Happy birthday, Dad.
I guess I haven’t posted in exactly two months, and there’s a month left to go here. Things have been interesting. I went to Moscow, Pskov, several concerts, a ballet, and a whole bunch of tourist spots. My friends from Beloit who are studying in Moscow came up for a few days, and Darius came and visited last week, which was fun but I felt like I could have been more fun to be around/more prepared for his presence, but some of that was due to a second bout of (not as bad) food poisoning.
Tumblr’s not great for how many pictures I want to share, so here’s my facebook album of everything I’ve thought worth sharing. You might need a facebook account to see it.
Let me get the complaints out of the way here and now:
Educational experience: has been a mix of OK and pretty lame. My RSL and Central Asia classes are good, not outstanding, but not miserable and not falling apart. I like all the RSL teachers and the majority of my classmates. Freedom of Speech is a mess, because the professor has been out of the country for a total of 8 of our classes, and now we have to make those up with three-hour marathons starting at 9 AM every Friday morning. These days 9 AM is a bit of a miserable time to start anything, especially since sunrise was at 10:15 AM today. Finally, I dropped the music history audit class, despite it being my only Russian-language academic class, because it wasn’t taught very well and I knew a lot already from music history at Lawrence, and I got tired of struggling to understand/stay awake every Wednesday for three hours until 8 PM.
Home life: Babushka’s an alright person, not too intrusive, not too neglectful, but the dog still isn’t house-trained and waking up to a pile of it in front of my door every morning has gotten old, especially since it doesn’t *really* get cleaned up until her granddaughter cleans every weekend. That said, she’s had guests here for several weeks, which means the dog has been living with a neighbor instead. Still, I don’t think I could recommend anyone live with her and her standard of hygiene. I’ll make it through.
Russian: I don’t speak it enough. My American friends never really want to speak Russian outside of class, and most of the Russians I know speak better English than I do Russian.
There, that’s done. In better news, this week I went to the studio where they usually do the audio overdubs of feature films (like Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters, Inc., Hancock, etc.) and did some recording for background extras in an English-language movie about St. Petersburg, trying to do my best British accent. I don’t ever want to hear what it sounded like, but it was a lot of fun. I think we may end up hanging out with the filmmaker and hopefully speak Russian…even though he speaks perfect English from having spent several months in South Dakota (!?).
Last night we had a full-on American Thanksgiving feast with turkey, lots of wine, my one root beer, salsa, gravy, peanut better, mashed potatoes, lots more wine, cornbread, pumpkin and pecan pie, and green beans that I quite proudly prepared. My classmate has claimed me as her older brother, which is a first, I think. No, she wasn’t drunk. Tonight we’re going to see Markscheider Kunst, a Russian ska/brass band at the same place I saw Behemoth a couple months ago. Tomorrow the Americans and I are going to Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanthe and after that I might go to a symphony concert. I have many concert plans for the next month, including Testament and Ensiferum which ought to both be sick.
These days I’m trying to nail down exactly what I want/need to do before I leave, which includes a lot of shopping and hopefully speaking Russian, as well as a last trip to Moscow among other things. Things might get hectic soon, but I probably won’t be bored.
Anyway, yeah, check that photo album out. It’s much less long-winded.
The past week wasn’t terribly eventful, mostly due to the fact that I was spending a lot of time working on a big HMELU transcription. Our…eccentric grammar teacher Ludmila Petrovna seems to have fallen ill and also somehow seriously injured her arm (this was all told to us in Russian by someone who wasn’t even sure what happened), so our class schedule has been thrown way off. On Tuesday I had Freedom of Speech, and we discussed John Milton’s Areopagitica, written in 1644, in which he used words like "quadragesimal," “apophthegms,” “flamens,” “besotted,” “enow,” and “inquisiturient,” among others. Including the teacher, I am the only person who speaks English as a first language in that class, and I had to look a lot of stuff up and was real mixed up by the syntax.
Yesterday was supposed to be our Freedom of Speech lecture day, but it turned out that our teacher had to go to court to defend (I don’t think as a lawyer) the modern Bolshevik party’s right to exist, because it is apparently currently banned in Russia. We didn’t know this at the time of class, so we ended up just sitting in the hall talking four an hour and a half. Our Slovak classmate talked a lot about which European/Central Asian ethnicities had animocities toward which other ethnicities. My Turkmen classmate continued to insist that he knows US history better than I, since I “think” FDR was not Jewish.
Eventually we got on the subject of the recent Russian presidential elections, and one of my classmates talked about how, when he was an election judge for those elections, an official walked into the polling place and dropped a stack of ballots into the ballot box. He then said his friend, also an election judge at the time, called him and said she had just had a 2-year-old walk in and vote for Putin, and he also mentioned an instance in which a woman tried to fix some rigged ballots, at which point a police officer dragged her out of the polling place by her hair. The Russian government has claimed that the protesters who said the election was rigged were paid to do so by the US. They have since kicked USAID out of the country for interfering with state sovereignty.
After that, I spent the afternoon on a characteristically long, desperate, and unsuccessful search for a ticket store that would give me my Behemoth tickets. All the American students then had dinner at the Chinese restaurant near our school, then went to find a bar. I finally found one of the bars metaltravelguide.net had told me about, the Stoker “Horror Bar,” which turned out to be filled with such types that scared most of our group away. I’m definitely going back. After we rejected Stoker, we found an underground dive called Alko Trash that was playing Russian rockabilly/old Russian folk songs/American Oldies while a flat-screen on the wall played a constant stream of silent Tom & Jerry episodes. It was cheap and I love that bar and I will go back.
