Saturday, August 23, 2008

some more info

Well, here I am once again in McDonald’s— if you’ve got a metro map in front of you (Omar) it’s the one right outside the Novoslobodskaya metro station on the brown circle line. My apartment is near the Oktyabrskaya Pole metro station on the pink/fuchsia line. I hope I don’t gain tooo much weight from all these McDonald’s trips; I’m not sure if it’s a requirement to buy something to use the internet, so I err on the side of caution and do it anyway so that I can keep up appearances with a cup of coffee or orange juice next to my laptop. Sometimes they do have a “security guard” circle around. I’m not sure what kind of offenses they’re hired to keep at bay, but I also don’t want to find out. Something else that I’ve noticed about Russian McDonald’s is that it’s a huge ordeal to order something without mayonnaise. This is usually what happens:

-Cheeseburger, without mayonnaise please.
-What?
-Without mayonnaise.
-Uh… what about ketchup?
-Well… okay, that’s fine.
-Without mayonnaise?
-Yes!

Then the employee has to go over to the grilling station and yell, “CHIZBURGER BEZ MAIONEZA. BEZ MAIONEZA. I KNOW, I KNOW. JUST DO IT.”

Okay, that’s my McDonald’s story of the day. For some reason I always feel the need to provide unsolicited details about it since that’s where I usually am when I have get internet.

So! Tomorrow it will be a week since I moved into my new apartment. Things are going pretty well. I feel relatively comfortable in this new home, and I even got used to the cat pee smell to the point that I don’t notice it. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but for now let’s say it’s good. For as small as this apartment is, the cats are fairly unobtrusive. Although one of the cats (Romashka – “chamomile”) insists on jumping up on my desk every morning to roll around vigorously on all my papers and books. She does it because she wants to be petted, which is endearing until she pushes a stack of paper and notebooks onto the floor.

I’ve been talking to my landlady more and asking questions about things. (Regina I think is her name, there was only a vague introduction and now I’ve definitely missed my window of opportunity for asking what her name is.) She’s really good about helping me learn words and repeating them a lot, but sometimes I feel like my brain is full and I can’t absorb any more words or grammar. From talking with Regina, I’ve gathered that she used to work in TV and radio, and then she sang in a choir for 14 years, and then she was a teacher until she went on her pension. She still gives music (mostly voice, but maybe piano, too) lessons regularly to students in her apartment. Yesterday I came home earlier than usual and she was in the middle of a lesson with one of her pupils, a teenage boy who was trying to sing through some classical pieces. She’s kind of a tough teacher. I wondered if he was embarrassed that I was overhearing the lesson, because it seemed to me a rather humbling and personal affair.

I told Regina that I was interested in cooking and that I’d like to watch her do her thing in the kitchen, which she said was fine but so far I haven’t been home to make that happen. One thing I was particularly interested in was this kvas she makes from scratch. For those of you who don’t know, kvas is a popular Russian drink that is made from fermented bread. It’s very mildly alcoholic and has this rich, woody taste that I can’t really describe. I’m not a big fan of kvas, but the stuff that Regina makes is interesting because it’s not made from bread, but rather from rice. Apparently the rice she makes it with is from the sea… I still don’t quite understand how she got it, she said they don’t sell it and you have to get it from a friend. But what I understand is that you can use the rice over and over again to brew as many batches as you want. Basically she puts water in a jar and adds the rice, sugar, and some golden raisins and lets the concoction sit for a few days. Then she strains it to get the rice out and then strains it again through a funnel and some cloth. Et voila! You have a clear, slightly tangy liquid that Regina says is good for basically every part of your body. I asked her if it was alcoholic, and she seemed a little shocked and said, “no!” I said, “Isn’t kvas generally just a little bit alcoholic?” Nope, not according to her. I think that’s because the alcohol content is so low that to call it an alcoholic beverage is funny to Russians. When Regina drinks the kvas she usually says, “ahh, lekarstvo” (medicine), and then cackles good-naturedly. This makes me wonder if it really is healthy or if it’s a just a little joke of hers. Nevertheless, I drink it up happily with her every morning and night, and imagine all the alleged vitamins coursing through me and doing good deeds for my body. Regina said the kvas might help with my “hair problem,” since I explained to her that the reason I shower every day is because of how oily my hair gets. As you can probably guess, Russians aren’t nearly as obsessive about bathing as I am. This is something I had previously guessed based on the overwhelming smell of body odor on the metro.

