I mean, just look at it.
I hope you all aren’t worn out scrolling past photos on my blog, but I really want to show you what it is that I see every day. All the time, I find myself thinking “Wow, Kayla, you’re in Russia right now. Is this anything like you imagined?” Usually, the answer is no. Whether or not it’s because the picture in my imagination just wasn’t grand enough or that I hadn’t expected such beauty to exist here depends on the day and my mood. With these photos, I hope that I am breaking down the stereotypical images that you might have built up about Russia in your own imagination.
Such as this.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about classes – and I know my family is curious – so I’ll give you a little update on them all! My language classes are going incredibly well. I find my разгавор (conversation) class to be the most helpful because it is two hours of just talking in Russian and it is all about stuff that I use in my daily life. I’ve learned that my textbook from back in the U.S. is actually incredibly outdated, and am considering sending an email to my professors back home to let them know! My host has often corrected me, saying that “Nobody says that anymore!” or “That is a Soviet word!” So yeah, no more referring to that book. My electives are also going well. I just had a test in my США Россия (Comparison of US and Russian Political Culture) class, which I think went well! I think the most challenging class I have is my Russian literature class, mainly because it is entirely in Russian (19th century Russian, no less. Very difficult language.). However, Russian poetry and prose is…indescribable. Just beautiful. I’m not a crazy big fan of Pushkin, but I’ve completely fallen in love with Lermontov’s poetry and Gogol’s stories. The thing about their works is that the Russian version is so descriptive that it can paint a picture in your mind, while the English translation seems oversimplified and falls flat. Let me give you a brief example.
Выхожу один я на дорогу; Lone’s the mist-cloaked road before me lying;
Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит; On and on it winds and draws me far.
Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу, Night is still, all earthly sounds are dying;
И звезда с звездою говорит. Nature lists to God; star speaks to star.
В небесах торжественно и чудно! Clothed in dark is earth and wrapt in slumber,
Спит земля в сияньи голубом… and the skies are full of majesty.
Что же мне так больно и так трудно? Why, then, does reflection, drear and sombre,
Жду ль чего? жалею ли о чём? Plague my heart and slay felicity?
Уж не жду от жизни ничего я, I await no boons of fate, regretting
И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть; not the past, for that is buried deep.
Я ищу свободы и покоя! Ah, to find true freedom, true forgetting
Я б хотел забыться и заснуть! in the calm of everlasting sleep.
Но не тем холодным сном могилы… Yet I dread the cold and clammy fingers
Я б желал навеки так заснуть, And the leaden, icy sleep of death.
Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы, Would that life within me, dormant, lingered
Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь; And I felt its warm and balmy breath;
Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея, Would that love’s own voice, my ear caressing
Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел, Night and day sang dulcet song to me,
Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея And an ancient oak, my slumber blessing,
Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел. Swayed above my head eternally.
It is a very nice translation, however, the Russian version has these beautifully descriptive words that the English version isn’t able to translate. Lermontov writes from a cosmic perspective, and his entire third stanza leading into the fourth is read completely different in Russian. Instead, it reads about how he is looking for freedom and peacefulness. He dreams of death but not of real death, as he is afraid of the cold graves. Instead, he dreams of another life filled with love and a beautiful woman’s voice. It shows that he still believes in love’s existence, just that it exists in another realm. That nature is eternal and he wishes to live as a part of it.
Am I the only one who finds that beautiful? I can’t wait to buy a book of his collections and just get lost in it.
Alright, my nerdy inner bookworm is coming out… New topic!
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to go on an excursion around the city to visit important sites during World War II. I think my favorite was the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. It was so vast and there were so many people who had lost their lives there. Between 8 September 1941 and 27 January 1944, the German Nazis and Finnish army surrounded Leningrad in order to starve all of its citizens to death. Over 1,500,000 civilians and soldiers died during the 872 day period. At least 560,000 of them were buried at this cemetery – 490,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers. Leningrad symbolized the heart of the Communist Revolution as well as Russia’s cultural center (though Russia was then part of the Soviet Union, of course). Hitler planned to destroy all of Leningrad and its people, considering Russians and other Slavic peoples to be “Untermenschen”– subhuman. The Soviet army was completely outnumbered by German forces, so even before the siege was actually enacted, the government began to make preparations. Millions of the nation’s treasures were secretly evacuated from the Hermitage, Russian Museum, and other state museums, knowing that the Nazis planned to steal or destroy everything.
“Here lay Leningraders
Here are citizens – men, women, and children
Next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad
The cradle of the Revolution,
With their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.”
After being here over a month now the “honeymoon period” is drawing to a close and I now find that the culture shock is seeping in subconsciously. Russia is still very different from America (the weather alone, at times, can be quite oppressing) and, despite loving many things about this place, there are times where I find myself being unexplainably annoyed or angry. Nothing happened to me to cause this irritation, and yet that pissed-off attitude burned like a little ball in my chest. It’s only happened twice now, not an every day occurrence, but I figure that this is something I will have to get used to the rest of my stay. I actually got mad the other day with a woman at a ZARA store. Mind you, she was a complete bitch, like, in the worst way. But, yeah, I actually got mad. For those of you who have actually seen me legitimately angry (Mom, Dad, Lori, Grandpa Henry, Jay… Yeah, that’s about it) you know I’m a force to be reckoned with. It took all of my self-control not to let loose on her in the store because a) didn’t want to terrify my new friends b) the clerk was Russian and I knew this was a common attitude. We were foreigners and she took advantage of us. So I swallowed it all down and bit my tongue. In the end, my friend needed to get her host sister involved in order to solve the problem.
