Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where my cookies at?

I like the food here. I do. At the OK market, there is an an entire aisle devoted to sausage. You can also buy dumplings in bulk. These are a few (or a couple) of my favorite things. However, in my trips abroad, one thing has eluded me. That is, a proper noshing cookie.

There are all kinds of wonderful biscuit-type confections to have with tea and coffee, and they are wonderful for that purpose. My stepson's wife (and my very dear friend) and I both enjoy day-old baked goods for the same purpose. They have lost just enough moisture and have just the right consistency to accompany a hot beverage.

What I am talking about is the kind you sit in front of the TV with (not at the table, like a lady, where I have my tea and biscuits). They should be full of bad stuff, including perhaps, high-fructose corn syrup (by which I am horrified in all other products). I'm talking Chips Ahoy, Oreos, and proper ones that are sweet, sweet, sweet...not like the abominations I once had in China. I know they must be good to others too (the Chips Ahoy) because my Korean visitors last summer bought them and tried to bring them to a concert and I had to tell them it was not allowed--to my chagrin as well as theirs, I assured them. And, for supposedly not liking sweets, they sure filled my grocery cart up with Sugar Frosted Flakes and the like (to my delight, because then I got to eat them too.)

The cookies should be eaten right out of the bag or box with crumbs falling right into one's lap, and there should be much channel switching. It's best to settle on something on TV Land or Lifetime. (There is a Hallmark channel on the satellite system here that serves a similar purpose, but no proper cookies). Maybe I just need to do some more shopping and experimenting. For now, I shall just have another biscuit while I watch CNN International. (I have to stay here for now because I have a load of wash in progress.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

How do they look at themselves in the mirror?

Well, I'm going off the travel topic for this post. From time to time, I check my e-mail, and because of various discussion lists I'm on, there will be job postings for either ESL teachers or librarians. After they go through a lengthy list of qualifications for the job, always including a Master's Degree and experience, one often discovers the job is part-time for something like 16-21 dollars an hour. Now, I think the ESL teachers are harder to come by than the librarians (where I live, at least) but seriously, don't they feel bad about asking for that in return for what they're willing to give? It's one of the (many) reasons I decided not to pursue my MA in TESOL. At the university nearby, it even said on the Web site the last time I checked it that it's a pretty sure bet you'll be working part time unless you want to arrange conferences and such. At least in the library world, there's some chance of working full time, although I know that situation has many drawbacks as well right now. Why would someone pursue a master's in an area in which there is little chance of making a living wage (or salary?) And it's one of the areas in education in which there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Aren't these people in education and ESL going to conferences every two minutes? It seems like they could get together and work out the faulty logic on this one.

Some tourist-y stuff, some everyday stuff

I have now visited The Hermitage, seen Madame Butterfly at the Mariinsky Theater, and gone inside The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

I have also gone grocery shopping at what is known in American retail jargon as a "hypermarket," (kind of what Americans might call a superstore). In other words, one of those stores in which you can buy clothing, groceries, tires, etc. Also, last night, we went to an Azerbajian (Azerbajiani?) restaurant, and I had something delicious called Chicken Sadj. I'm not sure if it is an Azerbajian or Russian dish because I think the restaurant offered both. It had chicken, eggplant, potatoes, green peppers, tomatoes, and apples. It was served on a wok-type thing with fire in the middle, and that was set upon a little bucket of coals.

This was a somewhat masculine place (although women were there) with lots of men smoking, a few drinking, and watching the soccer game. I don't particularly like cigarette smoke and at home would avoid it, but I liked the earthiness of this place. It made me feel like I was somplace different, and that is why one travels, right? Except, like everywhere, they played a lot of American music.

I said to my husband that it's kind of hard not to feel cocky, even when you know it's wrong and obnoxious, when almost everywhere you go you can find your language spoken and "your" music playing; you can also find your fast food restaurants. I'm sure that's more about marketing than anything else, but it does make it hard not to feel a little smug. Of course, in the USA, we are influenced by so many cultures, it is hard to claim one as our very own.

The Hermitage was wonderful, but overwhelming. It used to be the Winter Palace (at least part of it), from 1744-1762 the official residence of the Imperial family. There are many aspects to it and I will go back again, I think. There is so much art there to see, it seems impossible for any to be left for any other museum in the world. We were on the third floor (19th and 20th Century art) when the place just started closing; no anoouncement, just the people who sit in chairs in each of the rooms got up, started turning off lights, getting their coats on, etc. We were getting a little panicky heading out looking for exits, lights going off either ahead of us or behind us as we retraced our path through every room. When we got to the first floor, there were lots of visitors there just leaving and that was a relief. On the second and third floors i think we were starting to get worried about getting locked in there.

Madame Butterfly was fine, but I preferred the ballet. It is just too hard for me as a modern western woman to buy into the story. You're going to marry me, go off with the fleet, come back a few years later with an American wife and ask me to hand my child over, and I'm going to do it and kill myself? Oh, hell no. In my version, there would be a very Springer-like ending, but I guess that is not the stuff of great art now, is it?

I'm so glad we went into the Church on Spilled Blood. The church outside is very colorful and lovely, but the inside is amazing. There are walls and walls of incredible mosaics depicting Biblical scenes as well as gorgeous woodwork. The place had been damaged by war and had been used as a warehouse, I think for an opera company in later years, but has been beautifully restored. It's not a big place at which one necessarily spends a lot of time, but it is breathtaking. Near the gift shop area, there is a wall of photos which document its restoration. It is heartbreaking to see the damage it once suffered.

Of course, the worst cost of war is always the human cost in terms of lives and injuries to both body and soul. However, seeing what it does to the remarkable achievements of human beings also makes one shudder. Of course, it is easier to resrore a building than a person, but still requires great cost and commitment.

