When you live in a small apartment you often can't help looking out the windows all the time. Since there are only two windows, and they both face the same direction, I've gotten to know my двор and the surrounding apartment buildings quite well, and it seems like lately I've been having a lot of moments where I'll see something and think "I have to take a picture of this! I hope it doesn't change in the 1.5 seconds it takes me to sprint across my living/bed/guest room!" Here are some of the results from my camera dashes: a particularly striking full moon, early morning fog, a nice sunrise, and the view at night.

I took this last one because I was thinking about how oddly beautiful and comforting the lights from surrounding buildings can be. It's nice to know that even though I'm all by myself there are still people all around me.

There are now just 2 days of October left, and I can't say that I'm disappointed. Something about October just bothers me these days.

Another (I suspect) anti-climatic Halloween is about to go by too. It seems like the last time that I was actually with a relaxed group of friends and dressed up or went anywhere was freshman year of college. I don't really recall what I did sophomore year, but I suspect that I was waiting for Kendra to get home from a cross country meet for some belated celebrations. Then, the last 2 years I spent at ill-timed regattas. Those were reasonably fun, but still not quite the setting that I would have chosen. Now I'm in Russia. I suppose that it will be entirely my fault if I don't have an epic time, but I might be ok with that. I'm more the "stay at home watching a movie and passing out (note: eating) the candy from the candy bowl" type. Over the years I've learned that the most effective method of getting good holiday candy doesn't actually involve any gathering at all. All that Halloween candy that your family buys has to be eaten by someone, and in the end it doesn't really matter if it was by you or by cute little costumed children. Sometimes no one even notices the difference........

Unfortunately, the passing of October means that we are getting ever closer to the arrival of snow. While many people that I know are absolutely enchanted with the stuff, I could do without it. I'm not entirely sure what the temperatures are right now (because I don't have a thermometer), but they're pretty decent. If the entire winter was like this I would be a very content girl (aside from the devastating climatic changes that that would entail). One of the great parts about being in Russia during the winter though is the sheer hilarity of how concerned everyone is about the way you dress. Babushkas especially. The irony is though that I see a lot of Russians who can't possibly be prepared for the weather. When I'm bored on the marshrutka I like to critique other people's clothing (I saw a man in a seal skin hat today), and I very often notice young to middle aged women wearing very stylish but very thin coats. Can they possibly be warm in those? I suspect not.

Another little observation about Russia and the weather is just how absurd the roads are. It's absolutely amazing how just a little bit of rain can completely flood the roads! Spring is going to be fun when all the snow melts! Soon I'm going to have to break down and shell out the money for some boots. The only things that my tennis shoes have in store for me in the future are soggy socks, and that is not a fate that anyone desires.

On a parting note, I used my Russian washing machine for the first time this week. Aside from the fact that it makes funny noises and takes about 2 hours, it seems to work pretty well. There's just one problem:

There's no electrical socket in the bathroom.

So, I've been living in my new apartment for 3 days now, and so far it seems that I get woken up in a new and bizarre way every day. Yesterday I woke up to the sounds of a drunken man with an amazingly loud voice shouting what from my 8th story apartment appeared to be military commands. Not the most pleasant way to wake up, but I shut the window and went back to bed.

Today was sort of creepy. The weather has been extremely unpleasant the last two days (rainy, dark, dreary, windy), and so the sky had a sort of red glow to it when my alarm went off at 7 am this morning. What I heard next sounded like a scene straight out of the movie Ночной Дозор. For those of you who haven't seen it, here's the trailer:


I couldn't find the scene that I especially wanted, which is where so many crows are circling an apartment building that they cause an airliner flying overhead to crash, but you can get the picture.

So anyway, that's what I woke up to this morning: red sky, intense racket, and swarms of birds being tossed at random by the wind.

The perpetrators:

There were so many more of them than this shot could capture. I'm hoping that they aren't a permanent feature here.

Additionally, one of my neighbors seems to have a morning ritual of coughing up every one of his (or her?) internal organs. Russia is full of strange noises.

