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!