Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Russia

the restaurant that was great with the belly dancer
the old lady and the accordion
up on the rooftop!
the best views are from in a boat

My final week in Petersburg was one for the books. It was one for volumes of books. I remember it like it was just last week. Like it was yesterday!

While in Petersburg I was actually a pretty lousy student. I showed up late to class on Monday because I wasn't sure what time it was supposed to start exactly. After that I went to hang out with my host my moms father. We talked and skimmed through a lot of Russian poetry and literature. The walls of his house are covered with beautiful, classical famous works of Russian art. He's very well off financially and if my home stay was with him he would have amplified my learning experience in Petersburg 100-fold. Not saying that my host family wasn't pleasant but he had a really deep interest in learning about me and my life and why I was in Russia. He also has a great system of helping me learn to speak Russian. For Tuesdays events see my Finally Famous post. I got my Ray Bans repaired (50 rubles) and then kind of studied. Wednesday was slightly more interesting. I went to go see my host moms father for the last time. He asked me a series of questions about race, my identity, and my culture. The one question that sticks out in my mind is: "What author defines literature for you?" 5 years ago I would have quickly said Mark Twain or Hemingway. But just then I couldn't really think of who it would be. Later I was told that Langston Hughes would of been an appropriate response but I can't help but feel like I want something more authentic... I can't drop names like Shakespeare, Pushkin, or Achebe so easily. His computer was having problems and when I was there he introduced me to his computer repairman. He was about 4.5 cm shorter than me. I can't remember his name but he was a very simple country village boy (kind of like me) He was a first year student in computer programming at one of the universities in Petersburg. He said he was the first foreigner he'd ever met. We all sat and spoke in Russian. I think I left a pretty good impression on him of Americans.

Let's kick this up a notch.

In studying for my final exam I discovered that I actually do not know that much about the technicalities of the Russian language. Therefore I devised a system in which I used songs and phrases that I knew and I categorized them by how they were classified grammatically. Once again I found myself in the midst of another all nighter. And it was really lame cause I was really sleepy. The strange music from my neighbor haunted my study hours. It flooded my room and it took all the strength I had to restrain myself from banging on their door and TELLING them to turn it off. To cope with this I periodically went outside and walked around. I went to the corner store and bought study snacks and my favorite peach tea on some of these breaks. I was cranky because of my lack of sleep but I had crammed almost an entire summers worth of Russian in just one night... gift and a curse. I don't suggest anyone else ever try it. I got to school and was still cranky but my exam proctor was the older teacher that I really loved and so that made me feel better. The final exam was two parts. The written which I'm pretty sure I just barely passed and the oral which I feel I did really well on. Not going to say flying colors cause I definitely tripped up a few times but I held a good conversation with my teacher and knew I would pass the course after I finished.

Class was over and I was free to go out and do everything I possibly could before it was time to go. My mind was racing. There was a bizillion places and things I wanted to go, do, and see before I could leave. I made a list. And I followed it to the T. Here's what I did: I went to this really strange odd museum, bought souvenirs, and then went on the final boat ride.

This was the most breathtaking amazing boat ride ever. I'll let the photos and video do the talking. It wasn't a touristy boat ride either. Just a nice low key ride around the city with plenty of drinks and relaxation time.

We got off the boat and parted ways with our teacher (the Brown program coordinator) and wanted to continue bonding and celebrating the completion of our finals. The best way to go out is to go out on top. And we took that literally. We spent a long time on the rooftop on one of the houses where a couple of the girls in our group were staying. It was kind of chilly so we brought blankets out as well. I'm absolutely terrified of heights. So I didn't do as much drinking or moving around as the other students did. I just got really comfortable in one spot and enjoyed the best possible view of Petersburg. The sun was setting and the sky was purple and orange. I could see the Church of the Savior on Blood and the tops of other buildings and neon signs in the distance. It was the perfect panoramic view.