Also, in keeping with odd events, I got to participate in my first census today. Ironically it was Russian and not English, and at first I had no idea what was going on or why on earth some pushy lady at my door wanted to know how many people lived here and why she wouldn't just go away when I said "I'm not Russian" and let me finish my nap. She also insisted on coming in and using my table before I had fully grasped that she wasn't anyone from the apartment building but was a census worker. Actually, I got to do it twice today since the first lady wasn't expecting a foreigner and didn't have the correct documents. I was sort of glad because I was quite rude at first and I wanted a chance to redeem myself. The first experience was something like this:

*loud knocking interrupts my nap resulting in instant surprise and grumpiness*
Me: *opens door hostilely*
Woman in big coat with bag, pencil, paper, and Russia scarf: Hello I'm fdrjsifgjwosjgre fdsfg will you participate in wjrewjafjeajfgea.
Me: I'm not Russian.
W: How many people live here?
M: *failing to understand why this has any relevancy at all and regretting opening the door* .....I was sleeping.....*motions to the bed as if to say "If you'll go away now I'd like to continue"*
W: So you won't participate?
M: *thinking "Who. Are. You?"* uhhh....
W: May I come in? *comes in without waiting for answer and heads toward table*...*mentions something about documents*
M: *trailing sulkily behind* You don't need my documents, the International Office at the university takes care of everything
W: Oh, no I just didn't bring the form for foreigners.
M: *finally figures out that this is a census and not an aggressive building supervisor and cooperates somewhat more willingly, but still mostly sulky about the nap*

Then someone came back later with the correct forms and made me do it all again. I tried to be extra nice because I felt guilty. She said my name was pretty, but didn't like accepting that I don't have a patronymic.

I can also start the oven now. It involves sticking a flaming newspaper torch into the front of the oven and waiting for the gas to catch fire. This is how the landlady told me to do it.

Today I also made ranch dressing from one of the ranch packets that I brought along. I used it to eat a carrot.

What's happened lately? Если честно, I've kinda forgotten. So, sometime ..........
Alright, this is funny. I'm sitting in the university right now and this kid is dancing to Georgian (or perhaps Azerbaijani, considering that's what his shirt says) music that's playing on someone else's cellphone. For real dancing too, he actually knows the moves and is jumping and such. The girl who's playing the music seems to be his dance teacher. That was somewhat unexpected. The dancer was at Chat Hour on Monday, but I told him hello and he looked at me blankly and said привет, so perhaps he's forgotten who I am.

Where was I? Ah, yes. So, sometime this month, in the vicinity of 2 weeks ago, I went to Moscow for my Fulbright orientation. It didn't really orient me, but it was a nice break from work. This lecturing stuff is tiring. I'm getting pretty tired of talking about family, hobbies, and where I'm from.

Now the girl is dancing too. They seem like fun.

So in Moscow, when I wasn't waiting in security at the American embassy or learning about English grammar, I was exploring the city. By the city, I mostly mean the metro. On the first day I tried to go to red square, but it was closed for Putin's birthday. He is so inconsiderate. If he was going to close Moscow's biggest attraction on the only day that I had a lot of free time he could have at least had the decency to invite me to the party. Gosh.

Additionally, the girl is dancing in 6-inch heels and holding the cellphone. Takes talent.

On the way to and from Moscow I took the train. It's 18 hours, but not too bad since about 10 of those hours are at night. This time I was in a full женский coupe, which means only women and mostly older women. I think next time I'll just go with the general platzcart. However, I was pleased that I managed to both find my way to and from the train station in Tolyatti, which I hadn't had to do yet. The solution was pretty simple: a taxi. I wouldn't quite say that I'm a pro at taxi calling, but it's not nearly so intimidating as it used to be. Nothing is quite as intimidating as it used to be. One day I even went by myself to meet up with a realtor and look at an apartment. Yeah. I'm so brave.

