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

Finally Famous

Allow me to get ahead of myself for the time being.

I just got back from school. I just walked into my room. I just finished talking to some of the girls from Harvard who just got back from Moscow who were going to the mall to see a movie (The Proposal). They all looked very pleasant. And they said they really enjoyed Moscow. They're here for another week.

Before that. I was met by a Russian about my age. He came up to me and addressed me as Jimmy. He spoke no English and I was perplexed at how he might know who I am. Maybe he's friends with one of the many Russians I've taken a picture with. Maybe he knows Sif. Maybe he was mistaking me for another 6'5 (192cm) Jimmy. But he was not. He knew exactly who I was.

I asked him (in Russian) how he knew me and he said from Club Bubbles. You don't know the story of my triumphs there this past Saturday but you will when I get back from running some errands. He shook my hand and called his friend and told him that he was standing right next to me. I couldn't make the rest of the conversation out but he had to go. He shook my hand again and bounced.

Today is a beautiful sunshiny day. I did quite well in class and now I'm about to run to Nevsky Prospect and try and get my Ray Bans repaired. Following that I will return here and depending on how I'm feeling complete the Novgorod post/this past Saturday night or work on some of my new research I've been compiling.

I am not a blogger by any means. I am a writer. I am a narrator. I just happen to know how to use a blog as an effective way to communicate with all 2 people that read this.

Stay Tuned

Sunday, July 19, 2009


There's a draft in the works about my Novgorod trip (which was great!) but for the time being I'll put fill you in on what occurred yesterday.

Slept in really late partly because of events that took place the night before which were all very much so enjoyable. Woke up. Dilly dallied around my room and on my computer. It's a gift and a curse to have internet here. I'm one of the few students with a wi-fi connection. Everyone else must go to a cafe or they have to buy a one month wireless subscription with the same company that does our Russian cell phones (Beeline). It's actually a pretty good deal. The company gives you a portable USB modem (about the same size as a flash drive) and for about a ruble a day you can connect to the internet.

I made an outline of work I wanted to get done and then I went into the kitchen and saw that my babushka had laid out breakfast for me. It had been sitting there since early this morning. I didn't want to eat the eggs so I cracked a few of them and left the egg shells but threw the actual eggs out. I re-toasted the toast and put butter on it and it actually wasn't half bad. And then I boiled up some hot water for the oatmeal she left me.

I basically have the house to myself now. She comes in the mornings and spends the nights but that's about it.

That was just her. She just came in from walking the dog. I asked her if she could just make me oatmeal and toast.

(Back to Sunday) I decided to step out for a little bit and get something to eat. I had some borsch at this popular chain of restaurants here in St. Petersburg. Borsch is really delicious. It's typically beet soup with sour cream in it. The borsch I had yesterday wasn't made entirely from beets. It was a variant. But it was still really good! It was served up nice and warm and tasted like a delicious beef stew but not as thick. Seasoning was perfect and I loved it. I also had some delicious shaverma as well.

Gotta go fast now cause I have to get ready for school.

After that I stopped by the corner store that I always go to to get some water. And I'm not sure why but it's ridiculously cheap here. 2 Liters cost only about $1. Anyway, this guy working there comes up to me and asks, "brother where are you from?" and I said I'm American. He asked me where my ancestors were from. Once again. I was at a loss for words. I told him that my family had lived in America for many many many years. He seemed kind of envious of that. I wanted to tell him that he need not be. Things only just got good for us about 35-40 years ago...

I came back home and kind of sort of studied for the exam that I will have in about an hour. And then after that my babushka came home and cooked for me. She was at the beach all day with her friends. It's kind of weird that yesterday was my last Sunday here this summer. I know I'll be back though.

Exam time is today (not last week like I thought). So send up a Hail Mary for me and I'm going to do my best.

PS- I wish my babushka wouldn't say "the breakfast is ready" (in english) every morning...

stay tuned.

Russian Countryside (Novgorod)

my hotel room
out in the Russian countryside
old russian wooden chapel
another old Russian wooden chapel
the monastery. the first place we went to. one of the oldest churches in Russia.
A lot of people here ask me if Obama is a Muslim... And I say no... Then some ask me if I'm a Muslim and I say no... The most persistent people ask if I'm protestant and I say yes.

Taboo topic update at the very end.

Novgorod was another great weekend away from Petersburg. Stayed up all night and didn't sleep because I was finishing a paper. It wasn't a major problem I knew I could sleep on the bus to Novgorod. I was one of the first one at the school at 8am. After rushing quickly to be there on time! I forgot my camera but the camera on my phone works just fine. Plus I used Roses' camera (she's a student here too).

The weather was nice and overcast and I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of DJ Screw and that good old southern sound that is so familiar to me. A major source of annoyance was the fact that on the way there a bunch of drunk Russians kept stopping me and saying, "what's up homie!?" and "yo man!" I've never been up at this time on a Friday cause I typically don't have classes but basically Russians go nuts on Thursday nights and stumble around the streets on Friday mornings...

Anyway, my iPod/DJ Screw worked better than the best Anesthesia. I was reminded of my high school hooping days... On the bus. Music. Going in and out of sleep. Slightly upset cause I woke up when the bus stopped but then fell asleep before I knew it. We finally made it to Novgorod and it reminded me of Huntsville, Texas (my hometown). The population is about 200,000 and it's by no means a small town like Huntsville but it's definitely got a country charm and feel to it.

Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia and there's a lot of history there and blah blah blah it's over 1000 years old. It was an old capital. Just wikipedia it!

I lucked up and got a hotel room to myself cause the kid that dislocated his knee could not come. The hotel room was very nice. Check the picture. We had lunch and I had a very delicious drink that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world. I don't know what it was but it was really sweet and the fruits in it I couldn't distinguish. But I guess there were some berries and something else really fruity.

After that we went on a tour of the countryside which looks just like the countryside in East Texas. I felt at home. We went to see the old churches and were some of the places where monks studied. Afterwards we went to an old Russian village. There was a traditional Russian wedding taking place and it was very lighthearted and joyful. It was informal and if I wanted to I could have joined into the celebration as well as anyone else... At the village (a recreation) they moved old wooden buildings from areas surrounding Novgorod and reassembled them here. by the way, I hit my head like 20 something times on this trip too. On the bus and in the small old village houses. I'm really tall so and I was around of low arches and entryways. For a second I thought I wished I was shorter... that life would be easier... then I snapped back to reality. Being a giant is fun.

I felt like a little kid in the country again. Me and some of the other students walked into the field. I some long straw grass and chewed on it. And enjoyed the far awayness of the city. Breathed in the county air. Not cigaret, polluted smog. Listened to song birds. Not pigeons. Looked out on an endless stretch of fields and water. And not out on the rooftops and chimneys and streets I see from my top floor view in my room here in Petersburg. I felt like I was who I am.

We headed back towards the city after I searched the country gift shops for hours looking for a wooden or lumberjack gift for my dad... To no avail. But when we got back to the city I found something.

I was told of a very special type of beer that was served in Novogord. It was very sweet and made with honey. I as well as several other students wanted to try it. So I appointed myself head of the excursion and we set out to find the legendary beer of Novgorod.

And I think I'll stop here to keep you waiting.

When I finish about Novgorod I'll talk about the excursion, my night there, and the next day, and the bus ride back. plus my last Saturday night here in Petersburg...

The Taboo Topic is still under review but I'm making progress with it. Not official progress but I've come up with some theories of my own to work things out.

Stay Tuned

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Бабушка и Я (Grandmother and Me)

**skip the details and find these asterisks if you don't want to read some non-cohesive nonsense.

So things aren't as bad as what they were when I posted that overly dramatic post this morning. I was just frustrated cause I stayed up all night and didn't do nearly as much work as I wanted to and then I kind of slept in and went to class really late.

Today was pretty typical. I did well in both of my classes. I'm behind on a lot of the homework but I'm going to take care of all of it on the way to Novgorod (I can never pronounce that name) tomorrow.

Right now I'm FINALLY finishing up postcards. Promise. Cross my heart this time. And working on this midterm too.

It just hit me that tomorrow is my last week here (for this summer) I am going to take advantage of every opportunity I get before I leave here. But! Back to the topic at hand! My day.

Everyone at school was kind of worried cause my friend that I joined the gym with dislocated his knee there yesterday. He texted me first and I wanted to go see him yesterday but I couldn't find the hospital. I just sent him a text right now.

I came back on the metro and sent out a few e-mails but then started working. I had dinner with my host grandmother (бабушка) and we talked. I noticed she was wearing two Crosses. I think she's actually Christian. We talked in Russian and dinner was really good. I told her that I was going to go with my school to Novgorod this weekend. I always mispronounce the word though. It came out as the Russian words for New Years. It was kind of funny.

After dinner I got my laundry out and it's now hanging all over my room. And I've been sitting here scribbling out my last few post cards and working on this midterm.

Since I've been in Russia I've seen some things that I really like. I like the fact that parallel parking is practically non existent. As a matter of fact people here actually park on the sidewalks. Which I think proves my theory. Small states like Rhode Island you have to squeeze in everywhere. A big state like Texas there's so much space there's no need for parallel parking. I actually failed that on my exam and till this very day probably cannot successfully parallel park. Here it's the same way. You just pull up to the curb (or on it) and park.

No one has a cell phone bill here. At every metro and almost every corner store or any public space there is a machine in which you add rubles to your cell phone. 100 rubles usually lasts a while. I kind of like this system. At these machines you can also pay for your internet and television as well. They're really convenient and something very different from anything I've seen in the United States.

I've also seen a lot of Gothic kids here. Which I think is extraordinarily strange. What breeds that type of culture? Why dress up in dark clothes and wear spiky jewelry and basically look like a circus sideshow act? It is beyond me. But not beyond the United States. I thought it was just an American teenager thing but apparently it's not.

Back to babushka. Apparently she lives in Israel 9 months out of the year and helps one of her daughters with her children there. I think someone finally took out the dogs old dirty pillow/sheets he's been sleeping... I mean dying on outside of my room. It doesn't smell so bad here anymore. There's still a smell. And it'll be on my clothes and luggage when I get back to the states so you can see for yourself that I'm not making this up.

Oh yeah! Yesterday I also met one of the Harvard professors here! It turns out that I've actually read some of her work before! She really took a liking to me as we rode the metro together and I told her about my research and she thought it was fascinating. (crossing fingers for Harvard grad school) Anyway, she's really nice and hopefully I'll get to talk with her more before I leave.

