Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Impromptu Life

Today I went to a concert. I had received two free tickets from my roommate Ella, who didn't want to go, so Kristin and I went instead. However, we did not know what the concert was, who was going to be in the concert, where it was, how to get there, or anything else about it. We only knew that it was somewhere near a certain metro station and that it started at 2pm.

So we trekked out to that metro station and thankfully were familiar enough with the area that we were able to find the concert hall without too much trouble. There were hundreds of people there and lots of kids so we knew it had to be something with kids, but we didn't know whether it was a play or musical performances, etc.

And suddenly we were greeted with one of the most amazing concerts I have ever been to. The first two groups were dances. First a bunch of girls did an amazing dance routine dressed as snegurochkas and then a group of boys did a traditional Russian dance. If you have ever watched "The Fiddler on the Roof," think of the scene at the wedding where the men do that cool dance with the wine bottles on their hats. This was a bit like this, except 10 times better and without the wine bottles. Amazing. I just am kicking myself that I didn't get pictures of those first two acts.

Then there was an amazing girl, probably about 10 years old who did an incredible classical piece on a harp. And then a 15 year old boy who did two pieces on the piano--one by Chopin and one by Rachmaninoff. All of these kids were astounding and each performance was so much better than most performances by kids these ages. These were the best of the best and most of them had probably been at these musical instruments most of their childhoods. Other acts included violins, clarinets, an accordian, singing, xylophone, and a tap dancing routine.

This was the young classical harpist and the boy sang a beautiful Russian opera song.

This was the two boys who played Debussy's Clair de Lune on the piano and xylophone. Absolutely breathtaking.

This was the tap dancing routine done to American country music by Shania Twain:)

And finally this was an incredible cellist.

This was an amazing concert and I am so glad we went even though I still don't know what the concert was or what it was for. On the way back we crossed the river and the scene was so breathtaking with the ice and ducks that I just had to take a picture.

After the concert we met friends at a Mexican restaurant. I haven't had Mexican in such a long time and was so glad to find some. It was certainly not the best Mexican I've had, but it was still quite good. On the way home we took an impromptu sidetrack to get to the metro. We passed a "Dom Knigi" House of Books where most of the books were in English. Of course, we HAD to stop in, and of course I HAD to buy something. And what I find I found. Bill Bryson's "Neither Here Nor There." Bill Bryson has been one of my favorite authors since college and is Britain's favorite American author, who writes "hugely funny (not snigger-snigger funny, but great-big-belly-laugh-till-you-cry funny)" travel stories. This one is about his travels in Europe. My other favorites by him have been "Notes from a Small Island" about Britain and "Mother Tongue" about the English language.

After leaving Dom Knigi, Alister suggested we all walk to find a statue of the man who invented Russian printing. It was not far from the metro, so after a couple of wrong turns we finally found it. It was directly in front of a Ferrari and Masserati store with billionaires shopping inside while we tourists stood outside taking pictures of some statue. As we were leaving I notice in the corner of the Ferrari store, a kid's toy Ferrari go-cart. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if some of my kids from school have this and go scooting about followed closely by their nannies and bodyguards.

And this is the FSB building. The FSB is now what they used to call the KGB. Maybe I shouldn't have been taking pictures, but oh well.

Well, I had better wrap this up so I can get ready to go see my insanely wealthy but sweet kids tomorrow at school. It is Sunday night and I have had a good day and a good weekend. I shall wrap it up by drinking a cup of English Breakfast tea, while listening to Mumford and Sons, and reading a little Bill Bryson:) Goodnight world. Catch you in the morning.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Books and Opera

At school today I decided I would come home and blog about some things that have happened lately. But as so frequently happens, I come home, sit on the couch in front of my computer, and suddenly find more interesting things to do than blog. So before we got home, Kristin and I determined to quickly grab our computers and walk to a coffee shop to blog instead. I got excited as blogging is always so much more fun with a cup of coffee in your hand.

