29 January 2013

We moved into a castle/worst week ever

Oh my gosh. I don't even know where to start. My life has become far less magical and much more "real world"-ish in the last week. I guess it must have slipped my mind why I came to Moscow- to work.

So, for the last week and a half, Ben and I have been in an intensive week long program to crash course us in teaching English as a second language and a massive grammar review (which, unfortunately, was incredibly overwhelming and stressing). Having not even been in Russia for more than two and a half days, we were thrust into 12-hour work days filled with review and mock lessons and it was just awful. So stressful. It's tiring just typing this. We left at 9 in the morning and arrived home at 11 p. m. at night. Every day. I've never been more exhausted or more confused or more overwhelmed in my life.

Ugh. I can't even talk about it.

But now I'm on my third day of teaching and it's... okay. Russian culture is vastly different than Americans and there are some aspects of it that make it difficult to teach them. For instance, Russian children don't start school until they are seven, so their social skills are a little bit off. Russian culture also doesn't see any problems with cheating (another aspect left over from the Soviet Union days when the only way to get ahead was to cheat), so your students will do it right in front of you and there's no explaining to them why it's wrong.

My students are all very sweet for the most part, but like I said before-- all we received was a crash course in training (it was supposed to be spread out through a month, but since we are coming in mid-term to take over for teachers who couldn't finish, we got the entire treatment in a week), so I do feel a bit unprepared.

But there's just nothing you can do it situations like this but to do it. A lot of times I felt like hiding under a rock or giving up, but I just can't. I have to go in and teach a bunch of children how to speak English and I have to do it the best way I can.

That sounds like a really obnoxious and cherry post, but I'm more of encouraging myself than anything else.

Well, I have some pictures from this park Ben's friend Grigor and his lovely girlfriend took us to last weekend. It's only two stops away from us on the metro and was absolutely amazing. I feel like everything about Moscow is grossly understated when you read about it and the parks are no exception. I had heard Moscow had some nice ones, but they are EPIC. And there was a CASTLE! Just hanging out! It was built in 1775 by Catherine the Badass and it was just the most awesome thing ever. We even went on a tour (it was free the day we went--and foreigners were supposed to pay no matter what, but Ben and I passed the Russian test!) and that was quite lovely.

Afterwards, we went to this tiny Russian restaurant that was very charming and so Russian, but I unfortunately didn't take any pictures because the waitress was scaring me.

Enjoy. Hopefully I'll have more cheerful posts after this.

Oh. I haven't looked that excited in awhile. Sad, sad. 

That's a little bellini stand. Bellinis are awesome little pancakes that Russians eat all the time and actually, Ben is making some for breakfast right now. 

The snow was pilled so high, I couldn't believe it. It was like a magical little wonderland through those beautiful castle windows. 

This little guy's picture was every where and it was just cracking me up. I had to share, though looking back now it doesn't seem so humorous. 

There were so many ceilings like this, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures of them. I snuck this one though!

23 January 2013

slippery, sweet, sleep thoughts

I am filled with daydreams. My city is filled with them. They cascade down the white hills of parks and pause just for a moment at a castle surrounded by snow-encrusted pine trees, just to break away and fly through the buildings that have stood and seen so much power and pain and fear and honor. Every where I go, every place my hand falls has a history deeper than I can ever know is touched. It is inspiring and quieting all at the same time.

As I wander shyly through streets that have no voice that I can yet understand, I am left with my own thoughts, my own wonderings. I am curious, I am so curious. My heart aches to hit pause on it all and ask everyone I see questions and photograph their coats and write down all the interesting things they say. I am fascinated and impatient and I know that with time I will be able to know this city, but it comes with time. We are in the beginning of a romance and for now, I watch from afar.

Never have I been in a place so loud or so big. Never have I been left with so much quiet around me. I am more aware of my voice and it's foreign sounds when I speak to B on the Metro. I am the strange one.

There are miles and miles to go before I sleep. 