So the bus we're taking for Novgorod leaves at 8:00 am tomorrow. Typically I've been the last one to make it to the bus for our excursions (no fault of my own) but I'm determined to be there early.

Things have gotten really mixed up and crazy these past couple of weeks. Without my gym membership I kind of have been thrown off schedule and I've got a 4 inch stack of grammar homework that I need to finish. Plus I keep writing a few postcards. Stopping. Putting the addresses on them. I'm doing a lot basically. Okay. So my blog today is sloppy. Very sloppy. I'm going to attempt to better connect my thoughts on the posts from this weekend.

**The official word is: Everything is cool! I've got plan as to how I'm going to manage my time for my last week here so that I satisfy myself, my teachers, and everyone else. And I like living here with my Babushka. And that's it.

Stay Tuned.

More Suffering

me and my host mom. she wanted to take this picture yesterday. she really likes me. I told her goodbye this morning. I also shaved the woolliness off my face.

I woke up this morning to find both my host mother and host sister were leaving to Israel. My babushka cooked breakfast and I'm so sick of eggs and I hate tea. I never drank tea in the states and I don't like it here either. I don't know how to tell her I don't want any.

Without any of the other family members around the animals are going nuts. Tanya left on Saturday for Spain.

So here's the breakdown. Tanya and Sonya are both Israeli. They were born there and have dual citizenship. Their dad now lives in Spain and they go visit him on on occasion. My host mom wanted a picture with me yesterday. I had no idea she was leaving today as well. I'm happy my babushka is still here but she pretty much has a life of her own. Like I think she lives with her other daughters and housekeeps and cooks for them. I think I should be okay here though.

I have a test today that I'm not going to do too hot on and I just finished up a midterm for my history class yesterday.

Ahhhh! That stupid cat just ran in here! It was all over the table this morning and trying to open a container of pills. I wanted to get the pills open. So it would die. I know that sounds cruel but living with animals in a space this small is revolting. You can't imagine the smell. It's not even like a slightly pleasant barnyard stench. But the culmination of cigarette smoke and their fur is all over the place... Home can't come soon enough.

I met four Black girls on the metro yesterday. They were all Nigerian. Between each of them they spoke Bad English, okay Russian, Yoruba, and broken English. I helped them with their bags cause they had been shopping. None of them were particularly attractive. They actually all looked kind of older like late twenties or thirties. One said she was a student here and that she studied in Moscow and that they were just here for a little while. They seem to know where a barbershop is which I am desperately in need of. I got their contact info and will call them soon.

I'm also plagued by the fact that I have yet to finish everyone's post cards. I'll definitely beat them back to the states but just know people that I haven't forgotten you.

reading things like this doesn't make me feel any better

It's getting really hot here and there's no AC in this house. I got to get ready for class.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My train got back to Petersburg today at 6:45 am. I was back in my room at 7:15 am. Petersburg felt so homely and familiar.

I sent my older sister Jessica a picture of me and she told me that I looked like I was related to a Bear. I haven't had a haircut or shaved in weeks... Love you too Jessica.

I get in bed quickly take a nap and prepare myself to get to class at 9:00 am. I get on the metro. Barely alive. And make it to the Institute. Turns out I don't have class until 12:00 pm. I am angry. I am going back to sleep.

I'll post about the end of Moscow and other things that occurred today later.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Moscow: Billionaires' Playground

little Russian kid
French embassy in Moscow.
Cathederal of Christ The Savior
Me outside of the Cathderal
the monstrosity known as the Moscow metro

A Billionaires Playground is exactly what Moscow is. The city is massively immense and there are expensive stores everywhere you look. I saw more Vertu cell phones (stores and owners) than I thought even existed in the world. The mall right across from Lenin on Red Square ГУМ (GUM) that I described as being so amazing had every expensive store ever and several very exclusive European Jewelry stores. I felt like I was walking through a Neiman Marcus Catalogue.

The Metro was very impressive but because Moscow is larger there were some stations that were not as clean as others. But overall the Metro stations were very extravagant and just as fancy and sometimes fancier than the ones here. It was an amazing experience.

I went to go have dinner with Yaprak (the girl from Turkey) at the mall and I was kind of late. We had a really good conversation though. She's working for a Turkish Bank here and she knows all of the currency exchange rates for all countries to the Russian ruble. She's a brilliant mathematician. As are almost all people from Turkey. But the conversation was great and it was good to see a familiar face.

After that I came back to the hostel and just relaxed. Was about to go to sleep but then some of the girls came back from the Hilton. The girls that were staying at the Hilton invited everyone over. I wasn't interested. I knew if it was just the Brown students there it would be lame. I was correct. We watched Russian television on our huge TV including an old Soviet movie, the Russian version of "The Real World/Big Brother", and the vastly inferior Russian version of Chuck Norris. He is essentially a Moscow Businessman that helps victims of petty street crime using his martial arts skills. Lame.

The next day I got up and sadly I didn't get to go see Linen but I did walk around and I saw a lot of the city. I went to the Russian Modern History Museum (late 1800's until now) and I noticed that most of the exhibits were of weapons or war things... It was really good though and I learned a lot. This one lady was very interested in helping me look around explain about what specific things were in the museum. It was even better cause I used my student card and I got in for 70 rubles.