Anyway, I think that’s basically it for noteworthy updates at the moment. Monday I have a Behemoth (death/black metal) concert, Tuesday I have an orchestra concert, Thursday I have another orchestra concert, Friday I have an opera, and Sunday I have another orchestra concert. I’m sure homework will fit itself in there somewhere.
Well, plenty has happened since I last gave a fleshed-out update. Classes started on Monday the 3rd, and I got hardcore food poisoning on the 2nd, which kept me out until Wednesday, a day after my first non-RSL class (Freedom of Speech).
On Wednesday I had my first non-language course taught only in Russian: Musical Culture of the Romantic Era. It’s a 3 hour class once a week that goes until 8 pm. I was pretty overwhelmed that day and didn’t really understand anything in the lecture. I guess it was mostly from the shock of one’s first all-Russian class, because I understood a lot more in the next class. Nonetheless, I decided to only audit that class, and now I’m taking Freedom of Speech and a class about state-making in Asia, both of which are in English. Yes, I am disappointed that I’m not taking a Russian academic class for credit (aside from my 4 different RSL courses), but I think this may actually be more intellectually stimulating and will leave me more time for things like practicing, working on HMELU stuff, maybe being in an orchestra, and going to concerts.
Speaking of being in an orchestra, I got into the Saint Petersburg State University Orchestra. After two rehearsals, however, I decided to quit. It turned out to basically be a community orchestra, with a really wide age range, no auditions, and was only a small chamber orchestra. The music was at about the same level of difficulty as what I played in the second highest group in Youth Symphony. I liked having the opportunity to be around musicians more often and to play in a group, but at 6 hours per week with the only concert of the term happening on December 14th, it just wasn’t worth it. So now one of our program leaders is looking into an audition for me at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, where Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich studied. Fingers crossed.
What else…I went luxury/nightclub bowling (yes, Brunswick is everywhere) last Friday with the Americans and a couple Russian students. I did surprisingly well at bowling, and afterwards we went to a discount/quasi-pyramid scheme bar in the obviously Soviet era apartment block area where most of the Americans live. There was a hitch, however. At the time I had thought that the metro started closing at 12:30, but it turns out they start closing at 12. Long story short, I came very, very close to getting home fine, having started home at 11:45 PM, but a few things didn’t exactly work out, and I got home at 3:30 AM in the rain. You see, every night in St. Petersburg, starting around 1:30 AM, every bridge along the rivers of the city raises to allow the larger boats through. My getting home eventually depended on crossing a bridge, and I reached that bridge at 1:05 AM…for some reason the bridge was already up. So I, dutiful tourist that I am, took some pictures with the rest of the Friday night crowd, watched the party boats full of drunk sports fans pass through, and then went and hung out on the coffee house boat for an hour and a half, using their wi-fi and watching the freighters pass. Eventually I got tired of being aware of the staff’s pity and decided to try and find a water taxi along the embankment. As I was looking, I realized that the bridge nearest my school had cars driving across it. I happened to be looking for the water taxi in the single half hour during which one of the bridges lowers to let normal traffic resume before raising again for several more hours. Well, I walked across, and made my way across the island I started out on in the first place (through the rain), and got home at 3:30 AM. I couldn’t really walk for the next couple days.
Here’s a map of my adventure:
(I don’t know why it says “Calvin of Great,” but I like it.)
The next day I went to a political rally near The Hermitage museum. There were technically three rallies going on there: one that was pro-democracy, one that was pro-LGBT rights, and one that was pro-socialism. The democracy and LGBT one looked to be basically the same thing, whereas the socialists all gathered their Che flags on another part of the square and stood around a nice van. There were more police/SWAT/paramilitary police there than I even remember seeing at the Obama rally I went to. There was a fair amount of people, but they didn’t fill the park. I saw no evidence of anything confrontational/violent, and there were lots of people filming and taking pictures of it. Still, though, probably wasn’t the best idea for me to go, but I’m glad I went. I’ll put up pictures of that in a later blog.
This guy’s getting pretty long, so I’ma finish it off in another post.
Last Saturday I took a walk along my island and neighboring islands in search of abandoned buildings. I found several, but I wasn’t with anybody/didn’t have the guts so I didn’t go into any, except for the graffiti one, which was just full of trash on the inside. I also ended up at an amusement park sort of on accident, which was cool, except Russia doesn’t even have a great airline safety record, so there’s no way I’m getting on a Russian roller coaster.
Peterhof trip, continued.
An update about the second week from the third week.
On Sunday, the 26th, we took a boat across the Bay of Finland to Peterhof (German for Peter’s Court), a group of palaces commissioned by Peter the Great. It’s also a town, we’re told, but we didn’t really see any places where people could actually live. It’s got a whole bunch of gold statues and opulent everything, and is also just kind of a nice place to walk around in because there are lots of trees, grass, and dirt walkways.
Everything we saw, however, was reconstructed after the Nazis occupied and almost completely destroyed the entire complex. The fact that the entire thing was reconstructed seemed a little odd to me, given that the reconstruction of this absurdly opulent landmark happened under the Soviets, but I guess not rebuilding it could’ve been letting the Nazis win in a way.