Speaking of apartments, I finally have one! It's hideously expensive for this area, so it's costing me a whole $330 a month (depending on the value of the ruble). However, it was recently remodeled, so even though it's small, it's pretty nice. I've spent 2 nights there, and I'm starting to get used to it. The first day I was completely disoriented and without internet, so I dejectedly yet determinedly walked to the grocery store and bought food. I intended to make a celebratory frozen pizza since I now had my very own oven. When I got home I turned on the oven to preheat, and when I came back after about 10 minutes it wasn't even warm! Now, this oven/stove duo is a fairly modern gas variant that has a starter button for lighting it. Great, right? Yeah...the button is broken. The landlady discovered this the other day and left me matches for the stove. No big deal, lighting a match and holding it next to the stove isn't particularly troubling or challenging. There is something that I didn't think about and that she didn't mention though: the oven. In general, I just turn the magical knob to the number that I want and wait a few minutes. However, while I thought that I had mastered the whole oven-using thing, I found myself with no heat in the oven, no pizza, and a fear that I was filling the entire apartment with gas. So, I quickly shut it off, turned on the fan, opened the window, and sulked for a little bit. I really wanted that pizza. My internet also wasn't working so I couldn't consult it to figure out how to make this pizza night work. After waiting long enough that I was certain I wouldn't blow up the entire apartment block, I made french toast instead for my first meal. Satisfying, but not as much as pizza. I also had to sacrifice a bit of my coveted maple syrup that I found in Moscow. Syrup, by the way, is not something widely available in Russia. Neither is peanut butter or tortilla chips. Or regular lettuce. Stop and think about this for a second. Here is what I usually make when I'm in charge of feeding myself:

-French toast
-peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
-spaghetti o's
-grilled cheese

Uhh....yeah. So, I've been making a lot of grilled cheese, and I brought along a jar of peanut butter. I guess it's time to learn how to make new (some might say "real') food. The landlady is coming over tonight with some other things though, so I'll mention the oven then. She seems like the type of person who can get things done, so maybe she'll have someone come over and fix it. I really don't fancy having to crawl into the oven and light an elusive pilot light every time that I want to bake tasty things.

I also have a washing machine! However, at the moment I'm completely intimidated by it and try not to touch it when I'm in the bathroom. Russian washing machines have a sort of mystique surrounding them. They are usually the most prized possession of any babushka lucky enough to own one. Usually foreigners aren't allowed to touch them. In Irkutsk I could use the washing machine, but only with babushka supervision. They are extremely fragile beings. Generally there is a draining tube that hangs over into the bathroom when you want to use it, but mine doesn't seem to have this. I think mine might actually be connected to the wall. I will verify this tonight when the landlady comes. Along with not blowing up my shiny new apartment, I also don't want to flood it.

Today I'm going with a friend to see about setting up some new internet. It will probably take a while to get set up, and I'm not sure how I go about paying for it (since mailed bills here don't really seem ideal), but it's good internet and I want it. I'm talking good enough to start a movie online and watch it all the way to the end without having to stop and wait for it to load. Right now I have to wait 30 minutes to watch a youtube video. I've been fantasizing about this kind of internet ever since I got here. Which, by the way, was only a month and 10 days ago, which seems impossibly short. If you think about it though, the longest amount of time that I've been in Russia was one semester (3/3.5 ish months), so I'm about halfway through the longest time that I've ever been in Russia. Thinking back to Irkutsk, after a month and 1/2 I was feeling pretty settled, so I guess it is a respectable amount of time. I'm ready for an America break though. Mostly I just miss people.

I've met a fair amount of people, but so far not many that I think "Hey! We're going to be lifelong friends!" I miss close friendships, after college I got pretty used to it. It's always hard having to start from scratch someplace new. University students here are so young.

However, Moscow was really nice because I got to see Kendra! It was both odd and normal to see her in Russia. I really enjoyed just having normal hang-out time. Being the token American makes me really miss normalcy. Kendra has a pretty nice apartment way out in the middle-of-nowhere, Moscow. However, it could be worse. In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving (who knew there was such a thing?) we went to another teacher's apartment. This teacher really does live in the middle-of-nowhere. She doesn't even have a metro stop! After much trial and tribulation we finally found her apartment, which was full of many other people who apparently had no troubles at all with directions. Most of the food was gone, but the company was nice. So many English speakers in one place. I was having culture shock.