I was really hungry but had no cash. So I go to a bankomat (ATM) and it didn't work and then at this other one this guy was taking forever and after he finished the ATM was broken. So I go inside a currency exchange place and they said that it would be better to use one of the ATM's outside because they were cheaper and I explained that they didn't work and they start shifting around with their papers and whatnot then a lady comes out to help and says that oh you're right the bankomat doesn't work you have to find somewhere else to go. I wasted about 30 minutes doing that. I walk about 2 and a half kilometers before I finally found an ATM. I ate McDonalds and I was happy.

I bought some souvenirs outside Red Square. I still have a lot more to buy but I'm trying to make sure everyone is happy. I also went to an underground mall that was very impressive and met a Black guy there with a haircut but it turns out he didn't speak English but French. He was African and I stumbled over the few French phrases I know trying to make conversation but it was just awkward and after about 2 minutes I got discouraged and gave up trying to speak. In Moscow there are a lot more Black people so I wasn't such a rarity and fewer of them speak English. It's mostly Russian and/or their native African language.

I was laying in a park and this Russian comes up to me and calls me the Russian variant of "the n-word" well actually translated it's closer to Negro at any rate he wanted to share some juice-boxed wine with me. Yes. Wine in a liter sized juice box. He was surprised that I spoke Russian so well and he needed to put a shirt on. We talked about a lot (in Russian) and I explained to him the difference between racial slurs and why they're not okay. Russians seem to think that they can use any variant of the "N Word" because they don't have the same history of slavery and segregation as the United States does. I've had this conversation before with other Russians actually. Anyway, he was just curious as to my thoughts on American politics and if Obama was a Muslim... Which everyone here seems to think. Before we parted ways he warned me about the skinheads in Moscow which greatly outnumber those in Petersburg.

I went to my favorite cathedral. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Which was blown up by Soviets so they could build a huge building/monument but then they never really got started on it so they turned it into the worlds largest outdoor open air swimming pool but in the 90's they rebuilt it. Anyway, when I was there I took a lot of pictures and it was so cool being close. I felt like everything I know about Russia was right before me. No matter what happens... Ancient Russia, Imperial Russia, Soviets, the Federation... The Russian Orthodox Church will always be there.

As I was leaving this lady gets really excited and wants me to take a picture with her son. I did. You can see the picture above. He walks up to me like I was Santa. Kind of half scared and half excited. He holds up his hand and says "пожалуйста" and so I just hold it... I didn't know if I was supposed to pick him up or put him on my shoulders or what... Someone later told me that I should have autographed his hat.

I kept walking just wondering around the city exploring and I found the French embassy. Which was having a baller reception for French Independence Day for everyone in Moscow with a French/European Union passport. I would have very much so liked to have been able to attend that. All this time I'm continually passing by very expensive lavish stores.

I go back to the hostel round up the troops and we head out to the train station. The train back was a throwback to Soviet times. Not the newer version I rode on en route to Moscow. But it had a very nice antique smell and I felt like I was back in the 1950's. I put my iPod on shuffle on my relax/chill playlist and fell asleep and then woke up in Petersburg.

I appreciate this city a lot more now. It is much more homely. Moscow is a huge city like New York and full of tourists and hustle and bustle. This is like a nice quaint community/village compared to Moscow. Both have plus and minuses (mostly pluses) but I have gained a much greater appreciation for this city now. Home Sweet Petersburg.

Ain't No Party Like a Communist Party

my favorite building ever. my favorite color is red and this is just the epitome of architecture for me.
My wonderful bed!
my wonderful baller living room
red square
Me and Lenin and... Why can't I think of his name?

I ran because I had to meet up with a girl that goes to Brown that is interning at a Turkish bank here. She's from Turkey. Get to this in just a second.

So the meal yesterday. So good! Now I'm sitting here with some instant meat flavored mashed potatoes... hmm... Anyway, after the best dinner ever we walked around for sometime and then ended up at the red square at night which was even more amazing. I suggest everyone travel there at some point in your life. Something on the square will embrace and grab your heart and emotions.

We walked back and I went to sleep. On the way back though I split up with the Brown students and these girls came up to me and asked where I was from. There were two white girls and the other was Black but clearly biracial. They only spoke Russian. And I think they were slightly older than me 24-26 maybe. At any rate. We had a good conversation. The half Black girl was born and raised here and according to her her family has been here for many years... Which side. I don't know. But I found it strange that she didn't speak French or English or German.

The potatoes aren't that bad.

I woke up today and went to the Kremlin. It was sooo cool! Of course I went to all the places Obama went to ect. ect. blah blah blah... for the Obama maniacs out there and then I went to my most favorite museum exhibit ever. The Russian Armory (and later the Russian history museum). I saw sooo much there! It wasn't like anything you've never seen before. I won't bore you with the details of exhibits. But my favorite one was everything. If I had to pick I couldn't. Although I did particularly enjoy the evolution of the Russian horse drawn carriage exhibit. The ORIGINAL full sized carriages from all centuries of Russia were there. I like the Islamic rifles, swords, and other military equipment that Russian military bought from the Ottoman empire in the 14th/15th centuries. So detailed and masterfully decorated. Superb craftsmanship.

