I would be adding more to this blog, but returning to America was a nightmarish ordeal. My flight from NYC to Pittsburgh was cancelled after my baggage was checked in (which included my laptop), so now my suitcase is somewhere between here and there. As soon as I can, I’ll wrap up the blog with the St. Petersburg trip, general impressions of Russia, and a fond farewell.
Walking home along Moscow River
Near the Russian Academy of Sciences, there was a path leading down to the river filled with interesting graffiti, a lot of which was political in nature.
The path along the river was beautiful. Boats were traveling up and down the river, some of which had parties or concerts. People were hanging out in the grass by the path. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people just casually enjoying the scenery of their city; then again, I hardly ever have opportunities such as these to wander around a city and see people doing this. As a result, I can’t really say for sure whether people here enjoy themselves more, or take more opportunities for leisure, than in the States, but I have a feeling that they do. There were a lot of people out rollerblading and biking as well.
Eventually we came away from the river by the Vorovyovy Gory metro station. Before I knew it, I was walking along a well-organized nature trail, as if I had instantly teleported to a state park somewhere far outside the city - it was mildly disorienting, but an excellent experience nonetheless.
After the hike through the nature trail, we found ourselves near the university at a very popular lookout spot. It had an atmosphere like East Carson Street minus the bar culture (then what would be left?). Alright, I guess I can’t describe it, just a bunch of people hanging out, sorta like a carnival. Very reminiscent of when I was in Times Square, a break-dancing street performance instantly materialized, and we gathered in a circle with a fairly large group of Muscovites to watch some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen. The performance was incredible - I could tell those kids were very talented.
After this, we made our way home. What had originally been a simple trip to a North Korean restaurant had become quite an enjoyable adventure for the night before my last undergrad class ever. I can’t think of a better way I could have spent it.
Panoramic views of Moscow from the Russian Academy of Sciences
After gazing at the city and chatting for about a half hour, we walked home to MGU along the river.
Russian Academy of Sciences Headquarters
Such a unique building. I love the architecture. You can only find such things in the former Soviet Union.
The original headquarters were in St. Petersburg, the capital in between Moscow’s reigns as capital, and was founded in 1724. Needless to say, that building looks nothing like this one. The headquarters were moved to Moscow in 1934 during the height of Stalin’s transformation of the country. I can’t find when the building itself was created, but I would imagine it was around that time.
There is a lookout point here which provided an excellent panorama of the city.
By Leninsky prospekt (avenue), in the vicinity of Koryo and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Also, I found the real life Springfield from the Simpsons.
…and it was in Moscow - the best possible outcome for such a moment.
We listened to several monologues, and then we role-played restaurant scenarios. We had no homework to turn in. Afterwards, we had a ceremony for the closing of classes: we gave toasts and presents to our teachers and directors,…
Kinda long; did read.
Thanks for always being a pal and reading my spew <3 from Russia to Korea <3
Koryo - North Korean cuisine
(Before we get started, I would like to apologize for how poor most of the pictures are. I tried my best with the conditions I had to work with, but dark areas and shaky hands have disastrous consequences in this case. Actually, I think they have disastrous consequences in many other cases as well, but that’s beside the point.)
A Korean restaurant of the North persuasion. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, but such a thing indeed exists in Moscow. Moscow has demonstrated time and time again that it is a city made especially for me.
So let me explain my feelings about North Korea. I am fascinated by how bizarre it is, or at least how bizarre it appears in Western media, and for a time I wanted to learn Korean and study the brief history/politics/philosophy of North Korea. North Korea was almost my Russia (although I highly doubt I’d get to do such an awesome study abroad program in Pyongyang, unfortunately). Why I am attracted to Stalinist single-party states I will never be able to explain.
After first hearing about this place a weak ago from several of my classmates, I promptly forced them to lead me there. After a convoluted metro ride and what seemed like senseless wandering around Gagarin Square, we arrived at the restaurant (which perfectly matched my classmate’s directions of “walk around for a bit, make a turn, and then you’re there”).
The restaurant’s outer shell was completely unremarkable; it’s essentially a shack that says Корё (Koryo) above the door, and if I had gone without them, I never would have found it. However, that was just a facade - upon entering, we were greeted by a flying maiden portrait very reminiscent of NK propaganda. We walked through a door and were treated to beautiful probably NK scenery as a lighted backdrop to our descent into the restaurant proper.
