Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Decode and Learn/Germans and Dostoevsky's Hood

Sprechen sie deutsch? Ja! I still do! But not much. Anyway, this is one street down from my apartment in the direction AWAY from the Canal. When Petersburg flooded the waters were this high.

My Russian Professor from Brown (in purple) she's incredible. And our tour guide the old guy in the vest. And the Students with Professor Левенцкий in the back.

Russian Grammar Table. And it's actually more difficult/complicated than it looks.

Essentially. I am trapped in a Russian Language Matrix. Currently decoding and liberating myself from the prison of grammar rules and syntax that has torn asunder my illusions of a simple one to one correlation of how Russian language functions.

Last night I pulled my first all nighter here. I came home napped and then from around 10 or 11 pm until 5 am I employed the help of a Redbull (only my 2nd or 3rd time drinking it in my life) my Russian tutor Ana back home via skype, and my Pocket Russian Dictionary. I got the work done and slept for a couple of hours. Got up told my host mom that I didn't need breakfast went to Sadovaya and had shvormak and then hopped the metro. Took a shower the gym and actually...

Strangest thing just happened I was writing this and then I got "invited out" by some people and I'm just now getting back to it. I'll have to stop here and continue later.

Sorry for falling off on that post earlier. So I went to school right after the gym and I showed up early. I was actually the first one in class. My teacher (the young one) was surprised to see me in class so early and I told her that I wanted to do better in class. I was amazing in class! Best Russian I've spoken yet! I paid attention and could understand 85% of what she was saying and I was really doing well in the class. We were learning about computers and different computer parts and functions.

Anyway, after class we had the Dostoevsky excursion. Which is basically: the neighborhood where Dostoevesky lived and wrote many of his great works including Crime and Punishment. We walked to all the places and on the exact path that Raskolnikov walked at the beginning of the book. So I actually saw where he killed the pawnshop lady and her sister his escape route where he kissed the ground all of those places. The guy who took us on this tour was this old Russian guy who seemed to be very wise. Almost like a sage. Anyway, for all those Crime and Punishment fans out there I just lived your dream. I walked everywhere Raskolnikov walked. I feel like one of Dostoevsky's characters living here though. Knowing that he lived and wrote in the apartment literally right across the street from me. I feel like the novel would be entitled "The Negro of Sadovaya"

A long time ago a lot of Germans lived in this neighborhood too. So there's like some German inscriptions in various places. Plus a few German business are still here. There a STIHL chainsaw and tool store not too far from here. The guys I met later I think one of them were German... That invited me to go out and I knew I shouldn't refuse. You know those Germans. If you don't join their party they'll come get you.

So the tour was great came home and took a nice long nap and had every intention of doing homework when I got up. But what happened was I went to go take the trash out. Met the Russian and I think half German guy and they wanted to hang out with me. So I ran back up and put on some jeans (cause I was wearing my Texas Longhorn shorts) and I grabbed my grammar homework! I was thinking. I'll hang out with these guys and get them to help me with my homework. And we did! We hung out! They helped! Then some girls came. Then people wanted to go into the bar (the one literally on the first floor of this building). One thing led to another... And yeah... So I got back in at an ungodly hour and I realized that I just had a very good cultural practice. I spoke a lot of Russian. Made friends. Took pictures. Cause at the bar I unveiled a few dance moves that I usually keep on reserve for my own personal usage when I'm alone in my room. But the Russians thought I was the King of the Dance floor. And then they played Michael Jackson... I was the only one that knew English... The only Black person... And only American... Do you see where that is going?

Anyway, I'm in tonight though! Mama and anyone else reading this feel free to call me. I'll be here studying away. Not going anywhere.

Strangest thing last night too. The half German kept asking where I was from in Africa and how my family was doing. He was pretty drunk... I explained to him many times that I was a student and I didn't have a wife or kids and that the last time that my family was in Africa was roughly 400 years ago.

Stay Tuned.

Где я буду жить? MTV Cribs Russia.

My Russian workspace. Pictures of Laila and one of my favorite pictures ever of me, Prof. Walker, Scott, and Greg Tate are on my desk.

this is my closet MTV cribs. you'll notice the suitcases are next to the Nike duffle bag which was a gift from my little brother custom made exclusively for me. above them my travel suits. custom made for European countries.

my bed. normally a 10 year old girl sleeps in it. the NBA pillow case is just a little something something I brought from home. I've had it since I was 10.

my room. no carpet=gross nasty.

the gross, ancient, decrepit dog that sleeps literally right outside my door and stinks up the entire place

White People for Dinner

Yesterday I had dinner with some of my host moms strange friends. Tanya was acting really weird as always. I got the vibe that she didn't want to be there. Anyway, there was a woman that had a haircut like a man and that had a kind of manly build. There was another guy that looked kind of silly. He looked like a nerdy computer person but according to everyone at the table he was a musician. And then there was a girl at the end of the table that was very shy and spoke really softly. I couldn't tell how old she was. She could be as young as 16 or maybe even as old as 27. The manly woman and nerdy guy looked like they were in their 40's. I don't think they were a family but they seemed to know each other very well. They all smoked in the kitchen while we were having dinner and it was disgusting.

They were interested in me and where I was from and asked questions about my family. I explained in Russian that I was from Texas and that I was student studying Russian language and everyone was really impressed with how well I spoke Russian. The dinner was really good and we had wine too. I only had one glass and I had to eat quickly cause I had homework but mostly cause I had to get out of the kitchen and away from the smell of cigaret smoke and animals.

I was very cordial and explained that I had a lot of homework that I needed to finish and they understood. They told me to come back and join them when I finished or if I needed help. I needed help but never finished. I heard someone playing the guitar later and everyone was singing along. My host mom is a psychologist by the way. She told me and I also see some psychological evaluation forms (in Russian) on the kitchen table from time to time.

Pet dogs, cats, and turtles are not house-dwelling animals. No matter how much some people may want them to be. Especially if your living space isn't that large. They let the turtle crawl all around the floor of the kitchen he doesn't have a cage or anything.