I should be doing work right now.

Anyway. So I was walking towards the Kremlin and who do I see? Vladimir Lenin looking at me. And another Russian politician that I can't remember his name. But the one who's name I can't remember calls me Obamaichk... (little Obama)


I have been told ever since I was at Brown that to enter the Kremlin you have to be dressed very well. No sloppy outfits or you will be turned away. I get up early this morning so I can prepare my suit and tie and slacks so I can be in appropriate attire for the Kremlin. It was like 85 degrees today (almost Texas weather) and when I got there I saw people in shorts and casual type clothing. Wow.

Anyway. Obamaichk! Obamaichk! They call. They wanted ME to take pictures with them! So I did. They're funny. See for yourself.

It's late (not really only 12:56am) but still I got a lot of moving around to do tomorrow. Going to really miss this place!

More about Moscow in my next post and some really awkward moments that you don't want to miss reading about.

Stay Tuned.

Moscow Is Great

sick, perverse, Russian way of spelling my name
red square
the mall which is
right across from where Lenin's Tomb is

From the moment I stepped into our ridiculously nice hostel I knew that this Moscow trip would be something Special. I will start where I left off. With the arrival...
As soon as we got off at the train station here in Moscow these two African girls started waving at me. And I think were trying to get me to come over where they were. I couldn't though. I had to stick with the group. The two girls that are staying in the Hilton went to the Hilton and we hopped on the Metro to go to where we were staying.

This city is HUGE. It's immense and I feel like St. Petersburg is so much more cozy and homely now. The Metro system here is a monster! It's huge and 4 or 5 times the size of the metro in Petersburg. HOWEVER! It is even more exquisite and there are all kinds of marble statues and fancy palace features to the Metro here than in Moscow.

We get of the metro and get to the hostel. I'm discouraged and really sleepy. Cause when we get there at first glance it doesn't look like anything too spectacular. I was sad. We had to leave our bags cause we couldn't check in until 12. Bummer. It's about 8am at this point in time and I'm pretty exhausted. I slept really well on the train. But I didn't get much sleep last week. Between writing a paper for my class and random nights (most no fault of my own) out I got maybe 8 hours of sleep during the week...

We walk down what I consider to be the 5th Ave. of Moscow because there were so many expensive, high class stores. But apparently there are about 4 or 5 more streets like that in this city. We stop at the Russian version of Starbucks Кафе Хауз and I have a delicious chicken sandwich and bleenie (Russian pancakes) with apples and cinnamon (also very scrumptious). We continue to walk and we finally make it to The Red Square! Infinitely much more impressive when you see it live and in person.

Standing in the middle you can see Lenin's tomb the Russian History Museum, the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral and the most incredible shopping mall ever. Better than LA, New York, London, Paris, EVER ANYWHERE directly across from Lenin's tomb..<--Irony. The entire Square is worth the trip. So we walked around a little bit. It was hot and I was really getting tired. Luckily it was almost noontime! So we hop on the metro and head back to where we were staying.

The host lady asked if we wanted to stay in that building or the one across the street. I was really tired and wanted to just pass out there but had I stayed there I would have been alone with only 2 other guys from Brown and random foreigners. I take my chances on the place I am currently at now which is nicer than anything I've seen since I've been in this country.

Imagine a ski lodge, country house, or flat in New York that people rent out to really rich people to say in for holiday. That's what this place is like. It is so comfortable and it has all the amenities of a Westernized, Capitalized living space. I love it here. This place in itself makes the trip worth it. And for only $30 a night? Pics are posted.

I slept here when we got in. Other students went out and about but I needed sleep seriously. Then came some great Southern Hospitality from nowhere! Well Dallas actually. One of the kids on our trip goes to Stanford. He was born and raised in Dallas and he's tall like me but he's really liberal. He's cool though. His parents offer to take everyone out to dinner! Yezzir!

The place we were eating was called the Academy Cafe (very baller, lavish Russian/European fancy restaurant). It was right outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (personally my favorite Cathedral in Russia). And when we got there (early) everyone wanted to just take pictures and relax right outside of it. Funniest thing. There was this Black British guy with these white British people and he was really funny. Not like purposefully funny but funny in the sense that he's Black and British and speaks with that accent. This little Russian kid (4 or 5) was running around and the little Russian kid kept coming up to play with him and then running away. Then the mom picks him up and puts him on the Black guys lap and asks to have a picture taken! It was funny and kind of cute at the same time.

We get to the Restaurant and fanciness of it immediately strikes me. We were told to order whatever we want and to not hold back. Word? Okay. I started off with basic flat water... But at the urging of Mr. Payne (the guy from Texas) I as well as everyone else got other drinks... He then ordered us all sushi as an appetizer. I really wanted the steak but I wanted to be modest so I just ordered a pasta with shrimp and chicken and fries on the side. When the order gets there I'm like what is this portion for babies?! But it turns out it was actually really filling! It was so good. It was more than what it looked like. I also tried and immediately fell in love with Napoleon cake! It was kind of like my first experience with creme brulee except infinitely better. It is officially my new favorite dessert! I thanked him for buying us all dinner and encouraged everyone at the table to give him a round of applause which they did. He was a really nice guy and his wife was really nice too. Very interested in me and whereabouts I was from in Texas. It was so great to hear that southern accent again. Last night was the best meal I've ever had since I've been here though..

dinner date I forgot about! oops!
gotta jet!

finish this later

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Six-Week Celebrity

Not a day goes by in which a little kid points at me and stares in fascination, a group of girls giggle and/or blow kisses, someone wants a picture, or someone asks me about rap/hip-hop.

This struck me more than ever yesterday when I was crossing the bridge over the canal outside my house. One of the many boat excursion tours was coming through and all off the sudden they started clapping and taking pictures of me. When I waved they got even more excited. Immediately after that a lady in a smaller boat on I guess a private tour saw me and when I waved she started to get really excited and wanted her boat tour person to pull over I think... I had to keep moving in the direction I was going though.

I would have never thought that because of my skin color and height and being an American that I would get so much attention here in Russia.

I'm writing this from Moscow by the way. The last few days have been really busy. I'll have to repost about them on here later. But yesterday I-

Went to another palace in Petersburg. It was really nice. The weather was beautiful and the park was so relaxing. I got to sit by the lake and dip my feet in the water. The Germans during WWII blew it up but it was restored and it was really impressive.

I came back and then that's when the boat celebrity thing happened.

Race in America is weird. It is almost impossible for me to explain to Russians that I'm not from Africa and I don't know where I am from in Africa. The first questions most cab drivers ask me is "из африканец"and I respond no. And then they ask where my parents are from in Africa and I say that they're not from there either. My guess is Most Black people in European countries are African and so a lot of people just assume that it works the same way in the United States... Not so much. Americans are of all colors and come from all over the world. So not just me but a person here with any skin color that's not white would be really annoyed with explaining their nationality/heritage.

I had a really good dinner with my host family. who I think is going to be leaving for quite some time. I'm not sure if they'll be there when I get back. My babushka was there and I told her in Russian that, "I have not seen you in a hundred years" and she thought it was really cute that I knew that phrase. I took a shower and got packed really quickly and headed towards the train station to go to Moscow!

The train ride was so incredible! Ever since I was a little and I watched Thomas and Friends I've always wanted to ride on a train for a really long time. I got my wish yesterday. It was better than I imagined. We (the students) had a good time. A lot of people brought drinks and we stayed up and just talked and had a great time conversing amongst ourselves. I think I was sexually assaulted cause one girl copped a more than casual or accidental feel on my knee/thigh. I don't know if I felt okay about it. Anyway I went to sleep at like 2am. I fell asleep listening to Mos Def's New Danger album and it was so appropriate. I suggest after reading this if you own that album listen to it. If you don't own it buy it.

We got to Moscow at 7am. And there was a lot that happened. I'll write about it later. I have a friend from Brown here that's working this summer. I'm sleepy. I did a lot in this enormous city today.

oh! wait! This hostel is sooooo incredible! It's so baller! It's way nicer than any hotel I could have stayed in! there's a huge TV everything is Westernized and the bed is so comfortable. For only 1000 rubles a night?! I'm so happy! this hostel makes the trip to Moscow completely worth it! I even have my own closet! and it doesn't smell like smoke here. I'll take pictures.

ok. bed time for Jimmy. Got meet up with Putin tomorrow at the Kremlin.

Stay Tuned.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I was also Will Smith and Michael Jordan today. If I charged for pictures I'd be a millionaire.

My freestyle. (ability to narrate n a skillful and rhythmic manner with little or no preparation) is unmatched. I'm feeling my inner Pushkin.

Stay tuned
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Too Friendly/Collective Occurrences

more russians wanting to take their picture with me. the guy wearing my yankees cap is the Russian sniper that insisted I hang out with him.
An Armenian. and huge fan of snoop dog and he wanted to throw up the west side like snoop. I obliged.**
brand new BMW convertible. one both sides of the car it said "MICHAEL JACKSON IS KING. GOD BLES MICHAEL JACKSON."

I just finished a night that I did not want to be this long. So this post will just be a summary of things that I must catch up on. I'll expound on them later. It's good though cause I've experienced more in the past 72 hours than I have in the last 21 years of my life.

Eurotechno music is great. There's a part where the DJ just holds the beat and lets it ride and build for a really long time and when you vibe with it and ride it all the way out until the end when the beat drops again you literally lose yourself.

I call my host moms father the Old Russian Master. His house does not smell like smoke (a first) and it's kind of nicer. He is a certified medical doctor but he's also one of those great people you meet in life. That know and do many things and have a genuine admiration for the life of the mind. He told me out of all the houses in Russia that I was in the least racist house. He explained to me that he was also a writer and he gave me the Russian version of Mother Goose rhymes to learn. He's a very smart and kind person. You don't meet people like him much anymore.

I played basketball with him and his sons and then we played soccer. The looks on the kids faces...

More amputees.

I leave for Moscow tonight.

In class I thought the word for a "short person" was midget lollipop.

I talked to my mom about Russian politics in Russian. She's not a fan.

I got ripped off by another cab. 200 rubles for a barely 100 ruble ride.

Ana's sister is a party promotions manager for one of the most posh, expensive lavish clubs in Petersburg. There weren't many people there tonight but I don't think there are many clubs in the world that top this. If there are you can't get into them.

