Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Visiting Relatives and Seeing Jen Off

So, I had the option of three of five Russian language classes, and I picked the ones on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday I'll have lexical difficulties and writing; Thursday is literature and film; and Friday is conversation. I think those are the best topics to help me with getting better at Russian.

But what that means is that today I did not have Russian class, so I woke up at 8-ish when Chloe's alarm rang and made sure she had my folder with all of the passports and photos that I'd collected. I also called Gabby and Victoria to make sure that they brought theirs and then went back to sleep, but not before texting Kirill to let him know that I'll be happy to help with anything at all.

I got up about an hour later, showered, dressed, continued writing my journal about yesterday, then got a band-aid from Regina for my blister from yesterday's shoes. On the way up to get the blister I was not watching my step and cracked my big toenail, which meant I needed not one, but two band-aids when I got up there. I then helped Danielle put money on her card and then went back upstairs to call the Yevreisons (my relatives on my dad's side) to get directions to their house.

I tried to contact Brandon for Kirill, before realising that he has an American phone and I just wasted 210 roubles trying to phone him. Then I went downstairs to sign my housing registration thingummy and get my passport back from Kirill. Regina did the same. Then I bid them both farewell and got on the bus to go to the train to Prospect Veteranov (Veterans Avenue).

I arrived at Veteranov Station at about 12:30pm. I had to call the Yevreisons twice more to find the apartment building. First I could not find the underground passage across Prospect Veteranov and then when I found it and had gone across I turned left instead of right. And of course I did not realise my mistake until quite late because the buildings do not have clearly marked numbers. Blech.

Anyway, eventualy I got to the right building (13) and entered the right apartment number (24) and I was welcomed inside.

I took off my boots and was given slippers. They asked if the boots were not too warm for me, which I'd anticipated, but I was wearing quite a short dress and without the boots I would feel positively indecent. Then, we went into the kitchen where they had cold borsch and shot glasses of, I think, cognac waiting. We drank to first meetings and then had the borsch. I am not usually a fan of cold soups, but as a guest I felt that I could not refuse and also it was hot enough that I felt like a cold borsch was exactly what the doctor ordered.

It actually turned out to be delicious, and extremely filling. But, of course, it was not the end of the meal, but only the beginning. Once the borsch was done it was time for the second course, which was lamb and potatoes. That was extremely tasty as well, but altogether too filling after the very filling soup I'd just had and I just could not finish it. During the meal we talked about all sorts of things--updates on family well-being, housing, jobs, marriages, etc. We also talked genealogies and mutual friends and so on. It was awesomely bizarre to find out that they knew of Stony Brook, because as it turns out, Sonya Girschman (Yuriy Yevreison's wife) is friends with the mother of Stas Altshuller, who is my brother-in-law's best friend. How small the world is!

After the second course, which I was unable to finish, we had some compote and then Yuriy and I retired to the living room to chat. With us went a bowl of grapes and nectarines. I was feeling completely stuffed by then, but I managed some grapes throughout the conversation. It started storming pretty intensely while we were in the room and Sonya went around closing windows.

After that, we migrated to the computer room, so Yura could show me photos of his kids and grandkids. Mercifully, the food did not accompany us there. His collection of Malamud photos is woefully incomplete, which we should remedy. I told my father as much when I spoke to him this past evening. Yura's son and daughter-in-law went to the Arab Emirates pretty recently, so there were tons of cool photos from there.

After photos, it was time for tea. I consented to one pastry called "Bouche", but then he offered me some suhariki (very dry sweetened toast). I agreed to have one and ended up with three. When I stood my ground and refused a second Bouche, Yura asked me if I was on a diet. Really?! I'd like to see the kind of diets around here if refusing to continue to eat after you are stuffed is reason for someone to think you are on one. When I told my mother this story later, she said I should have said yes to save myself the trouble. I hadn't thought of that...

After tea, we took photos together for our respective records and then I left. During my stay, I was texting back and forth with Jen and others about Jen's going-away-shindig-thing, and worrying about making it back to Vasilevsky Island in time for that, what with the storm and all. I left at 16:30 during a break in the storm.

While I headed back I tried to get in touch with people, but hardly anyone was responding until I got back to Vasilevsky Island and even then there was all sorts of confusion about who was going and what was happening and etc.

I hung out briefly in Ben, Oleg, and Tom's room while waiting for news from Jen. Victoria, Stephen, and I all decided to go to the thing, and then finally Jen called. Steve left his bag in my room and then Tim, Jen's roomie and host, gave us directions to the place. We were informed that it was walking distance, but our aching bodies let us know that that sort of thing was not okay.