Seriously. I'm not supposed to wear my shoes in the kitchen (which I don't mind) but the cat is allowed to lick itself clean and leave cat fur everywhere right in the kitchen! And yesterday was the first time I saw the dog with his muzzle off. The top of his nose was disgusting looking! It was all covered in a blueish green pus. It looked like that from all the times he had been trying to take off his muzzle. It was gross. But I think he was given some type of drug cause he was really sedated and didn't bark or bite at me. He made himself very comfortable under the table while I sat and had dinner with the people.

I'm not the only one who requested a non smoking family. To Russians nonsmoking means not smoking in your presence. My babushka, mother, and Tanya smoke like people in Texas keep on the AC in the summer. All the time. I was talking to some girls at lunch and they said that they BOTH requested nonsmoking families and they said at first their host mom didn't smoke but then she started to smoke on their balcony then the living room and now she's gotten comfortable enough to smoke in the kitchen.

My room doesn't have a closest and the kitchen doesn't have cabinets for the dishes and there's no microwave in the house either.

I also did laundry again yesterday. Coin operated laundromats are a rarity in Russia. I asked Sif and he said he's never found one. So I had to let someone else do my laundry again. I LIKE doing my own laundry. And now it's all over my room in various locations drying.

The white people asked if I played an instrument and I told them that I played the trumpet. It's been a while but I've still got it. First Chair 7th AND 8th grade. Symphonic band. I think there's a free concert for students at St. Isaac's tonight. I have to run back to class now. пока!

Pictures. That's the kitchen/living room. The white people were sitting on that couch bed thing and I was on the side of the table by the computer. Imagine sitting in a room where all someone did was smoke 23 hours a day for 364 days a year mix it with gross animal smell and that's what my kitchen/living room smells like.

stay tuned.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sex, Drugs, Rap & Roll

Here homosexuals get lumped in with everything bad. If there's a protest/demonstration against Chechens or some other ethnic minority people hold up signs that say "death to all Chechens, Muslims, and "homosexuals" (they write the "f word")" And they use the f word frequently. There's also a Russian equivalent to that word as well which is really bad. So homosexuals in the United States have nothing to complain about. Gays here can't be out. Much less have a parade. I actually feel safer being Black here than I would if I were gay.

I paid my 4500 rubles for my trip to Moscow. I'm so excited. I've always wanted to be on a really long train ride. All my life. And now I get that experience. I'm pretty excited about the Moscow trip too.

This place still smells and it's not one of those things that you can get used to. I was wondering if there was a laundromat nearby but I couldn't find any. Hang drying clothes sucks. And I just like doing my own laundry.

It's sunny outside today but still cool. I wore a jacket to school this morning because there was an overcast but now it's noon and the sun has come out but the air is still cold.

There's a politician coming to the institute today and he's going to be talking to the students. I have to go back there in about an hour to hear him speak. I think he's the Russian equivalent of a senator or whatever. Which brings me to my next point. Politics, governments, legal systems, laws are all a big joke. If you're ridiculously rich you can do what you want. The Chinese gangsters I saw at the club that night probably had all the cops in this city on payroll. The police here are ridiculously crooked. I've heard multiple stories about people bribing officers so they don't have to face legal charges. It's the exact same in the US but we keep it under wraps. Here it's no secret that for 10,000 rubles you can buy a Get Out of Jail for Free Card.

I'm also about to purchase some tickets to the Мариинский театр (Marinskii theatre) to see the ballet version of Don Quixote. I'm excited about it. The program isn't paying for it I have to pay for it with my own money but I'm really interested in seeing something so spectacular in a Russian theatre. I should be getting my haircut sometime before then so I'll be looking my best when I go to enjoy the show.

Class is almost impossible to understand. I'm not taking the type of class where they'll pause and explain in English. It's just Russian Russian Russian! Like ESL classes. You don't have to know Spanish or Korean to teach people how to speak English. One of my teachers speaks German so every now and then she'll explain a little bit in that and I'll catch it. There's a German girl in my class too. She speaks English perfectly but considers it her 3rd language (after German and French). Everyone in the world wants to learn to speak English. Every time I meet somewhere here all they want to do is practice their English with me. It's annoying and sometimes I pretend like I don't understand so I can just speak Russian with them.

I've also learned that Sif is somewhat of hip-hop/emcee legend here. Firstly, every Black person we see in the city he knows. They're not all from Zimbabwe either. There are lots of people from Cameroon and Nigeria here too. But when we're walking around even white people will come up to him and ask if he was preforming or would be at the club later tonight. He told me when he first got here that all he did was party and go to clubs and that's how he met everyone. But he's settled down since then and now he's really focused on working on writing programs and his jobs.

However! These other Africans he introduced me to might be the type my mom and Ugochi tried to warn me about earlier. They're both college dropouts and all they do is "rap" and work random jobs to get money. Which brings me back to my original theory that 1 in every 3 Black males at some point in time in their life want to become a rapper or think they can rap. That was my original theory. Way back in High School. Before Alchemy, before the Philosophers stone, before Russia, that's what I wanted to be an expert on. And it's valid. Just look at the Dave Chappelle skit about Black people getting reparations for slavery. If that was to happen apparently, "8,000 record labels would be started every hour."

Anyway, I met up with both of these guys with Sif and they both aspire to be rappers in Russia. They rap in both Russian and English and they sound terrible. Their producer is this cracked out Russian kid that looks like a weird hippie and his beats sound like techno with bad samples of Russian singing. Next to someone scratching a chalkboard or a bad violinist their "music" was the worst sounding thing in the universe. I hope they will one day enroll back in college and realize that rapping is not for everyone and it's not a viable career they need be in pursuit of.

The pictures are random. That's me and Peter and those girls are his friends. They were funny cause they only spoke a little English and one of their favorite things to say was "Я Best!" (Я pronounced Yaa) "I Best" They were trying to say either I'm the best or I'm better. And the other one is just some Russian souvenirs.

Stay Tuned.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Siberian kid

Met this kid from Siberia yesterday and he said that before he came here he had never met a black person but heard that some lived here St. Petersburg. And that he was excited about meeting one.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, June 26, 2009


HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAMA! I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH! There's been a lot going on here in Russia lately! I'll blog about it later but this is for you.

The Delayed Post

Randoms. I like the players the Houston Rockets picked up yesterday.

Went to a very interesting Mexican food restaurant. My quesadillas were really good and the "super nachos" were not so good.