She also invited me to this all white (attire) party. A variant of the P. Diddy version. It's held on one of the islands and goes up until early the next day... The invitation that you needed to enter was so sick.

I met a bunch of Africans yesterday. Sif took me to this club Revolution. Which is actually only a few blocks away from here. He explained to me that they were trying to start up having "Black people" night again. Once again Sif has proven himself to be cooler than ice cold. We walk in and go through the metal detector. And when we get to the ticket booth the guy is like you can't come. And Sif tells him in Russian that he wants to talk to the owner. The guy let's him go back. 3 minutes later the phone in the ticket booth rings and I'm allowed entry FREE without delay.

The guy is Cameroonian and he's just as tall as me and he works under white club owners o promote parties. He had a really fancy office inside the club. The club itself was sick and of course I had VIP. And I got to pop champagne.

I have a Michael Jackson tribute that will leave you dumbfounded. I'll upload the picture tomorrow.

I will send out the post cards tomorrow. That's my plan.

I met these central asians dudes yesterday that loved me. They considered themselves to be Black. They loved 2Pac.

And I just got in from hanging out with this Russian war vet. He was very drunk and in a nutshell we sang songs, talked politics, US-Russia relations, he thinks Russia is the only country that won WWII, very proud that his grandfather is a high ranked Russian war hero, he was a sniper in the Chechean war, bought me and Sif big and tasty from McDonalds (literally actually big and tasty), and we arm wrestled before I left. I got beat. 3 times. He's not the biggest fan of the United States and their politics and is delusional about Russia's strength as a world power. but he likes me for God knows what reason. I honestly just wanted to go home tonight. cuddle up in my bed and sleep tight. Instead. I'm here. Blogging. Just getting in at 4:30. He's not the kind of guy you want to turn down. He was slightly tipsy and had I disagreed with anything he said it would have caused more problems. I held my ground and beliefs when we talked but I just ended up hanging out with him and his friend with Sif. And we met these Ukrainian women who were out at 3 in the morning so their drunk husbands didn't beat them when they got back in.

Russians like me too much. (knock on wood) Just say hi. Take a picture. And let me move on. Thanks.

**I in no way shape or form endorse, represent, or claim the West coast. The above photographed photo is for entertainment purposes only.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Self Hazard

My biggest worry here should not be getting attacked by racists but me attacking myself.

I just hit my head up against an air conditioner hanging out of a window on my way to the metro I thought I ducked low enough to avoid it but I didn't and next thing I know... BANG! I said a swear word in Russian as soon as it happened so it must have been hard...

It was hard. I was stunned for a while and I could feel a knot swelling up on top of my head. Thank goodness my hair is thicker and longer than it's ever been and I was wearing my trademark Yankees hat or else I'd probably be in the hospital now. The corner was kinda sharp and I'm kind of bleeding now but if I apply pressure to it and get the trainer at the gym to check it out I'll be ok. Emphasis. Kind of bleeding. Nothing serious. When I saw my own blood on my hand I got light headed though. I usually only get light headed and on occasions come close to passing out at the sight of someone elses blood.

The metro that came before this one was empty and apparently not in service. Weird. Someone on here smells really terrible. Like musty body odor and beer and it's really humid... It's stomach wrenching.

At my stop. I'll be sure and get this very minor injury checked out first thing when I get to the gym. So don't worry.

Stay tuned.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Half Brothers?!/Дедушка pt. II

I've been getting a lot of love off of the Obama Moscow visit. Russians are even more fascinated by me now more than ever.

My English is deteriorating. Which doesn't mean my Russian is improving but I just make a lot of mistakes when I'm writing and speaking it. I also will occasionally think to put the soft sign (ь) in certain English words. I'm the first person to notice when people make you're/your mistakes. I've been making them frequently. I also am messing up on punctuation.

At the post office today another old Russian man (between 65-74 years old) came up to me. He was dressed in an old but nice blazer and an old Nike cap and his shirt and trousers also seem to be pretty old too. He was holding a bag of something but I didn't know what was in it. He came up to me and shook my hand... Almost breaking it. He was about 5'8 and showed no signs of ever having any brute physical strength. However, the firmness and strength in his handshake immediately made me take him more seriously and engage in conversation with him. I tightened and firmed my grip appropriately matching his level of strength on my hand.

He asked me an assortment of very random questions in Russian. And I responded as best as I could. He eventually let go of my hand and handed the receptionist a melted ice cream in a plastic bag from the bag he was holding and thanked her for it. He then gripped my hand again. Even harder and I asked me if my father was okay. I told him that my father was fine. He then told me in Russian that I was very strong and healthy. I wished him good luck and health as he disengaged me and walked away.

As if things couldn't get any weirder...

I just had dinner.

When I was washing my hands. My right one in particular. I heard someone playing the guitar in the kitchen/living room. I was preparing myself to meet up with some more of my host moms strange friends or maybe some of her patients (which sometimes come here I think) but instead I go into the kitchen and see two young blonde haired boys. She tells me that they are her half-brothers (in English). I thought she was just misunderstanding so I asked her if she meant cousins or nephews. But it turns out that this 14-year-old and 11-year-old are actually the sons of her father.