The true cold air has a taste, one that I love and welcome across my teeth. I am finding comfort in the smells of foreign cigarette smoke and piles of snow. It is all small, but I am learning the details of Moscow and Moscow is learning the details of me. 

21 January 2013

Little Russian Home


Things I have Learned about Russians
1. Russian ladies wear the most beautiful fur coats. PETA would lose it's mind over here, but I spend the majority of my time fighting the urge to rub my face on them.
2. Russians do not care about the environment at all and do not understand why we do.
3. Russians like Russia, but can't fathom why anyone else would want to come here.
4. Russians "reserve" their smiles for only people they know and get super sketched out if you smile at them. They think it means you're mocking them or insane. They also do not appreciate "pleases" or "thank you's". At all.
5. There are only two hair colors: blond and black. Those are also the only colors of dye in the store.
6. There appear to be no rules of the road... or driving age apparently. It might have been the jet lag, but during our three-hour drive through Moscow to our apartment, I saw people reading and driving, changing their clothes, and definitely a child driving a van and texting.
7. On that note, there are no laws anywhere. They have similar repercussions for crimes as we do in America, but there is no one who cares enough to reinforce it.
8. In America, if you tell someone you're a writer, they just feel bad for you for having no marketable skills. In Russia, they think it's awesome.
9. Russians call black people the very bad word, but they don't mean it in that way. In fact, calling someone black is incredibly offensive, almost to the same degree.
10. Russians cheat at things, so in turn they are suspicious of everyone.
11. Russians like to stand in lines.
12. All the toilets are the same. This is actually probably a sad leftover from the Soviet Union (when everyone and everything was equal, that included appliances), but it's incredibly bizarre. From GYM to my bathroom. Same toilet.

20 January 2013

Last Night...

I have so much to say, my heart feels like it is bubbling over and all my words are caught up in the back of my throat.

I have moved to Moscow. 

Me, the most American of all girls, from the plainest of all Midwest suburbs, has left everything I've known and ventured to a foreign land. I have never felt more overwhelmed, more frightened, or more completely, unshakably excited than I have in the past forty-eight hours. I am brand new. 

There is so much to say. Moscow is beautiful. My heart has fallen in love. The intensity of this city is too much for me to write about right now. It deserves a concentrated mind and my most thoughtful words. Moscow is too grand for me to write about it quickly and inefficiently.

I have never felt such emotion or depth to buildings, train stations, food, drink or people before I came here. Everything has been lived on and again and again and it's an incredibly moving place to wander through. 

I wish I had more to say, but truthfully, everything is just too caught up in my head right now, so I will just speak about my day yesterday, as it is the one depicted in these pictures. 

After Ben and I settled into our small apartment in the outskirts of Moscow (I'll post pictures of it in a bit), we decided to go see the Red Square. We bundled ourselves up in wool sweaters and fur hats and took the  train into this grand city (I should also note that Moscow is famous for it's metro stations as they are more like glorious castles and museums than places of transportation. I had to be careful not to walk around with my jaw hanging open and my head tilted towards the cascading paintings on the ceilings or the gold-etched stairs, but they were some of the most magnificent things I've ever seen). The train ride itself was as uncomfortable as any train ride, but as soon as I began to see the skyline with it's famous Russian architecture from the gray windows, my heart lept. I began to itch to be outdoors so that I could be closer to this new place. 

After some wandering around (Ben and I did not get off at the right stop at first, but that's alright because we ended up exploring a very beautiful part of the city--I'm not sure which though...), we found ourselves walking up the stairs of the metro onto the Red Square. 

When I saw St. Basil's Cathedral in the distance, I gasped like a child. There it was. One of the most iconic pieces of architecture in the world, and I was so close to it. I grabbed Ben's hand and we wandered through the square, which was covered in hundreds of people despite the fact that it was 9:00 at night and well bellow zero degrees (Russia!! So cold. They were not kidding). Everything was alive and electric, and I was small and filled with shock and awe. 