Speaking of the metro… I’d just like to say that I’m sorry I ever mentally cursed BART and how smelly or uncomfortable it is. Now I know what a luxury it is to get a seat 9 times out of 10 when I ride BART, and how deliciously cool those air-conditioned trains are in the summertime. In the Moscow metro’s defense, I will say that the stations are absolute works of art. The architecture is really amazing and in quite a few stations there are all sorts of grand monuments to artists or influential historical figures. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people (myself included after only 3 weeks) tend to become desensitized to all of the amazing historical art in the metro and in Moscow in general, because usually you find yourself staring at the back of someone’s head being pushed by someone else’s shopping bags when you’re trying to get from point A to B. There’s just no time to stop and smell the roses, or at least that’s how the hustle and bustle of the city makes you feel. When I first got here, I wondered why people insisted on running down the escalators (the left “lane” is always left clear for passing) and would run to catch a train, because a new train comes every 30-90 seconds. However, after a few weeks here I’ve found myself doing the same kind of mindless hurrying that everyone else does, pushing others out of the way just to get 3 feet closer to your destination.

Yesterday we went on a tour of the Kremlin, which was very beautiful but like all our tours, not terribly informative. Usually they’re not informative because the tours are given in Russian and we all tune out. This time it was in English, but the tour guide was so softspoken and spoke so slowly that it was equally as difficult to follow. I wish I had more to say about the Kremlin, since it’s a pretty big deal in Moscow, but like everything else that I’ve seen, all I cay say is that it was a big and beautiful place. One thing I did find interesting was that they keep birds of prey on the grounds so that they can minimize the raven population in the Kremlin. Apparently it’s a problem keeping the roofs clear with all the ravens that take over.

To answer a few questions:

Yes, TV programs here (including Murder, She Wrote) are dubbed in Russian. The frustrating thing is that they don’t mute English language track underneath, so sometimes I find myself trying to listen to the English track and then I get on a roll with that but then the Russian sound level overpowers it and then I don’t know what’s going on so I tune it all out.

No, generally dryers are not used here. Fortunately Lena called Regina about the steep laundry prices, so the other day I did my laundry and she only charged R100 (about $4) because it only filled up half the machine and the other half was filled by her clothes. Still a little pricey, but that’s the going rate in the other homestays. At first I was afraid Regina was being passive aggressive when she said that she would charge me less because she “didn’t want to go against the university,” but I don’t think people here are passive aggressive like that. Generally she takes pretty good care of me, and is loving in her own way. She taught me how to properly handwash clothes, she tells me if I need to iron my skirt before I leave the house, and wakes me up if I’ve slept past the time I said I would wake up in the morning. The only thing is that she doesn’t let me carry my own set of keys with me unless she knows she won’t be home. Sometimes I wonder how she keeps sane staying home for so long, but she is always home when she says she’ll be. Last night I felt uncomfortable about this because I had planned to go out to a club to celebrate a friend’s birthday and knew I wouldn’t be back until late. She said she wouldn’t sleep until I got home anyway, and that if I used the key in the door she’d wake up quick as a flash. I ended up going home with my friend so that a) I wouldn’t have to worry about walking home alone at night, and b) wouldn’t need to feel guilty for bothering Regina. The metro closes at 1 anyway but to be getting home at 1:30 and ringing the doorbell is something I’m not eager to do.

