here we go, moscow.

October 28, 2012

My post last week was right on: it’s fair to say that the Moscow fall I’ve heard so much about is here. It is rainy and snowy and slushy. It hasn’t stopped all day.

The temperatures dropped from the 40s/50s last weekend to the 30s on Monday. We first saw snow on Wednesday, though it only spit. Friday it actually snowed, but by the afternoon everything had melted. We went out that evening and the wind blew and we laughed and walked to the metro heads down, hugging ourselves with our elbows.

And here we are on Sunday. As I was getting home last night from a Russian Halloween party around 1:30 am, it started snowing. It snowed all night and when I woke up this morning, it looked quite pleasant outside. When I opened my window, it didn’t seem that cold and I thought the water drops on the window were just melted snow. So, around 10:30 am, when I decided it was warm enough, I put on my cold weather running gear and my running shoes and headed outside. I smiled at the door woman downstairs.

When I opened the door, I realized it was raining. I saw two feral dogs sitting down on the sidewalk. They were completely soaked and their eyes were so sad. I spoke to them: “Oh, feral dogs…I’m so sorry.” I wanted to hug them. But they’re feral, so I didn’t.

And then I took off jogging. 1.5 minutes in, I realized that this was a totally stupid idea. Though it wasn’t cold at all, the snow was melting and it was raining and there was nowhere for the water to go so it just puddled everywhere. My shoes were soaked almost instantly. I thought the park might be better, so I turned in there. But it was actually worse. And so I headed back to the apartment. When I entered the building, I got the door lady’s attention, jogged in place, and said “нет.” She laughed.

My trip to the Center was much the same. I wore a coat that was too warm, but was waterproof. I took my broken umbrella. I chose the wrong boots; it wasn’t cold enough for my intense winter boots (the ones rated for 30 below), so instead I wore my less intense winter boots, the ones from the Bargain Cave at Cabela’s. Yes, there is something called the Bargain Cave at Cabela’s. About halfway to the metro, I realized that those boots weren’t waterproof.

My stuff was all wet on the metro and being so bundled up got uncomfortably warm. I envied the Russians who all seemed to have mastered not being uncomfortable on the metro while being incredibly bundled up, reading their Russian books and watching Madonna and really strange Kylie Minogue videos on their iPads.

I got off at Arbatskaya, expecting that the sidewalks would be in better condition there. It was, after all, the Center of the city. But they were about the same. And so I made a game of balancing my broken umbrella over my head and jumping over icy puddles and avoiding being hit by cars or splashing water from passing traffic.

And then I landed right in the middle of a puddle that was at least five inches deep. And then I cussed for a bit.

I arrived at my destination–Prostye Veshi–which is currently my favorite Moscow restaurant. And my Midwestern friends Jen and David showed up. Their feet were wet, too. David’s umbrella was also broken. And Jen had also accidentally stepped in an enormous puddle. And we had coffee and really lovely breakfast meals. And our waitress spoke a little English and seemed pleased when we spoke Russian. And we sat there for awhile after the meal, talking about accents and the weather and teaching because in Russian restaurants they never rush you or bring you the check until you ask for it. And on the way back, I sang to myself and it seemed like I was much more successful in my game of dodging puddles.

Moscow Fall

October 22, 2012

I think Moscow fall is really happening now. We’ve had a few false alarms. By “Moscow Fall,” I mean the October/November everyone has been warning me about. The Fall that is still dark at 10 am. The Fall that rains every single day. The Fall when gray clouds and fog fill the sky. When the temperature drops. When you pray that it will snow because at least the snow will be better than the slush covering the sidewalks.  When you just can’t wake up in the morning…or in the afternoon. And you start taking Vitamin D and consider using light therapy.

I’ve been waiting. I was told it would get cold, and then we would get an extra week of summer. This happens every year. And we got that extra week of summer. And I got outside as much as I could.

And then two weeks ago, I woke up on a Monday and it was raining and it seemed like the sun was never going to come out, so I sang in the rain and leaped over puddles and bought an Americano before work as a comfort and said to myself “Sorry, kid. Here is comes.” But the next day, it was sunny and warm. And I was confused. And the weather must’ve been too because it went back and forth and back and forth. And then we had a stretch of nice weather again.

And then this weekend, the weather was wonderful. It was sunny and so warm that I actually started sweating while running. I felt like staying in the city but I wanted to do something, so I decided to walk the Boulevard Ring. If you’ve looked at a map of Moscow, you’ll see that it’s a series of rings. And the Boulevard Ring is what it sounds like–a ring of lovely boulevards. When the weather is nice, Muscovites get out and walk. If you walk the entire ring, it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.