We made it to the corner of Gavanskaya St. and Shkiperskiy Protok, and then there were two places. One was a restaurant and bar called Ugly Duckling and the other was a place called Magazin-Bar. We did not see Jen and co. in Ugly Duckling and Magazin-Bar seemed super sketchy, so we just phoned Jen about a bllion times, but she kept not picking up. Eventually she did, though, and it turned out that Magazin Bar was indeed th eplace.

It actually turned out to not be sketchy at all. It's like a nice little bar, with beer on tap and food and also games such as chess, backgammon, and dominoes. Jen, Tim, a bunch of journalism students, and Julia Vorobyeva (the other ACLI coordinator besides Tim) were there hanging out and talking and all in all having a good time. I definitely want to go back there to hang out at some point.

Victoria later left with the journalism students to check out their dorms (which are apparently nicer than ours), but Steve and I stayed to hang out with Jen, Tim, and Julia. Unfortunately, Steve and I had to leave pretty soon after that because Steve needed to get his bag from my room before catching the last bus back to his home.

We took a bus back to the dorms this time because we were super tired and the walking distance thing is only true for not tired people. I was aching all over by the time we got back and also had a headache. I'd taken two Excedrin before going to the thing at Magazin Bar, which helped for that time, but I felt like I needed another one by the time I got back to my dorm.

I tried to sleep using Chloe's blindfold, also, since the sun was still bright, even though it was nearly midnight. The blindfold-sleep-idea didn't really work 'cause I kept texting tons of people, including Kirill about life and Gabby to try to get a massage.

When Chloe got back, she made a phone call home, which reminded me that I had not done that yet, so I phoned dad, mom, Ella, Sophia, grandpa, and grandma. I did not reach grandpa, so I will have to do that tomorrow. By the time I finished chatting with Sonya, my painkillers must have kicked in because my head was feeling fine, which allowed me to sleep.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Exploring the City

11 Jul 2011, 00:00-ish, dorms

woke up at 6:30AM and it was already bright. I dozed back off and woke up for good at 9:15. Since that was only fifteen minutes before I had planned to wake up, I got up and showered anyway.

Chloe and I got dressed at a decent clip and were, again, the first ones outside, this time without even a Kirill. We came downstairs without breakfast, which I came to regret. Well, Chloe had had a granola bar. I pondered buying a banana or something before people gathered, but I was still pondering by the time everyone had arrived, so I didn't. By 11:00 everyone was there. The excursion bus containing the driver (Edward), the tour guide/NYI staff person Andre, Kirill, his friend Katya, and a staff person named Lena, plus the three Croatian girls who are under her care. They arrived in St. Petersburg a few hours before us and got to see and take pics with Iron Maiden (!!), but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We got on the bus and started the excursion, but then turned around to pick up Jen. She sat next to me and we talked a lot about everything under the sun. We stopped at lots of cool locations at our excursion: the head of Vasilevsky Island, the battleship Aurora, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church on Spilt Blood, and a few others, ending finally at Smolny Convent, which contains St. Petersburg State University's International Relations Department from which Kirill and Katya had graduated only three days prior. It's a gorgeous building. Actually, SPbSU has all sorts of lovely buildings, including the Philological and Oriental Departments, where I study, right on the University Embankment. Totally beautiful.

I got a corn on the cob from the first food vendor I saw, which as breakfasts go is not bad at all. Jen and I also both got really excited about the Iron Maiden thing as we saw more and more ads all around the city and realised that the concert was going to be that night.

After the excursion we stopped at a Russian restaurant called Stolle for food. I had kulyebyaka with meat and Kirill let me try some of his pie with salmon. I also had Jasmine tea which was great. Tea is a beautiful thing to have in the middle of the day after a long excursion.

At the restaurant I got out my phone and my courage and phoned my relatives. My family has relations living all over the world, most of whom I've never met and wouldn't know if I passed on the street. These are some such, but they're living in St. Petersburg, so of course I cannot be in St. Petersburg without visiting them. I will phone the Evreisons (relatives on my father's side) again when I'm ready to meet up with them, i.e. when I am not exhausted from having just arrived. Lyudmila Romm (a relative on my mother's side) will call me when she is ready to have me. She lives in Pushkin, a suburb of St. Petersburg where the legendary poet himself is from, so I do hope I get to visit her.

After Stolle, we went to get lung scans which were necessary paperwork for the dorms. They cost 250 roubles and ascertained that we had no TB or cancer or what-have-you. Then it was time to get bus/metro pass cards. This took quite a while because a few of us had to exchange money which took forever. The pass cards gave us unlimited rides on all buses and trolleys and 70 rides on the metro.