When I travel, I'm happy if I get to experience the "everydayness" of life, so I really enjoy things like trips to the grocery store. Although some things are written in English, most products had Cyrillic script labels so one either buys products that are instantly recognizable by the pictures, or by categorizing them with the other products in the aisle. When I first got here, I almost made myself a peanut butter and tomato sauce sandwich, because the jars in the fridge were about the same size and the inside seemed to be about the same consistency and color. In fact, I had the first smear of "jelly" on the peanut butter when I thought the aroma of it seemed unusually rich and tomato-ey.

My conditioner, a brand I sometimes use at home, is written on in Cyrillic script, mostly, but in English promises me "Respect and Balance." I get balance, but respect? Wow. Who knew? It's about damn time I got a little respect from my hair...and all for a few rubles. I'm going to try to back-translate it to see what they were going for. I'm guessing something similar to "control."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More from St. Petersburg

On Monday, we went to a bridge near the Church of the
Savior on Spilled Blood. As we approached the bridge, my husband told me that there was usually a wedding party there having pictures taken. Sure enough, there were two wedding parties. Another thing he told me that happens there is that the groom picks up the bride and carries her across the bridge. We saw them do that too.
I did ask him "Who gets married on a Monday?" and he told me just about any day he has come here, no matter what day of the week, there has been a wedding.

The brides' dresses were a bit more ornate than most of the dresses that are currently popular in the USA. They looked beautiful,though, and because it was a cold day, they wore little faux fur jackets with their dresses. The bridesmaids, though, had full-on parkas over their bridesmaids' gowns which surprised me a bit, because people have struck me as rather fashionable. The parka/ gown combo made me feel right at home. (Although we will generally take it up a notch for a wedding--at least the ladies). They looked pretty impatient with the picture taking; everyone's teeth were chattering.

We went to a restaurant featuring Russian food that evening and I had Solyanka, a sweet/sour/spicy soup which the server described as having pickled cucumbers and "meat." There was some sausage in it, and some other diced meat. It was actually pretty tasty, served with a side container of sour cream. I will eat a lot of things if I am given sour cream to have with them. Plus my time in China has made me pretty adventurous regarding meat. Eat it now, ask questions later. If ever. Need to know basis. It was good, though. I will try to make it at home.

Last night we went to the Mariinsky Ballet and Opera Theater to see the ballet The Sleeping Beauty. It was a great ballet, but long. There were three intermissions which I think must have been 15-20 minutes each. The dancing was wonderful and amazing; the costumes were gorgeous. The theater is elegant with gold-leaf and crystal chandeliers and those curtained boxes like you see in old movies.The domed ceiling had a painting and a frieze (I think) around the painting. On Friday, we will go there again to see the opera Madama Butterfly.

We tried to go to the Hermitage today but we got there too late to buy tickets (having slept late after the late night at the ballet, then being too wound up to go to sleep right away.) I think we will try to go tomorrow.

(If you have left me a comment, it will show up soon...just as soon as I can get this Cyrillic alphabet down pat, and perhaps a Russian/English dictionary so I know whether I'm saying to allow or disallow it. The unfamiliar characters are messing with my spatial memory so I can't remember which side means what.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Greetings from St. Petersburg!

OK, we're going to try this and see what happens. First of all, for some reason, I was surprised to log on to Blogger and see everything in Russian, including my profile. Since I can't read Cyrillic, i'm just sort of clicking spaces by memory and figuring out what to do from the graphics I recognize.

I left Saturday and arrived here yesterday (Sunday). It was amazing to ride into St. Petersburg and see how different everything suddenly looked compared to everything on the outskirts. It's quite lovely here with amazing architecture. I haven't visited anywhere yet; I just took a walk with my husband at night in which he tried to orient me a bit, but between jet lag and general confusion I experience when I travel, that just wasn't happening yet.

In addition to the trip, I had just experienced the busiest week of my life. I had a group project including presentation due in my School Media Specialist class on Wednesday night. I had to prepare final exams for my grammar and reading classes, correct those, and calculate and turn in my final grades before I left. I also had to leave plans for Molly, the teacher who is subbing for me for two weeks, as well as syllabi for those courses because it's now the beginning of that session. That's in addition to preparations I had to make for the trip, including some items I had to round up for my husband (among them,half-inch sticky dots, which I thought would be the easiest thing...but no. Quarter-inch, three-quarters, no problem, but half-inch proved more elusive).

The biggest thing I noticed is that the majority of people walking about in the evening seemed young, fit, and very nicely dressed, so I was glad it was kind of dark because I was looking very travel-weary and not young, fit, nor particualarly nicely dressed (having pretty much been wearing the same thing for almost 24 hours and just too damn tired to change.)

The place we are staying is within walking distance of the Hermitage (I have now seen the exterior) and some historical churches. There were some people singing in the street when we took a walk, and my husband tells me that's not unusual. I heard some music playing as we passed one building. It was American: What a Wonderful World, which I had actually heard on the radio in the apartment earlier.

I am kind of proud of this: this is the second time I met my husband somewhere, flying on my own. This is the kind of thing that used to be very anxiety-provoking for me. It still is a bit, but not nearly as much as it used to be. I've discovered there are very predictable events in terms of the flight (although I made a point of selecting a flight that connected in Amsterdam rather than Paris since I have now been in that airport. That results in similar meals, etc.) once I have actually visited some places, I will update.

(About my last strange, out-of-context entry: I was trying to show my brother how to set up a blog so he will stop sending 10,000 e-mails a week. Someday I will modify and contextualize it).