Well, today is April Fool's Day, and while I hope to avoid making a fool of myself today, I haven't been so lucky in the last few weeks.

Here's one interesting encounter that I had with the cafeteria lady earlier this week. I haven't been in the best of moods lately, and it makes me a bit distracted. Unfortunately, when I'm distracted my Russian skills seem to do the most suffering. I have this juice addiction that I've developed, and sometimes during the day I just gotta have my fix. Well, this was one such day.

When I went into the little school cafe (it sounds more picturesque than it is), I was the only person there. That's probably because it was closing, but someone left the door open, so a poor foreigner who doesn't always read signs came in anyway. The cash register lady was nice enough not to say anything and just gave me a wary look. She knew that I was after juice though, I go there almost every day. Anyway, today my typical boxed juice was out of stock, so I had to settle for a bottle. While trying to specify this to her, I completely forgot the word "bottle" and replaced it in my mind with "wine glass". Now, I'd just used this word correctly and without any special thought the day before. She looked confused, so I reminded her that I wanted the "Apple juice in the wine glass." She lifted her eyebrow and picked up a small box of apple juice and asked if that was what I wanted. Usually she gets my order right, so I wasn't sure what had gotten into her this day. I repeated "No, the apple juice in the wine glass! There, below that." To this she dryly asked "You mean the one in the bottle?" I sheepishly realized the errors of my way, said yes, paid, and mentally beat myself up over forgetting such an easy word for the rest of the day. БУТЫЛКА not БОКАЛ!

Also, just a random side note, the marshrutka driver the other day called this old woman crossing the street a "Kamikaze babushka." It made me smile.

Lately I've been losing things like crazy. I lost my eraser last week, and looked through all of the rooms on the  7th floor trying to find it, only to discover the next day that it had been in my purse the whole time. Then, on Friday (right in the middle of movie time) I realized that I had lost my key to the teacher's room. Or at least figured out that it wasn't in my pocket where it should have been. I left in the middle of the movie to tear apart my purse in hopes that it, like my eraser, was just hiding out there. No such luck. I figured that it had fallen out at home, and I managed to convince myself that I'd heard something that sounded a lot like a key falling out of my pocket, so I didn't stress too much...but I did take my coat just in case someone locked the door. At home I casually searched the floor around the couch that I use as my second dresser. Then I not so casually searched the floor everywhere in my apartment. I looked in the cracks in the couch, I shook out my blanket...nothing. Beyond those places, there just weren't many other logical places for a key to hide. I began to resign myself to the fact that it had probably fallen out on the marshrutka, and I was never going to see it again, and on Monday I was going to have to grovel in front of the supervisor and beg to be trusted with a new key (that I would even offer to pay for!). Russians are sort of weird about security. They really like it, and they really enforce certain things, but overall the system isn't generally very secure. I half expected that because I'd lost a key they'd change the locks on the teacher's lounge, and everyone would have to get new keys. Then they wouldn't give me a new one because I'd just lose it too. Or, on the other hand, I thought maybe she'd just whip open a drawer and give me a spare that she'd had lying around and like it was no big deal. I was hoping for the latter...but thought it would probably actually be more like the former. Then, later, after I'd completely given up, I was talking to a friend on Skype, when I happened to look at the foot of my bed. Sheets aren't fitted here, so things tend to get messed up pretty quickly. Do you know where that stupid key had been? It had managed to get tucked in between my sheet and my mattress. Sometimes I seriously think that there's some sort of little spirit that steals all of my things and puts them in ridiculous places.

My trip to Moscow couldn't come at a better time. Everything is muddy and nasty in Tolyatti (although I don't expect any better in Moscow), I've been struggling to come up with lesson topics, and I haven't been the best company ever. Luckily the sun is shining more, and Kendra and Ryan have promised to help cheer me up and get in some quality friend time, and I'm already feeling much better myself. Somewhere in there I'll have to take the GRE and do my final Russian interview for the CLEA, but those are minor details. 

I completely got called out on my lack of a hat today. Hats do bad things to my hair (like this), so whenever I can I try to avoid them. Plus it takes like an extra 5 seconds of my day to put it on.  So, today when I was waiting for the elevator to go downstairs, an elderly man came out of a neighboring apartment and waited with me. To avoid feeling awkward (because I'm an awkward person and I never know what to do with myself when there are strangers around) I very fastidiously put on my gloves and made sure that they were straight and tucked into my coat sleeves. Once we were safely into the (very small) elevator, the man bemusedly looked at my head, and then my gloves, and said "You're wearing gloves but no hat? Your head will be cold! I'm old and I've done the opposite all winter -- I wear a hat and no gloves." I smiled and hastily showed him that I had a hood that I'd put on. I hadn't planned to use it..but I felt obligated to after that.