The restaurant was almost completely empty save for us, another pair of American tourists, and a small party. This seemed like a crime, because everything that followed was other-worldly. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with Korean art, a bar colored like the NK flag, a karaoke stage, and a television that played fun NK propaganda songs with fun NK propaganda imagines of soldiers with rifles defending Korea from the (American) imperialist dogs. The staff - all Korean women - were dressed in a very classy manner, somewhere between traditional Korean and flight attendant, and each had her hair pulled back tight in a bun. They were all very nice and gave us immediate service and constant but not nagging attention (probably because they were way overstaffed for their volume).
The food was incredible. After looking through the 20+ page menu, I finally asked the server which dishes had tofu and ordered both of them. This turned out to be a good call, because each dish was more like an appetizer by American standards. The first dish was a mildly spicy mix of onions, jalapeno peppers, and thin cuts of fried tofu. The second was a massive sizzling dish of nothing but tofu, probably the equivalent to a block of tofu purchased at a grocery store, seasoned with sliced onions and weird Korean spices. It was unbelievable. I left very satisfied, knowing that I probably consumed at least a pound of tofu.
The two dishes and a bottle of water cost me about 500 rubles (~$15). Well worth it for the food alone, but the novelty of a North Korean restaurant made this crucial.
…and it was in Moscow - the best possible outcome for such a moment.
We listened to several monologues, and then we role-played restaurant scenarios. We had no homework to turn in. Afterwards, we had a ceremony for the closing of classes: we gave toasts and presents to our teachers and directors, I drank tarhun, everybody else drank champagne, and many delicious Russian treats were consumed.
The night before, I had a night out on the town with two other classmates, which I’ll post about next. Tonight, I went out with a different pair of classmates to a different part of town and bought Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms in Russian. Now I have Kafka, Camus, Trotsky, Engels, Nietzsche, and Hemingway in Russian - plenty to motivate me to read in Russian and further develop my language skills. I also finally shaved off my mustache, and I’m fucking thrilled about it. Why I had a mustache will be known soon enough (big plans).
Today is the beginning of the rest of my life, and I have no idea what comes next. But that’s not something that scares me. Instead, it excites me; it could go in any direction, most of which seem good, or at the very least interesting. I’ve had to respond to the question of what comes next to so many of my classmates, and thankfully I’ve gained a clear picture of what the next part could look like. At the very best, I’d love to work with some sort of company translating or interpreting Russian. Regardless, I’m going to continue my Russian studies independently, and I’m excited to do so because I think I’ve reached a point where I can progress more quickly on my own (with the help of conversations with Russians, of course). But besides that, I want to start writing more: short stories, maybe a novel, maybe even poetry (I don’t think I’d be good at poetry, but I’m not scared). I want to learn to sing better so I can start a band that could be a little more listenable to the masses. I’m also interested in coming back to Russia to teach English. Eventually I’d like to go to grad school, but what for I’m not entirely sure yet - political philosophy, Soviet history, maybe Russian.
But that’s too far ahead. I don’t think there’s any need for such thoughts right now. I’ll see what’s up with tomorrow first.
Last night we dressed up and went to the Moscow Academic Music Theatre in the name of people’s artists K.S. Stanislavsky and V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko to watch Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet Swan Lake. Here’s a brief synopsis of the general story (there are many different versions with various endings):
Prince Siegfried has to choose a bride by his birthday. He wants to marry for love but time doesn’t allow for that. He gets pissed and runs off to the forest to hunt some swans. There he ends up finding a swan-girl who is actually the princess Odette, transformed into a swan by the sorcerer Rothbard who seems to have a soft spot for transforming maidens into swans as made apparent by the flock of swan-maidens in the forest. Siegfried dances with Odette and almost declares his love for her, which would break the spell, but Rothbard appears and screws it up. Siegfried wants to kill Rothbard because that usually resolves all problems, but in this case it would make Odette a swan forever, so she stops that from happening. Back at his castle, Siegfried has a ball. Rothbard arrives disguised and brings his daughter Odile, whom he has made to look like Odette, and she dances with Siegfried, who promptly declares that he will marry her, thinking it is Odette who he is marrying. However, Siegfried realizes that he goofed when an imagine of the real Odette appears, and he runs out to the forest to beg forgiveness. Here is where things change drastically between versions, but in the end at least one person dies, for better or worse.