There is a coffee chain here called Costa Coffee and is very much like a Starbucks in some ways except that the logo is red, not green. I ordered my vanilla latte, and asked u vas internet? To which the waiter shook his head. I could hardly believe it. So excited to blog and now I can’t. It is crazy since the coffee shop is on the ground floor of a large business complex called the World Trade Center about two blocks from my flat. You would think they would have internet. So instead, I took it in stride and I am writing this in a Word document that I will copy paste into my blog when I get home. They can’t ruin my blogging mood:)

So things have been going really well lately. I have been back at school now for two weeks since Christmas break. I really love my students. My native speakers are so much fun and my other kids are great too. I have had a change in my schedule at work this week though. Each grade has two main classroom teachers and a homeroom teacher who walks them to their other classes such as art, music, computers, PE, etc and takes them to their meals and recess. Our homeroom teacher, Yelena Yurievna, was just transferred to the third grade class because their homeroom teacher is now on maternity leave. So I am now the full-time homeroom teacher who also teaches as well. Let’s just say that my schedule has gotten significantly more hectic. I think it will make this semester go by extremely fast though. And there are benefits as it allows me to be with the kids more and get to know them a lot better outside of class time.

This past Wednesday I took the day off from school. The reason is that I had bought tickets to see an opera at the Bolshoi Theatre. The opera was to start right at 7pm, and I knew that if there was bad traffic, I would never make it to the theatre on time. So I took the day off and what I great day it was!

The opera I was going to see is Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin based off the book, Evgeny Onegin by Russia’s favorite author, Alexander Pushkin. I had been introduced to this book in Russian literature class at Whitworth. Unfortunately, our syllabus was so packed with other reading that we didn’t read the book, but Leonard had us see the movie instead. The movie was great and it inspired me to read the book later outside of class. I am picky about my translators, so I waited till I found a copy with a good translation. I found a collector’s edition on that gave the book in English, the book in Russian, and two commentaries by the translator, Vladimir Nabokov. I fell in love with the story, and would say that it is still my favorite book of all time. I have read it multiple times, I own the movie, I own the Russian book on CD, and I have some of the music from the opera. So as you can imagine, I was stoked when I saw decently priced tickets to see it at the Bolshoi.

I went with Daniel, one of the teachers I work with, and he is in love with opera. We went to dinner first and then walked to the Bolshoi. It was an incredibly cold night and as we walked, all I could think about was how my legs were burning with the cold. But finally we arrived. It is beautiful inside. The theater it was playing in was the small theatre. There are two stages in the Bolshoi, but the large one is undergoing reconstruction. It was built in 1776 and had not been renovated in well over 100 years. They found that the foundational structure was dilapidated and so it has been undergoing construction for quite some time. As a result, all performances are in the small theatre.

Our seats were in a perfect spot. There are two balconies and our seats were on the first balcony, in the first row at center stage. We could see and hear everything great. The book is written in 8 parts. The opera combines the first two parts, so there are 7 parts to the opera, each one being about 7-15 minutes long.

The music was beautiful and the singing was great. I will admit however, that I was a bit disappointed in some of the acting and in the script. The script was significantly different from the book at certain parts and really changed the mood, character development, and meaning of some events. When the opera came out, it was greeted with raving reviews by foreigners, but a lot of mixed reviews by Russians. I certainly understand why. The chance to be at the Bolshoi was a great thing though, and even if I had known beforehand that I’d be a bit disappointed, I still would have gone to see it. Yesterday though, I spent the evening reading through parts of the book again and watching the movie to reaffirm my love of the story. I highly recommend that you read the book. But read a good translation though…Barnes and Noble Classics do not count as good translations. Vladimir Nabokov is the best.