So, to counter this, I’m once again writing about the things that have made me smile this week.
1) As I was taking the bus back home, we pulled up at a stop light next to a family in their car. In the backseat was a little boy – couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old – and he had his hands and cheek pressed against the window as he looked up at the bus. The two of us made eye contact and he gave me the biggest, toothless, chubby-cheeked grin I have seen the entire time I’ve been in Russia and it just warmed my heart. I really took for granted how nice it is to see people smiling openly in the street back home, and this little tyke not only caused a smile to crack on my face but to full out chuckle on the bus. I didn’t even care that the rest of the ride the people next to me thought I was crazy.
2) Russian children in general usually make me smile. There is something about hearing their basic Russian sentences that just causes me to smile. Perhaps it is because I can understand 90% of what they’re saying, or perhaps it’s just because they remind me of my little brother back home. Miss you, Jack!
3) When I hear English spoken by someone other than the people in CIEE.
This is me.
It’s becoming a rarity, now that tourist season is over, and I swear I will stop walking in the middle of the crowded metro the minute I hear some English. It’s even more exciting when it is American English and not British.
4) The 80s and 90s Classics being played in bars. Smashmouth. The Offspring. Backstreet Boys. Mambo #5 (because, really, who knew the actual artist’s name?). Metallica. Venga Boys. Nirvana. Def Leppard. Yeah, these are our bar jams. And I am so okay with that.
5) This one I am stealing from my friend Ryan’s blog because she worded it perfectly: “When I see a Russian woman stumble in her heels. Russian woman are a different species. They can wear heels that make your feet hurt just by looking at them, but they maintain a straight face and perfect posture. So, as evil as it sounds, when a Russian woman stumbles a little bit in her heels, I feel a little better about myself. I get the same feeling when I see a Russian woman in sneakers or a sweatshirt.” Hear, hear!
6) Russians and their dogs. Not only do most not require leashes because they are so well trained, you see Russians dressing them up and carrying them in purses all the time! And guess who usually carries them? The big stoic Russian men!! Along with flowers for their wives and usually their wife’s purse. Why? Because this is one of those times when Russian gender roles is blatantly obvious. Women should not have to carry such things because they are heavy and us women are apparently too weak to do so. In case you all haven’t had a good laugh in a while, a Russian man offered to carry my backpack because I, Kayla Torrison, looked “too frail” to do so myself.
Think on that for a moment.
7) The man at the bread truck at Primorskaya Metro Stop. He always smiles at me when I order my breakfast bread roll and listens patiently as I try to formulate a new sentence every day to tell him that I hope he has a good day. Thank you, Bread Truck Man. I’ll see you in eight hours.
8) Russian puns.
9) The fact that mullets, denim skirts, pageboy hats, male turtlenecks, and scrunchies are still a thing here. A very popular thing.
10) Russian Parking.
Anyway, last but not least because I promised it from the last post: The Nevsky All-Nighter
Nevsky Prospekt is the main street of St. Petersburg. It is loaded with stores, restaurants, hookah bars, regular bars, themed bars, clubs, museums, galleries, and multiple metro stops. It is one of the best places to spend the night out at as a young adult. Unfortunately, St. Petersburg is a city made up of a bunch of islands connected by bridges and underground metro lines, and these modes of transportation close at midnight and do not reopen again until 4am (for the bridges) or 6am (for the metro). So guess what that means? If you don’t make that last metro you are stranded. Most of the times that isn’t too big of a problem. Bars here are open until 5am, so you only have to wait one hour, right? WELL THAT ONE HOUR SUCKS. It’s 25-30 degrees out, you’re in a little black dress, and you have to wait on a park bench in the dark with your friends until the metro opens. Usually, Drunk Donalds is involved just to kill time. It’s pretty much like the typical Minnesota weather, except you can’t go home for another hour or two and UGGS are not a suitable shoe option. I’m a professional at staying up until the sun comes up (my roomate, Cooper, can testify that I had the worst sleep schedule ever before I left for Russia), but that last hour until the metro opens is the worst. Luckily, there are now people in the hostel (some of the kids in the program do not live with host families and live in the hostel on Nevsky instead) who are willing to share their beds for us poor islanders. Bless them. Really though, the Nevsky All-Nighter is well worth it, at least once. I stayed in last weekend, so I’ll be pulling mine tomorrow.
Hopefully you all managed to make it through another long post. I’ll be going out to see “Swan Lake”, the ballet, tomorrow night. Saturday I have plans to go to the suburbs to see Tsarskoe Celo (Catherine’s Palace) in the town of Pushkin, head to my advisor’s concert, and then see the EPIC movie “Stalingrad” that is playing in theaters here. Watch it and love it:
Я желаю вам успеха, товарищи!
P.S. Abbie, to answer your question: Yes there are a lot of good looking men here. 🙂
P.P.S. For those of you who might have missed it, be sure to check out my tumblr link for fun little sarcastic comments I make throughout the week. The link is along the header.