I'm not quite sure what it is, but people always talk to me in the elevator now. Maybe I just look like I belong there. At first, after playing the ritual rock-paper-scissors-esque floor number game (the elevator only knows how to go to one floor at a time, so the person with the lowest number gets to press the button), my elevator companions and I would just stand in silence and avoid eye contact. Then, starting about 3 weeks ago, people started to say things. Usually it's just complaints about the weather or things like that (or in the case of a drunk and disoriented man:  making sure that he was in the building that he thought he was), but it still started rather suddenly, and still surprises me. I like to secretly wonder how many catch on to the fact that I'm not Russian. I think that I do a pretty good job of fooling most of them.

One thing that also amuses me is when I have conversations like this one that happened on Thursday:

After opening the door to the deserted teachers lounge and putting on my coat, I was getting ready to leave and lock the door when a girl comes in and says: "Can I speak to Natalya ----- ?"
me: "Umm..no one else is here"
her: "Do you know when she'll be back?"
me: "No, I'm leaving right now"
her: "You're from America, right?"
me: "Yeah"
her: "You speak Russian really well, even without an accent"
me: "..Thanks, I try"

My thoughts: could you really tell very much about my Russian? I barely said anything at all. I've had this happen several times where I'll say a sentence and then I get compliments on my Russian.  Somehow I suspect that people would be impressed even if I only knew how to say 10 words.  I also have the opposite happen a lot, where people assume that I don't understand Russian at all, so they start explaining in a mix of English and charades until I ask them to please just tell me in Russian. It's also a great party trick with kids -- if I say any Russian word in the middle of my presentation there are instant gasps of surprise.

Today I went to the movies with a friend and saw Little Red Riding Hood...or Red Riding Hood...or whatever it is in English. It's called Красная Шапочка in Russian. I really didn't know what to expect -- I hadn't seen any previews or anything since I don't really see any in Russia. I half expected it to be a cartoon, so when I saw the movie poster, I started thinking "oh dear..I didn't know that this was a scary movie." Then, naturally, it would involve scary wolves, which I am almost as scared of as sharks and tigers. Ok, like half as scared of. I blame my childhood phobia on THIS. I remember having nightmares now and then about being trapped in my house because hungry wolves were circling it. ANYWAY, the movie turned out to be really good. They took a really interesting take on the old story and turned it into a sort of mystery thriller with, naturally, a love story thrown in. Overall it was really well done, and I kind of feel like watching it again right now to pick up on things that I didn't catch at first. The person that I was with is one of those people who knows everything about every movie ever made, and he also agreed that he liked it, so I feel like I have an expert opinion to back me up. It also certainly didn't hurt that the 2 conflicting love interests are incredibly attractive men. Well, or one of them was, the other was just mostly so. Here you can see them having a manly standoff. It made up for the scary wolf. I was also glad because the dubbing was really good, so every character had their own voice, which isn't always the case. Unfortunately, online reviews weren't especially impressed by the movie, so perhaps being in Russian improved it. It helps that I haven't seen Twilight, which is apparently what the style is reminiscent of. I still stand by my opinion though -- I enjoyed it, understood almost all of it in Russian, thought the set was pretty (and the people prettier), and enjoyed the new twist to my generally least favorite fairy tail.

Also, I'm 1/9th of the way through Anna Karenina in Russian. That doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind that that's over 100 pages. I've really struggled with reading books in Russian because usually I can't read fast enough to really get into the story, so I end up getting bored and giving up. It's really strange being transported back to the way that I felt in first and second grades -- instead of being fun, reading is frustrating and boring. Once you get good at it then it becomes a sort of moving picture that you can get really absorbed in, but until that time it's just words that you have to consciously think about so that you can get the plot. Anna Karenina has made me really excited, because I've started seeing scenes instead of words when I read, and this is the first time that it's really happened. It might seem strange that this would happen with a work of classic literature and fail with some of the more modern books that I've tried, but my lessons for the last few months have really focused on reading, and especially with a focus on higher level literary styles. So far it seems that Tolstoy's writing style really fits well with my vocabulary. He's also much better in Russian. I liked him well enough in English, but the translations were always a little dry. It's also interesting how time and languages can change the way that you think about the characters. I read the book about 4 years ago, so the details are fuzzy, but I remember that in general I just though that Vronsky (the guy that Anna runs off with) was a self-absorbed jerk and that Levin was the nicest person ever. In Russian I actually sympathize a lot with Vronsky, and he seems like he's just a nice guy. Not the most knowledgeable, but certainly not bad. Levin, on the other hand, is extremely socially awkward. Maybe it's just that now people who fall passionately in love without any real basis and without checking to make sure that the other person feels the same bothers me. Maybe before I thought that it was romantic or something. I can also sympathize a lot more with Kitty turning down Levin's proposal because of her feelings for Vronsky. Of course it would have saved a lot of people a lot of hurt if she'd just said yes, but the easiest way isn't always the best. It would also have made for a very short book, since she's not even the main character. 100 pages in and the real story is only starting to develop. That's Russian literature for you.

Well, now I think that I'll get something to eat, and maybe hunt around online for somewhere to watch Red Riding Hood again or read some more. The weather got wise to my wanting to take pictures of spring and got cold again, so pictures will have to wait some more.

Well, spring, in all of its muddy glory, has come to Russia. Like all other cities located in northern climates, spring has turned Tol'yatti into a concrete marshland. Now I know why Russian women wear high heels: it's so that they can ford the rivers (aka streets) and stand around in swamps (the bus stops) without getting their feet wet. I too have begun to embrace this habit. My other (non-heeled) winter boots have leaky soles, so they have been banished to the closet after one too many damp socks episodes. After growing up in Alaska I'm very familiar with the effects that melting snow can have on a landscape, but the difference is that in Alaska I didn't have to walk through it all the time. In Sewanee, spring meant daffodils, sunny days, and no coats. I've been so spoiled the last few years!

I've had this brilliant idea for the last few months to bring my US cell phone with me so that I can take sneaky pictures without feeling extremely conspicuous, but I've just now started carrying through with it. The disastrous road conditions that a severe lack of a drainage system has caused are something that's definitely worth documenting. Unfortunately, I always seem to be running late when it's light out. Seriously, it's like there's some sort of paranormal force that holds me in my apartment and makes me late. I know for a fact that I need 20 minutes to get to work..25 if I want to be a little bit early. Then, right as I start putting on my shoes and coat and putting things in my bag, time starts to go by twice as fast, while I suddenly am unable to move faster than a 90 year old woman. So, by the time that I'm finally out the door, I find myself with only 15 minutes and have to sprint (/walk briskly..I can't actually sprint on slush in heels) to the bus stop and pray that numbers 121 or 146 come immediately...and curse them silently when they don't. Then there's the school elevator, which is itself a force to be reckoned with. There are 4 elevators, but according to my studies, only 1 moves at a time, and then it is morally obligated to stop at every single floor. Naturally my classes are all on the 8th floor.

I've been really jealous lately of all my friends back home who are on spring break. So jealous that I've had to make my own. Sort of. Not really. Actually, I'm just going to Moscow to take the GRE. It does, however, mean that I get to miss a week of school and see some cool people! I've been getting spring fever lately and a bit worn out, so this break will be greatly appreciated. It's hard being a celebrity. I'm also tiring of city life. Did  you know that it is never ever completely dark in my apartment? For some reason the drapes in my living room are only for decoration and don't cover the whole window, so there's always light coming in. Every now and then I'll see a star, but that's pretty rare. There's also always noise. And my upstairs neighbors have been remodeling for over a month now. Seriously, how much stuff can they change? These apartments aren't exactly big.

Now I need to get ready and go. That's my complaint about spring for the day. I'll try to get pictures soon.

Just tell me this picture doesn't make you smile

Sometimes I feel like I speak terrible Russian, but then I realize that it's because there are often mix-ups here, and I end up getting asked things that seem completely out of context. For example, here's a phone conversation that I just bumbled through (phones are also ridiculously hard to understand people through):

*teacher calls*
me: hello?
t: are you here?
me: uhh...no?
t: ah, but you're on your way?
me: no...I'm home, but I'm leaving soon.
t: hmm, I see. When will you be here? 20 minutes?
me: (thinking "why..?") my class doesn't start until 10:55. I have 2 half pairs today.
t: 10:55? Hmm, ok. You'll come to the teacher's room?
me: (thinking "no, I think I'll just go to the classroom") Which room?
t: the teacher's room
me: I'm....not with you today.
t: you're not?
me: no?
t: are you sure you're reading the schedule correctly?
me: yeah...I'm with ____ today
t: hmm, that can't be right, you're supposed to have her every other week, and you were there last week. I'll ask.
me: well..it's on the schedule.