This was my first ballet ever, and I’m really glad that it was this particular ballet in Moscow. It was a very interesting experience for me: there are no words, so it is all up to interpretation between the scenes you watch and the music you hear. It makes the viewer much more involved in the experience, which also makes it a more emotional experience as a whole. It’s almost as if you’re watching your own characters, and to a certain degree, you can make the story your own.
Afterwards, I felt like a much more cultured person. I am so bourgeois now.
Natalya Gordienko - “Kiev-Goa”
I don’t normally do this because I normally don’t care enough to, but I enjoyed this video strictly for the girl, a Ukrainian pop-singer. I really don’t even know what the song itself sounds like because I could never hear it, and I always mute my laptop in public.
Girls like this exist only in Eastern Europe, and I will miss seeing girls that look something similar to this around town or on tv. No pop singers, actresses, whatever in America are this pretty.
Everything sucks now.
Today we went to Bunker 42, located more than 200 feet beneath Taganskaya Square. We walked down 18 flights of stairs to get there. Then we walked up 18 flights of steps to leave.
Constructed in the early 50’s during the height of the Cold War as a secret military command post in the event of nuclear war, it was eventually put up for auction in 2006, purchased by a private company, and converted into a Cold War role-playing experience and museum.
In the missile control room, we watched a demonstration of how the missile would be launched in the event of a nuclear attack from the United States. Two volunteers were needed - if only I had been more brave, it would have been me, but another American stepped up to the plate. Our tour guide, in full military garb, told the man, “forget your motherland,” and he pressed the button. During the exercise, we were treated to a nice video of the chaos that would ensue in such an event. At the end, our tour guide reminded us that nobody wins in a nuclear war, but I watched America get nuked by the Soviet Union, so in the end I won. (DISCLAIMER: No, I don’t wish for anyone to get nuked.)
The next room contained a whole bunch of goodies: Kalashnikovs, gas masks, and a command desk with an officer’s hat and uniform shirt. Yes, I got a bunch of shithead pictures of myself, which will be included in a later post when/if I receive them from my classmates.
After walking through a labyrinth of underground tunnels that made me feel like I was in a vault in Fallout, we came to a small theater. Here we watched a short historical film about the Cold War (from the Russian perspective, i.e. “invincible Red Army” and Cuba as the “Island of Freedom”). After watching a bunch of massive nuclear explosions, I thought about how differing philosophies and the fear caused by lack of understanding almost annihilated the world.
This is why I study philosophy.
ALL THE OTHER FOOD I’VE BEEN EATING
1) Sandvich vegetariansky - A vegetarian sandwich with tomato, bell pepper, and “feta” cheese that is much more like a creamier goat cheese. Or is this the true essence of feta? Regardless, this is delicious. ~$3
2) Your standard bread basket - The left side is black bread, a dense and kinda vinegary bread. The right side is white bread, but it’s like real bread, not Wonder Bread, and actually tastes like a food substance. Complimentary.
3) A cup freshly grown peppers from the farm at Lev Tolstoy’s estate - With a light oil and sprinkling of dill. Delicious and unbelievably fresh. Never had anything of the sort before.
4) Mushroom soup - Full of flavor. Loved it. Also from Yasnaya Polyana, also probably fresh from the farm.
5) Spinach pizza - With edam cheese (not made with mozzarella, interestingly), cubes of the so-called feta cheese, spinach, and sauce verge. Very delicious. It only looks radioactive because it’s under a neon light at the cafe. ~$9
6) Penne with spinach - Creamy sauce, very much like alfredo, and laced with shredded parmesan cheese. My staple dinner choice. <$6
7) Bliny with fruit - The first traditional Russian food in this post (sorry, most of the traditional foods involve meat, sorry boutcha carnivores). Essentially like crepes, light pancakes with a variety of fillings (including meat). This particular dish was more of a dessert: sliced peaches, grape jam, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. ~$Not much
8) Some crazy turtle cake I got at the Starbucks at the mall once. ~$Stupid expensive, never again
9) “The Royal Apple” - a baked apple with almonds, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and melted honey. ~$Not much, definitely worth it
10) Carbonated mineral water - pretty popular in Russia. Still mineral water is also available, of course. All water in restaurants come bottled, thereby cutting off my source of free drinks. ~$Too much.