The cold did not bother me. I was consumed. Pictures will never do this place justice.
It was just incredible. Russia is a grand place and Moscow is it's heart. 

Oh, everything has changed for me. Even as I write this, the "Save", "Publish", etc. buttons are all in Russian. The language I have known is gone. I am vulnerable and I have never felt so alive and curious. 

Alright, I can not type anymore because I want to think my next entry out more. Here are my pictures from last night.

I moved to Moscow and went to the Red Square. 

Russian children are so adorable and everywhere. They're posing with a strange Santa Claus man who stood at the gates.

This is the Kazan Cathedral. This was a truly holy and magical place, as many of the old churches in Europe are. I lit a candle for my grandparents and said some prayers. You were not allowed to take pictures inside, but I assure you, it was magnificent. 

I believe this is a historical museum, but I'm not totally sure. To the left is the beginning of the Kremlin.

I normally think it's kind of dorky to have your picture taken in front of stuff, but I was really excited. The white thing behind me is over Lenin's Mausoleum, which seems to be under construction at the moment. 

The Kremlin! Oh my gosh, is this thing huge. I couldn't even take a picture of it in it's entirety, but it is a massive, intimidating building.

The iconic St. Basil's Cathedral. I have wanted to go here my whole life because I thought the domes looked like candy.  

This is GYM (Gum). It's a really beautiful mall with many high-quality stores. Ben and I walked around in here to escape the cold for a bit. 

My face looks strange and swollen from the cold. I thought I was looking pretty Russian before we left, but as soon as we got on the train, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I'll have to work on blending in more ;). 

16 January 2013

lately, new hampshire.

1. My hair has turned red.
2. Cold weather clothing. $30 cashmere sweater. 
3. My favorite place in New Hampshire, open mic night. 
4. Making bagels with my love. 

12 January 2013

A Post from Ben: The Crème Brulee Conjecture

The other day, while Ben was making us some lovely creme brulee, he came up with a very sweet analogy about our relationship. I asked him if he'd like to write about it for the blog and he obliged. 

Crème brulee is essentially the most perfect dessert that man has ever had the good sense to create.  It’s crisp and bubbly brown caramelized sugar on top of that classic creamy custard core, and when it’s served just right the most subtle and delectable temperature gradient runs from oven-toasted hot and crusty down through every shade of pleasantly warm and whipped-cream cool to almost shocking refrigerator cold – and all that in every bite, on every single sweet and savory spoonful.  All this is just to say that you might be wondering what exactly there is in crème brulee to conjecture about, but I assure you that what I intend to posit has important romantic and culinary import that extends beyond the scope of a mere concoction of cream and eggs.

It all started with an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Lily mentions something she likes to call the “Olive Theory”.  The Olive Theory contends that people who are truly compatible with each other will not always have exactly the same tastes, and that in fact a difference in specific kinds of food preference can be beneficial to a relationship.  She likes olives, her long-term boyfriend hates them (or so she thinks), and so this difference in their preferences in fact turns out to be something of a blessing that leaves both partners happy and satisfied.

Lisa and I have long considered the Olive Theory to accurately describe many of the food phenomena of our own relationship, so much so in fact that I felt the need to abandon Lily’s “Olive Theory” (especially since it turned out that Marshall actually liked olives) in favor of a more precise description of what exactly seems to be going on.

Consider for a moment sharing food with someone.  It could be anything, really: an appetizer, a dessert, a snack, an entrée. There always seems to come a time when one or both of you, with varying levels of discretion, is hell-bent on trying to get the last bit of your favorite part while attempting to maintain the calmly collected façade of impassivity and blasé indifference – who, after all, would really care about the last bite of the muffin top?  The answer: literally everyone.

Lisa and I have discovered time and again to our surprised delight that there is essentially zero overlap in terms of the particular parts that we prefer of all the various foods we share.  Lisa likes the middle of cinnamon buns, and I like the outer rings; Lisa likes the muffin tops, I like the bottoms; Lisa likes the bread sticks, I like the side salads.  The list goes on, but the other day while we were eating crème brulee we discovered that Lisa can’t get enough of the crispy brown top layer, and I much prefer the cool custard underneath.