Incidentally, the club last night was pretty fun. A large group of us met at the Mayakovskaya metro station and from there walked to this club where they play retro music on the dance floor. The retro music they played was a little odd, though. It seemed American, but I had never heard any of the songs. Then when they started playing the Russian retro music, it was really funny to see all the Russians singing along. It’s weird how every culture has those songs that everyone knows from their past. Before he played one really popular song, the DJ was like “It will be impossible to just listen to this one!” And then he played this random song that everyone knew and we all pretended to know the words, too.

About the stray dogs. They really come in all shapes and sizes. In the beginning I was really tempted to pet this one little dog that was wandering in and out of the metro because he was so little and looked so innocent. But then I was warned about all the diseases those dogs carry. There’s one dog that lives near our dormitory that I call the Bob Marley dog because it looks like he has huge shaggy dreadlocks instead of fur.

Regarding classes, this coming week will be the last week of only having language classes. Then starting September 1, we have the option of taking 2-3 other electives in addition to our language classes, the choices being history/politics, Russian film, and literature. The problem I have right now is that they seem to have changed the number of units that the language classes are worth. So instead of 8 quarter units, the language classes are now worth only 7. We have to take a minimum of 18 quarter units, and while the history class is worth 6 units, the literature and film classes are only worth 5 each. This means that unless they give us an opportunity to take 1 more unit, we HAVE to take the history class to fulfill the minimum unit requirement. And I really wanted to just take the literature and film classes.

I do have a snail mail address, but I’ll have to ask Regina about mail and also get the address with the zip code and everything. In my last entry I made a mistake—the address is Volokolamskii proezd, not Vokolamskii. I’ll have to look at the spelling again when I get home.

Kofe Xauz – depending on how hardcore you are with the KH sound, it could either be a hard H or a more intense fricative. I haven’t heard any actual Russians pronounce the name yet, but I’m assuming they lean toward saying “khhh-ahh-oo-z.” Maybe not that exaggerated.

The weather is not at all consistent. One day it’s swelteringly hot, the next day I’m walking home from the metro taking a cold shower in the pouring rain. The beginning of last week was very hot, but now the temperature is mild and sometimes downright cool. I have to find a blow dryer soon so that I won’t have to walk around with wet hair in the chilly weather that is coming soon. Finding blow dryers (let alone reasonably priced ones) is a real headache around these parts. Regina said she might be able to take me shopping at a place that has them, but I’m not sure when that will happen.

I’m glad everyone is enjoying the blog! I had no idea it would reach such a wide audience, but it’s nice to know that people are finding my daily goings-on here interesting. I tried to cram as much into this entry as I can, as internet visits are few and far between now that I’m in my new apartment.

5 comments:

Velina said...

YOu should just ask your landlady how you spell her name and maybe that would be a way in to find out her actual name. I like the Bob Marley dog...didn't know dogs could get dreadlocks. I imagine something out of "Mad Max". I would love to see a picture of such a creature. I don't quite understand where all the wild dogs are coming from....what gives?
Do you see anyone with a domesticated dog interact with a wild dog? Seems like if you were walking with your dog there would always be some type of confrontation from these critters.
How far is the McDonald's from your homestay?

Love,
Mom

Canonach3 said...

Good idea about asking how to spell the landlady's name - especially if you are going to post the snail mail address (won't it have to be your name c/o your landlady's name? or something similar).

The kvas sounds interesting - perhaps similar to the kombucha (fermented tea) we drink all the time? David is going to ask some guy at work (who's from either Russia or thereabouts) how to make it, because as we all know David loves any fermented drinks (how do the Irish not know about this?)

Any really odd offerings at the McDonald's? (they had curried salads in Ireland, but the hamburgers tasted the same). Do they still have Happy Meals? If so, what are the prizes like???

We are all enjoying your blog very much!

Love, A.D.

Fran said...

I have just spent the last 15 minutes reading your blog. I feel like I'm in Russia ---

I'm so proud of you! Our little niece who once had a miniature pool table fall on top of her!

How about the borscht? Good?

Are you dancing the night away at the Clubs?

And it sounds like Regina is a good woman.....I think about how I would be with a Russian student. Needing the money, taking the chance.

Keep writing. Love...

Marissa said...
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Miriam said...

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