Thursday, October 30, 2008

Something strange is in the air

Halloween is tomorrow (of course), and because it's a holiday primarily of English speaking countries, EF is encouraging us to bring the topic, the lore, and the holiday into the classroom. While this goes over somewhat well with teenagers, my adult class today was less than thrilled to talk about Halloween ... Even when I brought in a BBC article about Russia's overall attitude toward Halloween, they didn't want to compare and contrast their own feelings. Perhaps, what really happened is my own lack of enthusiasm for the holiday rubbed off on them!

While I am currently blaming Halloween, I have learned that if something is working in your classes and the students are satisfied with the book, then don't stray from it UNTIL they get bored. A preemptive change merely leads to confusion and speechlessness for most students.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Metro and the Militzia

There are many rumors (not without truth) about the Russian militzia and their habit of demanding money and bribes. At first stories of abusive militzia harassing foreigners just for a few extra rubles put me on edge. Anytime militzia were around, I worried, laid low, and kept walking without making eye contact. But on the metro at night, the militzia seem like a different breed. Rather than being frightened by them, I am continually impressed with their diligence and ability to keep people safe on the metro. I have two first hand examples supporting the idea that militzia protect the public, and zero first-hand, but a few second-hand, stories about militzia harassing foreigners.

One night after work, Rachel and I got on the metro at about the regular time, 10 PM. This seems like a reasonable enough time to be on the metro, especially considering that people are still in their business suites. On this day like any other day, we hopped into a random train car. Rachel sat in an open seat, and I stood by. Not long after the train started moving a fight, between two grown men, erupted. A small old lady rushed to grab a seat near Rachel, and I stood and stared, dumbfounded for too long before realizing that this fight could easily escalate to the point where I might be in the line of fire. (This realization came when one man started ramming or pushing the other toward our area of the car.) As I moved to change my position and put more people between me and the two men, I began to wonder if anyone would do anything. It had been about 30-45 seconds in reality, but it felt like minutes. Finally, one man stepped in to try to break up the fight. It took another long 30-45 seconds for another man to realize that he should also step in or the fight would keep going and maybe become larger. This fight, of course happened in-between stops, while the train was moving. Finally, the two men separated the fighters, and it seemed everything would stop, but people did not move back to their old seats, and there was a large bit of empty space around the men. When the train stopped at the next stop, I expected at least one of the fighters to get off the train, so as to prevent another fight, but they just sat there next to each other mumbling things back and forth. After the train had stopped for a split second and other passengers began to trickle on, the men were at it again! Perhaps they believed our protectors had stopped paying attention, but whatever the case, the militzia came running, grabbed the men and took them off the train. This was my first experience seeing the militzia in action, and I suddenly felt safer and not so frightened by the men and women in uniform.

The second example is less eventful. Last night, Rachel and I headed away from a housewarming party and raced to catch the metro before it closed at 1:30 am. We caught the last train out to Коньково (Kon’kovo), and as we boarded at Октябрьская (Oktyabrskaya), I noticed the militzia watching people on the platform. At first I was confused and a little nervous, but as the train moved onto the next station and the next, I realized we had definitely caught the last train. The militzia were making sure that no one was left on the platform, and if there had been a fight or a problem, they would have taken care it. No incident occurred last night, but I was happy to know that the militzia were there, just in case.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Photos of Moscow

Victoria, our 24 hour supermarket

This is the lovely pond near the school (Patriarshiye Prudy)

St. Basil's

The Moscow River on the left, Red Square on the right, and rush hour traffic

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Living in a city that's older than the legend of El Dorado

Ok, so I realize it's been a while since I posted. I had a wonderful weekend last weekend, but I didn't take any pictures of the city. (The picture below is the only one I took, and I was just showing Victor how to use the stitch tool on my camera.) So, for now, until I take more pictures, a written description will have to do.

