Monday, August 31, 2009

A Brief Description of My New Home:

As I have mentioned previously, I am living in a small apartment (kvartira) located on Moskovskii Prospekt. It is one of the busier roads of Saint Petersburg, and the Russian drivers are notorious speeders, making jaywalking a serious hazard to one’s health. My apartment, which is to say Marina Vasilevna’s apartment, is situated almost directly across the street from one of the city’s numerous Metro stations. This particular one is known as Frunzenskaya, after the famous Bolshevik commander Mikhail Frunze. Also nearby are several cheap bistros and Lenta, which appears to be the Russian equivalent of Costco...I know this, because Marina Vasilevna took me shopping yesterday evening.

Being in a Russian grocery store is something else, my friends. It's noisy, crowded, and the shopping carts come at you from all sides. Also, the numerous produkti come in very different sizes and containers. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, there IS a special aisle just for vodka. Floor to ceiling, nothing but bottle after bottle of Smirnov, Popov, Stolichnaya and about 70 other brands.

But back to my home. The bedroom I live in is small, but fairly cozy. There is a TV, a bookshelf (amply stocked with Russian literature, none of which I am fluent enought to read yet), a divan, a workdesk....and a piano. Apparently my bedroom was once the living room. The bathroom is larger, but not by much, and there is a washing machien right next to the toilet, making it a bit of an odd experience going to the bathroom while a machine the size of a small hippo rumbles ominously less than an inch or two from the side of your head.

Also, there is a mosquito in my room. Only one, but I have been trying to kill the blasted thing for the last three nights, and yet the filthy little bugger (pun fully intended) somehow continues to elude me. It's nothing major, but still, annoying to have to deal with.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the trip to the Blockade Museum and the Column of Victory, which actually happened half a week ago, but I forgot to write about.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Live from Saint Petersburg....

My apologies for having been out of touch for the last couple of days...internet service is difficult to come by in this part of the world, and it doesn't come cheap. I have a ton of awesome pictures, but unfortunately, my laptop is having some difficulties, and I can't upload them yet. I've only got 200 rubles-worth of WiFi at the moment, so I'll try to be as brief as I can.

Okay, so let me summarize the last few days: I and my fellow American students checked out of our hotel yesterday morning, and I met my host family last evening. And by "host family", I mean "host mother", since Marina Vasilevna Barbarovich lives all by herself. She is a very pleasant Russian babushka, friendly and helpful and a very good cook. She also speaks absolutely no English whatsoever. That's right. NYET ANGLISKIY.

As you can imagine, this has led to a number of awkward silences as I struggle with my broken Russian, desperately flipping through my insufficient Russian-English dictionary to try and express myself with some small modicum of clarity. Marina Vasilevna has been very, VERY patient with me, but I will freely admit that it would be nice if I had a host family with at least one broken-English speaker to help me get my words translated.

Also, 90% of the students on the program live on Vasilevksy Island. I am not part of that 90%. I live on Moskovsky Prospekt, which is a nice street, filled with Stalinist architecture and the occasional monument to Comrade Lenin. I'd much rather live within a few blocks of fellow English speakers, to be perfectly honest, but such is the hand that I've been dealt, and I suppose I'll just have to roll with the punches. So to speak.

Anyway, my less-than-ideal housing situation aside, Saint Petersburg is actually quite pleasant. The buildings are all gorgeous. Over the last couple days, I've seen most of the major cathedrals, including St. Isaac's and Kazansky Sobor, and I've heard the guns of Peter & Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost) announcing midday with their ground-shaking blast. Our bus-driver, Nikolai Luschkov, looks a bit like an ex- Chechen warlord, but he is friendly and good at his job. Our program directors, Dr. Longan and Ms. Shuliakovskaya, are also very nice and helpful...Ms. Shuliakovskaya actually bears an uncanny resemblence to my Russian professor, Lina Bernstein, if the latter were wearing a peroxide-blonde wig.

The other students on the program are all really cool kids, from completely different parts of the country. Over the last three days, I've made friends with Ohioans, Californians, Oregonians, New Yorkers, New Englanders, and whatever it is that you call people from Illinois. (Illinoisians? Illinoisites? Illini?) They come from an equally diverse range of colleges, from Lewis and Clark College to Harvard University. We're a fairly quirky minute, we're talking about the Hermitage, and the next minute, we're debating what the best games for Nintendo 64 were. All in all, a pretty awesome group.

I've even made my first Russian friend, Nastia (a diminutive of Anastasia), who is a Psychology student at St. Petersburg State. She was a volunteer tour guide with us on the first two days, and is extremely knowledgeable about Russian and American customs. She and I spent a lot of time talking the other day, and she was kind enough to allow me to address her with the informal "Tiy" as opposed to the formal "Viy", which I view as a huge compliment.

It looks like my WiFi time is about to expire, so I'll sign off now....hopefully this has been a sufficient account of my activities for the last few days, da?

Do svidanya, my friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Arrival

Wow. I've been awake for over 30 hours, and yet I can't bring myself to fall asleep...well, at least not yet. My flight out of Dulles went off smoothly (except for that annoying baby two rows ahead of me, who somehow managed to scream his little heart out for the entire transatlantic crossing). I made friends with a nice girl from Austria while in Heathrow, and we spent a while chatting about our respective schools and hometowns. Unfortunately, I have no idea what her name was...we got so engrossed in a discussion about film that I don't think either of us bothered to ask the other. Aside from that, my layover in London was pleasant enough, if a little bit on the dull side.

Landing in Russia, though....cliche as it may sound, words really can't do it justice. From the minute I landed, this trip has been simply overwhelming. Russia simply defies description. At once, it is both uncannily similar to, and utterly different from the United States, and I wish I had some way to more clearly illustrate that paradox to all of you back home. Anyway, since landing, I've shaken hands and introduced myself to at least twenty kids, and that's less than a third of the other students on this program. Dinner was okay, but I honestly don't have much of an appetite, and haven't since taking off from DC. We are currently staying at a hotel on the city outskirts, near Poschad Pobyedy (Victory Square), home to the massive and imposing Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad...I haven't had a chance to get a closer look yet, but rest assured, I'll find a way to go see it tomorrow.

I honestly can't decide yet how I feel about Russia...on the one hand, I'm really excited for all the stuff I get to see and do, but on the other hand, I feel a bit like a fish out of water...probably because I can barely understand most of the Russians I talk to. They talk so fast that I'm barely picking up one word out of every five or six they say. My vocabulary has also gotten considerably rustier than it had been in the past, which further compounds the problem. Obviously, it's something that I need to work on.

The wireless in the hotel is a bit squiffy, so it may be another couple days before I post again...if that should be the case, I just want everyone back home to know that I'm enjoying myself, but I miss them like hell.

Do svidanya, comrades.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Day Left....

So, I've finally gotten around to setting this thing up. I also have one day left to pack EVERYTHING I need for the next four months in the Motherland. I really hope I don't have a nervous breakdown before I even make it on the plane...