Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two art museums, two cathedrals and two Russian conversations

We had this past weekend to ourselves, meaning that Gulya didn't plan things out for us like usual. We decided we wanted to take full advantage of our limited time here, so we planned to start with the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. We got to the metro station, and as I was telling the girls to turn left and go up the stairs so we could exit on the side of the museum, I noticed their expressions of awe and excitement at something they were seeing out the other exit. I followed them and could hardly believe my shoe-button eyes (that was for you mom)! It was so amazing to just stumble out of the subway into this:

It's the Cathedral of our Christ the Saviour. And there it was, looming right above our heads. We took tons of pictures, but were somewhat disappointed after reading the guidebook to find that it's only 11 years old. I don't know why that makes such a difference; it looks every bit as majestic as it did when I thought it had been there for centuries, but there's just something different when you know it doesn't hold so much history within its walls. But, although this building doesn't hold great history within its walls, the grounds it is built on have an interesting past. Apparently that location was home to a similar church with the same name built in the mid-1800's, but it was destroyed by Stalin, who planned to replace it with a “Palace of Soviets” that would include a 100 meter statue of Lenin. However, the palace was never built, and instead the land served as the world's largest swimming pool for 50 years. The current church was built to commemorate Moscow's 850th birthday in 1997, and cost an estimated $350 million. And, according to our guidebook, “Muscovites should at least be grateful they can admire the shiny domes of a church instead of the shiny dome of Lenin's head.” And if the Muscovites don't appreciate that, I sure do.

We did eventually make it to the Pushkin museum. Here's a picture of it.

I'm glad we went, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. It wasn' t quite as grandiose as I expected. It was smaller than I thought, but I did enjoy seeing their Rembrant collection. And we had a great lunch at a piroshki stand right outside. I mean, who can beat fresh-baked pastries filled with cabbage and potatoes? And then fruit-filled ones for dessert?

After lunch we decided to head across the bridge and check out the Chocolate factory on the other side of the Moscow River. We'd seen it on our river cruise and decided we should stop in just in case they give out samples like Ghirardelli Square. The building itself was intriguing enough, but when we got there it felt quite deserted. There was a club on the corner, a dumpster in the middle of the road, and if we hadn't been there in the middle of the day with people around us, I would have been scared a ninja turtle might jump out of the ally. The girls weren't about to give up the possibility of chocolate, however, and just kept right on going until they found a door. One of them was actually brave enough to open it, and found two tall straight-faced Russian men in black jackets staring back at her. They just looked at us and said “fourth floor.” I was ready to drag them out of there with promises that we could just buy chocolate at the next store we came across, but then we saw some signs in English for an art gallery on the fourth floor, and we noticed people walking out of the building (always a good sign). So, we hiked up the stairs into an amazing gallery. I felt like I was in New York or San Francisco. Here are some pictures.
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We finished looking at the art around 4, and decided we still had time to rush to St. Basil's in Red Square. We still hadn't seen the inside, and with our newly acquired student ID cards it was much cheaper (a mere 50 rubles--$2). That cathedral was definitely old. It was built sometime between 1555 and 1561 to celebrate a victory of Ivan the Terrible. And terrible he was. According to a legend, he had his architect blinded after the project was completed so he would never build another cathedral like it. Here's a picture from the outside, just to refresh your memory, and one from the inside as well.


And, our fun-filled day could have ended there, but no, not yet. We went to a ballet that night. We went do a different theater this time, which was smaller and much more beautiful that the theater in the Kremlin where we saw Swan Lake. This time we saw Snow Maiden, which was also spectacular, but I can't say it was quite up to par to Swan Lake. The dancing was more professional at our first ballet, and this time the violinists didn't make me cry. But, don't get me wrong, it was still out of this world amazing.

Our last bus home leaves at 9:30, and the ballet didn't end until after 9, so we jumped on the metro to get as close to our end of the city as possible, and then to look for a taxi from there. When we got to our station I realized that my cell phone was out of minutes. Normally that wouldn't be too big of a deal. I could just pop into any little cell phone shop and buy more. But, after looking around for a minute or two we realized they were all closed by then. I'm okay at getting by without a phone most of the time, but I have to idea how to tell a taxi driver where we live. I have the address, but we are pretty far on the outskirts of the city, and I really don't think he'd be able to find it. Plus, it takes me about 5 minutes to get out any number larger than about 100, and considering the going taxi rate for that distance is about 1,000 rubles, that may take awhile to agree on a price. Luckily one of the other head teachers was still with us after the ballet, and she called Gulya on our phone, who arranged everything with a taxi driver. I could tell while he was talking that he looked like a really nice guy (he kept joking and laughing throughout their conversation), and that he probably wasn't Russian (he had a fairly dark complexion). We agreed on a price, and piled in (with four girls in the back and me in the front. We started driving, and I just wanted to be able to talk to him so badly. So, I just went for it. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Are you a Muscovite?
Him: No. I'm Armenian.
Me: Do you live in Moscow? (I know, bright question, but we're dealing with a limited vocabulary on my end).
Him: Yes, I have been living here for 17 years.
Me: Does your family live in Moscow?
Him: Yes, I have three daughters and two sons. There are five children.
Me: I have four brothers.
Him: Oh, you also have five children in your family.
Me: Yes.
Him: Blah blah blah Armenia. Blah Blah...
Me: I don't understand.
Him: Same blah blah but with more hand motions.
Me: Oh, you are returning to Armenia in December?
And so the conversation continued. We agreed he would take me with him in December so I could see Armenia, and then I could take him to California. My favorite part of the whole conversation, though, was when I asked him if he had grandchildren. Well, I actually asked him if he was a grandfather because I couldn't think of the word for grandchildren, but he pulled out his cellphone and showed me the two pictures of his grandsons and kissed their pictures and said Ya lublu, ya lublu, telling me he loved them. It was cute. I kept running out of things to talk about because I'm limited to about two topics (the family and food), so I just kept asking random things like his children's ages. It was really fun though. That was the first time I had a real conversation with someone who didn't already know I can't really speak Russian, like all the teachers here. And he was so willing to try. He left us with his number to call him if we are ever in need of another taxi ride.

But our night still doesn't end there. You see, after about 9pm they let the guard dog out to roam freely around the property where we live. I've seen him before and he's very big and very mean. And I've been bitten twice by dogs not nearly so big or mean, and that was bad enough. Needless to say, I didn't want another dog encounter. So, as instructed, we rang the doorbell at the gate so Peter, the groundskeeper, would let us in. But there was no answer. And then we realized the light inside wasn't on. And, come to think of it, we hadn't seen Peter in a couple days. So, I thought, no problem, I'll just call good ol' Gulya on my cell phone...oh, yes, my cell phone with no minutes left... So, there we were, all alone in the middle of a residential neighborhood with 12 foot-high fences around everyone's property, in the middle of Russia, barely able to communicate with anyone. And it was about 35 degrees and dark. I decided if we were really in a bind we could always walk down the street to our school and wake up the guards there (who are really nice) and ask to sleep on the child-sized bunkbeds.

But, I thought of a better idea. I took two of the girls with me and we walked down to the other end of the fence where there is a guard station to let people into the development where we live. There was a guard there, luckily, so we started to talk to him through the fence. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I live there (pointing).
Him: What's the family's last name.
Me: I don't know their last name. They live there.
Him: What is their last name?
Me: I don't know the last name. Can we call?
Him: What's the last name?
Me: I don't know. Their names are Oksana, Deni, Sasha, etc. We live there. (Keep in mind I'm sure he's seen us pass by before, and he knows what house we're talking about.
Him: Blah blah blah blah.
Me: I don't understand. I don't speak Russian.
Somewhere in there he finally buzzed us through the gate so we could at least come up to his window.
Then I could see he had a phone, so I asked again to use the phone.
Him: Blah blah...
Me: I don't speak Russian. She (me pointing at the phone) speaks Russian. My phone doesn't work. Can I call.
Him: Blah blah What's the last name?
Me: I don't know the last name, can I use the phone.
Him: Looking up a phone list of the guardhouse inside. What's the last name? Blah blah.
Me: I don't know. I don't speak Russian. She speaks Russian. Can I use the phone? This time I said it louder (very American, I know) and used more gestures. I showed him my phone and said that it didn't work, and he finally realized that I just wanted to call on his phone and he didn't need to call (I had been saying mojna tielephone, which is just can...telephone, so it's not very specific). And he let me call. And luckily Gulya was there, and called our guards who let us in. Hallelujah!

Oh, and here are a couple pictures from our Sunday stroll through yet another monastery.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Wow Nic, sounds like lots of fun. I always enjoyed talking to taxi drivers, and it's always nice to find the ones that like you and are willing to help you out. At the same time, one of the few times I feared for my safety was in a taxi...

Anyway, I'm glad to hear your getting more confidence in speaking. Reading your encounter with the guard brought back memories...and made me wish I was there to talk with him. I'm jealous, I'm glad you and Lisa are enjoying it so much. Keep up the good work!