When it came time to get home we were in for even more troubles (primarily thanks to a tardy pumpkin pie. I don't even really like pumpkin pie!). The last bus from the apartment to the metro leaves at about 11. So, at 10:55ish when I was attempting to drag Kendra and the pie out of the kitchen, I asked one of the guys who lived there which buses we could take. He told me the numbers, and then said that one of them had just left. Weeelll...we went to the stop and took our chances. I consoled myself by thinking that even if we had missed the bus we could still just take a taxi to the metro station. If any taxis would stop, which they wouldn't. Apparently out of the 3 of us waiting we were all woefully inadequate at waving down taxis. There also weren't any of the usual taxi ads plastered to the sides of the bus stop or written on massive billboards. Even the sketchy taxi just hanging out on the side of the road near us ignored us. After 10 minutes of this we gave up and decided to go to a different bus stop on a slightly more major road. To get there we had to pass a stop light. Stopped at the red was an empty taxi, which I pounced on. Not literally, but almost. We all jumped in and I asked how much to the metro. He said 800 rubles, and so I looked him in the face and just told him НЕТ and then we got out of the taxi. While we were waiting dejectedly at the other bus stop an unmarked black car glided over and parked near us, obviously wanting our attention. I pointedly ignored it (because I'm distrustful), and so he backed up. I sighed and went over. The conversation was something like this:

Driver: Where do you want to go?
Me: How much to the metro station?
D: *hears accent* Where are you from?
M: That's not important, how much to the metro?
D: Where are you from?
M: Maybe I'll tell you when we get to the metro if you give us a good price.
D: Why won't you tell me where you're from? How much will you pay me?
M:....400 rubles?
D: 400? I'll do it for 200.
M: ok! *we all get in*

Along the way I chatted with the driver, and eventually revealed that we were a group of American English teachers. He wanted to know what would bring us to Russia, and particularly this area, so I told him. Then he wanted to know what was interesting about Russia, so I told him that too. Kendra is of the opinion that I buttered him up a little, but I still maintain that everything I said is my honest opinion. Russia is one of the most interesting places in the world, it's the biggest country in the world (and thus very important), and I like the people and blini best. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the metro, and when I got out 200 rubles to pay him, he told me to keep it. So..while I was kind of irked by missing the bus over pumpkin pie and our taxi troubles, we did save 50 rubles by not taking the bus (transportation in Moscow is ridiculously expensive, by the way!).

This week my clubs are starting up and my Russian lessons too. This means that I'm about doubly as busy now. I need a weekend! Sadly, Fridays are my longest days. I start at 8:30 and end around 6. There is a break in there, but it's more annoying than anything since I don't just live across the street now. So, there's a random 2 hour break. I probably will just waste the dollar it takes to go home and take that time to eat lunch. I don't know, we'll see. Life is starting to get a lot more expensive. Oh, about Friday though, Fridays are so long in part because they involve Movie Time. While this sounds fun, and it is mostly, I still have to do work for it. This week we're watching The Beverly Hillbillies. This is mostly because all I have are the movies that were on my ipod, so my choices are sort of slim. I think they'll like it though! Last week we watched The Truman Show. They were particularly amused by the bathtub man. It's always interesting to see which parts make people in different countries laugh.

This is getting pretty long, but there's still another important bit of news that I found out about yesterday. One of my teachers from Русская Школа, Елена Николаевна Щепина, died this week. She got sick in the middle of our program and had to return to Russia, but I was hopeful that she was getting better. She's one of the nicest and sweetest people ever and even though she was always tired and in pain I'm glad that we got to have her for a couple of weeks of classes. RIP Елена Николаевна.

Well, here we are, the 1st of October already. Perhaps "already" isn't quite the word that I'm looking for. Time has actually been going by pretty slowly. However, I have the sneaky suspicion that things are about to start going considerably faster. I'm just finishing up my 3rd week here in Tolyatti, and I'm starting to feel relatively settled. I looked at my first apartment on Wednesday, but I'm not especially excited about that one, so I'll hope that there are better apartments available. I am, however, excited about having a place of my own. When you're in a foreign country especially you need something of your own. Some little corner that you can claim for America...or at least pay to borrow for America. I have my rooms at the dorm, but it's still not quite "mine." One of the things that I'm going to miss the most and be the most thankful for is not being quite so easily accessible to people.