Taras Bulba Korchma - Ukrainian Restaurant
After our visit to the Church of Christ the Savior, a large group of us went to Taras Bulba Korchma for delicious Ukrainian cuisine.
I ordered strawberry mors. It was amazing. Imagine a fruit completely liquified. It is more than juice - it tastes like drinking the fruit itself. There were strawberry seeds in my drink. I am very sad that I got on the mors tip so late in the game. Now I have to crush tons of mors to catch up. Just another thing I will miss sorely when I leave Russia. :’[
As customary, they served us a bread basket with white and black bread, but along with that came a dish of some unidentifiable substance. It was pretty tasteless. After eating a slice of bread full of it, a fellow vegetarian told me it was lard. OH GOD WHYYYYYY. Then again, Ukraine is a country that offers slices of fat (“salo”) for an appetizer, so this should have been no surprise.
My dinner was a bowl of delicious Ukrainian pierogies stuffed with potato and mushrooms. They were really good. I want more of them.
To those of you living in New York (nobody from New York is reading this), you’re in luck because a Taras Bulba Korchma is coming to you. Go there.
Today Celia and I went to visit Lenin. As someone who has a lot of read much about the Bolsheviks, the October Revolution, and Lenin himself, I knew that seeing Lenin would be quite a cornerstone moment in my stay in Russia, or in my life for that matter. I came in with a lot of reverence for Lenin and the struggle of those who considered him a hero, and I understood well the fear he instilled in many. However, it was much more powerful than I expected.
First, the process to even enter the mausoleum is rigid and complex, as to be expected I suppose. With classic American audacity, we walked right through Red Square straight to Lenin’s mausoleum only to find chains surrounding the parameter. We watched some tourist step over the chain and try to walk right into the mausoleum, only to be promptly denied by a guard. Ever vigilant.
The correct way to view Lenin is to stand in line on the other side of the State Historical Museum. We made our way to the line and eventually entered the incessantly moving procession to view Lenin. On the way to the tomb, we passed by the Kremlin Wall Necropolis where heroes of the Revolution are buried. I was surprised to find a few Americans buried in the wall - "Big Bill" Haywood and John Reed. I understood why they were there, just surprised that this was their final resting place. We also passed by the “Brotherhood Grave,” a mass grave of pro-revolution soldiers who died during their struggle against loyalists to defend and later retake the Kremlin in late October/early November 1917.
Just as we were about to enter the mausoleum itself, two girls with big cameras around their necks step over the chains right beside us and try to enter the mausoleum. They too were promptly denied.
The mausoleum was dark and stern. Guards stood at several points, hushing those who were talking during the procession. We made our way down into the mausoleum and eventually entered a room that was much cooler than the rest. This was Lenin’s room. He was lying in a glass casket on a pedestal in the center of the room with a soft light on him, and we proceeded around him, always gazing at him. All thoughts ceased upon entering this room, and they didn’t return until a long time afterward.
After leaving the mausoleum, the procession continued past more of the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, including several graves of famous Soviet and revolutionary leaders. We passed Chernenko, Brezhnev, Frunze, Kalinin, Kamenev, Zhandov, Zhukov - so many names that I’ve read many times before now made very real.
We finally walked past Stalin’s grave. His grave was covered in flowers and surrounded by several old Russian women crying and praising him like a good father who passed away too soon. I wished my Russian was better so I could have asked them why. Not even in the sense of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HE KILLED LIKE A BILLION PEOPLE ARE YOU NUTS???” which just about every American I know would have done, but just to understand the way they see Stalin.
After this more than surreal and perspective-altering experience, Celia and I sat down for an hour and discussed the Soviet Union, mainly what went wrong, why, and what could have happened had it gone right. I don’t pretend to know the problems of the Russian people during the 20’s and 30’s nor the exact circumstances that steered events in those particular directions… but if only.
I am thankful that I had this opportunity, especially as talk of burying Lenin becomes more serious. I’m sure this has been a hot issue ever since the collapse, but nothing last forever - sooner or later the time will come for this opportunity to be lost forever. Take it while you can.
All the comrades at the viewing platform at the Church of Christ the Savior, with the Kremlin in the background.
I have a goatee for a reason - you’ll see why soon enough.
means to an end - …and which is lost
The religious stood together today outside of Chick-Fil-A’s nationwide.
More, in fact, at one time than we’ve ever seen waiting for a chance to...”