Saturday, January 23, 2010

Last day. Last post.

Well, at least the last one from Moscow. I am sure I will have a couple of updates from the U.S. regarding the whereabouts of uploaded photos and perhaps audio clips.

Anyway, today was our last day in Moscow. Tomorrow really doesn't count as we will leave for the airport at 9am when it will still be dark, and then customs and all that check in stuff really doesn't count as "being in Moscow." So we had a free day for our last day, and the five of us each kind of did her own thing. That being the case, I can only really update you on what I did which was go on a photo walk and shoot some film and digital images in the really clear, freezing, FREEZING, sunny day. I think today was the most beautiful and sunny but also the coldest day we have had yet in Moscow.

Carly, alas, could not join me for today's adventures -- she was "illing with a temperature" as her Russian English-language students would say -- so I went одна, but at my own pace and took in all the beautiful old architecture around the Arbat, Gogolevskii Bulvar, and Patriarch Pond.

We all met up again in the evening for a final hurrah -- Aisling, Jess, Emmy & I had dinner at "Mu-Mu" (i.e. "moo moo," a cow-themed Russian cafeteria style restaurant) and then Aisling, Jess, Galina & I went back to the "Mexicanskii bar" near the dorm where we first went on one of our earliest evenings in Moscow, over two weeks ago. I forget if we told you about this or not, but the bar is not exactly accurately Mexican themed per se, but more "Russian interpretation of Mexican" themed -- it involves a lot of Aztec masks and a black light. Last time we were there though they played the Mexican/Cuban/Miami rapper Pitbull, much loved by all of us and rarely heard in Russia, so we were won over. When we went back though for our final drink out in Russia (and to drain the remains of our rubles, our poor waiter, a nice guy from Tajikstan who is a fellow student at RGGU, got a fairly sizable tip by Russian standards.... entirely in our remaining change), they had a real live mariachi band with at least one member who actually spoke Spanish. They band wandered around the bar and played for the customers, and they grew attached to our table as a) we were the only ones who clapped for them after every song and b) three out of the four of us can speak at least elementary Spanish (guess who took Latin in high school?).

It was a fun, pleasant last night out in Russia, and now all of us are falling asleep early since tomorrow is going to be a long, long, loooonnngg day. We leave at 9am for our 1pm flight, hope for good weather so our flight isn't delayed and we miss our connection, and we should be back in the U.S. about 26 hours from now.

Good night, it's been fun.

-- E.B.

Asya & Galina at the Bolshoi.

Sorry! Thought I put this one up with the others from our Thursday night at the Bolshoi. And it's such a nice photo of these two ladies!

-- E.B.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Please pardon our lack of entries, the internet has been screwy, and we have just been packing in so many fun and exciting things before we leave that blogging just hasn't crossed our minds. But!!! We have a spare minute now, so let us tell you all that we have been up to:

Wednesday 1/20/2010:

So, Wednesday we had our second "field trip" for class. As I told you the other day, we were supposed to go to the Mayakovsky Museum. Well, in a typical kind of fashion, when we arrived at the Mayakovsky Museum after class it was, you guessed it? Closed on Wednesdays. Fail. So we sat for a while and drank coffee in a café in the basement of the neighboring bookstore and tried to figure out our plan of action.

Maya, our guide/teacher leading these field trips, suggested we go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (not to be confused with the New Tretyakov Gallery), not that far from the Pushkinskaya/Tverskaya/Chekovskaya metro station. As in any contemporary art space there was some good art, some bad art, some thought provoking, some ludicrous. I especially liked the few photos they had there by Boris Smelov, a photographer from Petersburg whose work I much enjoyed last year. We were shocked and then horrified? confused? frightened? by an installation criticizing Muslims, where robots covered in black robes bowed and "prayed" over and over. Jessica particularly liked the collection of modern statues outside of the museum, pictured below:

After the museum, Galina and Aisling tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to the Bolshoi Theater for a second time, Jessica and Emmy went to a bookstore, and I wrote in my journal in a café near the dorms until I found out that apparently I had gotten a roommate while I was out. In typical, Russian dormitory fashion, there was no warning, just suddenly someone moved in to the extra place in my room. But it's ok because she is Italian, from Rome, speaks fluent English, has studied Russian for six years, and is generally fine as a roommate for the next.... two days.

