Sunday, October 27, 2013

Музей Пушкина

So this weekend I wound up at the other Pushkin museum. The one with the paintings, not the scrawled papers and old copies of Voltaire. It was pretty neat. I didn't take any pictures of the inside because that would be gauche, but here are a bunch of photos from the Kropotkinskaya area.

What can I say? It was gorgeous. Cézannes, Picassos, Goyas, Kandinskys, even a Diego Rivera thrown in. My little avant-garde leaning heart fluttered. There are enough Rodin sculptures to fill a warehouse. I was particularly taken by his busts of Mahler and Hugo - "Yeah, just throw in some art about my buddies, it's all cool." (In my mind, the past is exactly like Midnight in Paris.)  Hell, I'm even getting used to Russian museum etiquette.

The next night was karaoke in Chertanovskaya with some teachers, then back to work. And this, my friends, is the reason why I haven't been updating lately. Between a gruelling schedule and assorted bureaucratic crazy (everyone who has ever lived in Russia is nodding their head vigorously at the moment), I have been a) too busy to do anything interesting and b) too drained to blog about what little I have been doing. I think there's an enormous pressure to SEE and DO while abroad, and you forget that you have to live a normal life at the same time. You still pay your bills, you still take the garbage out. A lot of people I talk to have no earthly idea why I'm not heading off to St Petersburg or Ukraine or Scandinavia every weekend. Expat life is essentially like regular life, just mixing the settings around a bit. And even if I'm in Russia, yeah, I have to take the occasional day to just be me.

However, we did get a sunny day on Friday, so at least the pictures turned out well.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Monday is Thanksgiving in Canada.

Even during my four years in Toronto, it could be a lonely holiday. Kind family and friends generously invited me to their homes, and I was always very happy to spend time with them. However, it was still thousands of miles away from my own family; I still felt very alone. And that was in a country where everyone celebrated. The university shut down, businesses were closed, anyone who could left the city. Today, I went to work, as usual; the students all showed up, because it was just another day; my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of an admittedly delicious frozen pizza. Many of my friends and family were thoughtful enough to send messages via Facebook and other electronic avenues. My cousin and his wife even sent me a short video of their new baby, whom I have not met yet. So it's not been a bad day, all in all.

This has been a trying six weeks, and I'm only about a fifth of the way through the year. I've been pretty negative lately - about work, moving, all that jazz. So here, right now, I'm going to list the things I'm thankful for.

  • That I'm in Russia at all. 
  • That I have a good and interesting job and am earning a steady income. 
  • That my co-workers and boss have gone out of their way to be friendly and helpful.
  • That I am falling into a steadier and more confident pattern with my classes. 
  • That I am healthy and have enough energy to do an 8-hour day in heels. 
  • That my Kobo is full of books, my hard drive is full of television shows, and even at home I will never be bored.
  • That I get to blog and be creative to let off steam. 
  • That one of my Toronto friends came to Moscow at the same time, and is good enough to hang out with me and reminisce. 
  • That the Internet exists, full of resources and support in a new and sometimes overwhelming experience. 
  • That the transition into a new culture has been more or less smooth, and I'm feeling comfortable with my surroundings. 
  • That people back home love me and care about me, and that it will be there when I choose to return. 
  • That I've survived the first six weeks! 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and if you are an expat Canadian like me - an extra special wish. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013


We've experienced a run of really beautiful autumn days lately. Unfortunately, I've spent most of them in a classroom trying to ignore my students staring out the window like Ferris Bueller's classmates. Hang in there, guys, I can see that blue sky too.

Yeah, remember when I envisioned popping in to teach for a few hours or so, then exploring Russia (and the rest of Europe) in my spare time? HAHAHA. It's not like I mind the job - just that it's way busier and more tiring than I ever imagined. Oh, what the heck. This calls for a Mad Men GIF.