Once we all had the cards in hand we went to a ticket booth where we asked about various concerts--Iron Maiden, Thirty Seconds To Mars, etc. The Iron Maiden concert began at 19:00 that evening at SKK (Sports and Concert Complex) and cost us 2200 roubles (~US$80) per ticket. Tom, Oleg, and I bought those tickets gladly. Jen vacillated a bit and then decided to be a responsible adult and join the journalism students at dinner at 21:00 that evening.

Once everyone had what tickets they wanted it was time to go back to the dorms. Kirill lives on a completely different metro line from us so he charged me with the task of bringing everyone's lung scans to Natalia, who had checked us in the day previous. He walked us to the metro station (Mayakovskaya) and then went to get to whatever his home was.

We got back to the dorms without incident and I got the lung scans to Natalia, changed into pants, put on more makeuppy things and my bandanna and left the dorms with Oleg and Tom.

We took the subway to Park Pobedy and followed the crowd of obvious metal fans to the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK). On the way there we saw large amounts of graffiti telling Russians to stop drinking so much alcohol and if I could figure out how to work the pictures properly on this blog, I would show examples of them.

At SKK I had to throw out my water bottle (well, my Tazo Tea bottle filled with water) before entering ([expletive deleted]). We bought T-shirts at the merch table and then got plastic cups of water, which we also weren't allowed to take into the main concert area (double [expletive deleted]).

Once inside Oleg and I decided to push forward as much as we could to try and see the stage even a little bit, while Tom preferred to stay closer to the back for a quicker exit, should he need one. Oleg and I actually managed to get pretty far forward. We took a bunch of pictures, though my camera is not built to take photos in dark places, as evidenced by the crappiness of a lot of the pictures I've taken at night or at that concert. My camera rebelled entirely at the idea that it could take video--claimed that it didn't have enough battery power or some such, the silly. At one point Oleg lifted me up for a few moments so I could actually see the whole stage with my own eyes. That was actually super nice of him as no photographs will ever compare.

So the concert started at 20:30 and went on to about 22:30, by which time our legs were dying and we were nearly deaf. It was so good though and I feel so lucky that my first time in St. Petersburg coincided with Iron Maiden's first time in the city.

We took the metro back to Primorskaya and went to Kofe Hauz (Coffee House) where we got pastries, drinks, and wi-fi. I tweeted from Oleg's phone about the awesome night I'd just had. Then we got back to the dorm a little after midnight. It was already its darkest by then--not a full dark, but a kind of twilighty greyness.

I brushed my teeth, rinsed off, and went to bed.

11 Jul 2011 06:00 (RUS time), governmental dormitories

It was 5:30AM when the gulls woke me up, their raucous crying echoing off the dilapidated Soviet buildings of this residential area. I tried to block it out and sleep for a bit longer, but quickly gave it up.

I got up to go exploring my hallway. Found a balcony and came back to the room to get my camera. I took some lovely pictures of the sun...rise? sun-slightly-lift, more like. Also took pictures of an Asian man on the balcony below me who had the same idea, but before me, and with a better camera. Then I went back into the hallway and decided to do some exercises. I did two repetitions of the surya, with 10 push-ups each and by the end was feeling sweaty enough to go back out in the balcony. I breathed a bit and then went back to the room to write in my journal, read the newspaper, and just do general things to distract myself from being awake about 2.5 hours before I actually have to be.

11 Jul 2011 22:28, back at the dorms

After I finished the above journal entry, I wrote a small verse, which can be found on my vkontakte.ru profile. Then I got up to shower and dress and continue to distract myself from being awake so early. I checked out the In Your Pocket guide to the city that had been given to us when we first arrived. It had some good info about stuff to find in the city and also events that were happening theatre-wise.

Tom called me around 9-ish to go looking for this mythical cafeteria on the 2nd floor of our dorm that we'd heard about a few days ago. So I got up and went downstairs with him, only to discover that the cafeteria is in fact mythical. It is not open in the summer at all, even though signs for it are still up.

We returned to our respective rooms to pack our stuff for the day and then Chloe and I went downstairs, being, as before, the first ones down, though not by much this time.

Kirill showed up around the same time as the last of the stragglers and in short order we were off onto the bus to get to the university. Kirill and a few others were in front and Chloe, Brandon, Sean, Nick, and I were in the back. We got off at the university stop and then sat around in the courtyard of the philological faculty (PhilFac) waiting for Dr. Bailyn to get free so he could orientate us. Jen met us outside and Oleg delivered to her the Iron Maiden shirt we'd bought her.