So, we'll see. I prepared for that class, so I really have nothing else that I can do. This happens pretty often. Luckily the schedule is my ultimate authority, so any time anything is wrong I can just say "It was on the schedule!" and all blame is shifted away from me.

Let me tell you a fun story that I heard today. I have no facts to support it, but somehow I think that it's entirely believable. This is the story of how the potato came to Russia. For all of you who have been to Russia, it's hard to imagine that the potato hasn't always been a part of Russian cuisine. Neither have tomatoes or sunflower oil. Honestly, what did they eat before that?

This all start's with Pushkin's great-grandfather -- Abram Petrovich Gannibal. Just a reminder to all you who don't study Russian literature, Pushkin is the Russian Shakespeare. His great-grandfather was captured as a boy in Africa, and was given to Tsar Peter I as a curiosity. Young Abram was then raised with the tsar's son. Later he went on to become a major-general and was overall successful. He also, apparently, was quite the troublemaker. As a youth he was sent to Paris to continue his education. While there he happened to develop a relationship with a certain count's wife, and, well, let's just say that they really hit it off. So much so that she got pregnant. Unfortunately for both of them, it was very obvious that the father was not her husband. Abram dueled with the count and caused quite the international scandal. He was promptly returned to Moscow, much to the disappointment of his godfather Peter I.

Now, back to potatoes.

After one of his travels, Abram brought back that beloved vegetable known as the potato. He wanted it to be spread all over Russia, but his first attempts were complete failures. The farmers didn't want his stupid potatoes because they were completely satisfied eating cabbage, meat, kasha, and whatever else they had at this time. Perhaps part of the failure to impress the peasants was due to the fact that they didn't explain at first that the good stuff grows UNDER the ground.

Well, Abram was a хитрый man, and he clearly had a good understanding of the Russian mentality. He took his potatoes and planted them in several flower beds, and then he posted signs saying that anyone caught stealing them would be beheaded. They were all gone in a matter of days.

Next he planted potatoes in a vast field. He appointed a guard to watch the field, and made it known that all trespassers would be shot. Then he instructed the guard to fire off a few shots every evening, and then go home. Once again, all of the potato plants were quickly stolen, and potatoes began showing up all over Russia.

Now you will find potatoes at every single meal, and in almost every single dish.

Some snapshots from life:

This is the ridiculous swarm of crows that occasionally mobs my apartment building. I finally got a picture of them.

This is an artsy view into my hall. It came about, however, after I was trying to figure out where this horribly obnoxious hammering noise was coming from. My neighbors seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to bothering me during naps. Actually, life just seems to be against me napping, which is unfortunate, because naps are a beautiful thing. Anyway, at about 6:30 I decided that I was going to sleep for a little bit ("Who naps at 6:30 in the evening," you ask? Tired teachers, that's who!). I got into my nice warm bed, turned off the lights, closed my eyes, and...couldn't fall asleep because someone was assembling furniture next to my bed! Picture me looking like THIS as I look through my peep hole after unsuccessfully trying to nap for an hour.

It's also worth checking out the article that this picture came from (which you can find here). Let me give you some of the highlights from it:

"Russian woman beats bear barehanded after it attacks her husband"
"Vitaly grabbed the angry bear and tried to pull it away."
"We were locked in hand-to-hand combat and rolled downhill."
'Tatiana had attacked the bear from behind and dragged it away, she then shouted at the animal so loudly that it fled into the forest."
"I didn’t know that my wife was so strong,” he said after a medical checkup."

Umm..attacking brown bears? That's pretty BA. Let me remind you, however, of this fellow: http://thecheesegrater.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/bare-hands-bear.jpg

By the way, I think bears are the scariest animals ever...but equaled by sharks. Wolves are also scary. OH! And tigers!! See here: http://www.sashasnow.com/Conflict/ This is what spawned my great fear of tigers. How Kim managed to see that on a big screen and remained unscathed is a mystery to me. Just listening to the music gives me the creeps. Ugh. Tigers.