Ladies and gentlemen, teaching in a nutshell. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Книги Дом

It's been sunny and cool lately, that time in fall when you just have to go outside and explore. The light is flat, the leaves are changing, and you have to take advantage of what precious sun is left to you. Today I got on the Metro and found my way to Arbatskaya. My purpose was already decided. I was going to track down the Moscow House of Books.

Bookstores are something of a dying tradition, as they have committed two sins - carrying a product which is rapidly dying out and occupying physical space when Internet shopping has almost taken over. (As a ten-year-old informed me last week, "Only old people buy books.") However, I do think they will continue, if only as a niche market. There's something so wonderful about being in the midst of a million bookshelves, wandering through all the great things literature has to offer. Can you guess what this book is?

They have a pretty good selection, and you can buy lots of different things there - stationery, postcards, things that can be difficult to find anywhere else. They are also pretty well-organized by genre. You have all kinds of arts books, classics, reference guides, you name it. I read a Russian-language guide to Canada and got nostalgic over all the pictures of my hometown. Miss you, Canada! The only disadvantage I could think of was that they were poorly organized within the sections. Nothing resembling alphabetical order (Latin or Cyrillic), so you just kind of had to wander and look. Took me forever to find anything.

The best part, however, is that they have a big section for foreign-language books, the vast majority of which are in English. Oh, I don't buy books anymore because I have a Kobo, but it was a treat to wander through shelves of Stephen King and Agatha Christie and feel totally at home. They even had Alice Munro books out, thanks to her Nobel win this week, I guess. In fact, I think for a second I even got warped back to Canada.

Russians are very literary people - even making sure their kids know the classics...

However, like any society, they have their morons. Yes, E.L. James' literary plague has reached Russia. Oh well, can't win 'em all. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Зомби Депп

It's Marking Week. Life is crazy busy, and I am not winning any popularity points with my students as I drown them in assessments. That is OK with me. Classes are getting a heck of a lot easier now that I know what's going on. In fact, lately I have turned into something of a Kindergartner Whisperer. Not that they are perfect little angels or anything, but at least I can keep them on task. Guys, preschoolers are a tall order anywhere on the planet. Do not think a class of small children is something you can take lightly.

As you go about your routine every class, inevitably comments emerge that make you want to start a show called "ESL Students Say the Darndest Things". Now, I wouldn't do that because it's not fair to my students - we all make mistakes learning a new language, they need their privacy, and my Russian is about a million times worse anyway - but I share them with other teachers sometimes. However, my teenagers know enough English to explore humour on their own, and sometimes they come up with some doozies. Lately, they have all had a unit on the environment, which is not exactly a topic to motivate most youth. One of the questions: "What is the biggest environmental problem facing youth today?"

EVERY class, without fail, has responded "Zombies!"

I am very proud of them.

With Halloween coming up, I'm definitely planning a few ghoulish lessons along the way. Edgar Allan Poe, Thriller (Michael Jackson is still the King of Pop here), silly costumes. One of my classes, however, has beaten me to it. Combining their love of a popular Hollywood star with their fondness for The Walking Dead and other works of its ilk, they have created a new mascot...

Zombie Depp.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Friday, October 4, 2013


First of all, PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Russia has Vanilla Coke. I cannot explain how awesome this is, but for Canadians, it is akin to discovering the Holy Grail. They also have these...

...which are not as interesting but very big into the WTF factor. (Yes, like Liz Lemon, I live my life for food.)

I make a deal with myself every year - I won't dress for winter until after my birthday. No matter how cold it gets, the gloves and hat and scarf stay off until after October 2nd. I'm not giving in to Old Man Winter. In Canada, this isn't such a big deal, as the cold doesn't really come in for a couple of weeks after. In Moscow? None too soon. I was shivering like hell today. At the same time, it feels pretty nice. I've always liked the initial chill of fall, though this is more like WINTER IS COMING from that show we all watch. Yup, I'm in for the long haul.