Now, my sister has said that John Bailyn is the only American she knows who speaks Russian perfectly and without an accent. On the phone when I exchanged words with him the previous night it was absolutely true. In person, he's got a bit of an accent--enough to place him outside of any major city in Russia, but not necessarily the United States.

He, Kirill, and Jen gave us various spiels on classes, responsibility, safety, health, etc. and took any questions we had. After the orientation we all had lunch in the uni cafeteria, but I paused to chat with Jen about what we'd do for a farewell dinner for her, since she was flying back to the States on Wednesday.

We chilled in the courtyard for a while after lunch, waiting until it was time for us to go to the Russian institute for our proficiency tests. I used Danielle's computer to try and figure stuff out regarding tango. My google-fu is not as good in Russia as it is back home, but I managed to find a few things here and there.

Then it was time to go to take our Russian proficiency tests. Those who were total beginners did not have to take the test for obvious reasons. The rest of us first had to fill out a sheet with our information using only Russian and then do a multiple choice grammar test.

We all turned out to have such different levels that putting us into groups became a huge hassle. Kirill was not pleased. I have a pretty advanced level of Russian, despite coming to the U.S. at such an early age, so I was placed in a pretty high group and I got to choose three of five classes that were offered for that group.

After the classes were sorted out, we had basically free time. Kirill showed us one very pretty street, a completely pedestrian area, on the 6th and 7th lines, only two blocks away from the Russian as a Second Language building. I should pause here to explain how the streets work on Vasilevsky Island. Most of the streets on the Island just have names like everywhere else in St. Petersburg, but starting from the Strelka (the head of the island), the first twenty blocks or so have lines instead of street names. The lines correspond to the sidewalks, not the driving part of the street, so the first street is called Kadetskaya liniya on one side and 1st liniya on the other side. Our Russian classes are held on the corner of the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment and the 9th line.

So Kirill took us to a nice pedestrian street on the 6th and 7th lines. The church at the start of the street started tolling the hour very prettily as we walked onto it. After that, since we were free to go, the group splintered. Some people went to the city centre, a few went back to the dorms, and a few of us stayed on the street.

Nick, Sean, and Brandon wanted to use Internet, so Kirill showed them the Internet café that was by the Coffee House on that block. Then he, Gabrielle, and I went to do some errands. Gabby had arrived only the previous night, since she was coming from Oregon and wasn't taking any of the classes for credit. We had to get her a phone and a metrocard so we went to do just that.

Both of those things took relatively little time, but it was enough time for Kirill to get a phone call that Tom had been pickpocketed. Luckily his documents were still safe, but he'd lost his money, bank cards, and metrocard. I took over conversation duties while Kirill phoned John Baily and Tom about the whole thing. They were not very difficult duties as Gabby is very easy to talk to and a pretty cool person.

In the MTS store, while Gabby was doing the phone-getting thing, we had had some conversation about hookah and the like and, discovering a shared love for it, Kirill decided to lead Gabby and me to his favourite place--a café/hookah restaurant called Brooklyn Local. They have hookah, sushi, and bagels, as well as drinks both alcoholic and non-. It is a simultaneously hilarious and awesome place, since I grew up in Brooklyn. Adding to the awesome was the fact that theyhave free wi-fi and loan out laptops that you can use for free. I decided from that moment that Brooklyn Local was my new favourite place.

The three of us stayed and chatted there for a few hours, smoking two bowls (the first bowl change is free!). We talked about everything from jobs to politics to culture. I also managed to find more and better details about the tango class thing, so that was cool.

Eventually it was time to head out, so we paid the bill and skedaddled. Not before getting discount cards, though. Kirill led us to the Gostiniy Dvor metro station and put me in charge of collecting photos for our registration from people. Russia has this funny thing where people need to be registered at their residence if they're going to stay in the country for longer than like five days, so since we were gonna be in the country for a month, they needed our info. For that, we also needed our photographs. We also needed to get Gabby's photo taken for that very purpose. By the time we were on the metro, Gabby's allergies were killing her, so I hoped to get things done in a timely fashion.

So Gabby and I got on the metro and took the two stops to Primorskaya station. We found the photo studio in pretty short order, but it was closing just as we got there. We went back to the dorm and I started collecting photos from everyone while Gabby went back to her room.

I started writing this journal while waiting for people to get back from Kofe Hauz, but then I got such a stab of hunger that I immediately went to the grocery store to buy eggs, veggies, bread, and cheese. I also bought sugar for the tea and two mugs.

By the time I got back and started making my omelet, people started coming back, so I finished my omelet and then showed a bunch of people how to refill the money on their calling cards or their phones. Then I hung out with Ben and Oleg in the hallway for hours, eating my omelet. At some point during the hangout, I got a text from Kirill saying that he needed not just our photos, but our full passports as well, so then I went back around collecting the passports.

It is around 2AM now and I am going to bed.

As always, comments, questions, feedback of any kind is totally welcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Day in St. Petersburg

9 Jul 2011, 21:55, Korablestroitelei #20/3 (the dorms)

Here I am, at the end of a long one/two days, in my dorms. My roommates are Chloe (from my group) and an Asian girl, Chu Tsi, who speaks no English and very good (fluent?) Russian.

We arrived in St. Petersburg a little after 1pm, our time, and were met by Kirill and Alyona. Alyona took charge of Stephen and Zoe who were going to host families, and Kirill took charge of us.

Kirill is a blond man, 21 years old, with slightly spiked hair, three piercings in his left ear, freckles on his shoulders, and a decidedly Ed Norton cast on his face. He speaks nearly-perfect English and probably very good French, but I haven't got enough French to judge. 

We picked up another kid, Nick, from the other terminal (Pulkovo 2), then dropped off Jen Green, and then got to our dorm building. We stood around a bit, then Kirill went inside. We stood around a bit, then went up to the 2nd floor. There, we stood around a bit and then were divided up into groups of three and two. I am dorming, as I said, with Chloe, while Victoria, Regina, and Danielle got a room on the floor above ours.

Now seems like a good time to do inventory of the people on this group, actually, so here they are: Tom and Oleg are also at Stony Brook. Victoria is an incoming freshman who went to Stuyvesant (my alma mater), before transferring to a different high school. Danielle is a grad student at Stony Brook who was staff at IAP for some amount of time. Ben is at University of Albany (same as Chloe). He is sharing a room with Oleg and Tom. Brandon, Nick, and Sean are in a room 10 floors above mine and I'm not actually sure what universities they're in, which is a failing I'm going to remedy.

The room Chloe, Chu Tsi, and I are sharing is arranged kind of strangely. The three beds are arranged in a U next to the windows. Then there are two desks on one side of the room and one desk on the other. There's also a closet in the wall. When we arrived at the dorms and were given time to settle in, I took a shower in the TINY bathroom, after doing the necessaries in the TINIER toilet room. Maneuvering in those rooms was major awkward, but I did feel fresher afterward.

Even with the changing and the shower, Chloe and I were the first ones down with Kirill, and that was with
both of us forgetting our magnetic pass cards and running back upstairs to grab 'em. We finished waiting for everyone and then went to change our money from dollars to rubles. I ended up changing too little, only $60, which with the dinner we had at Dve Palochki (Two Chopsticks), was not enough to pay for the phone I bought. I ended up borrowing 200 r. from Tom, which I'll pay back by buying him lunch tomorrow. After changing money we all went to to get food at the aforementioned restaurant. Then we went on to an MTS store and bought phones and/or sim cards. I translated for those of us who did not speak Russian.

After that, Kirill wanted to take us to get metro and bus passes, but a bunch of us were near collapse, so we went back. A number of us stopped at the nearby grocery store to buy some necessities, then came back to the dorm. I called my mother using the calling card and she told me not to call my relatives here because it's already late (which I couldn't tell BECAUSE IT NEVER GETS DARK HERE!!), so I'll call them tomorrow at noon-ish.

Chloe and I are gonna buy blackout curtains for the room if we can find them. I'm gonna have some cereal now and go to sleep.


10 July 2011, ~7PM, metro
things to buy:
  • hangers
  • detergent
  • миски
  • чашки
  • кастрюля
  • frying pan

As always, questions, comments, criticism, and other feedback is always welcome.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Aeroflot, or Entry into Russia

Transcriptions from the flight :

8/7/2011 14:19, JFK Airport

I've been given seat 33A on this Aeroflot flight (they asked me if I preferred a window or an aisle seat!). Danielle, a grad student who is also on this trip hsa the seat next to mine, but we are scattered about the airplane otherwise.

My back and neck have all sorts of cricks and my period started this morning, so I'm not in top physical form. Solution: start exercising regularly. I'm gonna get up at 8AM every morning and do jumping jacks and sit-ups, as this journal is my witness.

The clicks of people's seat belts sound kind of like the hole punchers that conductors have on trains--each one leaves me fumbling for my ticket until I remember that I've already had my boarding pass checked. I'm done. All that's left is to fly there.

The right strap of my green Creek Freak backpack finished ripping as I went through security, so I went looking for a sewing kit. No one in the airport sells them
because of the needles, so I bought a new IZOD backpack for US$40-ish. This is my first expense of the trip.

Then I trekked over to Gate 8, where the other students had already begun gathering. We did a sort of circle introduction, ate lunch, chatted, and otherwise chilled out until it was time to board.

18:30 EST time, somewhere over the Atlantic?

We've had a lot of turbulence this flight. It's now cabin-imposed night (lights off, windows closed, else the glare off the clouds would be blinding), but only about half the people on the airplane are sleeping. Danielle's working on a paper about a Dutch composer's use of audible breathing as an instrument(?). She lent me a pair of headphones. I decided that reading
Modern Drummer (a favourite magazine of mine) without also listening to music was silly. We had dinner around 5-ish: fish, rice, veggies, and a chocolate mousse thing for dessert. They also gave us tea, which was very welcome.

Things I am determined to do once I'm in St. Petersburg:

  • exercise in the morning. Brooks Wackerman does Surya (salute to the sun), like my dad does, to keep himself loose for performances
  • get some drumsticks and start practicing again
  • tango regularly
  • see the Mariinsky Ballet
  • wander St. Pete
We're so far above the clouds, and the sun is so bright in the West... beautiful.

9 Jul 2011 9:50 (Russian Time), Sheremetyevo, Moscow

The flight was all right as such things go. The man who sat in front of us was drunk the whole flight. I felt nothing but contempt for him as the flight went on, and I'm sure the other passengers shared my feelings. I also began to sneeze regularly and my nose became runny. That is both unpleasant and inconvenient. Breakfast was served around 5AM, Russian time. It was a gross omelet with gross hash browns, and equally gross bacon, with overly strong tea. My stomach was not pleased at all by that combination.

Hopefully my health will even out ASAP. After breakfast, I tried to catch some winks, but it did not work too well.

In-flight movies were
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which I did not watch because of a lack of both headphones and interest. Then it was a Russian film to which I tuned in in the middle, but toward the beginning. It was about a boy who befriends a rogue who he thinks is his father, thus improving the lives of the man, the boy, and the boy's mother in equal measure. The last was Dawn Treader, which I avoided watching too closely because it looked as though it deviated from the book as much as I thought it did, or perhaps more.

At 8:00, we arrived at Sheremetyevo, in Moscow. We got our baggage and went through Passport Control where I gave in half of the migration card I had filled out on the plane. The airport official made a comment about my horrendous passport photo, cementing my plan to fix that as soon as I get back.

Then, we got our next ticket, checked our baggage, and went through security. Now we are awaiting the next flight, which will be at 11:00. I hope my nose stops being runny ASAP. Zoe, a girl who has been on the Russia trip before and is doing a homestay this time around, gave me some tampons since I'd used mine up on the plane. That was super nice of her.

12:43, on the plane Moscow-->St. Petersburg

Boarding did not begin 'til half past 11:00, which I've been told is perfectly normal for Aeroflot. I've been bonding with my programmates over fiction, music, and the like. Once we were on the plane, it took so long to begin taxiing that I decided to nap. It didn't quite work.

During the calm part of the taxiing, the flight attendants did their dance, which was awesome. I have some things to say about the gender-based uniforms on Aeroflot, but I'm not sure what they are at the moment.

I read through one of the two available magazines, which had a pretty good article about Kirsten Dunst which I read through both in Russian and in English. Then we began preparing for takeoff and I turned my attention to the window. I'm in the aisle seat this time, so my row-mates were in my line of sight, both with magazines in their hands. I wanted to scream at them.

"We are hurtling in a great metal beast at over a hundred miles an hour and in a few moments we will lose touch with the ground! Stop flipping idly through your magazine as if this is normal, as if this is everyday, as if it's okay!" I wanted to cry. My brain is given to hyperbole at times, but I felt that sentiment in my bones the whole time.

Once we were in the air, I managed to nap for a bit before they gave us snacks and tea. This meal was a croissant with lettuce, cheese, and chicken. I wasn't sure I'd have the stomach for it, but I managed it and after the first few bites it was quite adequate. I kept the apple juice that came with it for later.

Zoe was in the row in front of me chatting in Russian with the man in her row. I'm pleased with her already. The girl in the row in front and across the aisle is
beautiful--long red hair, big hippie glasses and clothes... Her two kids are a bit rowdy but also quite cute. I'd like to be her friend in another life.

Now we are descending, so I am ceasing to write.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Obligatory Introductory Post

Hi everybody!

I am Polina Malamud. I'm twenty years old, a linguistics major, and I'll be starting my third year in Stony Brook University at the end of this August. I have minors in Japanese studies and Astronomy and Planetary studies and I play cymbals in the Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band

This month, starting on 8 July and ending on 8 August, I'm going to be in St. Petersburg, Russia, studying Russian and taking linguistics courses at the New York Institute in the St. Petersburg State University.

I came from Kharkov, Ukraine to New York, NY in the United States of America in 1994, and have been speaking Russian with my family pretty much since birth. I'm a heritage speaker of Russian, that is, Russian was my first language, but English is my dominant language. Other languages I speak: Spanish and Japanese.

I'll be posting transcriptions from my daily journal here on a regular basis, but I cannot promise much in the way of photographs as I did not bring a laptop with me, so I'll be using the computers in the computer lab at the university.

I hope you enjoy what I write! Questions, comments, "Attaboy!"s, and death threats are all welcome.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trip to L'Hermitage

Greeting from Russia, friends!

I would like to quickly relate an excursion to a wonderful museum before my class begins!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit L’Hermitage which contains a fantastic collection of assorted artistic mediums from Ancient Egyptian sculptures to Renaissance era paintings.

The trip started by a walk through the museum’s pavilion.

Met with a startling sight, I couldn’t believe my eyes: in front of me rested a baby bear drinking orange juice from a bottle.

I couldn’t believe this.

While the bear was cute, I approached with caution. Its furry brown coat matched its chestnut colored eyes as it clutched a bluish bottle. A crowd gathered as its owner allowed an individual to feed and hug the bear for the mere price of 200 Rubles.

As I was slightly apprehensive about hugging a bear (and I really didn’t want to pay 200 Rubles), I nonchalantly wandered towards the back as a member of the group quickly snapped my photo.

After the excitement of seeing the baby bear passed, I entered L’Hermitage.

It was a wonderful sight! Stately facades covered the interiors as crystal chandeliers hung like angelic orbs from the ceiling. Once a residence to the czars, L’Hermitage conveys the epitome of elegance and refinement.

As I opened the floor plan, my heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it. This was even bigger than seeing a baby bear drink orange juice from a bottle. The painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt stared back at me under “points of interest” at L’Hermitage.

I love this painting.

I have studied this image only as a slide projected on a white board during Art History classes.

I couldn’t believe I would actually see the image.

Depicting the biblical tale of a son returning to his father, the painting portrays an eloquent expression of forgiveness and redemption.

As this painting holds a personal meaning, I ran to the second floor, plowed through the crowd and pushed my way to the front to admire its beauty, quality and meaning.

I wish I could speak more of this beautiful painting however, I must be off to class!

I hope you return for more updates on my journey in St. Petersburg, Russia!

Many, many hugs to Grant! I can't wait to see you!

Much love,


Monday, July 19, 2010

First Week in St. Petersburg, Russia

Greetings from Russia, friends!

I hope all are well!

I write to you from beautiful St. Petersburg, a city enveloped by majestic architecture and gorgeous rivers.

My apologies for the delay in updates. Finding Internet in St. Petersburg has proved slightly difficult.

Nonetheless, I have recorded the wonderful sights and activities experienced during the first week.

Included below is a summary of my thoughts and reflections concerning the journey to St. Petersburg.

Despite my nerves towards airplanes, the flight wasn't bad at all! There was no turbulence; the sky was clear. The jitters I had were calmed by Mr. Bean's "best of" compilation video. As it was an eight hour flight, I tried to occupy myself further with the movie,The Last King of Scotland and a very challenging Tik-Tak-Toe game (I lost five out of six times). After failing to find a comfortable position for an hour, I was surprised to enjoy dinner; chicken and potato with vegetables, a roll, cheese and crackers and a salad. Throughout the flight I observed our projected course and current location displayed on a screen in the back of my neighbor's seat. As I watched the animated airplane increase its distance from New York, I realized my excitement and anticipation were increasing too.

After a forty-five minute layover in Helsinki, I boarded a second plane which would fly to St. Petersburg!

My heightened nerves were subdued only by my desire to quench my thirst. The flight attendent only made it worse by offering the smallest cup of apple juice that I drank in one gulp!

As the airplane descended, images of the city's surroundings became visable. Vibrant green fields juxtaposed against staggering buildings were revealed as the plane approached the runway.