Thursday 1/21/2010:

We had our second-to-last day of classes yesterday, followed by "business lunch" at the very same Uzbek restaurant where Jess, Asya, Galina & I went to almost two weeks ago, with all of the teachers from our program. There were more teachers than students at our lunch, that is for sure, but it was fun, the food was good, and the professors seemed to like the thank you presents we gave them -- each a different, silky scarf with colors to match their wardrobes. I personally love watching teachers interact outside of class with each other, how our music class teacher -- the youngest teacher by at least twenty years -- is treated like their young, protege, daughter, and the teasing that goes on and the pushing, always pushing, of food. Our СМИ class teacher encouraged everyone to clean our plates, and our "practical vocab" teacher, told a funny story about how Lenin once supposedly visited a school where children were eating poorly and he basically said, "Let's start a Clean Plate Club!" and from then on the children always ate everything on their plates.

Alla L'vovna also gave her "dear 5 devushek" a present of her own: she canceled our Friday classes and instead scheduled a third "field trip" -- to all go see a Russian movie together in the morning with Maya. Everyone was quite excited.

After lunch,
Jessica and Emmy went to "Vinzavod" which is a contemporary art space with a lot of funky graffiti. Galina and Aisling went to try to get student tickets for a third and final time at the Bolshoi Theater, and I went to the Mayakovsky Museum since I had been really disappointed that I hadn't been able to go the day before.

I didn't take any photos inside of the Mayakovsky Museum because you really just have to go there to fully experience it. It was designed by Tatlin with a winding, spiral shape -- four levels, leading up to the tiny room where Mayakovsky lived and finally killed himself. The spiral design makes for a very emotional build up to Mayakovksy's room, and it also really beautifully portrays the entire avant-garde and revolutionary movement, the idealism and the disappointment that went along with it.

But then, just as I was finishing up in the museum, I got a text from Aisling saying that not only had she and Galina finally found student tickets to the Bolshoi that night, but that they had THREE of them. So I went right to the Teatralnaya metro station and met up with them from a 7:00pm showing of "Carmen."

Funny story about how these student rush tickets were obtained: so Aisling and Galina went and waited in line with all the other students, in the cold, for the third time this week (bless their persistent little hearts) and apparently for Thursday night's show they gave out 40 student tickets. Galina and Aisling were numbers 41 and 42 in line. They were crushed. But then Aisling started talking to these three Russian boys who were in line in front of them, asking if they were students in Moscow, if they could go to the theater any old time, and that she was an American student and leaving tomorrow and she loves music and came all the way to Moscow just to see a show at the Bolshoi -- she may have teared up a little at this point -- and she got the Russian boys to not only give her their three tickets, but they gave them to her for FREE (they were already at the very cheap student price of 50r, but still, just look at that). So seeing "Carmen" was all the more exciting for that reason. Aisling and Galina went home to dress up, I showed up looking frazzled and messy from the museum, but we all had a good time. We had standing-room-only tickets for the first half, but a lot of Russians leave at intermission so then we got better seats where we could see everything that was going on. It was excellent.

We ended our Thursday evening feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Friday 1/22/2010:

We started off our day with a 10am showing of a Russian film, "Чёрная Молния" ("Chernaya Moliya" a.k.a. "Black Lightning"). The film was produced by Timur Bekmambetov, the director of two of my favorite modern Russian films "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" -- two dark, trippy, action films about vampires in modern day Moscow.

This film was done in a similar style: flashy, colorful, fast paced, great loud soundtrack of Russian music. It was unique though was it is the first ever Russian super hero movie, but, in typical Russian style, it blatantly and kind of tongue-in-cheek ripped off every famous super hero film of all time. The main character -- a young college student (think: Spiderman) named Dima -- receives an old Russian Volga (a Soviet car) from his father for his birthday when he really wants a fancy Mercedes to impress a girl in his class (note: commentary on Russia vs. America, criticism of capitalism, oligarchy, etc). A super villain, a wealthy new Russian, with a side kick that looked just like Willem Dafoe is trying to dig up diamonds under Moscow..... yadda yadda yadda don't want to ruin it for you, but turns out the car can fly (think: Batmobile) and so this once ordinary student (think: Spiderman, Batman) starts to fly over the city (think: Superman) and save people (think: any super hero ever). There is even a shot of Dima brooding over the city on top of a building, ripped straight from the Dark Knight, and the actors who play Dima and his lady friend look just like a Russian Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Would you look at that.

But we all absolutely LOVED it, had a grand old time, and because it was an action film it was pretty easy to follow (save the technical lingo involving the flying car and the bad guy's diamond-digger machine). It reminded me of being in high school and getting all psyched up after seeing Spiderman or the Dark Knight with Rosie. Good times. Also, I especially loved this film because I love it when a movie takes place in a city that I can recognize (think: The Departed) and so after spending two weeks in Moscow, it was fun to see the car flying over MGU and Red Square and the romantic walks of the leads by Patriarch Pond, etc.