On one of my first weekends in Moscow, I walked a few of the boulevards with friends from work. But this time, it would be more of an adventure: one, I would walk the entire ring and two, I would have to find my way between the boulevards. Though it’s called a “ring,” the connections between the boulevards aren’t always obvious. Sometimes there are signs to the next boulevard, but not always. So, I packed the handy city map I’d yet to use, and when I wasn’t sure which way I should go, I whipped it out. It is big–think road trip map that covers your entire windshield–and it crinkled in the wind and was almost impossible to fold up and I probably looked like a stupid tourist. But: I never got lost. Ever. And honestly, I kind of like the image of myself standing on a windy street corner wrangling an enormous map.

The changing leaves make the boulevards particularly lovely this time of year. But I’m afraid none of my photos really capture what the boulevards felt like on Saturday. It felt brisk. And alive. More European than Russian. It was the feeling of seeing the places you pass through frequently underground on the metro. It was understanding how the different pockets of the city you know fit together. It was approaching a street or intersection or the beautiful ponds at Chistie Prudi and realizing “Hey–I’ve been here.” And knowing that Chistie Prudi is only a fifteen minute walk from my favorite area–Kitay Gorod. Hell, it was realizing I even have a favorite area.

And so, while mid-October means that the weather is about to get depressing–starting today–and to stay depressing for quite some time and that it will be impossible for me to run outside and maybe even impossible to wake up before 7:30 because it is as dark then as it is now at 9:30 pm, it means other things too. It means I’ve been here for two months. It means I have friends I can call for coffee dates at the end of my stroll through the boulevard. It means I’ve gone to a bar and bought myself a beer and read Calvino. That I got a haircut from a Russian hairstylist and lived to tell the tale, that in fact, I like the haircut.  It means I’m a regular at the dairy store by the metro and the market near my apartment. It means I can use (with some accuracy) at least thirty more Russian words and phrases than I could a month ago. It means that in the last two weeks, I’ve found a favorite restaurant. And most importantly, a coffee shop that will become my coffee shop, Ludi Kak Ludi (and they played an awesome remix-y version of Springsteen’s “Fire” the last time I was there). It means I live here.

I alluded to this in an earlier post, mentioning Landlord Vladimir and his sons being here with “the window master” to measure for new windows in the kitchen. Well, Saturday October 6th I got those new windows. And what a day that was.

At 10:30 am, Yuri and Yuri’s brother (who is named Dimitry, I learned during our 8 and a half hours together) showed up to move things out of the way. Since the kitchen (like the rest of the apartment) is small, this meant that everything had to be moved. They carried out the bookshelf that serves as my pantry, the buffet/hutch that holds my dishes, and the desk that serves as my kitchen table. All of this went into my living room/bedroom and since I’d neglected to fold up my couch bed, the room was packed.

The two window guys came around 11:20. They said “здравствуйте” to me. And then five minutes later I turned around to see them changing clothes in my living/bedroom. The bigger one got a phone call and took it, without a shirt, in my kitchen. And he didn’t seem bothered by it. He just stood there, shirtless in my kitchen. I looked away, and when I turned around again, they had both taken off their pants and were changing into red overalls, installing windows Mario and Luigi style.

They started by ripping out the old windows–literally. I watched chips of paint and wood land all over the kitchen floor. And I made a mental note to wash the dirty pot and pan I’d left on the stove super well to avoid the lead poisoning I was sure consuming Russian paint would incur. Yuri and Dimitry carried pieces of wood and windows out of the apartment. And I have no idea where they took them, certainly not to the trash chute near the elevator.

The IKEA stool that sits at my kitchen table became a sawhorse and they measured and cut things for the outside of the window and the inside of the window. The apartment was freezing because it is October and it is Russia and there were no windows to protect us from the wind/rain. And so I sported a flannel shirt with Grandma Bollinger’s Canada sweatshirt (hood up!) all day. The window guys took frequent smoke breaks. At 1:45, they said “one час.” After that smoke break, they started putting in glass and windows, and that seemed really promising as far as completion of the project went.

