Wednesday, December 30, 2009
2009 In Review
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
A Small Victory (or Merry Christmas to Me)
Ms. Tennessee and Wonderpants opted for a 2 week vacation in December and went home to America to spend Christmas with family. Ms. Australia went to England to spend Christmas with Gem, and Mr. Irish, Quagmire and I were stuck covering all their classes in addition to our own. For the past two weeks we've been working our butts off, teaching English to groups of students we don't know. Of course, a lot of that teaching was Christmas-related, which means watching movies and cutting snowflakes out of printer paper. Nevertheless, my workdays increased from an average of 6 hours per day to over 10 hours per day.
The traditional Eastern Orthodox Christmas is January 6th but it's not as big a deal, thanks to the Soviets, as Christmas is in the west. New Years Eve is the big day in Russia, so it should be interesting to see.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Hello Demon Kitty
Ms. Tennessee went home to the U.S. to visit family over Christmas, and the small adorable kitten she acquired last month was sent to Quagmire to watch over for the next month. His landlord, however, was coming over to inspect the place on Sunday so he and Wonderpants asked me and Mr. Irish if we could take the cat just for the afternoon.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Little Nazi & The Big One
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A Day In The Life
Monday, December 14, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Girls Of The World
- high maintenance
- overweight and don't care about their natural feminine beauty
- likely to cheat and then blame it on their partner
- nag constantly
- hate men
- believe family is evil and care only for themselves
- can't cook
- sleep with lots of guys but are incapable of loving just one" - Atlanta Journal article "Why Men Marry Foreign Women", 2008
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Meet The Parents
Sasha and I bought her flowers at a little flower shop and went to her place. Sasha's giflriend, Gal, was already there and the two girls were busy preparing a feast. They were slicing and dicing and seasoning and boiling and baking. Sasha and I were shooed out of the kitchen so we watched YouTube clips on Katerina's laptop.
Then her parents came home, and got to meet them. Her mother speaks no English and I could tell the moment we met that she didn't like her daughter dating a foreigner. Her mother is a silent type, and after the obligatory "Zastroot-vye" (formal "hello") she didn't say anything to me or use anybody to interpret for her.
Her father was a lively guy. He handed his daughter a birthday card filled with roubles and poured everyone a glass of champagne and then led us in toast after toast after toast. When the champagne was gone he grabbed a bottle of Martini and did the same.
He was curious about me, and liked that I was from Canada. Although he had limited English he used Katerina and Sasha as translators. "I have family in Canada." he told me. I asked him "Are you Ukrainian?" to which he replied "Of course I'm Ukrainian! I am NOT Russian!" and with the word "Russian" he made a spitting motion, as if the word tasted bad. "Here, try some Amaretto!"
Dinner pretty much followed this pattern, with Gal and Sasha yapping at me in English, Katerina's mother doing everything to ignore me and her father doing everything to get everyone completely drunk, Russian style (or should I say Ukrainian style?). He even gave me one of his 'Ukrainian' cigarettes to try.
With Katerina translating I learned that the Soviet authorities had taken him from his home in the Ukraine when he was 17 and put him through engineering school, although he just wanted to be a farmer. After University he was drafted into the military as a Red Army engineer, and spent 10 years building army bases along the Russian-Chinese border. He met Katerina's mother, a Don Cossack from Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) and they married and he's lived in Moscow ever since. Learning that Katerina was half Cossack helped to explain her incredibly stubborn demeanour when she gets an idea in her head.
After dinner we were all slightly drunk and us "youngsters" made our way to the Shyolkova bowling alley, which was lit in black lighting and blaring trance music. We ordered drinks and pizza and an ashtray and proceeded to bowl for the next few hours.
I was doing horribly until I caught sight of one lonely blue 10-pound ball sitting on a rack behind our table. For some reason it called out to me. I stuck my fingers in the holes and they fit perfectly. Like Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone, I hoisted the ball into the air and then flung it down the lane. Strike! After that my lucky ball scored well for me, and I ended up coming in second after Katerina.
When it was time to go, around 3 am, we walked through the snow that had fallen that day, over a little bridge above a river, and to a park that was lit in soft lights reflecting off the snow-covered ground. Then we proceeded to horse around, sufficiently intoxicated so as not to feel the cold. My Russian friends made the mistake of picking a snowball fight with me, and I taught them a thing or two about fastball pitching and leading a moving target, so that the snowball and the victim meet the same point of space at the same time. Katerina wasn't happy when my snowball got her in the face as she was running, but I was impressed!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Thanksgiving & Vodka
Mr. Irish and I started the evening off by pre-drinking a couple of shots of vodka at our kitchen table. Once we had a nice fuzzy feeling we put on our coats, scarves, gloves, etc and made our way to SPAR, where we purchased 10 bottles of beer and I got a bottle of white wine from Chile. Then we hopped on the #4 bus and made our way to Ms. Tennessee's flat.