Me and Sif had been calling each other back and forth all night. I was so relaxed and settled in my current location that I didn't feel like moving. And I actually didn't want to but everyone else on the rooftop decided they wanted to go. There were about 2 or 3 of us that wanted to spend the night on the rooftop... Anyway, I leave the rooftop at about 1:30 am. I'm calling Sif and trying to locate him. I tell him some of the landmarks I'm around and he says he can find me. I start walking by myself towards Nevsky Prospect and after about 20 minute he sees me.

We start walking. He's slightly drunk. I'm slightly tipsy. And we talk about everything. The summer, life plans, Russia, Zimbabwe, the United States. We really engage each other. I tell him that I'm hungry and we stop to find some beef jerky and for drinks... Russia of course had the drinks but not the jerky... Instead I got some snack that tasted like barbecued cheese stick chips.

We end up going to the club that I went to with Ana the night before she left. I'm going to call that place "The Club of Parting" from now on. I also think it's a beautiful place. There's a garden and pond on the upper level outside and it adds a relaxing Oriental element to the atmosphere.

There club was pretty much dead. There were a lot of guys there so we did guy stuff. I played pinball and then we played a mini-foosball tournament with some Russians. Me and Sif rocked as a team. We won all of our games except the last one but we still had a blast got some free drinks and made some friends in the process. We left the club at about 4:30 am.

This would be the last time that I would see Sif but we really enjoyed ourselves. Of course I'm going to keep in touch with him and I want to send him some computer parts and other gifts from the US. I'm really looking forward to seeing him again.

We parted ways with him paying for my taxi (I negotiated the price and location on my own) and he seemed kind of proud of that. I got back to my house and passed out.

I was awakened by my babushka knocking on my door telling me that breakfast was ready (in Russian, FINALLY) and I sprung out of bed. Today was my graduation day. I put on my nicest dress shirt and the slacks that I would normally wear with a full suit. It was too hot for a full suit. It was too hot for that dress shirt. I rolled the sleeves up unbuttoned the top buttons and loosened my tie. Threw on my Yankees hat and hit the door. Added my newly repaired ray bans to my face and let the sunny sun and not couldy at all day add to the perfectness. I got a lot of looks as I headed to the metro station. I did look really nice. And I wasn't wearing cheap, cheasy looking Russian dress clothes either. Funny thing though. Once I'm on the metro a lot of people kind of get that I'm not actually a celebrity or ridiculously rich. If I was either of those things I could afford to have a driver or take a cab everywhere.

this is all happening around noon time. graduation was supposed to start at 12.

I digress. I get to the school and there's champagne and the teachers are there and the headmaster of the school. There is a really touching speech given by the headmaster in Russian easy enough for everyone even the first years to understand. And then we're given our diplomas. I got it and I had never felt so accomplished. We drank champagne and had snacks to celebrate and it turned out to be a great send off from the institute. I ran around and took pictures and said my good byes and then headed back home... for the last time from the Nevsky Institute of Language and Culture.

I get to Sadovaya and there's an old lady playing an according. I dropped 50 rubles into her case (substantial amount compared to the 10 ruble notes and ruble coins and kopeks) She was really nice and played really well.

I spent a lot of the afternoon in my room scrambling to write postcards and then I went and did the gift exchange which took some time. I went straight from buying last minute gifts ect. to the final dinner.

The food was really good but there wasn't as much to eat as I wanted. But the decor and atmosphere was straight out of Arabian Nights. There was a guy that greeted people that looked just like Aladdin. A very sexy, very talented, very graceful belly dancer, and curtains for people to do hooka and really unique architecture... The farthest thing from Russia possible but it was so amazing. This would be the last time I'd see any of the Brown students or my teachers. My teacher (the nice older lady) gave me a postcard with a farewell and telling me how much she enjoyed me in the class. I was touched. It was the perfect send off dinner. I can't wait to eat there again.

When I got home my babushka had borsch prepared for me. For the time we've been living together in these last days we've been speaking only Russian with each other. She only used her outdated Russian-English dictionary this last time to help me write out a recipe for how to make borsch in English/Russian. It was at this point where I felt the tears coming on.

