Friday, January 13, 2006

Let’s see if I can get through this one…

I know, I know, I know, I’ve been really bad about keeping this blog updated, especially lately, but sometimes it’s so boring to rehash all the stuff that has taken place in my mind. Yet, I started this blog in order to keep you all up to speed on what has taken place in my life and also what life here in Russia is like. Stating that I’m going to try and cover a lot of ground, including holidays, my trip to Moscow, and just my impressions of Russia and the Russian people now halfway through my stay. I can’t promise this is going to be at all coherent, as I’m dealing with a nasty cold I caught in Moscow; however, I’ll do my best to be clear and also maybe a little entertaining. So let’s get started…

David, my creative writing professor and good friend, told me before I left to try and stay in the town I’m living in, Rostov, over the holidays, especially Christmas. Well I tried, but sort of failed at it since I spent most of the Russian holiday season, which is December 31st to January 7th, in Moscow. He advised me to do this so that I would see the traditions and customs of the Russian people during their own special holidays, and although I didn’t follow his advise fully I still feel that I somewhat understand the people and their holidays well. In all honesty, they are the same as ours. Everyone has this sort of blindfold on about the holiday season and how great it is suppose to be –you know full of peace and love and friendship and all that nice pretty non-existing crap –but then when the holidays actually arrive it is full of drama and hateful speech. Yep, it’s the same here as at home, which although being at home during the holidays is often a headache waiting to happen, I really missed it this year and wished I was there. Now in Russia, New Year is bigger than Christmas, because of the simple fact that during Communism they were not allowed to celebrate Christmas. Since they were denied to celebrate Christmas for so long, the Russian people sort of adopted the New Year as their biggest holiday. During New Year, they give and receive presents, spend it often with their family before seeing their friends, and put the Christmas tree up for it specially. All I can say about this holiday is that I was expecting so much more from the Russians than I actually got. I’m mean this is a nation that parties all the time, for any little holiday or celebration they hold elaborate parties and often shoot off fireworks. With all that I’ve seen of the Russian mentality concerning parties, and what I’ve been told by students and colleagues alike, I was expecting complete madness. What I got was, in my humble impression, less that what we do in the States, especially the younger generations. I mean me and my friends at home typically go crazy for New Year, and here I hardly can say I had a great time. Don’t get me wrong, I had a pretty good time but I was let down by the build up everyone was dishing me. Anyway, I guess when you’re fond of something, like I am the way we Americans celebrate New Year, everything that tries to compare with it is less than spectacular.

Another reason that I may not have been too excited about the New Year celebration was because I knew that on the 2nd I had a long trip to Moscow coming. Alina and I, both having registered to take the GRE (let’s not talk about how that turned out, okay?), left to Moscow on the 2nd and we spent an entire five days there, not returning until early the 7th. Moscow was, quite simply, the best city I’ve ever seen. London and Edinburgh, although close to my heart, do not compare to the greatness of Moscow. This city has been around forever, and I do mean forever. There is so much history held within Moscow that its hard to try and ignore it. If you’ve ever stood in the middle of Red Square and just taken it all in, you know what I mean. That square alone is enough for anyone to stop and think to themselves, “Jesus, this is so amazingly cool…” I can’t really describe, at least in prose, what I felt while seeing Red Square. I had to go back twice and I still can’t really explain my feelings adequately about that place, it is just FUCKING INSANE, for those of you who aren’t up to date with slang that means “really good.” I’m sorry to use such strong language, but other than that two word expression words fail me when trying to describe this feeling. Not only was Red Square cool, but everything I saw in Moscow was really unbelievable. Several times I had to just stop and think to myself, “Man, James, look where you are. Can you believe this? Who would have ever thought?” The entire trip is still too fresh in my mind and its hard for me to write about it, although I’m trying through poetry because I feel that is my best way to express myself, that I feel myself coming to a loss of things to say here. I apologize but when I return home if any of you are interested in asking me about my trip, I’m sure I’ll be more than happy to speak with you (if for no other reason than that you all speak English as your native language and I miss the opportunity to speak with anyone and everyone, although I hardly do that at home…)