Wonderpants, Quagmire, Ms. Australia and Gem were there. Another American girl, Schwangledoodledandy, showed up an hour after Mr. Irish and I. There were also several Russians, including a balding but young man I'll call Young Homer, his girlfriend who I'll call Cafe (Cute And Friendly-e), and one of Ms. Tennessee's friends, a beautiful 6-foot tall blonde who I'll call, for lack of imagination, Tits.
I got into the beer that Mr. Irish and I had bought and played with the kitten that Ms. Tennessee has recently acquired (as she was waiting at a bus stop a car drove by and some guy threw a new-born kitten out the window. Luckily it landed in a small snowbank at Ms. Tennessee's feet,so she took it home).
After the oldest American male, Quagmire, carved the turkey we all chowed down, then continued to drink more.
After dinner we had a pageant, which Wonderpants had written. I can't remember who played who, but I do remember that I was "Chief Samoset" and Tits was my daughter. It was sort of funny in a Grade 2 way. The script was actually hilarious, filled with Wonderpants' special brand of sarcasm, but the simple fact that we were holding a pageant in the living room was, well, retarded.
Quagmire and I had to make a beer-run, so he and I went to the local produkty where we cleaned them out of beer. They don't sell beer in cases in Russia; one must buy the individual bottle. This means we had a few bags of beer to lug back to the party. No worries. We did it.
After all that turkey and beer I was extremely full and despite drinking copious amounts of ale I was as sober as a bran muffin, so I cracked open the bottle of wine I had bought. There were no clean glasses that I could find, so I ended up carrying the bottle around and drinking directly from it. This seemed to horrify the Russians but I was starting not to care.
Ms. Australia, Gem and I made a second beer run shortly after and once we were outside I realized that my shoes didn't match. I had put on one of mine and one of somebody else's, who has the same size shoes as me. I started to realize that I wasn't actually sober.
Later that night Ms. Tennessee gave us a few shots of vodka and then Quagmire, Mr. Irish and I took a gypsy cab to the Austquagwonder Flat (taking a 'gypsy cab' consists of walking to the curb, holding out your hand, and negotiating a price for a drive with the first car that pulls over).
The three of us went to a produkty and bought more beer and a giant bottle of vodka, then, once at Quagmire's we drank more. By this point the three of us had had between 10 and 20 beers (each), a bottle of wine (each) and within ten minutes of arriving we had downed four or five shots of vodka. Ms. Australia, Gem, Schwangledoodledand and Wonderpants arrived. Then things started to get weird.
Quagmire disappeared to another level of consciousness. Although he and I were on his balcony having a cigarette, he was making no sense at all.
"WHO?" He shouted at me.
"Who me? Who are you? What?" I replied.
"You know what I'm saying, but you don't know."
"That's what they all think I think but they don't" Quagmire mumbled, or something along those lines. Then he flung the balcony door open and pointed at the group of our companions around the kitchen table. "CHOOSE ONE!!!!" He growled.
"What? Why? What the hell are you talking about?" I asked.
"CHOOOOOSE ONE! DO IT!"
"Ummm...for what, death?"
"You know what I'm saying!"
"I actually don't have a clue what you're saying, but I gotta use the toilet, so do your best to hold that thought" I said, and stumbled off to the bathroom. I was gone for not more than 30 seconds and when I came out of the bathroom Quagmire was sitting at the kitchen table and his hand was bleeding everywhere.
Mr. Irish was trying to soak up the blood with a napkin but Quagmire wouldn't let him. "Punch me!" He kept shouting at Mr. Irish. "Puuuunch Meeeee!" It was the strangest way to pick a fight that I've ever seen, but I started to realize why Quagmire keeps getting punched in the face by Russians when he's drunk. Ms. Australia started to freak out at him. "You're a freak! You stupid idiot! Fine! You don't want help? Go to your room!"
With that she pointed to Quagmire's door and he stood up and, bleeding all over himself, stumbled off to his room never to be seen again.