I held them back... But it was at this point when the weight of Russia, Russian, and Russian culture started coming to me and escaping me simultaneously. Things started making sense. Life, language, and culture but it all escaped me as soon as I grasped it. It was almost like an illusion. I was in an oasis of Russian understanding after struggling through the hell hot desert of Russian mistakes and confusion. My night was spent packing slowly and miserably. I went outside every now and then for breaks and at around 3 am it started raining.

It was raining very gently. A gentleness I was suspicious of. Like someone was sprinkling water. The rain kissed my skin. That's the best way I can describe it. It was the strangest rain I've ever encountered. Not like Providence rain at all!

The time came. The taxi cab the institute called was there. I put the bags in the elevator and we walked down. At this point the rain is coming down really hard. I look at the old uncomfortable smelly building that I still don't like. I'd be lying if I say I grew to love it one last time. Loaded the bags up and my babushka kissed me on the lips. Apparently Russians aren't big into hugging. She told me (in Russian) "Because you're leaving Petersburg is crying." my response was (in Russian) "Я тоже" (Me too).

I had left my Russian host family a little letter in my room before I left. I cleaned it up nice and tidy and made sure it was spotless and that I forgot nothing.

The airport was ridiculously easy. Security was not that intense and I probably could have smuggled anything I wanted out of the country.

In retrospect. My last hours in Petersburg. I feel like the weather was crying for me. As corny as that sounds I feel it deep in the depths of my soul now. I didn't shed a tear when I left but on the inside I wanted to stay and do more and see more. I had only scratched the surface and I knew that if I could just stay a little longer I'd find a place to fully grow and develop in Russia.

The Summary (for those just now reading)

Went to Russia (Moscow, Petersburg, and Novogord). Discovered that I was treated more like a celebrity instead of a threat or someone hated. I saw all the beautiful churches and old buildings you read about in the books and see online. I made a lot of friends and learned to speak Russian a lot better. I fell in love with my host family, the city of Petersburg and the country. I had a lot of crazy adventures including nights where I performed at clubs, relaxed with VIP treatment, saw fights, tasted and drank all kinds of authentic delicious cuisine, spoke Russian, met very attractive Russian girls, lived in Europe, and enjoyed the most unique experience of my life that I will never forget... Plus I've got tons of pictures. Browse through them and find something you like.

My Russia (the conclusion)

First I'd like to say that there's a lot that I did not write about on here. I always kept my audience in mind and most what you've read has been pretty safe and not too disturbing. But the truth is I actually experienced some not so perfect moments and saw some not so perfect things while I was in Russia that I didn't write on... So I didn't offend, worry, or scare anyone. I if I ever get the chance to fully publish this I'll include some of the gritty and uncensorded details of my trip.

The world is bigger than the United States. I learned that Russia is a giant crazy mixed up place. It's a country of extremes. There's very little middle ground for anything. There's almost no middle ground actually. You're either this or that.

The struggle of everyday people living in Russia is very authentic. People that can afford to live well are set. But foreign students, peasants, and other everyday people have to make the most of what they have with no exception. I don't think there would ever be any "little left over" to save in a bank or to eat. You work with what you've got and that's it.

I think Petersburg is beautiful. The bridges, the many cathedrals, the huge streets, metro, the canals, everything!

It's difficult for me to sum this up all right here. Especially after writing so much. Looks like everyone is in for at least one more post in which I will try and adequately sum Russia up. So as always friends, family, and everything in between.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Prelude

This is the beginning of the end. The beginning of something new I'm working on. So I'm resetting. I'm going to start from the end. Are you ready to begin?

Kidding! Don't read too deep into that. it might make some kind of sense but I'm pretty sure that it's just a bunch of pseudo-philosophical nonsense. But I've had enough time to think it over and get adjusted to home and I'm ready to write my Russian summary. It won't be long winded. It will be short and sweet and well illustrated.