Post movie, we actually loved our singing class of our Russian curriculum so much that we actually asked if we could have our class today even though it was supposed to be canceled, because Aisling and I had been planning to record our songs so we could remember how they go. If you're lucky, I just might upload some sound clips to this blog. But then, you might not really want to hear that.

Then after all that, Aisling, Galina and I experienced our first really truly "Russian" day when just everything went wrong, or more just that nothing went as planned. I wanted to go on a photo walk, but by the time we got to the area I wanted to photograph, the sun had set and then we tried to go to the New Tretyakovskaya Gallery again to see the temporary exhibits, but while it had been free last time with our student IDs, all of a sudden they realized we were foreign students this time and wanted us to pay full price of 200, and then 300, rubles. So we didn't go in, fuming on principle, and just drank tea instead.

We are planning a fun final night out now though. We are napping and resting now, and then hitting up another movie -- we are planning to see "It's Complicated" dubbed in Russian, the translated title being "Simple Complications" -- and then go to a bar or two.

And then! Guess who had so much fun last weekend that she decided to come back just for a day trip to visit me again tomorrow? That's right! Carly!

So, all is good on the Moscow front. Sorry for the delayed response!

-- E.B. (with some help from Aisling & Jessica)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Since we neglected to tell you about the weekends of the other devushki, I just wanted to insert a little story about our meeting with Misha, perhaps the cutest little boy in all of Russia.

Jessica, Emmy and I were eating at an Azerbaijani restaurant when Misha came up to us, dressed very nicely in his sweater and collared shirt, and just stood staring at us. We of course had to say "privet" (hi) and things just rolled from there. He didn't say much, but when we asked him where his mama and papa were, he just pointed and said "mama, papa." At one point, one of us got up and left the table, and he, with his big eyes and outstretched arm yelled "poka" (bye) in as loud a voice as any young boy can. We played with him, much to the amusement of the other diners, and of course his parents and relatives (drinking vodka, and obviously part of a big celebration at a long table in the next room.) He gave us invisible gifts, both big and small, and when we "called" him on our telephones, he answered! Then came picture time, and as soon as Jessica pulled out her camera, he was ready, with his perfect pose and bright smile. We didn't even need to say cheese!

His father came over eventually, telling us that our meeting with Misha was no chance, and asking us about where we were from. He began to speak in broken English, and told us of his boss who now lives in the US, and just went on a pheasant hunt in Texas (Misha's father is now the proud owner of many photos from this trip!) But we failed to make much more conversation with Misha's family.

We then said good bye, and are now just left with the memory of one of the few babies we have seen in Moscow, and of course, Jessica's photo.

More about our recent endeavors tomorrow.

-- Aisling & Jessica

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Field Trip #1: Glinka Museum of Music.

Today after class we had our first of two planned "field trips" -- basically other excursions, but these count towards our classroom time. I guess we need 56 hours of classroom time in total to make this course count as a full semester's credit, but with class 5 hours a day for 10 days, we were 6 hours short. So, Alla L'vovna planned, instead of making a couple of extra excruciatingly long classroom days, two field trips -- 3 hours each -- to two different museums in Moscow. Tomorrow we go to the Mayakovskii Museum, but today we went to the Glinka Museum of Music which is only a "7 minute walk" away from our dorm and RGGU.

The museum is deceivingly enormous and has two full floors of rooms. We viewed the third floor first which had an exhibit in chronological order of "three centuries of Russian music." It started with Glinka and went on through Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovitch, Rimskii-Korsokov, Stravinsky, and then Soviet music. Aisling's favorite part was seeing the photographs of David Oistrakh, a famous 20th century violinist, with Shostakovitch or performing for the masses.

The second floor consists of their collection of old and rare musical instruments from Yakutia to Kazakstan to Italy. Most famously, was the Stradivarius violin that belonged to Oistrakh. E.B. especially enjoyed learning the difference between a "bayan" and a "garmonika" -- both of which are translated into English as simply "accordion." Do some Googling and see if you can figure out the different for yourself.

The babushki there were wonderfully informative, but also fairly strict about the no-picture-taking policy. Therefore, this is the only photo I was able to sneak:

It is of an elaborately decorated grand piano, all done with wooden inlay, made in St. Petersburg in the 1800s.

We ended the excursion with coffee in the café and a discussion about why only older women work as "security guards" in museums (most of their husbands have died and they need to supplement their income) and why Rimskii-Korsokov had a hyphenated last name (both of his parents came fro aristocratic families, and his mother was the last of her line, so it was in order to preserve her name.)

Tonight, Aisling, E.B. + Galina, ate dinner at a Ukranian version of the Russian restaurant "Yolki-Palki" i.e. the most kitschy place you could imagine. The waiters and waitresses had to wear authentic costumes and looked absolutely ecstatic about it. Ukrainian foods consumed included: fried carrot patties (called "oladi") and verenki (dumplings) with mushrooms and a Ukrainian beer, of course. Once again we found ourselves surrounded by lots of young Russian couples on awkward dates, always great people-watching in this city.

That's it for today!

-- E.B. & Aisling

Monday, January 18, 2010

E.B. + Carly's Weekend:

Here is a brief rundown of what I was up to this weekend with this lady:

Carly C.
WC '09.
Russian major.
Currently teaching English in Vladimir,
3 hours away from Moscow via local suburban train.

We met up on Saturday morning when Carly arrived in Moscow on the "Vladimir Express" at 10am. We spent some time in Chocoladnitsa (the coffee/chocolate place that I knew all too well as I lived above one last year in St. Petersburg) caffeinating ourselves and catching up. We then went back to the dorm briefly (ohhh, how I had forgotten how frustrating the bureaucracy of signing a guest into the dorms can be) before setting out on our day.

We started with a failed attempt to see a photo exhibit recommended by one of my Russian teachers at a modern art center called "Garage." Unfortunately though I was misinformed or my teacher was misinformed or there was some massive miscommunication as "Garage" is currently closed until March working on their reinstallation. Oh well. This kind of thing happens in Russia a lot.

Next, we explored the New Arbat a little bit. Carly took me to her favorite café from last year when she did this program, on Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The café is part of a design studio, so the atmosphere is lovely and they have tasty food to go along with their tasteful exposed brick walls. Carly and I both had "vareniki" which are Russian dumplings filled with non-meat -- Carly's had potato in them, mine had "tvorog" which is sweet Russian cottage cheese.

We also spent some time downstairs exploring the shop of the design studio. If you have ever been to "Black Ink" in Harvard Square, it is basically the Russian version of that funky little store. They sell all kinds of awesome things like felt keys and puzzles and tetris magnets:

Since Carly and I are both suckers for old fashion atmosphere, the next place we went was a café/bar in the attic of the Mayakovskii Theater, also on Bolshaya Nikitiskaya, called "Mayak." It is a swanky little place, decorated in an early-20th-century, Russia-wanted-to-be-France, kind of way. Smokey. Old fashion. We both loved it. We ordered fancy cocktails and soaked in the atmosphere for a while, before meeting up with one of Carly's friends from Smolny two years ago who is also teaching English right now in Moscow. He was with all of his Russian friends at their apartment, so it was a good evening of conversational Russian practice and watching You Tube videos (as every party I ever go to dissolves into).

The next day, Sunday, Carly and I went out to brunch at this great bakery right near the dorm. I had heard only excellent things about this place, and I was not let down. I had the "Greek Strudel" which was basically a pastry full of spinach and cheese wonderfulness, followed by the "Apple and Tvorog Dream" -- a big pastry of apple and Russian sweet cottage cheese. Moscow has so many more great places for food and atmosphere than St. Petersburg, I must admit, even if Piter will always hold a very dear place in my heart.

We then went back to the New Arbat, did some errands at the bookstore ("Dom Knigi") and went back to Mayak to try out their lunch menu. I had a soup of celery puree which was not at all like baby food which I had been worried about. By then it was already somehow nearing 6pm, and I had to see Carly off on her train back to Vladimir.

As for Sunday night, Aisling, Jess and I tried out the Chinese restaurant called "Friendship" which is near our dorm. The symbol of their restaurant is a Chinese panda bear and a Russian brown bear together (thus, "Friendship") so we were instantly charmed. Their food was good too, but their clientele also made for great people watching on a Sunday night dinner. Lots of awkward first dates.

Yesterday involved a Monday's schedule full of classes (ho, hum) and some dinner at another Stolle with Aisling, this one near the Belorusskaya metro, with some journaling and homework catching up after our busy and full weekends.

Hopefully Aisling/Jessica and Emmy will write posts of what they were up to this free Saturday and Sunday as well, and if you want to know of Galina's whereabouts, check her own personal blog.

-- E.B. (sadly, without Carly.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Photos from Friday:

(MXT Theatre.)

(costumes from a production of "Othello.")

(costumes from a production of "Anna Karenina.")

(inside of the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.)

(oh, hi, Nika!)

(group shot with Nika and Nika's husband, Sergei, the cello soloist!)

Updates from the various events of our free weekend to follow, after we get our homework done for class tomorrow!

-- E.B.