We had a trip to this huge palace where Grigori Rasputin was murdered.

The Michael Jackson incident came on too suddenly. I got a text about it and then 5 minutes later a Russian told me "Вы знаете Michael Jackson умер?" translation "Did you know Michael Jackson died?"

I got stuck on the wrong island last night after the bridges went up!* It was in no way shape or form no fault of my own. I was hanging up with some Russian friends of my from the gym. I didn't want to go but Peter's English is so bad he thought I had "promised" him I'd hang out. I should have just stayed here cause I was supposed to coordinate a night out for the Brown students. Anyway, I got stuck but got EXTREMELY lucky!

We stopped a private taxi that was a Lexus in the driver was a 21 year old kid from Kazakhstan named Виталик (Vitalnik). At first I thought I had been set up and that I was about to be taken off somewhere strange and never heard from again but it turns out that things were quite the opposite of that.

He explained to me that Peter was not a very good friend for inviting me all the way out to the island he lives on and forgetting that the bridges go up. We drove around together for a ride that would have normally been way over 5000 rubles searching for a bridge that might be still closed. To no avail. But I got to see how beautiful all the bridges with their lights looked at night opened when opened. We had the best conversation ever. I eventually got back to my apartment at like 4:00 am after we stopped to get something to eat here too. He told me that most Russians will want me to speak english with them so they can practice that I should only speak Russian with them.

I ended up only paying around 600 rubles just for his gas. Which was the best possible scenario ever.

I wrote this in a hurry cause I have to get back to finishing Crime and Punishment. Not going ANYWHERE tonight. I have to finish up a lot of readings.

Stay Tuned.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Trips and Photos!

Secured a trip to Moscow today. I'm most excited for the train ride! When I was a little kid I was OBSESSED with trains. Most students are staying in a student hostel but this one girl from LA her parents are putting her up in a hotel! Word? She doesn't want to have to go back by herself at night and asked if I'd roll back with her for protection. She'll also be staying with another girl there. I paid for a room at the student hostel but if I get a chance to kick it at a baller hotel in Moscow please believe I'm not going to pass it up!

I also met some Russians who were very excited to see me! They were in a wedding pre-photo shoot and they rushed to come shake my hands and get a picture with me! Even one of the bridesmaids wanted to get in on it (she's not pictured) but was really attractive. That's the first picture in the blog below this one. I took a few pictures with them and they shook my hand and thanked me many times and I walked on. I am a big deal.

The second photo below this blog is me and the Bronze Horseman and the Russian Flag in the background. How much more Russian can that photo be?!

The other 3 are at the top of St. Issac's Cathedral which is only 3 blocks away from me! I never even knew! At the top there is the most wonderful view of all of St. Petersburg! It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had here yet! The Cathedral itself is marvelous and it's just one of the many amazing ones in this city. There are so many beautiful Cathedrals!

And I just got a call from my peoples. NO CLASS TOMORROW! Meaning! Amazing night tonight and possibly even a better post tomorrow.

"You've been climbing and climbing and climbing this mountain for four years now. You've reached the top. Now all you can just sit back and enjoy the view and feel good about what you've just accomplished."-Jonathan Edwards on college graduation. I will be feeling that quote in all of it's truthfulness next Spring.

Living Situation

So I know a lot of you may be confused about my living situation. Am I living with a grandmother and her granddaughter or a middle aged woman and her teenage daughter... Well here's what it is. I live with a woman in probably in her 40's who has two daughters. And the grandmother comes over every now and then to cook. Now Posted are pictures of where I live.

The first 5 pictures are from the inside of the building. I live all the way up on the SIXTH floor.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cold Water Works

Russian Museum. Where all of the art lectures that put people to sleep and make Asian kids faint take place. That's my group in the picture. There's some really nice art here.

typical sight. Old people/Gypsies/ethnically ambiguous Asians selling all kinds of fruits and veggies all over the streets. I have like 20 more pictures of different people selling produce.

Sadovaya (Садовая) This is the neighborhood I live in at day time. It's a really cool spot.

So yesterday this quote just clicked in my mind. Maybe it's been said before. Maybe not.

"One of the hardest things to do in life is not break free but break the mindset that imprisoned you in the first place. Learn to think differently."-James H. Williams

With that being said I'll go into what I did today mostly. NO HOT WATER! They cut it off in my section of the city. Luckily I've still got my gym membership!

I woke up today and showed up in class late cause the metro wasn't working correctly. Everyday I take the metro. It's cool cause I get a free newspaper on my way there and I read it on my way to class. My teacher noticed me walking in with it and she told me that I was being a good student for reading in Russia. &smileyfacehere;

Class didn't last long today and I was back where I was staying by 11:30. I decide to take a shower and clean up my room/make my bed. COLD COLD COLD WATER! Not okay! I've never in my life taken a cold shower this cold. Of all places to take a cold shower I'm doing it in Russia. Never ever happening again. I'll be going to the gym a lot more frequently now.

I thought I was here by myself when I got back but apparently Russians think it's okay to leave 10-year-olds alone unattended. Sonya was here and she was on the computer using vkontakte (the Russian version of facebook). She's really into using it and most of the time she's on the computer that's what she's doing. I brought my laptop to show her Cheburashka and she said that she was too old for Cheburashka and that he was for babies (in Russian). I was crushed. I love Cheburashka.

After that I had to run to the Russian Museum for another incredibly boring tour... Well it wasn't too bad today cause we got into Romanticism and I could easily answer all the questions the tour guide was asking the group. I was DEFINITELY feeling myself today. It was a gorgeous, cool summer day outside and I was wearing my Polo shirt with the big horse, my shorts, Ray Bans, and air force ones! What?!

By the way! On the way to the museum on the metro there was an old lady begging for money. People were giving her kopeks (a coin worth less than a penny) and ruble coins and 10 ruble bills. I gave her 100 rubles. Not bragging. It's only about $3.36 cents. And she started thanking me profusely in Russian. All I could say was nichivo (meaning it's nothing; no problem). I haven't really found a church here (sorry mom) and I like to help other people whenever I can.