I will divide it up into 3 parts. The first part will be the last few days. This should be the longest cause I did so much and we did it so well. Look forward to information on my final exam, graduation, the old lady and the accordion, the boat trip, the night on the rooftop, final dinner, and final heartfelt goodbye to the city and my babushka. The second part will be a summary of my entire trip. To those that started reading this in the middle or who just started reading for the first time, I'll condense everything I've written into about a paragraph or two. And the third part will be the grand-slam, 360-dunk, Hail Mary pass that drives my thoughts feelings and emotions home about the entire trip. As complex and deeply embedded as they are I will describe them in poetic and romantically beautiful detail.

As for continuing to write on everyday life, matters, and issues that's pending. I don't think I want to. I have a deep connection to Russia and St. Petersburg and I don't want to disrespect my attachment to the city and country by writing on other topics. Because writing about Russia and my life there became a way for me to better realize my emotions and feelings that I was experiencing at the time and I think that it's something that I would like to keep exclusive with the country.

So this is it. It's kind of sad to be coming to a close but it's coming to a conclusion. Sorry to keep you all so long waiting but the next post will in all likely hood be my last and best ever.

Stay Tuned

Monday, July 27, 2009

Still Thinking

This isn't the grand finale post either... I'm still measuring up my experiences from my last week in Russia and distributing them into chapters. I'm also about to read my entries from start to finish and create an outline for my Professor who will be reading it for my final project for the class. I'm going to give a character analysis (Sif, Tanya, host mom, ect.) slang dictionary (words such as baller) and I'm going to explain the style in which each of my posts have been written and I'm going to draw a link to my writing and to the writing of Pushkins.

I don't want to put a time or date on when the final post will come... You can't rush true genius. But just know that I feel it deep in my heart that it will be the best entry you've read on here. Very emotional and very all encompassing. I don't want it to be boringly long but I don't want to miss a beat from my collective experiences. So there will probably be many pictures and video.

It feels good to be home. There's no place in the world like Texas. But I'm anxious to get back to Russia and master the language. Please believe there's so much more I have left to accomplish there. And one way or another before my time on this planet earth is done I'll accomplish it.

As mentioned earlier I've got some great new ideas for a thesis/Mellon Mays project brewing in my mind now. Hopefully I'll iron the wrinkles out of them with my final post. Whatever it is I've got scattered in my mind it's something major and the big break/big bang research project I've been searching for to bring to the academic world. Well, actually, the first of many big bang research projects I've been wanting to bring to the academic world. Just hang on to your seats. I'm about to turn Academia on to it's head.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Taboo Solved!/Packing

So the taboo was that I had bought an old Russian Icon from the 18th century. It is illegal to take anything out of this country that is more than 50 years old. Meaning not only would the Icon I paid a considerable amount of money for be confiscated I could have actually gone to jail. it was impossible to mail because in russia when you ship something the box must be open when you go to the post office.

I fixed it by going back to the place I bought it from and exchanged it for several souvenirs for people.

I'm really sad to be leaving. I love it here. I almost teared up when I sat and had my last dinner with my grandma.

The past 48 hours has been the best send off of all time. Kind of like a miniature senior week.

this isn't the very touching compelling post I announced on facebook but the one after this one might be it.

I have to pack now. it's so sad. I'm actually leaving this place...

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Off My Mind

So I'm about to start studying and I wasn't going to get on here until I finished but I just had to get this off my mind.

Turns out my babushka isn't Jewish at all. Not in the least bit. She's very much so Russian Orthodox Church. Her daughter (my host mom) and granddaughters are Jewish and speak Hebrew because her ex-husband WAS Jewish.

Her ex-Husband renounced his Jewishness and is a A"Born Again Christian" for what reason I don't know but I guess that's just how things work here in Russia.

I also saw a Texas A&M Aggies shirt. Being worn by a Texas A&M Aggie. I didn't stop to talk. It was too funny in my head for me to even engage in conversation. An Aggie in St. Petersburg, Russia... NOW I've seen it all.