The older one plays hockey and he has really nice singing voice and plays the guitar extraordinarily well. He has really good technique and he knows how to play a lot of popular/cool English songs. The younger one according to my host mom is the champion table tennis player of St. Petersburg for his age group. When I first walked into the kitchen the older one wanted to shake my hand but it was still wet so I gave him a fist pound and he seemed to like that. As soon as his brother saw this he ran up to me to get a fist pound too. Dinner was really good by the way tonight. I had been invited to dinner by a friend yesterday and didn't tell my host mom. I felt bad and apologized today but she said that it wasn't a problem.

I offered to take them to the gym with me (I'm about to go right after this) cause they have table tennis there and some hockey training things. My host mom called her dad and set up a play date for us all. I am supposed to hang out with them all on Friday around one o'clock and play sports in their neighborhood... They don't live far from my school. Should be interesting.

As for my host moms father I talked to him on the phone and he speaks perfect English. No accent or anything. I'm sure he's Russian but she told me that he lived in Canada for quite some time. He's a huge fan of sports and I guess that's why both of his sons are both star athletes. My host mom never played any sports... Weirdest thing was that over the phone this man sounded like he wasn't a day older than 35. His voice was so youthful and English so on point that I almost said, "alright homie, later" before I got off the phone with him.

I realize now that my Russian fluctuates depending on how well I'm paying attention to what I'm reading or who I'm speaking with. If I'm completely focused on the person talking or what I'm reading then I can effectively communicate. If I've got other things on my mind or am trying to speak Russian and do something else at the same time then I sound like an idiotic foreigner. I find that I do my best work when I sit in the front row and don't take my eyes of the teacher for a second.

I'm going to go run to the gym now. I have to lift and I'll probably run some pick up games. When I get back I'll sketch out a little bit of my homework and then I'm going to go out with some friends.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Hard at work last summer doing the journalism thing.

Cheburashka tribute. the Graffiti next to him says "who is president" "а кто президент"

that's funny if you understand Russian politics.

Last summer was interesting. I lived with my parents back in Huntsville, Texas and worked as a writer/photographer for the Huntsville Item (local newspaper). I miss my old job at the Item. I had my own desk and I got to write a lot of really interesting stories. One of my favorite stories was the one I did on my mom when she was awarded her High School Principal of the Year Award (2nd time) by The Texas Association of High School Principals. I got to ride to Austin with her and we got to bond and I had an overall good experience with her at the Principals conference.

My second favorite assignment(s) was covering the Women's Olympic Gymnastics training and trails at their training facilities down the road from my house. Russian relevance! One of the girls on the team is Russian. Настиа Лиукин.

What I wouldn't give for some REAL Mexican food or a sandwich/burger without cucumbers right now.

I'm currently working on Russian grammar homework and listening to DJ Screw. And I'm instantly reminded of the hours on end I'd spend at the barbershop waiting on Tim to get to me. And of my Uncle Alex who played this music when I was growing up 6-11. And almost everyone else I knew older than me listened to DJ Screw Mix tapes. Freshman year I survived homesickness by adding about a quarter of Tim's DJ Screw collection to my iTunes and studying to that. I digress. Back to Russia.

I know it's early to be formulating my opinions of Russians seeing as how I've got two weeks left here but I've pretty much dismissed my original theory that racism in Russia is out of control. I've been really sheltered since I've been but I had envisioned myself always having to out run skinheads and other extremist groups. So far (knock on wood) there's been none of that. It's been the exact opposite.

A lot of people are intrigued by me and want to be my friend. Countless Russians have bought me drinks and then there are always the ones that want to have their picture taken with me. When they find out I'm American they become even more excited. I went to a corner store next to my house today and the guy that works there asked me if I wanted something to eat. I told him that I already had dinner. We had met on Saturday but I didn't know he worked there. I like it here and I would like to come back for a year on a Fulbright Fellowship. E-mailed a Dean about it and other fellowships today. Thanks for the tip Christian. She really helped.

Peter thought it was strange that I was wearing a green shirt with anime characters on it. I'm pretty sure he expects me to wear some incredibly hood get up. Complete with a basketball jersey and a tall tee? I don't even know what gangster or hip-hop apparel is anymore these days. At any rate, I find Peter expecting me to dress like a "gangster" to be funny. I can't wear a nice shirt that I got in London cause it doesn't fit his image of what a Black person in America looks like. Ok. I'm done with race. Sorry to those of you that felt uncomfortable reading that.

The coffee here is not good at all. I hate it. I'm not a heavy coffee drinker by any means but whenever I need to jump start my brain I really like it. I hate starbucks but love the hazelnut coffee the libraries at Brown have. I usually put more sugar/cream in the coffee than coffee but it helps me get the job done. Here I've switched to red bull. Not the same thing at all.

The taboo topic is still under review. I'm hoping everything works out. And as soon as the taboo on it is lifted I'll fill everyone in on some incredibly great news.

I've seen and done a lot since I've been here. And these last couple of weeks I'll see and do a lot more. So I'll continue to write about my day to day but I'm interested in knowing what all 3 of y'all that read this want to know about Russia. Question away. I'm a genius. I'll have the answer. There's a segment that comes on the evening news that I call the "Vladmir Putin Show". That's something that's interesting. So just think about what you've always wanted to know about Russia or Europe and I'll give you more info on it that wikipedia and provide you with more references than google.

Stay Tuned.