But yeah, my birthday was this week. It went pretty well. Got Facebook posts from all over the world, good wishes from my colleagues, and an impromptu singalong from one of my classes. Had a bit of a birthday gathering the weekend before with some American friends. It's lonely to be far away on your birthday, especially when you just got to a new country, but everyone I know was very kind and friendly. Thanks, buddies from Moscow and around the world.

Work itself is okay. Still busy, still crazy, but my classes have "settled in" - just in time for progress reports. Ooooyyy. I may not be back to the blog for a while. I'm enjoying my students, though, who are inquisitive and full of ideas. So far, unfortunately, all of them seem related to Johnny Depp or Eminem. I was under the impression that these celebrities kind of had their day in North America - yet if you ask the teenagers in Russia, they're still on top of the world. I try to fit in a lot of pop culture, but sometimes we still have to do exam prep and listening practice. Sorry, guys.

Anyway, I took advantage of a not-really-chilly afternoon to explore a couple of famous sites. Two literary museums, one for Pushkin and one for Tolstoy, sit right across from each other near Kropotkinskaya station. No, this is not the Pushkin Arts Museum. Nor is the Tolstoy museum the estate everyone hears about - that's way out of town. These are smaller museums entirely devoted to literature. No pics, sorry - that is very much forbidden.

Let me tell you, there is nothing like a small museum with exhibits in your third language to make you feel like an outsider. The Pushkin Literary Museum is very much like this. Everyone's surly, the signs are inadequate and no one points you in the right direction. I spent a lot of time wandering around. I was also disappointed that there wasn't all that much Pushkin. Sure, there are tons of paintings and some pretty cool stuff - including Pushkin's personal library, dog-eared Voltaire and all! - but the museum read more like "The Era Pushkin Lived In Museum". A lot of stuff about Tsars and clothing. Pushkin's death mask was pretty neat. However, I was most transfixed by his handwritten notes. I think a lot of people get the same effect, but when you see something written in someone's own hand, full of corrections, it brings you that much closer to them. Another note - I think every school child in Moscow was on a field trip that day.

However (don't hate me Russians), I've never been all that interested in Pushkin. When my Russian is good enough to read the original, I'll probably like it a lot more, but I've never had the cultural connection that Russians are so focused on. My number one writer has always been Tolstoy. Not only was he a great writer, but a great thinker as well, who had a large impact on contemporary history - and bizarrely, my home province back in Canada, but that's another story. War and Peace (still my favourite novel) was my first real introduction to Russian literature, and it was from there that this whole adventure started. In a way, experiencing Tolstoy was like coming home. What can I say except that it was amazing?

First of all, the staffing and layout are much, much better. There are nine rooms, and they seem to be more about Tolstoy and his work than the era, as opposed to the Pushkin museum. There is a room each for Anna Karenina and War and Peace, as well as one for his later works and one for his earliest stuff. We are also shown a room specifically for his family life. I found myself staring at Sofia Tolstoy's opera glasses. She wore these! To the opera! On her face! I'm fangirling something fierce here.

The "novel rooms" also mention the cultural impact of each book. There's a sort of Wall of Fanart, where I observed that every artist depicts Pierre Bezukhov as a clueless twit. A handwritten copy of Prokofiev's "War and Peace" score! I'm dying. There were also plenty of handwritten notes, and a lot of Tolstoy's stuff - daguerreotypes and clothes and various knicknacks. Some war medals from his time in the military. There's also an entire room dedicated to photos of the Old Man, which is a little creepy when you get down to it. However, the vast majority of the personal stuff is out at Yasnaya Polyana (my #1 to-do in Russia this year). The museum was founded in 1911, basically right after Tolstoy's death, and has been operating continuously since then - it claims to be the oldest literary museum still open. When you consider all the upheaval Russia's gone through since 1911, that's pretty darn impressive.

Anyway, Izmailovsky Market will probably be tomorrow's adventure, depending on how late I wake up. I kind of have to force myself to leave the house most of the time, as I would probably lie in bed watching TV all day, but this is my time abroad. I need to use it. And today was totally worth getting out of bed for!