Time to hit the books!

Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Novgorod Pt. II/Saturday

the cafe we stopped at in the country
run down rural dwelling
group photo!
sign in Novgorod
the wall where the kremlin is. the honey beer wasn't far from here.

The Rap and hip-hop club stuff is located towards the middle

So we head off in search of the honey beer. I was very excited about it because it reminded me of ButterBeer from Harry Potter. We asked directions. We found a few dead ends and then finally we discovered that it was located somewhere actually within the kremlin walls. So we go inside of them and start frantically looking while trying to maintain a level of cohesiveness amongst ourselves. The group dwindled down to three in our mass hysteria. Myself. Will the kid from Texas. And the Chinese student Zhong that I Baptized in the Baltic Sea. It wasn't my fault we ended up all over the place but I will take the blame for finding the location inside the kremlin walls where the tavern was.

Once we found the place we walked in and it's actually, literally in the wall. We had to go down some stairs once inside and we were underground. It smelled really old and I felt as if most of the place had been untouched (as far as restoration/renovation goes) in decades. We found the bar and for only 50 rubles we could finally drink what we had so long sought after. It was in a ceramic tea kettle and the lady poured it for us into some ceramic cups. About .33 liters. I made sure each of us had what we wanted and that we would all take the first sip at the same time. We sat down. Toasted. And bottoms went up. The drink was supreme. It tasted like a kind of thick delicious champagne. I am far from being an alcohol connoisseur but this drink I had was worth every struggle we endured to find it.

The rest of the group never caught up but we sat there and drank up and then realized we needed to head back to the hotel for dinner. What we were actually drinking is probably best known as "mead". Back in medieval times Kings and knights and Vikings used to drink it.

After dinner everyone wanted to go out to the beach. I did too. I told them I'd take a nap first and catch up with them later. I went up to my room at about 8pm and laid down. When I woke up it was 4am. I guess the sleep from the all nighter I pulled caught up with me. Not a problem though. I didn't really miss much. And my bed and room were really comfortable and to balance out the DJ Screw from earlier I fell asleep to the sounds of Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, and Mark Elder & The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I fell back asleep and woke up around 7. Took a nice long hot shower and then went downstairs and had a very delightful breakfast. The hotel was great.

After that we moved around Novgorod and saw some more historical places. Churches, homes, and other buildings and we took a group shot. It's included up above.

On the way back I realized how poor Russia really is. A lot of the houses I saw were all pretty run down and made of wood. I counted probably less than five on the way back to Petersburg. They're not THAT bad but as nice as the cities are you would expect for the countryside to be about as equally developed. Not the case at all. We stopped in a quaint little village place so people could use the restroom and get snacks. The little cafe we stopped at had a nice Russian Country living charm to it. For anyone who has ever driven through an impoverished area of east Texas or the backwoods and swamps of Mississippi and/or Alabama that's what rural Russia reminded me of.

Back in Petersburg. This being my last Saturday I wanted to go out with a bang! I go to Sif's workplace and it's packed with people 18-24 years old. All of them had nice clothes and iPhones and expensive watches and glasses. One girl heard me speaking English and she came up to me and told me that she studied in London. At first I thought she was British but she's Russian and her family is just rich enough to afford to send her to school there. Sif wasn't working he was just relaxing. He said they come in every Saturday and request the same thing so he has it already prepared for them. I was hungry cause I hadn't eaten since breakfast so I grab some McDonald's and I picked up something for him too.

He told me the party spot to be at tonight was club Bubble. Located right off of Nevsky prospect. On the same strip where I first went to a Russian club. I went there and in short I had a great night. The club has 3 rooms and two floors and it catered to a hip-hop ground and a house music crowd.