On second thought, tigers might be scarier than bears.

Lastly, this is what happened when I ended up having to completely reset my computer. EIGHTY-FOUR updates!!! Disgusting.

That's all. If you're still in search of some reading material, I recommend this site: http://www.badassoftheweek.com/list.html

Well, spring is....no, not here yet. Luckily Maslenitsa started this week, which is a Russian holiday that is meant to celebrate the end of winter and get in some last minute good food before Lent. The holiday, like most holidays, was originally pagan though, so that means that there are still lots of interesting customs that have remained over the years. Blini, for example. The rest of you know these tasty treats as crepes. I've been assured that they are very different from crepes...but...let me just tell you a secret. If you're not French or Russian, you would never know the difference. It does, however, irk me when it gets translated into English as "pancakes". They're not not the same at all. It'd be like mixing up toast and French toast...but without the bread...and....yeah

The direction that I was trying to go with this was that traditionally at the end of the week of Maslenitsa you burn a scarecrow lady, which symbolizes the burning of winter. Personally, I think that Russia should have burned winter months ago.

Alright, so I keep getting wrong numbers at my house, which is super obnoxious. Like this one guy who just called (and is calling me back right now). He clearly does not have the right number. I didn't quite catch who it was that was calling..but I can almost swear that it sounded like "военная служба"..which translates to armed service...so perhaps it was a recruiting officer? Maybe he was trying to catch a young man trying to avoid the army? I have no idea. I'm probably making this all up, but I like my version best. Sometimes when I don't understand something in a conversation, I make up my own version of what happened, and it usually works out pretty well. This kind of reminds me of when I got a new cell phone in college. Apparently I got someone's old number (Chris), and he neglected to tell anyone..including his parents and parole officer...that his number had changed. Fun times.

Lately life has been pretty anti-climatic. I go to work, I go to Russian lessons, I come home, I make food, and I do stuff on the internet. Then I repeat. Sometimes I do things though! Such as go to the movies, which is how I celebrated "The Defenders of the Fatherland" day. The Black Swan, as it turns out (and as I already suspected) is a very creepy movie. My coordinator wanted to see it, and so she invited me to come along and keep her company, since her husband and son were going to go watch a manly fighting movie. I think that she was expecting a bit more ballet than gore, but it was still an interesting movie. I doubt that I'll watch it again any time soon though. Probably the best part is just that the person that I was with jumped and squealed any time anything scary happened, which was greatly amusing to me.

The rest of the holiday I spent trying to fix my computer, which I had inadvertently killed earlier in the day. As it turns out, I probably shouldn't try exploring the inner recesses of my computer and deleting programs. I guess some of them are actually there for a reason..although it certainly doesn't always seem like it. Luckily after much frustration and eventually just resetting it to its factory settings (meaning I completely lost everything...but not really because it saved all of my files in a backup folder), it is back to normal. There's just one thing that really bothers me though: my computer WILL NOT go above 87% charged anymore. Or rather, it will, but it won't say anything above 87%. Now to freak me out I think that it will go up to 100% charged, and then stop charging because it's done...and then still show it at 87%. Then I'll come along and see that it's not charging and fret and chastise my computer and fiddle with the plug and get all-around irritated. Mind games.

It's kind of crazy that I've already been here for 6 months, and that there are only 4 more to go. Although right now I think I'm hitting that crash stage where you really just want something exciting to happen. The everyday flow of life has gotten a bit mundane, and you need a little something to energize you for the push to the end. I have some potential plans to liven things up, but it that doesn't work then I might just have to jet (or train, as it is) out to Moscow to see some people and cheer myself up a little. It's amazing how small a city of about 1,000,000 people can feel sometimes. Also, they still haven't gotten tortilla chips back in the store, so sometime I will have to go to Moscow and bring back like 50 bags with me. I'm not joking. I am exaggerating a little though..it'd probably only be 10.

Well, now I have to go off to work. Again. Didn't I just do this yesterday?

I'm really looking forward to some warm weather. It's not actually that cold, but I'm tired of wearing coats and hats and seeing dingy snow everywhere. I could really go for some green. And darkness..did you know that it's never actually completely dark in my apartment? I haven't seen the stars in months. That's city life for you though.

Ok, for real, I'm leaving now. If only I could remember if I've brushed my teeth yet or not....

About this blog

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