One of the biggest annoyances to me right now is having to switch back and forth between languages all the time. When I'm in class (logically) I speak English. A lot. This means that anytime anyone at the university tries to speak to me in Russian my reflexes and comprehension are pretty slow since my mind is set to English mode. Then in the evenings at the dorm I speak Russian with my friends. After I've had a few minutes to get readjusted I do just fine...but until that point it's pretty bad. I stumble, I'm slow, and of course I have an awful accent. I've never really thought that I had that bad of an accent, but I guess I'm usually around Russians who are more used to foreigners. They say it's "interesting," but all the same I'd like to try to minimize it. I haven't gotten a straight answer about if it's a pleasant accent or not...so I'd guess it probably isn't. Russian accents aren't usually considered particularly musical in English either though, so I guess it wouldn't be fair if American accents sounded great in Russian.

Next week I have orientation in Moscow, which should be much more enjoyable than the orientation that I had in July. First of all, I actually want to go and I won't mind being away from Tolyatti nearly as much as I minded being away from Middlebury, and second of all....well..that's probably about it, actually. I doubt that it will be the most exciting thing that I've ever done in my lifetime, or even this month, but it's a vacation from work and I'll get to see some friends. I'll also get to eat well...which I hate to admit I have not been doing lately. I promise I'll do better when I get my own kitchen! Also, my tolerance for sandwiches will probably run out fairly soon.

I'm starting to get the hang of this whole presentation/public speaking stuff. That's pretty much what I do. I don't really do any "teaching" at all because I don't see the same students very often. I have 2 groups that I see every week, but the remaining 7 groups or so I probably see every 3 weeks. Actually, aside from the regular groups I haven't seen any of the groups more than once. This is both good and bad. It's good because it means that I can recycle presentations now and then, but bad because sometimes it doesn't seem right to just jump into a topic without working up to it. I'm also starting to get really good at just talking a lot. It seems to me that the usual strategy is to just put me in a room with students and make me stay there for 1.5 hours. What I do during that time is up to me. Very often there are far too many people to interact with individually, so I just have to talk and ask questions every now and then. My favorites are the smaller advanced groups because we can actually do stuff. Very often this involves me drawing things on the white board (my method of choice). It amuses me, and generally them as well, so we all win. Bigger beginner groups usually just get power point...which isn't as interesting for any of us. The only plus is that it involves pictures.

Today was kind of odd though. I was told to only prepare something that would take up 20-30 minutes. It was the first time when the teacher actually had their own lessons plans, and I actually felt a little rushed. Generally I spend a lot of time stalling and trying to speak slowly and ask questions to take up time. Today I just went in, talked about some stuff, and left...and now I'm sitting bored in the teacher's lounge. I actually would have liked to have stayed and talked longer with this group because they seemed cool, but the teacher was watching his watch pretty closely, so I made a speedy exit. I would have particularly liked to have talked to one girl more...she spent the summer in Seward, Alaska. Seward! How random is that? Unfortunately, she did not know the Chases...but still, Seward is pretty awesome. I wanted to ask her what she thought of it.

The weather is starting to get colder, which annoys me. Let me set the record straight again: just because I'm from Alaska and I like Russia does NOT mean that I like the cold. I actually hate it. I just know what I have to do to endure it (which is maybe why I hate it?). My room in the dorm is always really cold too..which makes me glad that I won't be there during the winter (although I've been told that once they turn the heat on it will be really hot..typical dorm). After the unbearable heat this summer I thought it would take a long time before I complained about a room being cold again. Well, the current cold is far less miserable than when I had to sleep with no blankets, minimal clothing, and a fan pointed at my face...but it still makes me pouty when I have to get out of my warm bed in the mornings. My feet get cold!

Besides this not a whole lot has been going on. It's a pretty quiet town. Next week I should start taking Russian lessons. The grant says that I have to have 10 private tutoring hours or 20 hours of group lessons...and I am choosing the 10 hours. Where I will fit them all I don't really know, but I will certainly be busy. It's also hard because my schedule changes at random every week..so finding 10 hours when I'm never in class might be a challenge. I'm excited about continuing with Russian though!

No pictures yet, but that's the internet's fault. It really is bad. It does alright for checking e-mail, and it's a million times better than no internet at all...but anyone who has tried to have a regular conversation with me in the last few weeks knows that it is extremely flaky and volatile. It likes to play mind games too. Sneaky, sneaky internet. I have plans to replace it after I get back from Moscow though. The guys down the hall (who have great internet) have already agreed to help me. Can't wait!

About this blog

Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia