

And this sign from Cottbus reads "Train station road" in German (top) and Lower Sorbian (bottom):

Bautzen seems to be much cuter and is more "gung ho" about Sorbian culture than Cottbus (from what I could tell in the short amount of time I spent in both places). Here are some pictures of Bautzen being cute:

Then over the weekend I finally made it back to the Czech Republic. I was in Brno (in Moravia, in the eastern part of the Czech republic) where I visited a Berkeley friend and some other acquaintances/friends. It was quite fun -- my last hurrah in Central Europe before 9 months in Russia -- but I failed to take a single picture. So just trust that I was too busy to take any pictures. At some point I might tell you more about it, including the story of the 45 minute walk home through a pitch black forest on a muddy path at 5 am, but for now: Nazdar!