Awful TERRIBLE news! Apparently I can't take anything out of the country that's more than 100 years old! Which means I will have to smuggle the Icon I saw at the antique store out of the country. Which is an absurd price by the way... I'm still dead fixed on buying it though! It's 19th Century and it's so incredible! My teacher said they don't always check your bags on the way out but there's always the possibility that they may.

I went into a Russian Orthodox Church today and was promptly turned away. I asked if there was somewhere I could pray and maybe my Russian is off but the nun told me "not with us" (translation from Russian). Which in English is a terribly impolite thing to say but Russian is actually a really impolite language.

The church was so amazing though! Just stepping in and seeing the smoke and smelling the incense! If you thought Catholics had impressive rituals/traditions I urge each and everyone of you reading this to go to a Greek/Russian Orthodox Church.

Got back in and Sonya was still here by herself? I asked her where babushka was and she said that she had gone to see someone... I didn't quite understand. She warmed up my dinner on the stove for me though (which had already been prepared) and I asked her if she wanted anything and she told me that she wanted this Russian juice. I went out and got it for her and she thanked me and then she proceeded to go back onto the computer.

Got some words of wisdom coming to you from jjencs next post.

Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


In the words of The Great Allen Iverson, "Practice?!"

Why has my fantastic time here suddenly become consumed by homework and reading? Why do I have to practice grammar in class and sit through boring lectures? It's whack. I'd much rather be going out and around in the city to restaurants, bars, and parks and just living everyday life putting my Russian to use in the real world. I'm so frustrated with having to do all of my work that I don't even feel like doing an elaborate blog. Here are some things about St. Petersburg that are fun facts-

-mullets (men with long hair) 98% of men wear their hair long here. it is the most popular hairstyle here. It's disgusting and I hate it.

-rollerblading is probably more popular than biking. Remember back in the early and mid-nineties when everyone wanted a pair of inline skates. I even had a pair. Well that fad has just caught on here. It's also annoying and strange to see people going up and down the streets in rollerblades.

-There are a lot of older people here that are poor/homeless cause under the Soviet Union government their pensions were all taken care of but when that government phased out many of them lost their retirement funds. Every now and then there will be a group of them somewhere protesting to have the country be the way it used to be 30 or 40 years ago.

-In Petersburg there are only about 60 Sunny days a year. So There are more yellow buildings in this city than almost anywhere else in the world. To say you're by a Yellow building here in this city is like saying you're by a hotdog stand in New York. There are also a lot of pink buildings too.

-I bought a Naruto Manga volume in Russian yesterday. It's really helping me learn to read a lot better.

Also... Uh... Why bother. All you do is skim this for the good stuff anyway. No clubs as of lately. No baller lavish expensive VIP sections. Just books and homework and the smell in this apartment isn't getting any better. Enjoy the pictures.

Stay Tuned.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon in Russia

This happened on Sunday June 21.

I walked the streets in my neighborhood and explored a little bit today. I found an amazing antique store with old Soviet pocket watches and Russian Orthodox Icons and lots of other really cool pieces of Russian history. I'm definitely going to go back there later. I took a picture of one of the Icons I really liked and I'm going to ask my Russian Art History professor who just happens to be one of the worlds leading authorities on Russian Orthodox Art and Icons if it's authentic and what I should pay for it.

On my way back home I stopped to watch two older guys playing chess (шахматы) which is a really popular SPORT here. They sell chess boards and pieces at sports stores. After a while one of them asked me for some money to buy something to drink. It was then that I noticed that he was wearing some really old beat up shoes and that he was probably homeless. I gave him 100 rubles ($3.19). And he instantly became my best friend. He told me that I do not need to call him by his patronymic name and that I should just call him Volya... I really like that name. I told him my name was James and he said, "Jimmy!" I hung out with him and his friends for a while. He was really cool. He spoke basic English and could count but we mostly spoke in Russian. He kept making the Sign of The Cross in Russian Orthodox fashion.* He did this constantly while talking. I enjoyed spending time with him and his friends speaking in Russian. I'm supposed to be meeting them again at the same place today, which is only 50 meters from my apartment and in a very public place.

And who said Russians don't like to be complimented. My host mom got her hair done today and it looked great and I told her many times that I liked it in Russian and once in English. She kind of blushed and I could tell that I made her day when I told her that. And her hair really did look good. I didn't even recognize her when she came and opened the door.

Tell me why I saw several new Sega Genesis Mega Drives in their original boxes at this shopping mall?!

I also met a girl named Ana. She's 22 and just graduated. She's tall kind of slim and has red hair. She saw me watching the guys playing Chess and she came up to me and asked if I wanted to get coffee sometime. I gave her my Russian cell phone number and she seemed really happy. Ana is by no means the first Russian girl to come up and want to talk to me. However, she seemed to be one of the most sincere one's. Hence why I gave her my number. Plus I needed help on my homework that was due today.

We met up at this place called Кафе Хауз (Coffee House) the Russian version of Starbucks. And she proceeded to write out a lot of the answers on my homework for me... She wanted to practice her English so I spoke mostly English with her. She likes to travel and she's been all over Europe. However, (this is the good part) she told me that her tourist visa to the United States has been denied twice. Why? Because she's a single Russian woman that is not going to the US to be a student or on business. What's that look like to our good American friends in the Visa approval office?! Mail Order Russian Bride! She already had two friends go to the United States and get hitched. I've heard many stories about Russian women seeking to get American citizenship via marriage. I live in the most amazing, wonderful country in the world!

I stayed up all night last night studying. I'm actually a terrible student. I'm now in a stage where I have to take the Russian that I know and build on it. I have to add new vocabulary onto what I already know. I just can't keep saying "понятна" when I actually don't get it, "хорошо", and "мне нравиться".

Post cards coming soon. If I you think I don't have your address and you want a postcard e-mail it to me or else you won't get one.

Stay Tuned.

*In the Russian Orthodox Church they make The Sign of The Cross with two fingers. It looks really cool. I do it when I pray before every meal.

Moscow Never Sleeps (Song)

Okay! So I was at the bar right next to my house one night and I heard this amazingly beautiful song! It was like a week ago. I couldn't get the name from the DJ cause this Russian girl kept asking me questions. Anyway. I thought the hook was "thugs from outer space" and I went back home and googled it and didn't find anything. But last night the song came back on at the bar Sif works at and I was more excited than a 5 year old in a Candy and Ice cream store. I got the name of the song from him and as soon as I got home this morning I found it online and downloaded it. It's called "Moscow Never Sleeps" by DJ Smash. I might be falling in love with European techno trance music. The girl isn't saying you're beautiful either it's- Я люблю тебя. Yaaaa l00-blue tee-byah! translation I love you. Москваааааа- Moscowwwww. And it's not thugs from outer space it's Moscow never sleeps. Enjoy it. I know you will. My taste in music is impeccable. I grew up listening to my sisters eclectic collection and every classical work ever composed with my grandpa.


Walk in the Park

What do I have in common with an elderly Russian woman and her ten year old granddaughter? That was the question running thorough everyones mind today at the Park.

I have to do this quickly cause I've got homework but the pictures should explain it all.

I went on a walk in the park today with my babushka and her granddaughter Sonya. My babushka told me that she was from Ukraine and that she came to St. Petersburg and studied electrical engineering and then worked as an engineer for several years and then as a typist from home because she had children.

We went on a walk in the park and it was absolutely beautiful! The weather is so gorgeous today! The park is only a couple of blocks down the street from here and the first time I saw it there was some type of formal military ceremony taking place. There was the lake and people were relaxing and it was so nice! I wish the walkways were paved and not dirt though.

Random. This Russian guy comes up to me and tells me in Russian that he likes how I look.

Sonya brought her pet mouse. She keeps it on her shoulder 90% of the time (even at home). At the park she let it run around in the grass a little bit. She wanted some ice cream after we finished walking around the park. I explained fathers day to them but they said they don't have it here. They have family day and women's day though.

It's actually really funny now that I think about it. Imagine. Me and those two walking around a park together in Russia.

Anyway, we had to leave because my babushka had to go see her other daughter that lives in another part of the city and I walked back home with Sonya. And now I'm here and now I've to do homework.

Stay tuned.

Мой Отец (My Father)/Fatherhood

Happy Father's Day Dad! The first part of this blog is just for you. Just a list of a few things I've noticed in Russia that you might be interested in.

Logging here is really slow and primitive. I was watching a news report on some logging going on not far from Petersburg and they were using outdated equipment and it's hard to find workers. I saw a loader that moved only one tree at a time by grabbing it longways. Logging here would be better but it's so cold that you can only cut 2 or 3 months out of the year. I talked to Sif about it and he said that Russia would have a lot more money if they could cut trees at least 2 or 3 more months out of the year. And because the wilderness is so vast and uncharted there's a lot of loggers that get in trouble for cutting into government or private land. The Russian word for lumberjack is лесоруб. les-or-ub.

Sports in Russia are major. I had the most difficult time ever trying to explain baseball to my host family. They were really interested in how it was played. The most popular sport is soccer. And at the gym I've joined I've seen a lot female tennis players working out. They take their training really seriously. I'm sure some girl in there will be the next Anna Kournikova. Playing basketball in Russia is simple. The only defense I've run so far has been a zone. At first it was hard to orient myself to the post position cause the lines are slightly different but I figured it out. And boxing is also semi-popular.

And finally! I know you like to explore when you go to a new city so I bought a guidebook that let's me fill in all the places that I've been and make my own maps. I've recorded the addresses and metro stops of all of the interesting places I've been. And if you ever decide you want to travel here I've got a book filled with all of the best places to go!

Regularly scheduled blog starts here.

Happy Fathers day to my boy Sif! He told me on Friday that he's actually a father to a seven month year old Russian girl. He's very proud of her and he showed me pictures and everything. I now understand why he works so hard. He has a family to support. That's right. He's also married to the mother. And I know what you're wondering. Is she white? Yes. She is. According to him her parents accept him and he's had no problems. The daughter even has his patronymic name. He doesn't want to raise the baby in this country so after he finishes his Masters he's going to move to somewhere like Australia or Japan and develop his programming.

We had an amazing conversation Friday about Russia, Zimbabwe, and just life in general. He has some very interesting views on Mugabe. The party that is opposing Mugabe is backed and funded by the British... If you want to know more about that e-mail me. And whenever someone would say something in Russian at the bar he'd ask me if I understood. If I didn't he'd explain. He told me where I could get a haircut! Which I am eternally grateful for. He calls me Jimmy and so do other Russians. I'm Jimmy to Russians that speak British English. I'm James to only a handful of people and Russians that just speak Russian call me Женя (Zhenya).

Happy Fathers Day once again to everyone!

Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where to Start?

The Sunrise is behind me and the Harvard students are in front of me. I took this at approximately 4:20 am.

Obama is behind Clinton.

Today was one of the most insane days to date. Starting with-

I woke up this morning with the dog whining annoying loud and cat scratching at my door. I go to the kitchen and they rush in. I just wanted to leave them in there so they'd leave me alone. I went back to my room and then decided to get breakfast. I go back into the kitchen and all hell had broken loose. The dog tore into the trash and it was all over the kitchen floor. I sweep it up a little but I was definitely NOT going to not bag it all back up. Turns out these animals are just starving cause no one has fed them today. I go back to wash the dishes I used for breakfast and the dog jumps up on me and bites/barks. This is just another day in my life here. I've got 35 more here.

Why is it so cold here!? Seriously! I was freezing when I went outside! My body got used to it but it's ridiculous for it to be that cold in June! I'm so happy I got a jacket before I left on sale at the Gap.

My host grandmother even agreed with me about the weather! She just came back from her trip to the country with her granddaughter. She said the weather was horrible and there was a lot of rain and that the kids could only swim in the lake one of five days they were there. She also told me how much more she liked me than the French student that was staying here before. She said he didn't talk much to the family at all and that he was very secluded. I like talking to her. She lived in Israel for a while and if I ask her anything (language, history, about her family, her life) she's always willing to tell me.

So I studied straight from 5pm until 12am. I stopped once to eat dinner at 9. And then I worked on it some more with Sonya (my host moms youngest daughter age 10) at the dinner table for a while. Came back to my room and got back on it. But I heard music and singing and loudness from the streets all night. Couldn't maintain focus and concluded my extended study session.