Since I can’t really put down what I want to say about Moscow, I guess I’ll change subjects and speak about my first real experience on a train and then coming back to Rostov. I have never traveled on a train, like many of us think of them as. In England and Scotland, I rode on trains but they were commuter trains and were quite uncomfortable. However, the train I rode on to and from Moscow was really different. It was a train with individual compartments, like you see in movies about the west, and they had places one could sleep. I found the train rides really relaxing, since I’ve always loved to fall asleep in moving vehicles (well besides planes). When I was younger, my mom, to put me asleep, would drive around for hours and I always loved sleeping while in motion. Well a train ride is so much better. You have hours and hours of traveling and a nice comfy bedlike couch that will help you spread out and relax. After studying some with Alina, on the way to Moscow, I put on my iPod and just laid looking out the window at the night sky passing me by. I feel asleep pretty fast and had a great sleep. My only complaint about the train is that the food is worse than plane food. I highly recommend, if any of you will ever be traveling on a train in Russia (hey don’t rule it out, things can happen and you never know), that you pack food for the ride with you. Trust me, you’ll be a lot happier and your stomach will be too. Traveling by train, in my opinion, really helped me to understand the Russians, and perhaps even feel a little more Russian, than if I had traveled by plane. This train experience will always be something that I remember and tell people, “You know, when I was 23, I took an 11 hour train ride across Russia. It was really something…”

On the way back, however, I was less thrilled with the train ride but that is only because something non-related with the train occurred. While Alina and I were settling in for the long ride back to Rostov, two police officers entered our compartment. Now if you’ve never dealt with Russian police or if you know little about them, let me fill you in on one very important thing. Russian police are all corrupt, everyone here will tell you that and its sort of a know thing throughout the world that if you’re foreign you should avoid the police. Up till this point, I had done a great job of escaping the police in Rostov. But this day, my luck ran out. The two police entered our compartment and asked to see our documents. No problem, right? I mean I have all the necessary documents to be here in Russia, including a valid passport and visa. Well the police did not thing that was enough. They kept trying to say that there was something wrong with my paperwork, which of course I knew there wasn’t. I had been reassured by many people at the University, including Galina, that my paperwork was in order and that I was legal here in Russia. Well the police kept trying to tell us that something was wrong with my visa and that I wasn’t suppose to be in the country at this time. Whatever! They told us that the fine for being in the country with an invalid visa was 2200 rubles, which is roughly 66 dollars. Luckily, Alina was with me and said that she needed to call her dad before she could pay them. Knowing that all they were after was our money, she did call her dad and all was resolved shortly after that. The police didn’t bother us for the rest of the trip and when we arrived in Rostov, Alina’s father and Galina both made sure they were punished by their superiors for their actions. A funny note about this run-in was that when Alina’s father approached the two police men, they became so scared and their faces showed it. Granted, Alina’s father is a big guy, but the expression on the police officers’ faces was priceless –just wish I had taken a picture of them.

That’s it for now. I hope you understand a little more about life here in Russia for me, although there is so much more that I’ll just have to explain when I return home. I also hope that you were entertained by my adventures, because even though at times I am rather upset by things taking place here in my life, I know in the long run they are only making me a stronger, better person. As of this date, I’m halfway through my trip here and even though I’ll be happy to return home, I’m sure that it will be hard for me to leave Russia behind. Until next time, have a great day and keep in touch…

3 Comments:

At 6:06 AM, Anonymous J. Snarf said...

you almost made it to the lubyanka! christmas here was about the usual--warm weather and lots of angst. did you go see lenin's tomb? is it still open?

have fun and avoid the police.

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger James said...

I saw Lenin's tomb from the outside, but because of the holiday season you couldn't go inside. It is still open though on a regular basis; however, it may not be for long as some are trying to get him moved to St. Petersburg, which is where he wanted to be buried.

 
At 9:17 PM, Anonymous kandy said...

James, Hi-I'm in Dr.Clifton's Writing for the Web class at C.S.U., and he sent us your blog site. Just wanted to say thanks for an interesting site & keep up the good work. kandy, C.S.U.-Pueblo undergrad.

 

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