Monday, December 8, 2008

The Market

Aren't our kids adorable? I was just trying to take a picture of me, the snowman, and the twins, and was suddenly surrounded by some of my favorites. The little boy in the front (Sasha, surprise, surprise) says Merry Christmas in the most adorable accent every time he sees me. I got it on video, so hopefully I can post that sometime soon!

This past weekend our Saturday activity was going to the Tretyakov art gallery in Moscow. It was really really amazing. The best part was that Gulya has been showing us prints from there during our culture classes as she taught us about the history of Russia. It made me feel pretty intelligent when I recognized a lot of the paintings and even knew a little about the history of some of them.

We were going to go tour a submarine after that, but when we got there we found that it would be a 90min wait, so we decided to leave. Lisa (my cousin) and I were together, apart from the rest of the group, so we just went and shopped around the nearest market for a little while. We each bought a pair of rabbit fur socks, and that's all. If any of you know Lisa, you know how miraculous that is. Let's just say, I think everything ever made that turns out ugly is sent to Russia to be sold in the market. At home, when I go shopping in a coat or boot store (which is the bulk of what there is at the market) I think most things are cute and then I find one or two things that are ugly. Not so here—we play the "find the one thing in this booth you might be caught dead wearing" game. My theory is that during communism there wasn't much variety—cars were all the same color, everyone lived in the same drab apartment buildings, wore plain black coats, etc. So, now that there is more variety available, they still haven't caught on to the idea that certain things are fashionable and others aren't. I kind of forgot about fashion, and got used to the black Russian boots with buckles and the long shiny coats with ugly fur on the hats and sleeves. But then we went and toured Sweden and Finland and I remembered there are cute things in this world. And I bought some for myself. That was fun.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera on Saturday, but one of the other girls took these pictures in September. The fall coats are definitely less ugly than the winter ones, but it kind of gives you an idea of what the market is like.

The fun thing about the market though, was that I could speak some Russian. I don't get a chance to speak much at all during the week because we're either in our apartment or at the school teaching English, but I got some practicing in at the market. It was tons of fun. I found myself asking if they had things in other colors and if I could try them on. Of course it starts getting really fun when it's time to leave...(I only have 2 weeks left!) Hopefully someday I'll have more of an opportunity to speak it. I feel frustrated sometimes that I didn't get to learn much Russian, but then at the same time, I can understand enough to get by, and communicate enough to get around the city. I know what Russian sounds like, which is a big part of learning a language for me. And now I know I'll really learn it, eventually. We were walking home from church on Sunday and a woman stopped us and asked us something in Russian. I didn't understand what she said, so I said we didn't speak Russian, but she just kept on talking. She said she spoke German, and asked if we were American. I said yes, and then she asked if we were there learning Russian. I felt embarrassed that I could hardly speak it so I said "no, we're here teaching English." I thought it was funny that I had said we didn't speak Russian and she still kept on chatting. It was fun though. It's not too often you meet chatty, smiley Russians on the street, so I thought I'd take advantage of that one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving weekend in Russia

We had a fun Thanksgiving weekend. Our home teacher, Dean Meservy (& his wife Shaura) invited us over to spend the evening with them. We still had to teach that day, but he came and got us that night. We were going to take the bus into town, but he insisted on picking us up. It was really nice of him, but he got stuck in traffic and was about an hour late. We left our school at 6 and then didn't get to their house until 8pm! I felt so bad for them, but Moscow traffic is just like that—bad! Anyway, the meal was so nice, and the best part was that after we ate they let us decorate their Christmas tree. They'd bought beautiful Russian ornaments that were hand carved and then painted. I coveted them, but I haven't found any like that. It was nice to decorate and listen to Christmas music because it helped me feel like it's actually Christmas. There are trees up in the city, but it still doesn't feel quite like it does at home during Christmas time.

On Friday we didn't have to teach so we went into the city.

We went to Arbat Street, which has vendors and shops and walked up and down the street shopping and taking in the sights. This picture is in front of the wall of peace. We stopped at My-my's (pronounced moo moo's) for lunch. It's a popular Russian cafe that was decorated with a cow theme (hence the name—that's what cows say in Russian). I lucked out because I went for fish, salad and potatoes, but the girls that got what they thought was a chicken drumstick ended up with the outer skin of a chicken stuffed with what we call meat surprise. It's a Russian favorite, but not so surprisingly, not our favorite.

Then we went to red square to the Tchaikovsky conservatory to see what they had showing that evening. It's a music school so the tickets are sometimes a little cheaper than the full-on professional concerts, but we'd heard they're still amazingly good. I somehow always get dubbed ticket-buyer, so I went to the first window, and couldn't understand quite enough to buy tickets, so I called a friend and she translated for us. I absolutely detest having to do that. I want to be able to be completely self-sufficient, but Russia is just not tourist-friendly and my Russian's just not good enough. So, although I felt humiliated, I passed the cell phone through the little window, and then they passed it back. Their tickets were a little over $40, so we opted not to do that, and they told Julia I could just go to the next room where they possibly had some cheaper ones for the smaller theater. We found the booth, and by then I decided just to ask from the start if the ticket vendor spoke English. She said no, but told me to try the next window. I went to the next window and the woman said no, she was sorry, she only spoke Russian and...Spanish! I was so excited. It turns out she had lived in HONDURAS (of all places) for about 10 years. I was elated that I could finally communicate with ease! The girls were all surprised because one minute I was speaking my broken Russian and then the next I was going off in Spanish. But, they loved me for it because not only did I get all 10 of us tickets for an AMAZING Mozart and Mendelssohn concert that evening, but our tickets were under $4! That's one thing I love about Russia.

On Saturday we headed to Vladimir. It's a three hour bus ride from Moscow. It was beautiful. During the 12th -14th century it was the capital of the 2nd most powerful Rus state (after Kieven Rus). We went into the main church there (the one pictured above, in the mist) and happened to be there for part of a service. I LOVED the music and could have stayed there for hours listening. It's not very comfortable though, because they don't believe in benches so everyone just stands there. There's always a choir singing from one of the balconies, and then a priest who conducts the meeting. While we were there he walked around spreading the incense, and all everyone would cross themselves and bow as he passed. It was really neat to see in action, finally, after all the times we'd been in the churches!

Then this morning (Sunday)after our restful night in a hotel that I'm sure was probably built in the 70's and not touched since then (it rivaled some of the cockroach and spider hotels I've stayed at in Latin America) we took a taxi about 40 kilometers outside the city into Suzdal. It was so so so gorgeous. I just wanted to come back some summer and spend a few months there learning Russian and maybe studying painting. The town is known for the churches—-there are 4 monasteries and 30 churches just in the little town. The churches each have a winter meetinghouse that's small and easier to keep warm, and summer one that's larger with high ceilings to keep cool, and a belfry. We were lucky that it wasn't snowing, but it was bitter cold. I told Gulya I just couldn't believe people can actually live in Russia. She just laughed at me and told the store owner where we were standing what I'd said. They laughed together at me. I don't think Gulya realizes I understand Russian. But that's okay. Anyway the river was frozen and it was just gorgeous—so picturesque I can't even describe it. Walking around that beautify town with all the churches made me feel sorry for those people. Obviously they have a love of religion and they just had to abandon it all during communist times and watch their church houses being used for storage rooms. But now most of them have been beautifully restored, as you can see.

Oh, and this monastery is where the tsars would send their old wives when they were ready for a new one. They had really high morals so they only believed in having one at a time...