Imagine all of New Yorks high school students going to one huge prom that took place in the streets of Manhattan. That was last night. Russian High School graduation just took place and their version of "prom" was last night. Which consisted of high school seniors going absolutely nuts in the streets and turning all of the major streets in this area into a block party. It was a Quinceañera multiplied ten fold and an MTV Sweet Sixteen multiplied a 100 fold. Hands down the most ridiculous gathering of drunk teenagers running the streets in an array of colorfully fabricated dresses crimsons of seas and teal blues and the young military cadets in their uniforms and the guys that don't go to military school in their suave cool European style suits. People were running around with Russian flags (lots of people) and screaming like Jesus was in concert with Jay-Z and The Beatles.

I was walking to the Bar Sif works at when all of this was occurring. I moved there as quickly as possible. One false move or if someone had thrown something the streets would have erupted in violence and I might have ended up on the wrong end of an angry Russian mob.

Kicked it at the Bar with Sif and laid low until I knew there would be enough light to move around safely outside. Left with a group of students from Harvard and on the way back I saw all the damage that had been done. Beer cans trash, garbage, destruction of things like windows, phone booths, ect. Pandemonium.

And then it happened. This dude was just chilling and some guy taps him on the shoulder. And when he turns around he's met with a mean right cross. I saw it in slow motion when it happened. This guy LEANS into him strong with it. Like he was cocking his right back when he had tapped him with his left. The kid stumbles back and falls and then the guy starts kicking him. What then ensued was 3 of each of their friends also getting into it and the fight turning into a messy pileup. I didn't stop and stare! Cause I wasn't about to have anyone say there was a tall Black guy at the scene in a Yankees cap here to when the cops came. Plus the Harvard girls I was with were scared and kept it moving like the laws of inertia.

The sunrise was also breathtaking today.

After that I split up with the Harvard girls to get something to eat cause I was hungry. I walked by some maybe central Asian, Uzbekistan-looking cab drivers and one started to chant "Obama, Obama, Barak Barak Obama!" And then a couple of more chimed in. It felt kind of good. And on the way back after I had grabbed a bite I heard one of them chant it again. I also saw an Obama Matreshka doll (Russian nesting doll) at this souvenir store one day.


Stay tuned.

On the run

If this works I can now update everyone when I'm out and about in the city. I forget a lot of things that happen so on the fly posting will be really good. Great blog coming up for tomorrow though. Check out the new pics I've uploaded!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, June 19, 2009

Always Keep an Umbrella/Snacks

I think my host sister is trying to kill me! She cooked rice and chicken and of course the tomatoes and cucumbers and it all tastes awful! My host grandma when she was here cooked the best. Her daughter/my host mom Анастасия Михайловна (Anastasia Mikhailovna) cooks okay but the middle of my eggs in the morning are runny. I usually just eat the bread for breakfast with butter and I had some oatmeal bars my mom packed me but I finished those Wednesday. I take the eggs with school with me and have them with lunch. I usually don't even eat all of them. And I've just learned that the granddaughter/daughter Таня (Tania) cannot cook to save her life! I'm sitting here now with a plate of food in front of me that is disgusting.

Speaking of bad cooking I've devised an antidote! I made oatmeal this morning! And it was so good! I'm just going to tell her that I'll make my own breakfast every morning.

I saw a homeless person pick up a half smoked cigaret off the street today and start to smoke it. This country is just so (you insert a word here).

And it's cold! I've worn a jacket everyday! I know I'm in Russia but come on! Jackets in the middle of June?! It's preposterous!

Let's continue to talk cuisine. Two Restaurants this week. We first went to this baller Japanese Sushi Restaurant with the most Americanized name ever. "Oh! Sushi!" (it was wri But the sushi was fantastic! They even served filet mignon for only $12. I didn't order but I plan on going back and trying some. And I already mentioned the Georgian one. The pics I posted are of Georgian Foods. The lamb and chicken were crack! Although, I've had better prepared lamb before. Chicken was on point. And that bread! Was so delicious! I had like two plates of it!

We went to the Restaurant for this girl in our groups birthday. I should be a professional toaster. After I raised my glass to her and a few other things you could tell that she was feeling extra special. What can I say? I words have way with.

Still not sure what I should do with this plate of food next to me...

I almost brought my umbrella today but decided against it. Dumb idea. I get to the gym go to the school. Pick up my homework Do all these normal things and the weather is beautiful. I go down to the metro. And when I come back up at my stop it's pouring. And I'm just like "Why God?" So I sprint from the metro to my apartment building and I get in and the smell that hits you when you walk in was worse than usual. And the elevator was acting strange so I had to go up a bizillion flights of crooked stairs in a building that smells like urine and cigarets and that I was afraid of running into someone in the building cause they'd think I was robbing the place.

I think I'm just going to scoff this stuff down and then go run and meet up with Sif at the Hooka bar he works at. The cucumbers taste like dirt dude! She just cut them and didn't even wash them! I can't tell if she hates me or if she's just anti-social. I'm really nice around the house! I swear! I help them move heavy stuff. Carry groceries in! I use вы (formal) instead of ты (informal) (like vous and tu in French) even with the animals! Having a big strong southern gentleman around the house is the best thing that ever happened to this family!

My theory is she loathes men because her father left her mom or maybe it's cause I'm Black. Or maybe she just doesn't like me living here. Who knows. She can be cool at sometimes and other times not so cool. I'm slightly overreacting. We mostly just don't interact that much. That's all.

Anyway, got to eat this Russian culinary calamity then make moves.

Stay tuned.

Why Russia?

Me and Sif. He's been here 5 years and has been able to tell me a lot about the Black experience here in the Russian Federation.

A lot of people have been asking where my interest in Russia came from. The answer is simple. Professor Walker.

It all started my Freshman year when I saw this pamphlet in his office entitled "The Negroes in A Soviet America" written in 1935 by James W. Ford. I had always thought anything Soviet or Communist was a bad thing. And they pretty much are. BUT I would have never put Black people, Soviet, and American in the same sentence.

Fast-forward a year. (Sophomore Fall) I'm taking a Russian Literature course and I want to use the pamphlet for our group presentation. Professor Walker actually LENDS it to me and I take it to class and we use it for our presentation. I really enjoyed the Russian Literature class. It was focused on Blacks in Russia. We read a lot of really good books and articles in the class and if you put in a lot of work you got a lot out of it.