If I ignore some odd smells and the litter, Moscow is a beautiful city. Anywhere in Moscow, I am not more than a 10 minute walk from at least two parks (or so it seems). And if I can ignore the modern signage and huge advertisements for the likes of Audi, Pepsi, and Nokia, the historic buildings, ponds, and occasional cobblestone sidewalks are awe inspiring. It's hard not to think of the billions of people who were here before and the changes that have occurred over the last ten years or over the last century, let alone the last millennia!

In addition to my imagination, the architecture and plethora of parks inspire an interest history. In the metro and around town, Russia displays its abundant natural resources and cultural heritage. Granite and marble tiles cover most metro platforms, and each park showcases the pride and respect that Moscow has for her historical and literary tradition as many parks and metro stations are named after noted poets and contain large scale statues of / monuments to their namesakes. I am fascinated and enthralled by history and art, and Moscow encourages me to indulge in both.

I realize that so far I have barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. Over the weekend, my new friend Victor gave me a tour of various places in Moscow. He's has been here for eight years, so his knowledge of where to go and how to get places was invaluable. We went to Tretyakov Gallery and walked around downtown Moscow, avoiding the metro for as long as possible. Tretyakov Gallery is huge! It is definitely not something you can do in a day, and I don't think we saw more than a tenth of the artwork. We worked through eighteenth century portraits, moved our way to nineteenth century genre painting, and finally made it to late nineteenth century Russian impressionism. Next time I think I will get a map! The gallery is a large collection of all Russian artwork and like the parks, streets, and metro stations, it displays an almost overwhelming sense of respect for history.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cheese and Eggs

So, earlier I guessed that I would have problems in the grocery store with cheese, but so far it has been a great success. I found a fairly mild cheese that tastes something like provolone and has the consistency of cheddar. Whatever it really is, it melts nicely and goes well with the fabulous, spicy mustard Rachel helped me find with her Russian/English dictionary. Generally I am able to figure out what things are in the grocery store due to packaging, location, or cognates, but sometimes none of these suffice. My Russian lessons are going slowly, so I continue to feel helpless in the face of words I am able to sound out but have no idea their meaning.

Along with cheese, I have been eating eggs which are a blessing here because meat, excluding chicken and bologna, is very expensive (of course I would argue this holds true in the U.S. as well). I had my first egg from what I assume must have been a Russian chicken last weekend - it was absolutely delicious, but the color seemed a bit odd. Rather than the reddish-orange yolks we are so used to in the states, the yolk was more of a creamy lemon color. It almost looked like lemon icing. Despite this odd color, I decided I would eat it anyway. I rationalized that the color had something to do with the diet of the chicken, but I really had no idea. I wanted an egg, so I ate it! After eating the egg, over easy and with a soft yoke, I googled yoke coloration. Surprisingly, my rationalization was spot on. The diet of the hen determines the color of the yolk. In some countries farmers even feed their chickens coloring so the yoke turns the nice orange color we know. Perhaps if I had eaten more eggs from local farms in the United States I would have already known this, but I am learning that being in Moscow teaches you more about yourself and your own country than you would ever have thought possible.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kolomensky Park: I love Fall!

Before I arrived in Moscow, I thought for sure that I would miss fall. It was just beginning in Blackfoot, and I thought it would be over in Moscow. Lucky for me, I arrived about a 2 or 3 days before the leaves began to change, and now fall is in full swing. Today was absolutely gorgeous. At a comfortable 60 degrees Farenheit, the rumors about Moscow's winter having started already were just that ... rumors. Kolomensky Park was the place to be today with such wonderful weather and the leaves falling. This statue is adorned with one of the leaf crowns the locals were putting together. Unlike in the states, Russians don't seem to be interested in raking up leaves and playing in them. Instead, they like to make leaf crowns and pose for various photo opps. Though the park was packed, it was still quite enjoyable, and I can only hope the weather holds out for next weekend. One weekend of fall is never enough!