And it doesn’t stop at food.  We have different preferences in terms of the movies we pick and the books we read, the music we like and the way we sleep.  To people looking at us from the outside we sometimes imagine that they couldn’t understand just what was holding us together in the face of so many differences.  And maybe it’s just one of the special dynamics of our relationship, that we revel in each other’s differences and unique experiences, and that we love to spend as much time doing what one of us loves as loving what the other prefers, but we like to think that it is precisely our differences that have allowed us to become so close.  So here at last we have the formal iteration of the Crème Brulee Conjecture: anyone who wants to form a true and enduring bond with a partner should be different enough that neither of you ever gets bored or wants to fight about the last piece of caramelized sugar on top of the crème brulee.

09 January 2013

antique beats

Listening to the creation of music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, it was my dark-haired father after he returned from work, hiding away in his small office, his fingers folding over the cords of guitar, and his body transported and disappearing into a world only his music knew. My mother would ask me to go and tell him supper was on the table, but when I went he would just stare at me, changing the notes on his guitars into words as if to say that he would be there soon. I'd place my fingers across the neck and demand him to stop, but he played on, his big teeth smiling sweetly at me. As I grew older I cherished the fact that my dad was in a band and bragged about it any chance I could. I treasured the times he and his friends would let me sing along with them, and when I was older, to sit and smoke cigarettes, quietly jamming to their sweet sounds in the heat of summer nights.

When I was in high school, my favorite friends were the wild ones who had bands I thought were really going to make it and I prided myself in never missing a show. I would stand, transfixed, in the audience, my large eyes soaking up their poetry and their guitars. I used my small film camera to take black and white photographs of their used instruments and would write reviews of their songs in my journals later when I was back in my bedroom. I remember feeling like music was the only religion I would ever really know.

When I got older, I met a writer in Chicago who introduced me to the writing scene. He was an incredibly influential person for me and I can’t imagine my life without him and the ways he showed me to use my passion for the written word. We began to work for the same music website, writing articles and begging editors for press passes to get into shows.
He: to write. Me: to take photographs.
We used our incredibly low-level of importance to somehow talk our way past bouncers, to slip past cover fees, and meet up with bands we believed in for their first interviews. I loved that excitement and intimacy we shared with those bands. The honesty that poured from them was to par with the music they created on stage and I made some great friends through those shows. That time when I was in Chicago writing about the music scene, I really felt like I was using the best parts of me. I’ve been away from Chicago and live music for a while now, but it writing for a music journal is still a hazy dream of mine. 

Today, B got together with some his friends in their friend Alex’s barn on top of a hill that overlooks B’s entire small town. Alex's parents are both classical musicians and their home is filled with portraits of Chopin and large rooms with thick tapestry rugs, wooden pianos, and antique chairs to sit and play music on. The boys gathered around singing songs and I found myself drifting in and out, taking their photographs and waiting for the perfect moments in which their selves as artists would emerge. When all the photos had been taken, I curled up beneath several pea coats and closed my eyes, their music fluttering in between my ears.

It was a wonderful jam sesh. B has beautifully talented friends and it was special to sit back and listen to them work through their new material. I also greatly enjoyed the inclusion of classical and unconventional instruments Alex's home provided. They were worked into each piece to create something new and spontaneous. It was excitable.

One of the wishes I have for my time in Moscow is to experience every aspect of their music scene. I have remained ignorant about it for the most part because my hope is that I stumble upon something, unbiased, and can experience a new genre, sound, band with virgin ears. Going to see shows is something that has been apart of me for as long as I can remember, but never in this circumstance and whenever I feel fearful about my life in Russia, I remind myself of this.

Here are some photographs from Alex's home, The Antique Barn. Enjoy.

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