(Sophomore Spring) I have to pitch a research project to the Mellon Mays board to become a Mellon Mays Fellow. If they like what I am researching I'll get $10,000 over two years to complete that research project plus they'll help me prepare for graduate school. This was one of the most crucial moments of my life. I wasn't sure WHAT I was going to do with my life. As a history major I knew I had options but things concerning the future just seemed to be very obscure to me. I knew that if I could get this I'd have something I could focus on and work towards.

Coming into college I had a fascination with Alchemy and the Philosophers Stone. After taking the most amazing European History class ever my Freshman Spring I was dead set on studying the Czech language and doing a semester in Prague my junior year. I wanted more than anything to learn about the history of science and the point in time in history when people changed from believing in God and The Church to believing in Science and rationalism. I was working on figuring out a way to interweave the two and I was on the verge of going into some deep research as to how The Holy Trinity and the Philosophers Stone were not just related but the exact same thing.

I wanted to propose that to the Mellon Board. However, someone advised me that no one was going to give me money to research "magic, witchcraft, and wizardry"and that pretty much of deflated my dream of continuing to do research in my original field of interest.

I didn't get to go to Prague cause one of my ADVISORS told me I don't need to learn another language cause everyone else in the world speaks English. True. But terrible advice.

So I go back to Professor Walker and ask him what I should pitch as my research topic. And without pausing to think he told me that I should do Blacks in Russia because I had taken a class on in last semester. HELLO! Genius idea. I asked other people what they thought about it and they said that it was a genius idea as well. I asked my homie Beau (a senior and also a Mellon Fellow) if he thought I should propose a research project on alchemy or if I should do Blacks in Russia. As soon as I said Blacks in Russia he told me that was the one to roll with. So I rolled with it. I got the fellowship and funding. And have been rolling with it ever since.

I have not always been completely ignorant of Russia. Before I knew anything about Russian history in college I had always been impressed with the history of the Russian Ballet. I also saw a film in high school about the Cold War that was pretty cool too. There was one scene showing some Russian sailors laughing at a short film depicting a spoof of the Ku Klux Klan and that they basically thought American racism was ignorant.

So. My interest in Russia started pretty much on a whim. A pamphlet in my professors office and a Russian Literature class.

I've decided to write my Honors Thesis on James Ford and will see where Russia, Russian History, and knowing Russian will take me.

Stay Tuned.

что вы хотите дедушка?

this is the video of the guy that I was talking about earlier! he thinks I'm being kidnapped and wants to help me! hahaha! "tell me which one of these people hit you"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Collective Occurrences

This is the front of the Russian Museum. With all the paintings and Russian art inside. Really nice.

Happy Birthday Miss Melissa Logan! С Днем Рождения! And Happy Juneteenth!

I've been writing sporadically on here. Cause my wireless comes and goes and I have a lot of work. But let's not get into work. Let's talk about more entertaining, interesting, and impressive aspects of this week/trip.

We had another trip to the art museum yesterday. After another 2 and a half hours of boring lecture time with our tour guide that still speaks incredibly slow in English and will lecture on one painting for 30 minutes I rushed to find the Soviet avant-garde art and I couldn't find it. I was slightly upset. There was a really scary moment when this kid in our group passed out in the museum. The guy was talking very slowly and dully and all of a sudden I hear a loud BANG! And I'm like, "I hope no one saw me touch that statue earlier..." But it turns out it was this Asian kid in our group that I guess had been standing for too long and didn't have enough blood circulating to his head. He had to leave the group but he was okay when I saw him at school today. In a way I sort of envy him. He's lucky for not having to suffer through the rest of the tour.

On the metro. This is a huge city. And there's apparently a huge military academy here so there are a lot of Russians my age that walk around in uniform. I see at least 20 everyday. And a group of 3 of them helped this guy in a wheelchair get up some steps. They had moved on when the guy in the wheel chair came to the next set. I got the attention of this other guy that I was walking with in the program. (from Dallas, Texas. goes to Stanford) We picked up the wheel chair and moved the guy down the steps. I've seen a lot of amputees here. Mostly people missing one or both legs. I don't go to New York much but I don't remember seeing this many people with missing limbs there.

People here stink too. It's gross. Europeans and baths apparently don't mix. I would say 1 in every 20 people have body odor. Maybe the hot water in their part of the city has been shut of for maintenance... Every house has their hot water shut off for two weeks in the city for maintenance during the summer.

We went to this delicious Georgian (the country not the state) restaurant today and it was so incredible! The food was really Mediterranean and I enjoyed it a lot. I'm going to tell my Russian tutor Ana back home all about it. Fun fact! Georgia hasn't really been "together" as a country since medieval times.

Sif told me that learning Russian is difficult but one morning I am going to wake up and say, "Oh. My goodness. I can speak Russian!" and that it will be one of the best feelings in the world. Very much so looking forward to that day.

The dog here still hates and wants to attack me. The cat still tries to get into my room. I bought some oust and I spray it in here frequently so the smell in my room is not so bad anymore. I also did laundry for the first time. Having to hang dry clothes indoors takes 2 days! So annoying!

The days are getting longer and longer. It's 12:53 at night and the sun is still out.

Last Friday was Russian Independence Day. I talked to my host mom about it and she seemed confused about the Holiday because she said that Russia has never been under control of any other country (true). So I suggested that maybe independence day is the celebration of self independence and being an individual. And she busted out laughing... Reason number 267 no one should ever complain about America.

Seriously. Imagine transitioning from the Soviet Union to just a normal state again. Just imagine that. The more and more I find out about the Bolsheviks take over the less I like it. People are always talking about overthrowing a government and "power to the people" blah blah blah! Empower yourself. Even people living under the most repressive governments can read, pray, and exercise mind and body in their home.

I don't have class tomorrow! I was considering celebrating thirsty Thursday with my comrades but decided to stay here and work on my homework. Plus I've got all weekend to wild out!

My Russian is still improving. Playing basketball with Russians helps. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable to throw elbows in the Europe. And no one dribbles. We just spread the floor and pass.

I'm rambling so I'll conclude here.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rain Rain

I wrote this in a hurry cause I gotta study.