I had to be here but I also had to be out of the way. So I sat at my computer desk. And I amused myself and watched the day pass me by, much like you do on a long car trip. I found their presence quite humorous for a few hours, another sitcom episode, the one where Kara spends an entire day in a 640 square foot apartment with four Russian men. I took photos of my living room/bedroom completely filled with stuff. I spoke Russian with Yuri (very minimally). I let Yuri borrow magazines and newspapers. I learned the window guys were from the Ukraine. When they asked for music, I played AC/DC, and they played air guitar. They hadn’t heard of Bruce Springsteen and that was quite disappointing.

But somewhere around 3:30, it became very clear that Yuri, Dimitry, and I were done with the window guys being there. Rather than rolling our eyes and laughing at how long it was taking, we just rolled our eyes, no laughter. We stopped entertaining each other. We showed disapproval of their smoke breaks. I was ready for them to be gone. And they showed no signs of ending.

I hoped Yuri and Dimitry had a hearty Russian breakfast because I had eaten oatmeal and later a banana and later I got into my mixed nuts reserve because not having a meal from 9:30 am until 7 pm is not something I do regularly. So, I hope they weren’t hungry. I boiled tea in the electronic teapot on the floor next to my desk and offered them tea, but they said “нет.”

Then at 4:30, the Ukranian window guys said “one час.” I don’t know window installation words but I think that maybe some kind of caulking or something needed to dry. And then they left for a smoke break. At this point, Yuri and Dimitry cleaned the kitchen quickly, trying to minimize the work they’d have to do later. I tried to help but they wouldn’t let me.

The five of us stood/sat in the apartment, not looking at each other or talking to each other. And then whatever needed to dry, dried, and the window guys finished their work. And finally, at 6:30, the window guys said they were finished. They changed back into their street clothes in my living room. And then they left. Yuri, Dimitry, and I quickly cleaned and moved all the furniture back into the kitchen. We were polite to one another, but we were all ready to be finished so chatter was minimal. I was already chopping vegetables and cracking an egg for dinner when they left at 7. 

The window guys being there so long meant I was almost late for the American film I was planning to see at a foreign theater in the center of the city. But I ate dinner real fast, hopped on the metro, and walked really fast. I made it. Just in time.

It’s good that this window thing is done. It’s getting cold and the old windows were drafty. But I don’t ever want to do it again. And though I wouldn’t say I feel this way about everything, I feel this way about quite a few things in Russia.

The first session of my Russian class was FUN. It was fast; I had to write really quickly to keep up.  And the teacher–Katya–calls on us individually and then we have to speak out loud in front of everyone (everyone being three people). She corrects us, kindly, but it still makes me a bit nervous. It also means that soon, once I become educated, my Midwest friends David and Jen and I will know longer be allowed to refer to Russian letters as “the backwards Z” or “the backwards double K.”

I should be studying Russian right now. I know this. Already, after only one 1.5 hour class, there are so many rules to memorize. And soon! But, they say that teaching someone something is actually the best way to learn it, so my theory is that instead of studying, I will: a) write a poem (in process…) and b) write a short blog entry with an abridged version of the rules. I’ll be learning. Teacher friends agree? Good. Let’s go.

Section 1: e ё ю я

The characters e ё ю я make two sounds (e [jэ] ё [jo] ю [jy] я [ja]) in these situations:

1) at the beginning of a word, like in елка [jolka]

2) after another vowel, like in моя [maja]

3) after a hard sign or soft sign, like in друзья [droozja]

but after consonants, they’re pronounced as just one sound (e [eh] ё [yo] ю [00] я [ya])

Section 2: O A E

When under stress, there are no changes to pronunciation for O A E. But

1) an unstressed O sounds like [ah], like in OHA [ahna]. This is where my favorite phrase что это comes into play. Since the о in это is unstressed, it sounds like [ah]

2) an unstressed E sounds like [ee], like in PEKA [reekah]

3) luckily, the A never changes, regardless of stress

Section 3: Voiced and Voiceless Consonants

This blew my mind.

These are the voiced consonants: б B г д  ж  з

And the voiceless consonants: п ф к т щ с

They match up: б goes with п, B with ф, г with  к, д  with т, ж with щ, and з with  с.


1) At the end of a word, voiceless consonants, like in лог [look] or олег [Alek]

2) Before voiceless consonants, voiced consonants become voiceless

3) Before voiced consonants, voiceless consonants become voiced, like с братом [zbrahtom]. For this example, you also must know that prepositions are simply connected to the next word (so the с is just added directly to братом).

And actually, though that’s only 1/3 of tonight’s lesson, I think I’ll stop. You got all that?