That's the last memory I have of Thanksgiving. The next time I was conscious it was Sunday morning and I was in bed with Ms. Australia and Gem (fully clothed). And my head hurt a lot.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Outside the VVTs is the Space Museum, where a Soviet rocket lifting off greets all-comers.
Next to the main gate is the Soviet People's Funfair, complete with a giant ferris wheel. Each cart on the ferris wheel is topped by a red star which, I am told, light up at night. The ferris wheel, built in 1955, still operates but apparently the view from the top sucks, as tall glass skyscrapers have taken over the Moscow skyline.
Entrance to the VVTs is free, and they are open from 08:00 to 22:00 every day, year round. Katerina and I walked through the massive main gate and onto the main square, with the Russia pavilion at the far end. The tree-lined square was impressive in November, but Katerina told me that in the spring and summer it is filled with gardens as all the countries of Europe hold a botanical competition every year, and then visitors to the park can vote on their favourite. France won last year.
At the far end of the square, in front of the Russia Pavilion, is a giant statue of Lenin. I have seen several of these statues dotted around Moscow and St. Petersburg, but I've never had my camera on me so I was happy that I could finally take a picture of the founder of the Soviet Union.
Beyond the Russia Pavilion lies an octagonal square surrounded by pavilions, each one dedicated to the cultural and economic achievements of each of the 16 Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazahkstan, Kirghizstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan). In the centre of this square is the Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples.
This giant gold-coloured fountain is ringed by 16 women, each one representing a different Soviet republic and wearing the traditional cultural costume of their particular republic.
The Armenia Pavilion
Four of the Pavilions were named, such as the Russia, Armenia, Karelia and Ukraine pavilions, but the rest were simply numbered as Pavilion 12, Pavilion 62, etc. I wasn't sure which pavilion was from which country, but after entering one I realized that it was the Byelorus Pavilion.
Most of the VVT pavilions are now commercial shopping centres. Inside the Byeolorus Pavilion there were rows of stalls. Next to one stall selling traditional wood-carved peasant women there was a stall selling LG washing machines. Katerina and I wandered around the Byelorus pavilion for ten minutes or so and then left without purchasing any laundry appliances.
The Ukraine Pavilion
Behind the Ukraine Pavilion was a 1970s Aeroflot (the Russian airline) jet liner with the distinct CCCP on the tail (SSSR, better known in English as USSR).
Beside the airplane was a huge nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), of the variety that spent fifty years threatening the United States. This missile was suspended from a launch pad and, although the nuclear device has been removed from the warhead, this was, at one point, an operational missile! I couldn't help but wonder what sort of uproar there would be were the USA to showcase one of it's cold-war missiles!
A Soviet-era Aeroflot jet liner.
Nuclear ICBM on display at the VVTs, complete with launch pad.
By the late 1980s western goods were pouring into the Soviet Union under Gorbechov's policies of glasnost and perestroika, and the VVTs lost whatever utopian conviction they might have once posessed. In 1990, as the USSR was on the eve of collapse, the VVTs lost their state funding and in the chaos that followed the overnight switch to a free-market the park was forced to sell-off it's spacecraft, airplanes and most of the interiors of the pavilions. The exposition centre nearly went-under until 2001, when a new governing board decided to use tourism as a way to draw capital. So far the VVTs have clawed their way back into sustainable operations and in 2005 the Putin government started state funding again in order to keep entrance to the park free.
Nevertheless, a couple of mammoth expo centres in the VVTs remain unused.
Empty exposition centre, which once showcased livestock from collective farms.
One ingenious idea the governing board had was to showcase model homes of a traditional peasant-style, and then to get into the real-estate market and sell the homes! These are quaint, cottage-like wooden homes of the type that the average Russian peasant has lived in for two thousand years. There is a nostalgia now, particularly in Moscow, for quiet traditional homes in the peaceful country, and the VVTs are making a financial killing with this concept.
Traditional model home for sale at the VVTs.
Katerina and I looped around to the northern end of the park and began walking back towards the main gates. We passed a couple of nice buildings and a massive, brand-new arena (another idea of the board; host concerts, figure skating and hockey games to draw money) and one of the last buildings we saw before we exited the park was the last Soviet building constructed here; the Museum of Socialist Culture.
We didn't go inside the museum because it was closed, but the Soviet symbology carved into it's facade was interesting. More importantly, however is the fact that outside the main gates, only a stone's throw from the Museum of Socialist Culture, is a....
Museum of Socialist Culture
McDonald's ouside the gates to the very Soviet VVTs