Russian hip-hop lesson 101: Here in Russia where everyone is about 20 years behind every American trend the same goes for hip-hop. Russia very much so embraces "old school" or "real hip-hop" Russian rappers strive their hardest to come up with "clever rhymes" and master "lyricism" anything that sounds like has a Jazz sample in it or like DJ Premier. Hence why Wu-Tang is so popular here. But the first person to bring ringtone rap, bubblegum hip-hop, and what I essentially like to call Soulja Boy type rap/T-Pain R&B will become an instant millionaire.

There are a select few that know of this kind of rap and most of them highly disapprove of it. They're very much so into beatboxing and scratching turntables and anything that was really cool to do in the mid 1990's. This turned out to be a real treat for me. I was in the club and really enjoying some nice old school djing and old school rap. Not in a corny, bohemian, forced way but it stemmed from an authentic knowledge and love for true hip-hop. I sincerely enjoyed hearing that sound again.

Then the drunk Russians came. The kept coming up towards the DJ and hitting the stage where the table was making the beat skip. The security there was awful. Which is strange cause almost everywhere else here there's an armed guard on duty. Anyway, he gets up way too close and puts his hands on the DJ's turn table. This whole time I've just been posted up minding my own business standing right in front of where the DJ was. I told him that he was really good and he had skills. He wanted to give me a mixtape and in return I showed him a "super secret Black man handshake that all thugs known in the US". Anyway, back to the drunk Russians.

He's being rowdy and pushing people that are there and ruining everyones fun. I'm annoyed. The DJ is annoyed and everyone else in the place is too. The security finally comes back and ask me why I haven't done anything?! Me! Of all people!? As soon as they asked me that he (the drunk Russian) stumbles into me and looks like I did something wrong. I figure. He's only 5'5 at the most. He's annoying and I've been wanting to knock him out for quite some time. The DJ, club security, had all given me the green light to take initiative. I took initiative. I wrapped him up in a bear hug and all of the sudden everyone wants to step back and all of the security wants to step in. I throw him in the direction of where the security is and they restrain him from there. The head security guy comes up to thank me and shakes my hand. The DJ now thinks I'm 1000 times cooler than he already thought I was. Sweet.

Just like in American clubs people are always trying to promote something. Except here people were actually doing it well. About once every 25 minutes there would be a sideshow/competition in which people could win prizes from people promoting clothing brands or whatever. There was a hot kiss competition. Some lesbians won that... There was a drink the beer fastest competition. A Russian won that. And a freestyle contest. Enter Jimmy.

When it was opened up I was in the restroom showing some other Russians "a super gangster handshake"... Sif said that Russians really like learning things like that. And the DJ comes and gets me and says I'm up. I'm introduced as "Jimmy from the США" and well after this one whack Russian spit his verse I stole the show.

It was so ridiculously easy my flow consisted of the following elements: (rhyming) "why are you trying to rap you're not even black" followed by several gun and 50 cent references as well as illustrating with my body actions such as shooting a gun and kicking in a door. and finishing with the... "now put your hands up, put your hands up... now wave them in the air like you don't care..." too easy. The crowd ate it up! I was instantaneously the most incredible person there. My prizes? I won 3 T-Shirts and a couple of fitted hats. Name brand t-shirts. I gave one of the shirts to the second place dude. and one of the hats to the DJ and I think someone stole my other shirt. But I've got a brand new New Era Houston Astros fitted hat (ironic) and this other orange shirt.

It was too easy. I knew 80% of people in there didn't understand anything I said BUT I knew my audience. I knew what they wanted to hear and see. And I gave it to them and won them over.

Sif would join me later in the night. The party was jumping there was a troupe of girls that did break dancing that performed and I enjoyed the show from a nice comfy sofa close to the DJ table. It wasn't VIP but it was still nice. People took their pictures with me and now I'm probably all over vontakte (the russian facebook). When I left Sif was emceeing keeping the party jumping.

Please bear in mind that this wasn't a low profile, hole in the wall club. It was legit and that made the experience so much more better.

I went back home feeling good. I tipped the cab driver with an American dollar and he told me it was his favorite souvenir.

Stay Tuned