Well, that is about all I have to say on that subject. But continuing on the subject of books, I am reading James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Can you believe that I’ve never read this before?! How is this possible? Every child in elementary school reads this and loves it. I found it in the library at school and decided to read it to my native speakers in 3rd grade. I am reading it through ahead of time and it is fantastic. I could hardly put it down today.
I love reading. Thank you so much Daddy for passing on your love of books to me and for pushing me to read good literature and not just “fluff” books all the time:)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

С Новым годом!

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! It has been a while since I've written...sorry. Time has flown by in the Motherland and so many things have happened.

I finished my second term at school. I don't know where it went because it seemed to have just started when it finished. The holiday season is always a busy time at school. At my school, each class puts on a performance for the parents. They all pick different themes and they include singing, dancing, acting, jokes, etc. I went to as many of the performances I could and they were fascinating--I've never seen anything like them before. The costumes were incredible and usually tailored specifically for each kid. Many of the costumes were very elaborate. I would have to say the the 1st graders and the 4th graders had my favorite performances. The first graders showed New Years traditions from around the world. They showed Russian, Spanish, Scotish, and Japanese traditions. The 4th graders did the play of Peter Pan AND they acted entirely in English!!! Some of my 4th graders are a bit hesitant when speaking English, but they must have practiced for many many hours since they all did fantastic. Here are some pictures of these two performances as well as a picture of three of my great coworkers Vitaly, Amber, and Boris. Vitaly and Beka are dressed up because they played small parts in the 2nd grade perfomance.

Christmas time was also wonderful. I had Christmas dinner at Daniel and Emily Fisher's home. The Fishers are British friends from church who host a Bible study for young professionals on Tuesday and they invited a few of us over for Christmas. They have three kids: Jude, Amy, and Angus. They are lovely kids. It was very neat because those of us there were from the UK, America, the Faroe Islands, and Russia. For the British food we had bread pudding (my new favorite), and THE Christmas pudding. It doesn't have a more descriptive name, but all Brits eat it at Christmas and before eating they douse it in Brandy and light it on fire. Very cool. For the Americans, we had homemade Eggnog and, thanks to my mom, Ranch dressing! To represent the Faroese, Oli made rice pudding with a hidden almond (with which we played a game! This is another new favorite and I plan to continue the rice pudding almond game as a tradition.

P.S. The Christmas pudding is on fire, even though my picture doesn't really show it.

Emily also made each of us stockings and put a bunch of little things in them. Everyone who came also got everyone something small to put in the stockings, and it was like a bit of home.

While over break, my housemate, Kristin, and I wandered all over the city seeing things we had not yet seen. We went to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, a statue park, and a museum of Michael Bulgakov, Russia's favorite satirist, just to name a few. We also had quite the ice storm, with sidewalks and branches covered in ice. One of the best parts of break, however, was the day Vitaly asked to meet us. He said he wanted to give us something that would remind us of home. We met him in the metro and he gave us Dr. Pepper!!!! It is very hard to find here and very expensive when you do find it. What a treat indeed!

For New Year's Eve, Kristin and I decided to go to Red Square. Most Russians we talked to warned us about going there. They said it would be packed with people and you would stand like sardines. They said everyone would be drunk and there would be Nationalist riots. They said we might not even be allowed in because there are so many people. They said we'd be so cold we'd freeze our toes off. They said the fireworks would be lame and we'd never get back to the metro in time to make it home. Well, Kristin and I decided to try it anyway. The only thing the Russians were right about was the freezing toes. It was a good experience and I'm glad we went. I won't do it again, but I can at least say I rung in the new year in front of the Kremlin and St. Basil's.

All in all, this has been a great time of year. I miss my family and it would have been wonderful to make it home for Christmas and New Year, but overall I am glad I stayed. For a couple years now I have wanted to see a real Russian New Year. They don't really celebrate Christmas much, and what they do celebrate is on January 7. New Year's is the big holiday here. In fact, as I write this, Christmas is still 5 days away. Kinda crazy!

So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Merry (Orthodox) Christmas! God bless us, Everyone!