I thought of my family. They sacrificed so much to give me this wonderful opportunity. I promised to take this experience and let it soar higher than any skyscrapper or airplane.

I was so exited. I was in the Russian Federation.

Alas, I had to pass Customs first. So nervous that an error would appear in my paperwork, I was relieved when the officier stamped my visa and motioned towards the turnstile. The next obstacle was to collect my luggage. To my surprise (and relief) my suitcase was the first to be unloaded!

After collecting my belongings, I met two of the three group leaders: Katya and Mark (to be followed by meeting Kirilll the next day). These individuals have proved to be an amazing source of help, knowledge and support throughout any situation. During the first day, Katya and Mark helped me to settle into my new home in St. Petersburg. They helped me to change US dollars into Rubles, took me to a grocery store and offered their assistance in the purchase of a cellular phone. Katya even took me to another store to buy an international calling card so that I could call Grant. To be sure, I am so apprecitative of their help and patience. For instance, while trying to buy a bottle of water (my first purchase in the Russian Federation!), I realized I had no idea what any of this currency meant. Thankfully, Katya and Mark intervened during the transaction and helped me to avoid a potentially embarrassing moment.

I was also assigned a dorm room. Prior to departure I searched on the Internet for images of residence halls at St. Petersburg State University. I found several images of quaint and comfortable living uarters. Before I continue, I must explain my living arrangement at Purchase College: I complain - alot. In two years I have requested a change in housing assignments - four times - due to a vartiey of reasons. Poor air quality, irritating roommates, poor heating/cooling systems, carpeted floors and "not an acceptable bathroom" have been a few of my complaints to Purchase housing. Do not get me wrong - my dorm in St. Petersburg is lovely. I am on the 18th floor with a beautiful view; concrete buildings pierce the skyline while a delicate haze engulfs the rooftops. The arrangement is just - different. But - this trip is about differences and I want to embrace them.

For instance, in St. Petersburg one is cautioned not to drink the water due to differences in metallic and bacterial components found within the water supply. This circumstance makes it slightly more difficult to shower as my body has not adapted to the changes in water management. Furthermore, there is a tremondous heat wave suffocating Europe. Temperatures reaching forty degress Celcius have drenched the population in sweat. As the heat wave was unexpected, the area possesses few air conditioning units. As I was not prepared for such radiating heat, my only solace was to jump into an iced shower.

However, not even the blazing heat could deter me from experiencing the beautiful cityscape of St. Petersburg. A particularily exciting time in the city, the residents of St. Petersburg are celebrating the magnificent White Nights. With only a couple hours of darkness, the city basks in illuminating light. At 12:00 midnight, my winow opens to blue skies. Upon further glance, I can gaze at St. Issac's Cathedral to see its golden cross piercing the white sky. While the excessive light is confusing (it is weird to go to bed at 1:00 AM with the sun shining through a window), it provides a wonderful incentive to visit cultural sights and attractions.

In only one week, I am glad to report I have accomplished so much! I can check off several of my "to do" items on my "to do" list!

For instance, during a city tour I viewed a sculpture I have seen so many times in my textbooks - The Bronze Horseman. A monument to Peter the Great, the sculpture depicts an expressive Peter mounted on a powerful horse. I was amazed by the detail embedded within the bronzed material. Conveying an upward momentum, Peter's horse rises on its hind legs to portray the rise and power of Russia. An empowering sculpture, the Bronze Horseman was a magnificent sight. Also visited was the Cathedral of Kazan. A Rusian Orthodox church, the cathedral is believed to contain a miracle working icon. Words fail to describe the beauty and power of the cathedral's interior. Covered in golden gilt, my sensory system was in overload. Calming chants by worshipers complemented the pious icons dispersed throughout the church while a plethora of candles offered an allusion to angelic light. As a true tourist, I tried to capture the environment through photography only to be met by a formidable man who waved his finger at me, "no." A most amazing experience includes a beautiful boat ride on the Neva. A wonderful breeze engulfed the boat while we explored the canal for two hours. Upon entering the main waterway, I wittnessed Baroque - style architecture basking in golden light. Columns reminiscent of Greek pillars were accented by delicate facades and reliefs. As if transported to the past, I felt the presence of powerful historical events.

I would love to explain many more of the sights and attractions in St. Petersburg however, I must go to class!

I hope all are well back home! Hugs to my family - Mom, Dad, Tip - Toe, Blaire and Pere (our friendly felines) as well as our three hermie crabs!

Many hugs to Grant, whom I miss so much!

I hope you continue to follow me on this wonderful journey!

Much love,