So it's been raining non stop for the past 24 hours. How much rain you ask? The canal outside my apartment has risen at least 5 feet since yesterday. The water covers half of the stairs leading down to where you would get on a tour boat. This weather reminds me of the 1824 St. Petersburg flood that Pushkin mentions in his poem "The Bronze Horseman."

...PS so happy I got that umbrella now. Definitely worth every ruble.

I'm making friends like no other. The guy that sold me the gym membership is an engineering student and also his grandmother teaches English and Russian literature. Really cool guy. He was the one that really encouraged me to go to the Ghostface Killah concert. Long story short. We became friends and we went to McDonalds and I talked to him in broken Russian and he talked to me in broken English. He's from Novogrod and he loves American French and German hip-hop. Mostly American though. We're supposed to be going to a soccer game (Moscow vs. St. Petersburg). He explained to me that St. Petersburg fans were not very okay with Black people. I don't know if I still want to go after hearing that. But he's a good guy. His name is Peter.

By the way. I still get looks in public. I guess it makes sense though... I guess white people that visit Lagos have similar experiences...

And I'm more familiar with how racism here works. I literally live in the center of St. Petersburg. What would be the equivalent of Manhattan. In my research (yes. I'm still doing it) I've noticed that most racist attacks occur on the outskirts and outside of the city. Like in little hick towns. I still keep my head on a swivel and my eyes wide open but I'm in a safer area than I thought.

Sad story. A newborn baby died when his mom left for a few days and he and his other older siblings ages 4 and 6 were left in the care of their grandmother and father (both alcoholics). The baby died he/she wasn't fed. The older kids survived by eating the left over alcohol chasers bread and juice... That's kind of sort of how this country is outside of moscow and st. petersburg.

HILARIOUS! HILARITY! I got into a Sauna today for the first time (maybe in my life) and there was this big burly Russian man in there. I had NO IDEA that saunas were so hot! So I'm just sitting there. Not able to breath very well cause the air is so humid and hot. And then the big burly Russian man pours a gourd of water onto the steam maker thing and the temperature in the room jumps up another 70 degrees! After that he turns to me and says "Ещё!?" to which I replied "Нет! Очень жарко!" And he hit his chest two times really hard and looked at me dead in the face and said "Хорошо! Хорошо!"

Burley Russian man: Do you want more!?
Me: No! It's very hot!
Burley Russian man: That's good! That's good!

I sat it out in that place for about 10 minutes and lost out about 20 gallons of sweat.

Worked out like crazy today and I'm ridiculously sore.

I want to write more. I can write more. And I will. I have to do homework now and study study study STUDY! This grammar.

Stay Tuned

Monday, June 15, 2009

Healthy and On Schedule

The picture with the sunshine was taken roughly 30 minutes before the picture with the rain from the bus was taken.

I have cucumbers and tomatoes with EVERY dinner. And I'm starting to get on a better schedule in terms of studying, working out, and free time. I got an A on my first assignment!

I'm studying harder and really trying to devote more time to focusing on grammar. I'm happy the Lakers won. Kobe is the best basketball player in the world.

The Russian news report here today said that the Laker fans in LA partied like "gangsters" and showed clips of LA fans in the streets going crazy.

I was called 50 Cent Sunday on the Metro. I still get looks from lots of people. Especially kids. They're not hateful looks or looks of disapproval it's like "elephant in the room" kind of look.

But my diet here is ridiculously healthier than I've ever been in my life. Plus joining the gym? I'm going to come back looking like Dwight Howard... Not how he was looking last night but how they'll depict him on the cover of NBA LIVE 2010! Can't wait for that to come out! I'll be first in line to purchase it for my PS3.

I have my first exam on Wednesday. I'm so ready for it.

The weather here is schizophrenic. I woke up with all cloudy skies and light showers. Got to school and it was sunny and too hot for the jacket I was wearing. About halfway through the tour we were on it started getting cloudy and dark again. It started to rain and we (the group) voted on just driving around the rest of the tour and not walking.

I got to get some sleep. Gym at 8:00am!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

American Cultural Imperialism (Thank God!)

The McDonalds here is the best thing to happen to me since I've been here. It is so delicious! Way better than any American McDonalds! And the Sprite was the perfect mixture of syrup and carbonated water. It wasn't flat or disgusting like the Sprites from McDonalds in France. It was lemon and lime harmonization perfected.

There were these two kids I saw on my way back listening to some surprisingly good sounding Russian hip-hop and I turned around and pointed at them and kind of gave them a thumbs up and their faces lit up like Christmas!


I started this blog a while back and saved it. We went on a tour of the city today. I had seen some of the spots already when I was exploring with some of the other Brown students earlier.

I almost forgot that I'm here to be a student. But now I'm going to get really serious about doing well in my class and mastering as much Russian as I can this summer. I'm picking up words and phrases here and there but the grammar is still escaping me. I have two Russian language teachers. One is young and she talks so impossibly fast! (The classes are all in Russian) And my other teacher is older and she talks nice and slow and I do really well with her. She probably thinks I'm the best student in the language class cause I can converse with her and answer questions in class easily. The younger teacher spits off Russian words like a gatling gun spits off rounds. She probably thinks I'm the worst student in the class.

The poverty here is so grimy. Contrary to how busted up and disgustingly awful my apartment smells there's still a lot more worse places the further away you get from the center of St. Petersburg. The majority of Russia's wealth is concentrated into Moscow and St. Petersburg. The further away you get the more depressing and awful things get... Another reason I think the United States is kind of on top of things in terms of administration and quality of life. If Huntsville, Texas was in Russia I'd probably be a farmer and alcoholic.

The metro is MADNESS during rush hour in the afternoon! I'm from the country and I've never had to take metros and buses. So getting around reading the signs and stops in Russian on one of the worlds largest metro systems is a huge leap for me.

And the Taxi's here! Are absolutely ridiculous! You just stop a RANDOM UNMARKED car in the street and negotiate a price and you go off to your destination. There are some cabs with yellow things on top indicating they are a legitimate cab but cabs don't have meters in them! Pricing with cab drivers is best negotiated by people that know the city and know how much things should cost.

Anyway! I'm about to get very serious about my homework and things of that nature. Dinner time...

Stay Tuned