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!):